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Western Press Review: Germany's Election, Clinton's Tape

By Joel Blocker/ Dora Slaba/Annie Hillar

Prague, 23 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- With only four days remaining before the vote (Sept. 27), Germany's critical general election is attracting more and more comment in the West European press. At the same, both in Western Europe and the U.S., editorials and analyses maintain their focus on Monday's broadcast of President Bill Clinton's video-taped appearance before a grand jury investigating his admitted extra-marital relations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

This week's public-opinion polls show the gap severely narrowing between conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Social Democratic rival Gerhard Schroeder, once considered almost certain to win the elections. Now, commentators suggest, much will depend on the vote in eastern Germany (the former GDR), where considerable anti-Kohl sentiment now exists.

GUARDIAN: Disaffected German east is turning its back on Kohl

In a news analysis from Rostock in Britain's Left-of-Center Guardian daily today, Ian Traynor says that "the disaffected German east is turning its back on Kohl, the unifier" in 1991 of the former two Germanies. Traynor writes: ""The chancellor of unification not the chancellor of German unity. (His) failure to generate a sense of national belonging may cost him dear this Sunday when voters in the east turn their back on the man who promised them 'flourishing landscapes.'"

Traynor quotes Wolfgang Mothling, a candidate for the east's formerly communist PDS (party) as saying: "People here will never forget the arrogance of unification. It was carried out as a conquest by the west....The older generation especially will never accept unification because it caused so much trauma and pain."

Traynor says that "such criticism from the hard left is common, and the PDS is consolidating itself as a regional party of protest, (with a projected) 20 percent of the vote....In the Kohl camp, too, there is disaffection with the Chancellor's record in the east....One result (of all this) in Rostock," he adds, "is a real unemployment rate of 27 percent, almost triple that in western Germany."

Another result, Traynor adds, is that "Mr. Kohl's CDU (Christian Democratic Union) is polling 10 percent, less than in 1994, in the east....(So if Kohl) has to bow out on Sunday, eight years after uniting Germany, it may be because he has become the victim of his greatest success."

SAECHSISCHE ZEITUNG: Party managers are nervous about the complicated German election system

The Saechsische Zeitung, published in the east German city of Dresden, comments today on the nation's complex electoral system: "Party managers are disturbed. They are beginning to get nervous about the complicated German election system (in which two ballots are cast, one for a candidate, one for a party). The FDP (Free Democrats) is appealing to the (CDU) electorate for support: It wants both their votes. The CDU counters: We need every vote ourselves."

The paper's editorial continues: "The Green Alliance is encouraging its supporters to give their votes to the Social Democrats in the seven east German constituencies. This annoys the (former Communist) PDS, who only have a genuine chance to make it into Parliament with direct votes for their candidates in some regions. (Meanwhile,) the Federal Green Party is appealing to the rest of Germany, and to Social Democrat voters in particular, to vote Green with both their votes so that the SPD will (eventually be able to form a national coalition with the Greens)."

LIBERATION: Essential for Schroeder is to attain the chancellorship

France's Left-leaning Liberation daily, today carries a portrait of Schroeder by Jean-Francois Ebeling , who calls the Social Democratic candidate "a curious personage." Ebeling writes: "A former Left-winger, member of the German Young Socialists during its great years...the flag-carrier of the German Social Democrats has gone all-out in an U.S.-style campaign. His one constant worry has been not to offend anyone: not the workers in eastern Germany, who will determine his victory or defeat, not the West, not the Parisian Left Bank, not his own party's conservatives, not even those who are anti-EU."

Ebeling's portrait continues: "But now Schroeder is seeking to sell only a minimal program and thus remain open to the possibility of an alliance, whether with the Greens or with the conservatives. That's not important (for him): what's essential is to finally attain the ultimate dream, the chancellorship."

Ebeling concludes: "(Schroeder) may finally achieve his dream Sunday evening: this man of undeniable personal charm possesses uncommon energy plus an incredible sense of social subtleties that allows him to reassure those in his country who fear any sudden change and who a long time ago learned to be suspicious of dreams."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The German election is important for fundamental reasons

Britain's Financial Times yesterday said that the German election "is of fundamental importance for three reasons." The paper wrote in an editorial: "First, it marks the end of an era. Whichever candidate for Chancellor...emerges victorious, this is the last election Mr. Kohl will fight. The beginning of the end of his momentous 16-year rule is thus at hand. Soon enough, a leader from the postwar generation --with memories and experience wholly different from Mr. Kohl-- will be in the chancellery."

"Second," the editorial went on, "whoever wins faces challenges almost as momentous (as Kohl's in the past). Germany's capital is about to shift eastwards to Berlin, and it is about to abandon its postwar icon, the D-mark. Both moves are a voyage into the unknown."

"Third," the FT wrote, "the next chancellor will be the leader of Europe at a time when Europe badly needs leadership. In the EU presidency next year (six months beginning Jan. 1), Germany will oversee important decisions affecting the Union's admission of new members from Eastern Europe and agricultural and institutional reform. And with the advent of the euro, Europe will be feeling its way towards a new international role in a world in economic turmoil."

So, the editorial asks, "which of the two candidates has (the right) combination? One is tempted," answers the FT, "to say neither....Mr. a known quantity and a proven statesman, (but) he looks politically tired....Mr. Schroeder is an enigma, his policies are a neo-(Tony) Blairite haze....The best neither (of them), but (rather) Mr. Kohl's appointed successor as CDU leader, Wolfgang Schaeuble."

NEWSWEEK: The Germans will vote for themselves and not for the security of Europe

In a commentary for Newsweek magazine's European edition this week, French geopolitical analyst Dominique Moisi also says that "the end of the Kohl era is in sight." Moisi writes: "(One great) uncertainty now (about Germany) is domestic: Who will be able to impose the unpopular reforms necessary for a society that still lives beyond its means? Kohl, the European, needs to re-invent himself, while Schroeder, the pragmatist, must decide who he really is."

Moisi goes on: "The stakes for Europe are not that high. Germany after Kohl would most likely be just as pro-European as Germany under Kohl. It would not be significantly more arrogant or more nationalistic; it would not be either more inward- or more outward-looking. Still, the French cannot but help but grow uneasy if, someday, Germans are no longer haunted by fears of their past. In fact, that day may already have come, but Germany is so decentralized and its Laender so powerful that a new Bismarck in unthinkable."

Moisi's commentary concludes: "Between a largely spent force (Kohl) and an unknown one (Schroeder), many reasonable people would probably stick with the reassuring, familiar man who has become the old and wise incarnation of Europe. But the Germans will vote for themselves and not for the security of Europe and the world."

WASHINGTON POST: Congress needs to open a formal impeachment inquiry

Three major U.S. national dailies comment critically on President Clinton's grand-jury testimony. The Washington Post says in an editorial: "The videotape and other materials released Monday...seem to us not to change the unfortunate fundamentals of the case. The country and its proxy, Congress, are still faced with the same awful dilemma. By just about any standard but, apparently, his own, the President pretty plainly lied under oath in a court proceeding and repeatedly in public and private thereafter about the nature of his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky."

The editorial continues: "The constitutional remedy of removal from office, which in the strictest sense he may deserve and which is the only real punishment available, is an enormous step not lightly taken and opens up a prospect that future presidents might be too easily forced from office. The middle course of censure, meanwhile, however elaborately contrived, smacks of a slap on the wrist."

The paper adds: "The self-indulgence that has been the abiding characteristic of this president's entire career has taken us all to a place where we have no instantly clear good choice. That is the ultimate price he exacts; he drags down the national standards by entwining them in his own. He sought to disarm in the videotape; the appearance of candor was used to mask the opposite."

The WP concludes: " Our position continues to be that Congress needs to open a formal impeachment inquiry and decide as that unfolds what course to take."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: U.S. Federal judiciary is by now disgusted

The Wall Street Journal (Europe) is even more critical of Clinton's testimony, saying it "made clear (he)does not think American laws and norms apply to him." The paper's editorial continues: "The testimony is full of (evasions). When a grand juror asks Mr. Clinton what his legal basis is for not answering their questions, he says something about having wanted to invite them down to the White House."

The WSJ also says: "(Mr. Clinton's) courtiers seem to be arguing that suddenly presidential divine right trumps the rule of law...(But) it is our view that much of the U.S. Federal judiciary, across the ideological spectrum, is by now disgusted with the Clinton White House's attempted tramplings of law and procedure.?

The paper adds: "But of course obstruction has been the Clinton defense strategy, so the preposterousness will grind on --with this or that opinion poll cited as evidence of 'support'-- even as the President's ability to lead the nation or the world erodes down to nothing."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The tape further erodes Clinton's credibility

In its editorial yesterday, the Los Angeles Times was no less critical of Clinton, calling his testimony "a civic embarrassment." The paper wrote: "Before he began answering questions Clinton swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He spent the better part of the next four hours apparently trying to evade that responsibility, and it showed....At a minimum the tape further erodes Clinton's credibility as he ducks, dodges and repeatedly seeks refuge in his own uniquely constricted definition of what a sexual relationship is. The discomfort the president clearly experienced was shared by many who watched his performance."

The LAT went on: "This is not an occasion, though, for Clinton's enemies to gloat. The scandal swirling around him will decide his political fate, but it also affects the health of our polity. American politics is now in a notably ugly, even decadent phase, one that is unlikely to end with the Clinton presidency. We have already seen that the mess growing out of Clinton's efforts to cover up his private adulterous behavior defies containment. In the last few weeks three of Clinton's critics in the House have been (exposed for) prior sexual misbehavior."

The paper concluded: "Thoughtful members of both parties are starting to ponder how to resolve the Clinton impeachment matter in a way that would harm the country the least....It is...time for all of the players --including the media, but most directly those in the White House and (in Congress)-- to pause, take a breath and determine what can be done to demonstrate that apparent lying under oath is not excusable but neither is the political hysteria that has driven this painful process."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Thou shalt not lie

Two comments from Western Europe today provide different perspectives on Clinton's testimony. Writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Josef Joffe says: "Nobody wanted World War I; four years later Europe destroyed itself. What is happening in America today can be described similarly." His commentary, entitled "Dr. Freud and Mr. Clinton," asks: "Why has the whole nation assembled on the (Clinton) stage?..."

"The best answer,? Joffe responds, "is still given by Dr. Freud. In all cultures, (according to Freud,) it is the custom to force the leader in the White House or in other splendid palaces to honor the people (as well as) watch over them. (The leader) has the power, but he must not elevate it above the law --that is the prerogative only of the Gods. Above all, he must not claim all women for himself --then all the sons and brothers gang up to murder the father. Thus far Dr. Freud."

Joffe adds: "In Clinton's case, the poison will continue to erode as the nation looks on with horror. One breaking of a rule follows another with murderous consequences, and the end is nowhere in sight.... The message is clear: Thou shalt not lie and elevate yourself; but thou shalt also not raise revenge and partisan self-interest above the common good. And for all of us, thou shalt return to us the right to privacy...since the walls that are eroding in the U.S. are also decaying in Europe."

EL PAIS: This whole case is an embarrassment

Spain's El Pais writes today: "In reality, this is not a purely American affair. It could end by affecting other democracies in an era in which odd combinations of economic, judicial and media power can produce monstrosities like this one."

The paper's editorial goes on: "The Grand Inquisitor, (Independent Counsel)Kenneth Starr...has conducted an abusive and obsessive inquiry into a private affair, violating human rights acknowledged by all civilized nations. No appeal to the singularities of the U.S. justice system can justify silence about this abuse."

El Pais also says: "Despite what was anticipated, the video broadcast might have improved Clinton's image: He defended himself well, he endured the questioning and he took utmost care to avoid any negative references to Monica Lewinsky --who, for her part, has acknowledged that no one asked her to lie...."

The paper concludes: "While a great majority of Americans still believe that Clinton lied about his relationship with Lewinsky, support for the President has risen. So has the percentage of those who think he should not be tried or impeached. Far from serving as an example, this whole case is an embarrassment for a country that considers itself a beacon of democracy."