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Western Press Review: Commentaries Run Gamut, From Press Freedom To Soccer

By Don Hill and Lisa Kammerud

Prague, 12 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Current Western press commentary ranges widely -- touching such issues as press freedom in Russia, foreign policy excess in the United States, and World Cup Soccer travails in France.

NEW YORK TIMES: Now Moscow took note of the warnings

New York Times correspondent Celestine Bohlen writes today in a news analysis that official indifference to local government press harassment has resulted in tragedy. She writes: "For several years Moscow-based journalist rights groups have pressed the government to help Larisa Yudina, a newspaper editor in the southern region of Kalmykia who suffered repeated harassment by local authorities, in clear violation of Russia's press law. But it was only this week, after Mrs. Yudina, 52, had been found slain beside a pond outside the city of Elista in Kalmykia, that Moscow took note of the warnings that the only opposition newspaper in the region was in serious danger."

Bohlen writes: "In a report delivered to parliament yesterday, an official from chief prosecutor's office said three suspects being held in the case had links to the local government headed by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, one of the most flamboyant regional potentates in Russia." The writer says: "Late last year the Glasnost Defense Fund, a private group that defends press freedom in Russia, published a booklet that identified 10 violations of the press law by Kalmyk authorities in their dealings with the newspaper Soviet Kalmykia."

WASHINGTON POST: The end of the Cold War gave a permanent international criminal court a fresh opening

The possibility increases that a world criminal court may be established, a Washington Post editorial says today. The Post says: "For more than a century, people have entertained a vision of a permanent international criminal court that would try the perpetrators of great crimes who could not otherwise be held to account in their home countries. Like Pol Pot and Karadzic: the worst. The trial of German war criminals at Nuremberg gave the idea a first life. The end of the Cold War gave it a fresh opening. In the human rights movement, it found a constituency. Ethnic conflicts made it urgent. A United Nations conference to write the vision into reality opens in Rome on Monday."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: The world's largest Muslim country will become a test case

Columnist Trudy Rubin, commenting today in The Philadelphia Inquirer, says Indonesia may be a lab test of the compatibility of Islam and free democracy. She writes: "In the coming months, the world's largest Muslim country will become a test case for whether Islam and democracy can mix. That issue has haunted the Middle East, where fundamentalist Muslims insist on theocracies. Indonesia has finessed this question so far, even though 87 percent of its 202 million people are Muslim. But now that President Suharto's 32 year regime has given way to the beginnings of a democratic process, the hottest political debates here are over whether to set up exclusively Muslim political parties."

FINANCIAL TIMES: In a tidy world there would be fewer overlapping forums

International overlapping forums proliferate because the U.N can't meet the need, the Financial Times, London, editorializes today. The multiple roles of foreign ministers meeting in London constitute a case in point, the Financial Times says.

The editorial contends: "With the UK chairing both the European Union and the Group of Eight leading industrial powers, London is temporarily the diplomatic capital of the world. (Today) it hosts a particularly complex series of meetings at foreign minister level. First there is a G-8 meeting on the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests. Then the same ministers will transform themselves into a meeting of the Contact Group on the Balkans -- augmented for the occasion to include Canada and Japan -- to discuss the Kosova crisis. Finally they return to the nuclear agenda over lunch, at which colleagues from Argentina, Brazil, China, the Philippines, South Africa and Ukraine will join them."

The editorial concludes: "In a tidy world there would be fewer of these overlapping bodies. All issues affecting global security would be dealt with by a reformed UN security council including the main powers in all five continents."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The United States does not need 535 secretaries of state

The Chicago Tribune lamented in an editorial Thursday that 535 senators and representatives of the U.S. Congress are acting as though each were secretary of state. The Tribune said: "In what has become almost a form of legislative promiscuity, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed and sent to President Clinton a measure that would impose sanctions on countries and businesses that supply missile technology to Iran.

"Clinton has promised to veto the measure, as, indeed, he should. Not because an Iran with missiles is no danger -- it is. But because the United States does not need 535 secretaries of state. That, increasingly, is what we have as Congress enacts laws mandating sanctions for failure to comply with narrow, single-faceted readings of the U.S. national interest. Currently the U.S. maintains sanctions of one kind or another against more than 70 countries containing more than two-thirds of the Earth's people."

NEWSDAY: American primacy is not hegemony

Richard N. Haass, director of foreign policy studies at Washington's Brookings Institution, writes in a commentary today in the U.S. newspaper Newsday that the United States needs to learn its global primacy doesn't confer hegemony. He says: "The decision by India and Pakistan to test nuclear devices is one of the defining events of the first post-Cold War decade. It tells us that democracy and markets are no panacea, that American primacy is not hegemony, and that while the world may be more whole economically, it remains politically and militarily fragmented."

LE SOIR: The World Cup leaves a bitter taste for thousands

Commentary today in the Belgian daily Le Soir and in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung focuses on aspects of the World Cup soccer tourney in Paris that have little to do with kicking the ball. Emmanel Debieve and Bruno Deblander write in Le Soir: "The World Cup (leaves) a bitter taste for thousands of Belgians (who) bought invalid tickets (along with) many Brazilians and Japanese." The writers say: "All the tickets given back by some soccer federations haven't yet arrived at their new destinations, and, in France, the black market has never been so good." Also: "Seats left available for the Brazil-Scotland game were sold at up to about $2,400." They write: "Thus the situation is catastrophic for some travel agencies, who had invested a lot -- and collected a lot -- in this affair."

SUEDDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: The pilots lost the war of nerves

Sueddeutsche Zeitung columnist Rudolph Chimelli writes: "In the power struggle between the striking French airline pilots and Air France, soccer emerged the clear winner. With hours to go to the World Cup kickoff in France the pilots realized that their strike looked like crash-landing. At the crucial moment the French government backed the airline, and the majority of Air France staff -- the majority who earn less pay than the pilots -- were no longer prepared to back the strike. The French -- both those on the ground and those who might have liked to be airborne -- grew daily less well disposed toward the striking pilots. Once it was clear that the pilots could no longer create serious havoc for the World Cup, they had lost the war of nerves."

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The less confident France is, the more difficult it is to deal with

Dominique Moisi writes in the current issue of the U.S. magazine Foreign Affairs on a more lofty facet of French character. In an article entitled 'The Trouble with France,' he writes: "The French always seem to be opposing the United States on some issue or another.... In fact, the annoying behavior coming out of Paris is best explained by the fact that the country is, quite simply, in a bad mood, unsure of its place and status in a new world. The less confident France is, the more difficult it is to deal with. On the eve of the 21st century, France faces four major challenges, which are together the source of its melancholy. The first is globalization, which is often blamed for the erosion of France's culture and its depressingly high levels of unemployment.... The second is the unpopular nature of the international system, in which the United States leads and a once-proud France is grudgingly forced to follow. The third is the merger of Europe, which threatens to drown out France's voice. The fourth, and by far the toughest, challenge is France itself. The nation must overcome its economic, social, political, moral and cultural shortcomings if it is to successfully face its other challenges.... If small is beautiful and big is powerful, then medium is problematic."