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Western Press Review: Turkey's Tradition Of Tolerance; Georgian Turmoil; And Has The U.S. Let Down Its Allies In 'New Europe'?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 19 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Topics under discussion in some of the major dailies today include U.S. President George W. Bush's state visit to Britain; the history -- and future -- of Turkey's Jewish community, in light of last week's double synagogue bombing in Istanbul; continuing political turbulence in Georgia; and how the United States may be letting down its allies in "New Europe."

THE TIMES:

As U.S. President George W. Bush begins the first full day of his state visit to Britain, an editorial in the London "Times" says his trip should present "a chance to hail a shared history and enduring values." Despite a thorny record -- including the young United States' fight for independence from Britain and the British raid of Washington in 1814, when both the White House and Congress were razed -- the two countries undoubtedly share a common cultural and intellectual past.

"The force of common values, sharpened by solidarity in the world wars and the Cold War, served to heal scars that previous events had opened," writes the "Times."

The paper goes on to question why it has been so long since a U.S. president was formally received in London. State visits, it suggests, "should be a matter of course in the future. The ties that bind Britain and the United States are so many in number and so distinctive in nature that they merit the highest level of diplomatic recognition."

For reasons both old and new, Bush, "as president and representative of the United States, should be welcomed."

THE TIMES:

A second comment in the "Times" by columnist Simon Jenkins takes a less enthusiastic view of the U.S. president's visit.

Nevertheless, Jenkins says the event calls for a certain level of decorum. "Let us pull ourselves together and hear it for good manners. Courtesy is the cement of democracy, the discipline of open debate. It enables strong government to remain at peace with dissent. A state visit is supposedly a marriage of pageantry and good manners. Let us keep it that way."

But he goes on to discuss the unprecedented security precautions being taken over the whole of London, which threaten to disrupt the lives of locals throughout Bush's four-day visit. If future state receptions are to be similarly conducted, he says, the whole process "should be abandoned."

Modern media technologies such as video conferencing and security issues "have rendered them obsolete." But since this official visit is already under way, "[the] best should surely be made of it."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

In a contribution to "The New York Times," Seyla Benhabib, a professor at Yale University, discusses the history of Jews living in Turkey in light of the 15 November bomb attacks on two Jewish synagogues in Istanbul.

In the 1950s, the number of Jews living in Istanbul alone was 80,000. After the founding of the state of Israel and the rising political instability in Turkey in the 1970s and 1980s, many Jews began leaving, she says. Turkey's Jewish population now numbers about 30,000.

"Yet the presence of the Jews in Turkey cannot be measured in numbers alone," Benhabib writes. "They are a testament to the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Muslims," and it is this tradition of tolerance that "the murderous forces of Islamic terrorism [would] like to obliterate."

Turkey's Jewish population is "also proof of the foresight and sound judgment of secular Turkey's republican founders. As Hitler's troops were marching from the Balkans and emptying Greek cities of their Jewish populations, Turkey's president, Ismet Inonu, closed its border. Tense negotiations with the Nazis ensued."

Benhabib says that deciding moment in Turkey's history "underscores the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Muslims since the 15th century in a Muslim country that respects the equality of its citizens."

Benhabib says, "To be sure, some of Turkey's other minorities -- the Greeks, Armenians and [Kurds] -- have fared far less well. What matters now, though, is which historical model Turkey will be encouraged to embrace" in the future.

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

A "New York Times" editorial today lauds micro-credit as a sensible and proven method of promoting grassroots development in poor countries. These small-scale "micro-credit" business loans, when given to people in developing nations, allow them to start small businesses and invest in their local communities. This small-scale but direct investment often proves more helpful than the massive amounts donated in aid to a developing nation's government.

By 2005, this "proven development strategy" is expected to be benefiting 100 million families around the world. But "The New York Times" says, "the world's poor desperately need access to a broader range of financial services -- micro-finance is the more apt term -- to improve their living standards" over the long term.

Often, those receiving these small loans "are victimized by rapacious fees and exchange rates." Governments can reduce various transaction fees, but what "recipients need most is a place to put their money. In many countries, the [poor] lack access to commercial banks."

Mainstream banks need to make themselves more available to the poor. Micro-lending organizations themselves should also "encourage private saving [and] enlarge development capital in poor communities."

"The New York Times" says some major global banks are beginning to consider micro-finance as a "viable" business transaction, not just a "trendy" method of giving to charity. Deutsche is already planning to open a $50-million fund geared toward providing capital to micro-finance organizations.

"A real micro-finance revolution could further empower the world's poor," "The New York Times" says.

THE WASHINGTON POST:

"Washington Post" columnist Jim Hoagland says the major policy shifts in Iraq announced over the weekend indicate a welcome willingness to adapt to changing circumstances and accept the emergent political realities.

The U.S. administration has agreed to transfer power in Iraq to a provisional government comprised of an executive body and a legislature on 1 July 2004. Hoagland says this new timetable is a real framework "for transforming the increasingly controversial occupation force into a sustainable, stabilizing U.S. presence that, of necessity, shares real power and responsibility with Iraqi politicians, soldiers and intelligence services."

Such a "clear and realistic path to sovereignty" will eventually transfer to the 24-member U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council the responsibility for defeating the guerrilla remnants of the Ba'athist regime and of drafting an Iraqi constitution. Increasing attacks and continuing political turmoil within Iraq helped prompt the U.S. administration to agree to this, although Hoagland says this transfer of responsibility remains a "big gamble."

Hoagland says that, ultimately, "None of this is likely to make any difference to the gunmen and bombers who are attacking the very hope of stability in Iraq. They still must be defeated on the ground. But these changes improve the chances that coalition forces and newly empowered Iraqis can do just that."

THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

The "International Herald Tribune" carries a joint contribution by Mark Brzezinksi, a former U.S. official for Southeast European affairs, and Mario Nicolini, former adviser to the Slovak ambassador to the U.S.

They say the United States is not fulfilling the expectations engendered by Central and Eastern Europe's staunch support for Washington during the contentious prewar debate on Iraq. As a result, "New Europe's" initial solidarity with America "is being replaced with cynicism."

Polish special forces fought during the war and are still deployed in the country. Czech, Slovak, and Ukrainian chemical-weapons specialists remained on standby in Kuwait. The authors point out that in supporting America's Iraq plans, "New Europe" opposed antiwar European powerhouses such as France and Germany. Central European leaders believed that by supporting the U.S.-led invasion, their involvement would naturally "carry over into the postwar reconstruction phase," permitting their companies to take part in rebuilding. But not one contract has been awarded to a company from the region to date.

America is "not only losing traditional allies, it is now losing the support of new allies," the authors observe. The feeling is growing "that the United States is not keeping its end of the deal. This reduces the prospect that the states of 'New Europe' will join the United States in future military ventures."

When the United States seeks help from its allies, "attending to their interests, in addition to its own, is crucial to maintaining their allegiance and support in the long run."

LE MONDE:

An editorial in France's "Le Monde" says the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 could have offered Georgians the opportunity to turn their talents toward serving their newly independent nation. But Georgia did not manage to escape the contagion of instability, clan rivalries, corruption or the drive for personal power -- all characteristics of most of the post-Soviet republics.

President Eduard Shevardnadze's rise to power in 1992 once raised many hopes. A former foreign secretary under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Shevardnadze had a reputation as a liberal. He had been involved at high levels in perestroika, German reunification, and the end of the Cold War. In his more distant past (1960-1970), as head of the Georgian police, he had tried to defend Georgia's intellectuals and artists from the juggernaut of Soviet communism.

But as president of an independent Georgia, Shevardnadze failed. He was torn between an attraction to the West, Russian pressure, and secessionist intrigues, as well as the collapse of the official economy and the explosion of the black market. Unlike some of his neighboring republics, he organized elections without shamefully fixing them. Nevertheless, he has difficulty accepting defeat. Parliamentary elections of 2 November granted victory to a divided opposition that has called for demonstrations and Shevardnadze's resignation.

Shevardnadze now faces a stark choice: to give in to the pressure from the street or risk civil war. "Le Monde" says this is a sad end for one who once gave a human face to Soviet diplomacy.
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