Prague, 27 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary touches on a variety of international subjects. They include Pope John Paul's current visit to North America, recent problems within the European Union, the ongoing crisis in Kosovo, and Iraq's continuing confrontation with the U.S.
NEW YORK TIMES: John Paul's spiritual critique of capitalism constitutes a complex task
The New York Times today says that, "in his appearances in recent days in Mexico City and St. Louis, [the Pope] spoke haltingly at times and walked unsteadily. But," the paper adds, "his message --the primacy of the human being-- rang out. Early in his papacy he attacked the dehumanization of communism, and now he sounds warnings about the human costs of hard-edged capitalism. World events have risen and fallen around John Paul, but his theme has never changed."
The editorial continues: "One of the pope's goals in Mexico was to stop the flood of millions of Catholics who have joined evangelical Protestant churches. He was also trying to attract young people to the priesthood. There is only one priest for every 13,000 parishioners in Latin America." It adds that "some of the church's problems stem from John Paul's conservative views on doctrinal matters, especially birth control and divorce, which have convinced many Latins that the church is irrelevant to their daily lives."
The paper says further: "The church in the U.S. has also experienced a shortage of priests, and officials here are worried about Catholic adhesion among young people, whose views on premarital sex, homosexuality and birth control are far more liberal than those of their parents."
The NYT notes, too, that the Pope "has always relied on modern media to enhance his extraordinary charisma and communication with his faithful....His criticisms of materialism were part of a trip underwritten by Pepsi-Cola and several other companies. Pope John Paul won his battle with communism, but his struggle to mount a spiritual critique of capitalism and a global commercial culture promises to be an even more complex task."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Pope should be judged against the background of his Christian values
A commentary by Stefan Ulrich in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today asks: "Was this a dyed-in-the-wool 1968 radical preaching to the masses in Mexico? He warned against greed for profit, exploitation and repression, he demanded that the poor countries be released from debts....He condemned the arms race and the military attacks on Iraq, attacked U.S. sanctions against socialist Cuba....He even went so far as to question the whole modern world economic order and condemned the social sins of capitalism, neo-liberalism and globalization."
And Ulrich asks again: "Are these not dusty old Leftist ideas --slogans that nobody wants to hear any more, certainly not the Center-Left Schroeders and Blairs of this world? Then," the commentator says, "the old man started talking about the 'culture of death,' abortion and birth control. And suddenly it dawned: this was the Pope speaking, the arch-conservative Polish pontiff whose strict morality has brought dissent from many Catholics throughout Europe."
He continues: "The two profiles do not seem to fit together: in Germany he is considered a fundamentalist; in Mexico, which he visited last weekend before moving on [yesterday] to the U.S., he is a celebrated champion of social reform and a fair world order. Anyone who tried to hang the usual Left-Right pattern on Pope John Paul," Ulrich concludes, "will not truly get the measure of him. But if you judge him against the background of his Christian values, then everything falls into place."
FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: No wonder that the Latvians feel they have been led up the garden path
The 15-nation EU's internal problems and sometimes difficult relations with Eastern candidate countries has evoked several comments in the past 48 hours. In today's Frankfurter Rundschau, Hannes Gamillscheg says that "Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis has now warned the European Union that if it does not want the Latvians in the Union, they will be looking to satisfy their security solutions elsewhere."
Ulrich goes on: "Ulmanis' words clearly displayed the frustration he feels at the dashed hopes of joining the European family....When Estonia appeared alone among the Baltic States to be invited to attend EU entry talks, the Latvian Government naturally assumed that it too could spring into the breach of possible future entrants if it speeded up its economic reforms. It managed the transition so well that it even gained the respect of the EU's talent scouts.... But...the EU [Executive] Commission failed to immediately offer Latvia a participating role in entry discussions. Only after one year, it said, would this occur -- provided the country remained on good behavior.... No wonder that the Latvians feel they have been led up the garden path".
Ulrich sums up: "The EU's interest in eastward expansion has disappeared. Nothing remains of the original enthusiasm to take the young democracies into the Western community. And the Baltic States, whose size can harm no one, but who also fail to really interest anyone, have been left in the cold."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The truth about the EU Commission is a good deal less garish
Two commentaries in yesterday's International Herald Tribune discussed the EU's internal problems. Roy Denman, a former EU representative in Washington, focuses on the recent conflict between the Union's elected Parliament and appointed Commission over charges of fraud, cronyism and mismanagement in the Commission. According to Denman, the charges were exaggerated by "the mainly foreign-owned British press [which] crowed delightedly that the Brussels they hate so much had been shown up as a cesspit".
Denman continues: "The truth is a good deal less garish....[The] Parliament members are not all knights in shining armor. Last year they hushed up widespread charges that many of their travel expense claims were fraudulent....[Nor] are the charges against the Commission...as grave as the headlines make out....But...the Commission could [still] do a lot better."
Denman acknowledges that "the Parliament has achieved something. An inquiry to be completed in March could prove crucial in establishing facts on fraud and cronyism [in the Commission]....If the review...shows financial scandals and cronyism," he says, "Parliament should demand the resignation of the commissioners responsible."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Brussels has taken on too many administrative chores
The second commentary is by Brussels-based analyst Gilles Merritt, who also suggests that "the European press and broadcasting media --and, so far as one can judge, public opinion-- enjoyed the humiliation of the...Commission [by the Parliament]. Shortcomings in information and communication," he says, "have given the Commission an image of arrogance and facelessness that may yet cost it dear."
Merritt goes on: "[Critical] for the EU's future is that the Parliament, thanks to the political mileage it has gained, is now set to win new powers [and,] perhaps just as important, the respect and attention of Europe's voters. Public approval of the way the Parliament harried some individual members of the Commission and its president was evident across Europe." The commentary also says: "The imbroglio with [the Parliament] showed that Brussels has taken on too many administrative chores, and is not suited to performing them. If it wants to regain respect, the Commission should itself propose [moving some of these jobs] to more specialized agencies."
WASHINGTON POST: The OSCE monitors can muddle along, but sooner or later disaster will force action
The Washington Post runs two commentaries on the situation in Kosovo. The first, by analyst Daniel Serwer, says that "the situation in the province has disintegrated faster than most had expected [due to] civilian massacres, kidnappings and murders, and shelling of civilians....Only the courageous efforts of the [OSCE's] Kosovo verification team," Serwer says, "have so far prevented a return to open warfare."
The commentator warns, however, that even the 2,000 unarmed OSCE monitors eventually expected in Kosovo cannot do the job: "The situation is perilous, and the likelihood of accidents high. The mission can muddle along, but sooner or later disaster will force action." He urges that the West --and particularly the U.S.-- "get in for real" in Kosovo. That could mean, he says, "a NATO military ground force, withdrawal of the Yugoslav police, re-deployment of the Yugoslav military and an end to the Kosovo Liberation Army's [UCK's] insurgency."
"What," Serwer asks, "would persuade [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic to accept a NATO military force?" His answer: "Only recognition of the [current] military stalemate [in which neither Belgrade's forces nor the UCK can win a clear victory]." He ends by saying: "The earlier this recognition comes, the less likely that the [April Washington] NATO summit will be accompanied by the clamor of war, death and destruction."
WASHINGTON POST: US policy on Kosovo is full of delusions and hypocrisies
The second Washington Post commentary, by editorial-page staffer Fred Hiatt, strongly criticizes U.S. reluctance to commit troops to Kosovo. He writes: "President [Bill] Clinton earned a healthy round of applause during his State of the Union message last week for his line on ending the 'brutal repression in Kosovo.' Unfortunately, that's all it seemed to be --an applause line. If the president were serious about ending Serbia's repression of Kosovo....he would have explained that it will require the serious use of American force --not a cruise missile or two flung from a distance but a real commitment of troops and time."
The commentary went on: "[U.S.] policy on Kosovo is full of delusions and hypocrisies, but the most basic is its belief that it can mediate a solution under which the Kosovo population will accept continued subjugation to Milosevic. This might have been true a year ago, when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first promised that the U.S. would not 'stand by and watch' as Milosevic terrorized the province. Now, with Milosevic having done just that, it simply is not possible."
Hiatt concludes: "The U.S. and its NATO allies could yet act. They could force Serb troops to withdraw and then could deploy enough ground troops to maintain the separation. Without recognizing Kosovo independence, NATO protection could offer a five-year window of autonomy for the Kosovars to recover and consider their future."
NEWSWEEK: Everybody wants this peace-seeking, unarmed OSCE effort to succeed
The head of the OSCE monitors in Kosovo, U.S. diplomat William Walker, says in the current issue of the U.S. magazine that his group is there "to keep the two sides apart until a political solution can be reached....Our mission," he adds, "will be a success if it can help establish the conditions to move the political reconciliation process forward."
Walker's commentary continues: "We have been told [by Yugoslav authorities] that there are no constraints on the mission...That means, when we see a battle brewing, we will try to calm both sides....It also means moving verifiers from regional centers to the smaller towns, where the risk of conflict is greatest."
He concludes: "Everybody wants this peace-seeking, unarmed OSCE effort to succeed. We will try our best to see that it does."
INFORMATION: NATO should support its threats with action
The Danish daily Information says today "the Kosovo Albanians, as a people and as a nation, have been singled out for violence for almost a decade [since Milosevic took away the autonomy bestowed upon them by Tito]. They have lived as second-class citizens in an European apartheid-like state. There are many proofs of the crimes the Milosevic regime has committed in the province. The international community does not need further documentation in order to act."
The paper's editorial adds: "Bombing the Serbs is a dramatic way to make Milosevic keep the promises he made last October. If NATO does not want once again to give Milosevic the appearance of a victory, it should support its threats with action. Every sign of weakness within the Western alliance will be exploited [by Belgrade]." ...Western military experts agree that only ground forces can effectively enforce a cease-fire. Their opinion is beginning to gain ground among the politicians as well."
AFTENPOSTEN: NATO intervention risks overstepping limits
In Norway, the Aftenposten newspaper writes in an editorial: "The big question in Kosovo is what sort of a political system NATO should protect without taking sides with any of the warring parties....[NATO troops] are wanted by only one party, the ethnic Albanians, who seek protection against the militarily stronger Serbs." The paper continues: "One of the possibilities currently being discussed is that NATO should restore the autonomy that...Milosevic took away from Kosovo in 1989. If that happens, the ethnic Albanians will have achieved what they want --full independence in all but a name."
"Regardless [of how it decides to go into Kosovo]," Aftenposten concludes, "if NATO does intervene, it will be taking the risk of overstepping limits it has never crossed before."
GUARDIAN: Iraq needs a middle way
Moving on to Iraq, Britain's Guardian daily today says the country "needs a middle way" that will exempt its civilian population from possible injury and death from continuing U.S. air strikes. In an editorial, the paper notes "the death of [Iraqi] civilians in American missile attacks Monday on [Basra in southern] Iraq," saying "this should concentrate our minds."
The editorial criticizes both the U.S. and Iraqi governments, urging: "What is now required is some agreed framework which will diminish the level of hostility and help Iraqi civilians....This is why the members of the Arab League," it adds, "bluntly told Iraq at their summit last weekend that it must retreat from its position of complete defiance. That is why [United Nations Secretary-General] Kofi Annan is now searching for a middle way."
WASHINGTON POST: U.S. policy is undermining international law
Finally, a commentary in the Washington Post by Sam Husseini, communications director of the U.S.-based Institute for Public Accuracy, attacks what he calls the U.S.'s "twisted policy on Iraq." Husseini writes: "This Administration claims its bombings and enforcement of the 'no-fly' zones are UN-mandated, while actually these administration policies are undermining international law."