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Western Press Review: Assessing Progress On International Women's Day And Coaxing Democracy In Ukraine

Prague, 8 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics covered by news analyses in the major dailies today are encouraging democracy in Ukraine, divisions over Western policy toward Iran, the wrong way to "sell democracy" to the Arab world and increasing ethnic divisions in Iraq. We also hear from one commentator who assesses the overall progress made by women as the world observes International Women’s Day.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," former U.S. Secretary of State (Foreign Minister) Madeleine Albright says Ukrainian democracy is now "facing a crucial test." She writes: "An intimidating, sometimes violent campaign has already begun, yet Washington has been strangely and sadly silent about the future of this important American partner."

Radio broadcasts have been forced off the air -- including those of Radio Liberty. Journalists are dying under suspicious circumstances. And federal tax regulators seem to be focusing their efforts on opposition supporters. Nongovernmental organizations operating in the country "face continual pressure" and President Leonid Kuchma is seeking constitutional changes that will allow him to exert influence in parliament regardless of the outcome of presidential elections this October.

This May, 10 nations will join the European Union, and Ukraine will then sit on the bloc's eastern border. Albright says Kyiv will then become "even more important in dealing with Islamic extremism to its south, the authoritarianism of its neighbor Belarus, and a Russia whose leaders sometimes express nostalgia for the Soviet Union."

Unfortunately, she says, the U.S. administration has been muted in response to these developments. She says Kuchma believes the U.S. administration gives little thought to Ukraine and merely reiterates whatever it hears from the Kremlin.

Albright says Washington must speak out, insisting on free and fair elections this October and actively supporting independent media and civil society in Ukraine. Moreover, it must envision other paths for the country, including future EU membership, partnership with NATO and eventual membership in the World Trade Organization.


As the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) convenes today in Vienna, a "Daily Telegraph" editorial says the United States, as usual, wants a tough resolution "focusing upon the failures of the Islamic Republic to come fully clean about its nuclear program." Europe, led by France and Germany, "is more willing to accept that measurable, albeit imperfect, progress has been made" by Tehran. And these differences have resulted in "a dangerous lack of clarity that the mullahs are bound to exploit."

The paper says Europe's preferred policy of constructive engagement with Iran "has been a failure." This is evident in the "increased marginalization" of President Mohammad Khatami's reformists, following the disqualification of thousands of pro-reform candidates ahead of last month's parliamentary elections. And Britain, for one, "has been woefully slow in constructing alternative approaches based upon support for genuine democracy."

But the failure of European policy "is worse than just a rigid desire to hold on to the moderate [for] fear of finding something worse. It is also based upon a fundamentally faulty analysis" -- the belief that Tehran must be approached very carefully and many of its actions, including the presence of its intelligence officers in Iraq and support for Hizballah, should be tolerated. "This 'hear no evil' approach has served the West ill," says "The Daily Telegraph." U.S. overtures toward Iran have often been mistakenly read "as a sign of weakness." The paper asks, why should the clerics take Europe any more seriously than they do Washington?


In the "Christian Science Monitor," Nicholas Blanford writes from Kirkuk saying this northern Iraqi city "is about to explode into violence between Kurds and the mainly Shi'a Turkomans." The two groups were once "united in opposition to Saddam Hussein's brutal oppression against them." But today, Iraq's Shi'a and Kurdish communities "appear increasingly divided over how to share the spoils of the new Iraq."

Blanford writes: "The long-simmering friction between Kurds and Turkomans here is taking a sectarian turn, with thousands of Shi'a militiamen recently arriving to protect the Turkomans and Arab co-religionists against Kurdish hopes to incorporate Kirkuk into their sphere of influence in the north. Shi'a-Kurdish tensions also lay behind the refusal by five key Shi'a members of Iraq's Governing Council to sign an interim constitution on Friday [5 February]."

At the root of ethnic divisions in Kirkuk is a disagreement over which group comprises the majority and, therefore, "who has the right to control the city -- and its massive oil wealth." Information about the demographic composition of the city "vanished long ago in a Ba'athist legacy of manipulated census figures, deportations, mass resettlement programs and forced identity changes." With the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, thousands of Kurds and Turkomans are now "returning to Kirkuk to lay claim to their former homes, deepening the city's already complex demographics."


Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "deserves credit for its long-term commitment to democracy in the Middle East. But even a good idea can be spoiled by clumsy execution," he adds.

Arab leaders have responded "swiftly -- and unhappily" to what they perceive as American efforts to impose regional change. For starters, Bush unveiled the plan "in a patronizing way: before an enthusiastic audience at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington policy institution enamored of the war in Iraq and not particularly sympathetic toward the Arab world."

The idea that America will teach the Arab world how to modernize does not go over particularly well in "a region where memory of French and British control is still fresh." Brzezinski says another concern is that democracy, if "impatiently imposed," could lead to the election --- and legitimization -- of militant or extremist leaders. Democratic reform must be "genuinely accepted and reinforced by traditions of constitutionalism," he says.

Brzezinski goes on to say regional democratic reform "must be devised with Arab countries and not just presented to them." Any initiative "must recognize that without political dignity derived from self-determination there can be no democracy."

And a major part of encouraging democratic change must be finding a peace settlement for the Israelis and Palestinians. To do so "will give greater credibility to the constructive motives behind the democracy initiative," and will help convince regional nations "that there is a shared basis for a genuine partnership with the democratic West."


Women account for most of the world's 1.4 billion poor people.
Writing on International Women's Day, the paper's Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says, "It is the best of times for some women, and the worst of times for others, and getting worse by the day." Much like globalization, she says, "feminism has created many more successful women the world over, but the gap between them and the women at the bottom has only got wider." Men continue to "wield disproportionate power" for their numbers, and many "willfully keep women down."

Equality for women is widely accepted in the Western democratic world. And yet, it "is a goal easily stated, but overwhelmingly complicated to achieve."

Women account for most of the world's 1.4 billion poor people. Women in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere can be beaten for not conforming to strict dress codes; "25,000 South Asian women are burned alive for not bringing in a big enough dowry; and innumerable others are murdered in 'honor' killings, sometimes for moving a little to music or looking into the face of a male cousin. In Zimbabwe, rape is used as a weapon by specially trained men who are terrorizing opposition members."

The "huge progress made by women -- in the media, business, politics -- masks tenacious sexism which hangs on," she says. It is "foolish and dangerous to applaud women simply for getting into places they were locked out of."


Writing in France's "Le Monde," sociologist Dounia Bouzar of the French Council for Muslim Worship (CFCM) says throughout France there is an ongoing debate over what Islam says about the role of women in society. Some believe Islamic women must be good mothers above all; others insist the first priority is for women to be good citizens. Some interpret Muslim teachings as saying that all women must marry; others differ and make pursuing a career the priority. Bouzar says economic and social development is also necessary before the social emancipation of women becomes possible.

She goes on to say there is no such thing as a prototype of "the Muslim woman" -- there are only Muslim women. It is not important only to know what Islam says -- it is important to recognize that some people will have unique interpretations of their religion. One never meets whole cultures or religions, only the individuals who represent different elements of these groups and who are in constant evolution.

Each human being interprets a religion based on his or her individual experiences. Religious understanding, Bouzar says, is always the product of a dialogue between what one is and what one understands from the divine message of religion.