Prague, 5 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the major Western dailies today and over the weekend are the relationship between press freedom and economic development; the lessons of the post-conflict Balkans for Iraqi reconstruction; the Middle East "road map" to peace unveiled last week; Russia's decision to halt oil shipments through the Latvian port of Ventspils; and Poland's decision to send troops to Iraq as part of a stabilization force.
A contribution to the British "Observer" by Larry Kilman of the World Association of Newspapers discusses the economic benefits of a free media in honor of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. Kilman says the traditional argument for freedom of the press is that access to free and objective information is a basic human right. But beyond this assertion, he says "there is compelling evidence that a strong, independent, and free press is a powerful ally to economic and social development and the reduction of poverty."
The work of Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel economics laureate, "established a link between an active media and the avoidance of famine and other disasters." Work by the World Bank has also found that the media's positive influence on markets, as a conduit for information and "its ability to give a voice to the poor," help reduce poverty while promoting public debate -- two trends that mitigate the lure of extremist causes.
The World Bank's findings reject the idea, "propounded by numerous autocratic governments, that economic and social development is somehow obstructed by the existence of a free press or that it is a higher priority that justifies the postponement of free information [until] a satisfactory level of economic development has been achieved."
It advocates freedom of information "not as a philosophical concept but [on] the basis of clear evidence that free access to information and the predominance of private media accompany and encourage economic development."
INSTITUTE FOR WAR AND PEACE REPORTING:
An analysis published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting discusses the lessons offered by the Balkans and other post-conflict reconstruction efforts for rebuilding Iraq. The piece was written by Fron Nazi of the Balkans Projects division at the East West Management Institute and Doug Rutzen at the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law. Too often, say the authors, donors "rush in, repeat old mistakes -- and in a year or so the spotlight shifts to another, more urgent crisis."
Assistance comes in three phases: emergency humanitarian aid; building infrastructure; and supporting long-term economic and democratic reform. If the first two take place without the third, a nation's progress can be "little more than a mirage."
The local community must be engaged in the process, say the authors, instead of put to work implementing a "ready-made solution" drawn up by well-meaning donors elsewhere.
Communities outside the capital must be included in any development. Too often aid concentrates in the capital while volatile groups exercise sway or regroup in outlying areas.
Another "critical first step" is to "develop the legal and regulatory framework" to allow nongovernmental organizations to "form, operate, and sustain themselves."
Finally, the international community must end its reliance on "adrenaline-driven development." Too often, aid organizations are planning the next urgent mission while "abandoning 'finished projects' such as Kosovo, East Timor, and Afghanistan ...[They] like to fund quick-impact crisis interventions instead of long-term development."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
Writing in "The Washington Times," energy-security issues analyst Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation discusses Russia's decision early this year to halt oil exports through the Latvian port of Ventspils. Russia's state-owned oil pipeline monopoly Transneft shut down shipments in order to "punish" Latvia "for joining NATO and for staunchly supporting the U.S. in the war" against Iraq.
Cohen writes that Russia's oil companies, "flush with cash, are gobbling up refineries, gas station chains, natural gas distribution systems, and other utilities from the Black Sea to the Baltic." Ukraine, Turkey, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Poland "all have experienced Russian corporate takeovers. And as whole strategic economic sectors come under Russian ownership, geo-economics morph into geopolitics."
Now it is Latvia's turn. Cohen cites Moscow sources as saying Transneft would like to take over the Latvian port at Ventspils "or facilitate its sale to a Russian oil company. Instead of fair market value, however, the Russians have offered to pay only a quarter of the price. When the Latvian owners refused to sell, Transneft cut off its supply to the port."
Cohen says such moves are reminiscent "of bad old czarist Russian and Soviet bully tactics." This "is certainly not the way to build Russia's reputation as America's newfound energy partner. Nor it is the way to attract foreign investors into Russia's high-risk energy sector."
Cohen calls for Washington to pressure the Kremlin to allow the oil flow through Latvia to resume when the Russian and U.S. presidents meet on 1 June.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Two German dailies today discuss Poland's decision to share leadership of a stabilization force in Iraq.
The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" describes this diplomatic move as Poland's attempt to assume the role of "a victorious power," although Warsaw sent a mere 200 troops to Iraq, of which only 50 took part in battle.
Now it intends to send some 2,000 men to help with Iraqi post-conflict reconstruction -- but only if the U.S. bears the cost. Of course, the paper says both these diplomatic and economic motives are blatantly obvious.
Poland wants to ensure Polish firms are rewarded with contracts to rebuild Iraq. Moreover, considering its historic experience with Soviet domination, Warsaw is understandably making moves toward the world's only superpower.
Poland's triumph in Iraq is "a tiny victory," says Daniel Broessler in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." He says Poland is suffering from delusions of grandeur in considering the allocation of a zone in Iraq as a victory. The forces will be there "to stabilize" the situation, not as "victorious powers," he says, even though Poland is currently proud to be both on the side of the "good" as well as the "victorious."
Broessler says Poland should bear in mind the underlying U.S. motives in Iraq "within the mosaic of American interests." He regards it as a U.S. diplomatic move "to divide Europe. Poland needs strengthening as a counterweight to Germany and France, and Warsaw should be aware of its role as a pawn in this game."
Broessler also warns Warsaw of the possible long-term consequences of its shift toward the United States and away from France and Germany over the Iraq issue. This tangible but fleeting diplomatic success should not overshadow the lengthy and arduous negotiations that lie ahead for Poland on its path to European Union membership.
Although Poland resents being treated as second-class by the EU and wants to be in the first league with the United States, Broessler says Poland should begin to "clearly distinguish between illusion and reality."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A "New York Times" editorial today addresses the chances for success of the new "road map" for Middle East peace, unveiled last week by the diplomatic "Quartet" -- the European Union, the United Nations, Russia, and the United States.
"The reasons for pessimism far outweigh those for optimism," the paper says. "Yet, there is cautious hope about the blueprint, which seeks a Palestinian state and peaceful coexistence within three years. With a determined effort by the [U.S.] administration, and mutually beneficial acts by Israelis and Palestinians, it may be possible to rekindle the peace process."
The editorial calls the plan "fair to both sides and clear." Initially, it calls on the Palestinian Authority to "stop violence against Israel by consolidating security services and disarming rebels. Simultaneously, the Israelis must dismantle settlement outposts of the last two years and freeze all settlement activity, halt attacks on Palestinian property and civilians, and resume cooperation."
The political climate today "may be conducive to some accommodation," says "The New York Times." "With Saddam Hussein deposed, Israel enjoys a rare level of strategic comfort, which should add to its willingness to take chances."
As for the Palestinians, new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas "has been speaking out forcefully against violence and says he intends to crack down on terror, disarm militant groups, and negotiate in earnest." And the paper says the "hawkish credentials" of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "will help secure support for concessions in Israel."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Terje Roed-Larsen, one of the architects of the Middle East "road map," says what has been lacking in the peace process until now has been an agreement on a final destination, as well as the successive steps to be taken by both sides. The new road map is clear about the final goal, which is a two-state solution of "a secure and prosperous Israel and an independent, viable, sovereign and democratic Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security."
The "road map" is also clear about the steps for achieving this. "It specifies not only who must do what, but also when. It recognizes that peace will not be achieved if each side waits for the other to move first. At every stage in the process, both sides must be able to see a tangible improvement in their situation, and unmistakable movement towards the end goal."
"The Map," he says, "may come from the Quartet, but it is Israelis and Palestinians who must travel the Road."
In a contribution to France's "Liberation," Olivier Gebuhrer and Pascal Lederer, co-founders of France's "Une Autre Voix Juivre" ("Another Jewish Voice"), criticize some Jewish organizations for suggesting they represent all Jews. The authors point out that the very name of France's Comite Representatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF) -- the Representative Committee of Jewish Institutions in France -- implies that it is a representative umbrella group for Jewish organizations.
However, they say the CRIF "umbrella" covers only 20 percent of French Jews. The other 80 percent of Jews, "without denying [their] inheritance, their culture, their history, do not feel the need to join a Jewish organization that is a member of the CRIF."
Gebuhrer and Lederer say the tendency of some in the CRIF leadership to declare as anti-Semitic anyone that criticizes the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon represents the opinions of only some of France's Jewish community. "For many," they write, "the lessons they learned [from] anti-Semitism [include] the rejection of any nationalist ideology, any chauvinism; a hatred of all fascism, all racism, all oppressions."
For these people, there is a connection between "Judaism and democracy, the grand ideas of the universality of human rights [and] the rights of peoples."
It is these ideals that led to the formation of the manifesto, "Another Jewish Voice," say Gebuhrer and Lederer -- because they could "no longer support the horror" that has become daily life in the Middle East.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)