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Western Press Review: Human Rights, Oil, Economics and Iraq

Prague, 30 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary and analysis range over a variety of issues of concern to Eastern and Central Europe and East Asia.


The president of the U.S.-based human rights organization, Freedom House, took issue in a commentary published yesterday in The Washington Post with several recent articles challenging the value of democratic elections in transitional nations that lack democratic traditions.

In the Washington Post commentary, Adrian Karatnycky wrote: "Democracy, as a U.S. foreign policy goal, is taking a beating these days."

He said: "The problem with the new-found pessimism about democracy is that it is misplaced. It blames the victim by wrongly ascribing violence and turmoil to the actions of weak new democracies rather than to the military coups or illiberal insurgencies to which they fall prey.

"A second problem with this skepticism is that it is unjustified. Each year, Freedom House issues a year-end survey of the state of political rights and civil liberties around the world. In 1995, there were 117 democratically elected governments, of which 76 were free. This year's just-released survey finds that while the number of democracies has remained static at 117, the number of free countries has increased to 81. What accounts for this trend? Successive competitive elections, which result in stronger political parties, stimulate debate over policy alternatives and force leaders to face the judgment of public opinion. Moderation and incremental liberalization are the result. In short, trends suggest that what Fareed Zakaria calls 'illiberal democracies' are in decline."

Karatnycky concluded: "While it is right to take a hard look at what works and what doesn't in the effort to expand the scope of democracy and human liberty, a decade of efforts to promote democratic transitions around the world has not failed. (In fact, the efforts have) made the world a better place. But more important, the promotion of democracy has increased the prospect that in the years ahead the world will be better still."


The British business daily Financial Times, in an editorial Saturday, compared what it said are opposing macroeconomic attitudes in the United States and continental Europe.

The Financial Times said: "There is a widespread conviction in the English-speaking countries that continental Europe has disappeared up an economic blind alley, beset by labor market rigidities and incapable of innovation or job creation. An equal and opposite conviction among continental Europeans is that the creative destruction beloved of U.S. economic liberals generates jobs, but at the cost of great inequality and urban strife.

"While the debate smacks of sterile caricature, it nonetheless raises an important question. In a global capital market, can continental Europe preserve the post-war values of social cohesion and co-operative behavior at work by adhering to a middle way between socialism and the market?"

The editorial concluded: "To pronounce social cohesion dead in Europe is premature. But new institutional forms, including more equity ownership, are needed to sustain it."


Correspondent Steve LeVine writes today in The New York Times about the opening yesterday of an Iranian-built pipeline from Korpedzhe in Turkmenistan to a point in the Caspian Sea basin.

LeVine writes in an analysis: "The opening of the 125-mile pipeline gives Iran access to the world's largest untapped energy reserves. The new pipeline also weakened one of the strongest levers Washington has wielded in its attempts to isolate Iran and punish the country for supporting terrorist groups and trying to acquire nuclear weapons."

The writer says: "Turkmenistan will see no profit from the natural-gas sales for more than a year, because Iran financed the pipeline's construction and several months of gas deliveries will be used to pay off Turkmenistan's debt. But, to this poor republic the pipeline is still priceless. Until four years ago, Turkmenistan's natural gas was exported to Europe through pipelines that traversed Russia; in 1993, the country earned 1,200 million dollars from these sales.

"But in December 1993, Moscow clamped shut the pipelines as part of a reassertion of its Soviet-era domination of the Caspian. That left Turkmenistan starved for cash. So, (yesterday's) pipeline opening shattered more than one blockade."


In a commentary in the German newspaper Die Welt, Fritz Wirth finds evidence to support charges of arrogance leveled against U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps worse, he says that the arrogance is self defeating.

Wirth writes: "During this period of balancing the successes and failures of the outgoing year, it will surprise nobody to meet particularly unhappy accountants of power in the (U.S.) State Department. It was not a good year for the superpower and if the United States needed confirmation of this, it came in the last weeks of 1997 from, of all people, Saddam Hussein.

"The Iraqi dictator is busy playing cat and mouse with his former conquerors and his game is not new. What is unnerving is that he is forever finding new playmates in Paris, Moscow and Beijing. This is certainly the result of an increasingly questionable component of U.S. foreign policy. The ingredient is what lends U.S. policy its chastising element: sanctions. Sanctions are being imposed in almost every continent and have led recently to more frequent uses of the word 'arrogant' to describe U.S. foreign policy. The sanctions are not just hitting the confirmed heavyweights in this world but also a clutch of irritated partners."


Russia and China yesterday completed a 3,000-million-dollar agreement under which Russia will provide equipment for a nuclear power plant in China.

James Harding writes in an analysis in today's Financial Times that the deal is significant in Chinese-Russian efforts to regenerate economic movement between the two countries. He writes: "Last month, Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited China, greeting President Jiang Zemin, with a trademark bear-hug that underscored the improved relations in recent years between Moscow and Beijing. However, the low level of Sino-Russian trade remains a cause of concern to both sides and yesterday's deal, which has been under negotiation for a number of years, will help lift the figures."


In the Suddeutsche Zeitung today, Commentator Andreas Oldag writes that as Britain assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union Thursday, it will be seeking a new image for its EU relations.

He says that, for instance, it should take a new look at the euro. He writes: "The previous Conservative government left Britain with a dubious reputation as an obstructive opponent of European unity, but everything is supposed to be different now."

The writer says: "One hugely important project will have to be pushed forward during the first half of 1998, despite Britain's own refusal so far to take part. And that is European Monetary Union."

Oldag writes: "As long as the entire EMU project looked precarious, it was relatively easy for EU member governments which had no intention of participating to reassure important economic players in their countries that they were making the right decision. But now that a large majority (11 of 15) of EU member countries want to enter EMU and look capable of meeting the entry criteria, and the euro looks increasingly certain to arrive on schedule, there is growing fear in non-participating countries that they will be isolated from the rest of Europe."