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Western Press Review: Eastern Europe's 'Health Gap,' Reform Setbacks In Iran, And Lukashenka's Re-Election Bid

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 14 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A review of media coverage today finds a discussion of the so-called "health gap" between Western and Eastern European nations, the rejection yesterday of three progressive bills by Iran's Guardians Council amid more calls for reform from within, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's bid for a third term in Belarus, and the hype this week surrounding the sting operation to prevent a Russian surface-to-air missile from being smuggled into the United States.


An analysis in "The Washington Post" by Keith Richburg takes a look at the so-called "health gap" between East and West European nations. Cancer, Richburg says, may the "most dramatic indicator" of this disparity.

Hungary ranked first in the world for cancer deaths in 2000, according to the American Cancer Society. Other East European nations were ranked second through seventh in terms of cancer mortality rates for men. In Hungary, lung cancer is the most common cause of death among men, while breast cancer is first for women, followed closely by rectal and lung cancers.

Overall, people born in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Poland can expect to live shorter lives than those born in Italy, Spain, Sweden, or France. Richburg cites researchers as saying such high rates of certain cancers are largely due to diet and environmental factors. Meaty, high-fat foods and a scarcity of vegetables characterize daily fare. Chemicals, pesticides, and other pollutants are present in high levels due to poor handling during communist-era industrialization. Compounding the problem is a foundering health-care system with poorly paid doctors and dilapidated equipment.

Richburg notes that upon entering the European Union in May 2004, the 10 newest members (the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) will receive money "to aid farmers, build infrastructure and reinforce porous borders. But next to no EU aid will directly target the health gap, because under the EU system, spending on health care remains the purview of national governments."


A "Jane's Foreign Report" issued today takes a look at recent statements by Hussein Khomeini, grandson of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's revolutionary hero. Hussein has called the current Iranian regime the "world's worst dictatorship," accusing the conservative clerical leadership of "exploiting" the memory of his grandfather, as well as "the name of Islam [in] order to continue their tyrannical rule."

Hussein Khomeini further stated that Iran should have a "democratic regime" under which it is possible "to separate religion from the state."

The report says that while Hussein Khomeini is not a religious leader, he "does retain the prestige of the veteran revolutionary, having accompanied his grandfather in exile to Iraq [and] France, and returning with him in triumph in 1981." Moreover, the 46-year-old Hussein, along with other "like-minded individuals," is relocating to the holy city of Al-Najaf in Iraq.

The report suggests that Hussein Khomeini's bold moves may be placing him in danger. It cites one Palestinian newspaper as saying Iranian conservatives fear he may become a new symbol for the opposition, and may already be planning to remove him from the picture.

Given such reports, the report says Hussein Khomeini should remember what happened to his uncle, Ahmad Khomeini, who was assassinated after he publicly withdrew his support for the ruling clerics.


A piece jointly published in "The New York Times" and the "International Herald Tribune" discusses what it calls "another blow against Iran's reform movement" yesterday.

Iran's conservative Guardians Council rejected three "progressive" bills already approved by the pro-reform Parliament and aimed at increasing civil rights. Two of the bills would have required Iran to adopt UN conventions on eliminating torture and ending discrimination against women. A third bill sought to prevent the Guardians Council from barring certain candidates from running for office.

The paper says the Guardians Council's rejection of the proposals is widely considered yet another setback to Iran's large reform movement ahead of February parliamentary elections. Scores of reformist activists remain incarcerated after widespread protests in June.

Iran's internal conflicts continue even as Tehran comes under increased pressure from outside to offer more transparency regarding its nuclear program. Hard-liners want Iran to reject intrusive inspections and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while reformists led by President Mohammad Khatami are trying to ease the rising tensions.


"Jane's Intelligence Digest" discusses the breaking story this week of a sting operation involving Russian and U.S. intelligence and the smuggling of illegal arms. The operation was aimed at preventing an alleged arms dealer -- now in custody -- from selling a Russian-built Igla surface-to-air missile to people posing as Islamic terrorists based in the United States. But the report says this "much-hyped tale" is less a tale of successful international cooperation as it is a story "of stupidity [and] political spin."

In short, says the report, a weapon as advanced as the Igla missile could not have been supplied to any group "without the active collusion of the Russian state authorities." Thus, the widely publicized operation "revealed little beyond the intelligence services' insatiable desire for positive publicity."

And yet the Russian security services and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation "are keen to present this incident as 'proof' that terrorists are seeking to procure advanced weapons" for political reasons.

The report remarks that both Washington and Moscow seek "to justify a whole raft of controversial policies launched in the course of the war on terrorism: lengthy detention of foreign nationals without trial; a massive -- and costly -- increase in surveillance and domestic intelligence gathering and military intervention in various theatres." The missile story offered both capitals a chance to demonstrate that the terrorist threat is being successfully dealt with.

But the reports have "missed the main points. The real threat to the [U.S.] and its allies [comes] less from high-tech weaponry of the Igla variety than from the committed militant willing to commit suicide."


An editorial in "The Irish Times" discusses NATO's first mission outside the European theater -- its takeover this week of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The paper says the deployment has put the alliance's future in question: Will it now be equipped for diverse interventions "and will it have the capacity to do the kind of nation-building work required in Afghanistan? What UN mandate has it to do so -- or is it to be used mainly to mop up after unilateral U.S. operations?"

"The Irish Times" says these "are crucial questions of international order and legitimacy. They have many implications above and beyond Afghanistan," including in Iraq.

"There is no prospect that most NATO allies of the United States would be willing to operate in [either] traditional or new roles without UN mandate," the paper says. The United States is now coming to "the realization that while it has the military power to intervene, it does not have the capacity to police and rebuild without the help of its allies. They are not willing to help if satisfactory UN authority is not in place."

And the lack of international help is "becoming more pressing" in Iraq, as resistance continues against Anglo-American occupation forces.


"Jane's Foreign Report" looks at attempts by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to change the Belarusian Constitution to allow him to remain in power for a third term. Lukashenka was re-elected in September 2001 for a second five-year term under conditions that were widely questioned by Western observers. To run for a third term, he would need to call a referendum and obtain a two-third's vote in favor of amending the constitution.

The report notes that while Lukashenka has denied he has plans for such a referendum, he told visiting Russian journalists on 1 August that he would run again if his political opposition threatened the country's stability.

But the report says, "Far from creating instability, all the opposition had done is to issue repeated warnings that Lukashenka was planning a third term and to try to work out a common strategy for the expected referendum campaign."

Lukashenka might also try to avoid a referendum, instead using parliament. Parliament could pass a law permitting a third term and immediately pass another law that elevates the first to the status of a "constitutional decree."

The report says since the Belarusian parliament "consists, in effect, of candidates approved by the president, this should not be difficult to orchestrate."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" in an editorial discusses this week's declaration from the Serbian government that it wants to re-establish Serbian control of Kosovo but promises the ethnic Albanian majority there "substantial autonomy." But, the editorial says, decisions on Kosovo's future should be made by the UN Security Council -- not by Belgrade nor even Pristina, the Kosovar capital.

The paper says four years after the NATO-led bombing of Serbia aimed at punishing Belgrade for ethnically cleansing Albanians in Kosovo, both Europe and America "have turned their sights elsewhere." But those living in the Balkans "don't have this luxury, and still need the West's indulgence a little longer."

The final status of Kosovo remains undetermined, and the editorial says the blame for this uncertainty belongs to the United States and Europe, which for years have delayed and avoided "stating the obvious: Kosovo won't be going back under Belgrade's control. Most Serbs privately acknowledge this fact, too."

The paper says: "Instead of trying to preserve artificial borders, the Western allies can do far more good by aggressively guiding these countries to independence as well as to closer integration with the [European Union]. A clear-sighted approach on their part will best avoid any future misunderstandings."