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Western Press Review: Commentary Ranges The World

By Anthony Georgieff and Alexis Papasotiriou

Prague, 29 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Denmark's daily Information denounces Russia's new Chechen war, in an editorial that takes aim not at Russia but at what the newspaper terms the "passive," "low profile" and uninvolved West. Other Western commentaries are all over the map, looking at U.S. policy on Cuba, East Timor, Greek-Turkish relations, and central banks' trade in gold.

Information's editorial says, in its words: "The international community again has held its breath while the Russian military have bombed civil targets in separatist Chechnya for the seventh consecutive day." The editorial continues: "The Council of Europe has been passive, the European Union has kept a low profile, and none of the large countries from the G-7 Club has felt any desire to get involved."

The Danish newspaper says that as long as other countries -- whether because of timidity, passivity or disinterest -- fail to oppose the Russian actions, President Boris Yeltsin's government will continue unimpeded. The war in Chechnya, Information says, cannot properly be equated with the war in Kosovo. Kosovo's problems were ignited by the Yugoslav regime, while Chechnya's, Information says, were exacerbated by years of Russian neglect and mismanagement.

The newspaper makes this point: "A country that is at war with its own citizens can hardly be a paragon of a democratic society, the same society that Yeltsin has given all assurances that he has been the guarantor of."

Information may consider Russia off the mark in Chechnya, but New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman considers the United States to be off the target in Cuba. Friedman writes from Havana: "American foreign policy toward Cuba is unique among U.S. foreign policies. It isn't just 15 degrees off. It has the distinction of being 360 degrees wrong." It just hasn't worked -- and it won't work, he writes.

The columnist summarizes the situation this way: "The longstanding U.S. boycott and isolation of Cuba is a failed policy if your desire is to punish Cuba's people so they will oust Fidel Castro, and it is a failed policy if your desire is to ease the pain of Cuba's people while they wait for Mr. Castro to pass away. It is a failed policy if you think we should be preparing for a post-Castro Cuba. And it is a failed policy if you think we should be trying to bring down Mr. Castro today. It is a failed policy if you believe in human rights, and it is a failed policy if you believe only in trade."

A sound U.S. policy would recognize the failure and would seek to ease the eventual transition of Cubans into a post-Castro time, he says. Friedman concludes with this: "Everywhere you turn here, you see American influence -- despite the boycott. They love our Chevys, they love American dollars, they love American baseball, and they love American democracy. American values permeate this place without even trying. Imagine what would happen if we actually tried."

Greek commentator Alkis Kourkoulas wrote in yesterdays To Vima that what he calls Turkey's "discreet attempts" to free itself of earlier intransigence toward Greece constitutes an historic opportunity. Kourkoulas wrote this: "Officials in Ankara - and not only diplomats - have begun to perceive Cyprus's European prospect as a new dimension that will help both sides disengage from the accumulated obstacles." The changes won't have an immediate effect, the commentator said, but they provide, in his words, "a new framework for development in the Cyprus issue."

But a second Greek commentary, this one in an editorial published yesterday by Kathimerini, contended that it would be naive to hope for much real change without much more work by both sides. The editorial said this: "Undoubtedly the climate in Greek-Turkish relations appears to have substantially improved, especially on a psychological level. Yet consolidating this positive development will require persistent and patient work on a multitude of issues where Greece and Turkey have common interests." The two sides need, it said, to establish a framework of agreements on which rapprochement can be founded."

Sueddeutsche Zeitung columnist Andreas Baenziger writes approvingly from Singapore of a decision by the United Nations Human Rights Commission to investigate human rights violations in East Timor. The writer says this: "This is a further humiliation for the Indonesian government in Jakarta, following the painful loss of East Timor and the humiliating withdrawal of its marauding troops."

He adds, however, that not only Indonesia but also many of its southeast Asian neighbors are suspicious. As Baenziger puts it: "People in the West may be quite clear about what they consider to be the difference between good and bad or black and white. He says that Asian leaders suspect the West of ulterior, political motives.

The commentator concludes with this: "Only if the West can establish the credibility of its motives beyond any doubt will it perhaps dawn on the countries of Southeast Asia that the West was only forced to intervene in the first place because of Indonesia's neighbors' own inability to put Indonesia in its place."

In its own editorial on East Timor, the Wall Street Journal Europe expresses similar reservations about the international response in East Timor. It takes note of a remark by the U.S. ambassador in Geneva, George Moore, that, in Moore's words: "It is important to send a signal to all parts of the world that gross violations of human rights will not be tolerated."

The editorial says this: "To be effective, however, a signal has to be understood by all the world's potential brutalizers. So far, the message on East Timor is so muddled as to be meaningless." What makes East Timor different from other places where captive people seek independence or where innocents are being slaughtered, the editorial says, is that in East Timor the alleged perpetrator Indonesia happened to be weak and that the plight of the victims got heavy television coverage.

In another editorial, the Wall Street Journal Europe says that Sunday's surprise decision by 15 central banks to suspend sales of gold is so hedged that it makes little real difference. The newspaper notes, however, that the markets have responded favorably. The editorial concludes with a faint expression of doubt. It says this: "Gold's traditional role as a hedge against inflation and a stable store of value can only be dismissed if you believe our monetary leaders are sufficiently well-equipped, sufficiently wise and sufficiently lucky not to need an insurance policy. Perhaps in five years' time, when the current moratorium (on gold sales) ends, such confidence will be warranted. Or maybe it won't be."