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Western Press Review: Europe's New Divide, Beijing's Influence In Central Asia, And Christianity And Islam

Prague, 29 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics up for discussion in some of the major media outlets today are China's influence in Central Asia; Europe's new East-West divide; European Union attempts to combat supranational terrorism; resurgent violence last week in Kosovo; and a consideration of Christianity and Islam.


U.S. President George W. Bush welcomes the leaders of seven Central and Eastern European states today at a White House ceremony marking their official inclusion into NATO. Heads of state from accession countries Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia will be joined in Washington by those representing NATO aspirants Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia.

This expansion represents a "significant event in Europe's evolution," writes James Goldgeier of the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian studies at George Washington University. This year's parallel NATO and European Union expansions are "momentous changes" that indicate the post-Cold War vision of a new Europe has been fulfilled admirably since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But a new divide is emerging in Europe today, Goldgeier says. "Except for the three Baltic nations, the former Soviet Union -- Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasus, Moldova, and Central Asia -- is not on the path to integration with the West."

The vision of a united and free Europe "has stalled at the border of the former Soviet Union," he says. Russia has become "increasingly authoritarian under President Vladimir Putin, and Ukraine's government has failed to carry out serious political and economic reform." Georgia's new president "faces enormous challenges to bring his country closer to European norms." And from Belarus to Azerbaijan and throughout Central Asia, both the "political and economic competition" that characterize open societies "is nowhere in sight."

Both the EU and the United States should renew their efforts to integrate the former Soviet states -- particularly Ukraine and Georgia -- into Europe, says Goldgeier. This endeavor is as vital to Western security interests as it was at the end of the Soviet era.

Now, he says, "is not the time to give up."


The international edition of the U.S. news weekly carries an item by Zoran Cirjakovic on last week's violence in Kosovo. Thirty people were killed, churches and homes burned, and nearly 1,000 Serbs were chased from their homes by angry mobs in retaliation for the drowning deaths of three ethnic Albanian boys after they were reportedly chased into the Ibar River by Serbian youths. Cirjakovic describes the violence as "an orgy of ethnic strife unseen since NATO took over in 1999."

Cirjakovic says Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica was right to call the attacks a new outbreak of "ethnic cleansing" in the province. This "sudden -- albeit familiar -- unrest" is likely due to the "growing frustration of Kosovo's 90 percent Albanian majority, angered by the international community's delay in recognizing Kosovo's independence."

But the irony, Cirjakovic says, is that most Albanians -- while not forgiving Serbia for the past -- have accepted the presence of the Serb minority. Last week's violence "appears to have been planned," although by whom remains unclear.

Kostunica is now in an "awkward" position, "unapologetic nationalist though he may be. He risks being swept away by a new generation of radicals," says Cirjakovic. If the international community "does not act, and act soon, to determine Kosovo's status, last week may be but a taste of more to come."


The London-based daily's Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says Muslims are getting used to "doublespeak and double standards" from Western leaders. She says the many millions of "enlightened Muslims [feel] a terrible pessimism and foreboding that authoritarianism, philistinism and barbarism are now the hallmarks of most Muslim states [and] many Muslim immigrant communities -- a barbarism which is killing hope, excellence, ambitions, life itself. We need reformation," she says.

"But we are also keenly aware of how leaders in the West [have] encouraged this backward state because it benefits their interests. How else do you explain the fact that the sanctimonious governments of the U.S. and U.K. actively support the tyrannical despot in Uzbekistan, which has an appalling human rights record?"

Alibhai-Brown says the world's faiths "are more than their texts, their ideals, their stated principles or their heroic exemplars. Culture and politics invade, change, misuse belief to ignoble purposes."

Jesus Christ “had humility and called for perseverance in the face of provocation,” to “turn the other cheek.” And yet the world's two most prominent Christian leaders, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush, "are so consumed with the madness of vengeance that they feel they have the right to 'punish' the guilty and the innocent in their thousands." These "faithful practitioners have become executioners and self-justifying bullies."

Of course, one cannot blame a faith "for the actions of politicians, princes, business people and states," she says. Yet Muslims are consistently "faced with such unfair generalities [and] sweeping accusations."


An editorial discusses renewed counterterrorism efforts in Europe, saying the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington were not sufficient to mobilize Europe to overhaul its security apparatus and allow increased intelligence-sharing. But after the 11 March train bombings in Madrid, this might be changing.

Last week, the European Union reaffirmed its commitment to strategies already agreed, including the creation of a Europe-wide arrest warrant, shared investigation teams and agreeing on a common definition of terrorism.

"But there are still enormous obstacles," says the paper. "Not only do the EU's members have wildly different policing systems and criminal laws, but many object in principle to the notion of a multilateral [investigative body] with jurisdiction over national police forces, and understandably so." As a result, "Europol has limited ability to demand information of EU members, and European police forces cannot necessarily cross borders as easily as the terrorists they are tracking."

The paper suggests European police forces "might benefit from some of America's post-9/11 experiences, both with better policing and with the civil liberties debate that should follow. Here is an area, at least, in which more practical cooperation could help both sides."


Howard French says areas of China near its border with Central Asia are now going through a vast "economic and political reordering" as a result of the decision to build a pipeline through the region. The pipeline will wind east past the mountain ranges of Central Asia, traversing Alashankou, China, a small hamlet that is now experiencing "an explosion of economic activity."

French says China's bid to secure fuel supplies from resource-rich Central Asia is "part of a bold but little-noticed push to increase its influence vastly in a part of the world long dominated by its historic rival in the region, Russia."

With Russia "in sharp relative decline," French says "a booming China looms as the economic locomotive, even the model, for the entire region."

Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and especially Kazakhstan have begun "looking toward China, rather than to Western-dominated international financial institutions, for new economic thinking." He cites some analysts as saying that China's "authoritarian politics and central planning also have a strong appeal for many of the former Soviet republics of the region."

Correspondingly, China has been "busily building new security relationships in Central Asia to match its growing economic ties." Beijing has recently pressured some regional capitals not to support Islamic militancy or the separatist aspirations of its Uighur Muslim minority. French says China's rising economic status has put it "in a position to call the tune" in Central Asia much more than it has in the past.

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