Prague, 22 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today considers lesson's to be learned at the dawn of a new millennium, the implications of Russia's Duma elections, and the message sent by Germany's Defense Minister during his recent visit to Turkey.
NEW YORK TIMES: The next millennium offers the challenge of inventing a new order
The New York Times runs an editorial expressing optimism for the next millennium. As the editorial puts it: "At least for now, the earth's empires have disappeared as anchors of international order. Some fear that a suffocating American imperium now enforces its culture and unforgiving economic rules."
The editorial argues these fears are not necessary and says, in its words, "in today's global environment, the cost and complexity of one people trying to control the sovereignty of broad stretches of the globe no longer seem worth bearing." The editorial continues, "Today's challenge is to make the new system of established states, new states, would-be states, regional conflicts and tenuous alliances work better than the old."
The editorial mentions the fall of empires this century, which fell in waves following both world wars. But it notes that boundaries established by now fallen empires still persist in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The editorial goes on the say, in its words, "The beginning of the next millennium offers the challenge of inventing a new order to replace the artificial, often brutal stability imposed by old imperial structures." It continues, "Without a new order to replace the artificial, often brutal stability, the world's thousands of ethnic, linguistic and religious subgroups will increasingly wonder whether their moment to press for independence as a nation has arrived."
The editorial concludes with this: "If there is a new world order, its stability will only come by a revitalization of each nation's identity, with or without new boundaries drawn on a map. A new philosophy of respect for the world's variety needs to replace the imperial designs that lasted for more than 2,000 years."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Let the globally open society we have created work as well as it can
In more commentary regarding the year 2000 and what mankind should strive for in the next century, Martin Wolf writes in the Financial Times that the lesson of a tortured century is that the path to progress and prosperity lies in the protection of individual liberties.
Wolf looks to Karl Popper, the philosopher of science, for guidance on life in the 21st Century. Wolf agrees with Popper's argument that the political and economic theme of the 20th Century has been the conflict between the individual and the collective. He also agrees with the need for what Popper termed an "open society".
Wolf looks upon the good things and bad things occurring in the 20th Century. In his words, "The good things... -- the progress of science, the flow of innovation, the rise in the standard of living, the spread of democracy, decolonization -- are all aspects of an open society. The worst come from the reaction against [an open society] -- the willingness to kill millions of people because they fail to fit into an ideal society."
As Wolf puts it: "Popper himself argued for piecemeal social engineering." Wolf explains, "By this, he meant the introduction of specific reforms to alleviate concrete ills." And Wolf agrees this technique, "This spirit of piecemeal, non-utopian reform has informed the best policymaking of the century, both domestically and internationally."
Wolf concludes with this: "All we can do is make the piecemeal reforms and create the institutions that let the globally open society we have created work as well as it can. If we remember this lesson from the 20th Century, then we have learned what matters."
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The West should step in to help steer Russia past its worst instincts
The Christian Science Monitor today carries a commentary on Russia's Duma elections. Cameron W. Barr describes them as: "One big step forward. One step back."
Barr says that for all that was gained, it could have been better: it was a well run election tainted by dirty campaign tactics and the Chechen war. He notes that the Communists and ultranationalists lost ground and voters boosted free-market reformers. But he also notes the ascendancy of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whom Barr describes as "an ex-spy who seems inclined to run a police and security state."
Barr advises the West to step in to help steer Russia past, as the commentator puts it, "its worst instincts of authoritarianism, cronyism, corruption, and anger of being the unsuperpower."
Barr says the West can achieve this by being firm but not quarrelsome about Russia ending the Chechen war, by delaying the deployment of an antimissile defense system that would violate an important treaty with Moscow, and by continuing to loan Russia money.
Barr concludes with this: "Such steps buy time until after a post-Yeltsin president takes over. And they can help Russia feel great again without it being grating on the West".
DIE WELT: Russia has an obligation to occupy a stable role in the world
Germany's Die Welt runs a commentary on Russia's Duma election by Herbert Kremp, in which he argues that the voting may bring an end to the chaos that has become prevalent during Boris Yeltsin's presidency.
Kremp describes it this way: "The country now has its strong man and a presidential candidate [in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin], and cooperation between the legislature and the presidential executive seems to be assured. And for the first time since the 1991 coup a Russian sense of identity seems to have been established successfully."
But Kremp warns that how the Chechen war plays out could greatly affect this new-found order. As he puts it: "If the Russian army... gets bogged down in fighting the Chechen guerrillas, the ongoing economic crisis and tiresome accusations of corruption will again regain clout."
Kremp also questions Putin's economic savvy and the new Duma's ability to come to a consensus on tax legislation, the privatization of land, agricultural reform and regulation of subsidies.
Also, Kremp says only time will tell what surprises will occur before next year's presidential elections. In his words, "The five months that lie ahead before Russians go to the polls to elect a new president to succeed Boris Yeltsin is a long time."
Kremp also argues that America's treatment of Russia plays an important role. He writes that "America's two-flank pressure on Russia -- pressure on its central Asian energy sources and on its western military flank through the second round of NATO expansions -- has driven Moscow's fears of being encircled and isolated to the level of near-hysteria. The Russian feeling of being excluded from Europe and disempowered in Asia runs deep."
Kremp concludes with this: "Russia is one of the world's great powers, and it has an obligation to occupy a rational, stable role in the world."
POLITIKEN: Putin supporters favor what in the West is known as the Pinochet model
Denmark's Politiken today runs an editorial that looks at the Russian prime minister's standing ahead of presidential elections next year. The editorial puts it this way: "Vladimir Putin won what in reality was the first round of Russia's presidential election last Sunday." The paper notes that the election also marked the successful start of the new Unity Party, created by the Kremlin just a few months ago. The paper says: "It is still unclear what this party stands for, but it appears to be a centrist, reform-friendly entity."
The editorial says "an analysis of the election results shows that Russian voters reached for the center. This fact has radically changed the Russian political landscape and has made it possible, for the first time since the fall of communism, to set the conditions for non-antagonistic relations between parliament and government." The editorial continues, "One of the possible explanations for this development is the weariness of the voters over the incessant conflicts between the Duma and the Kremlin."
Politiken says "the 30-odd percent that supported Putin showed that they want a man who would use the methods of the police state but who would be liberal in the economy." The editorial continues, "in fact, they favored what in the West is known as the Pinochet model."
The editorial concludes with the hope that Putin will not crush critics, or Chechens, in the manner that the former Chilean dictator did his opponents. l
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Scharping is sending Turks the wrong signal and putting his government in an embarrassing situation
Returning again to German commentary, Wolfgang Koydl, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, explores the reasons behind the recent visit of Germany's defense minister to Turkey.
Koydl says that while Rudolf Scharping may want people to think that his visit was about such things as human rights, it was really about tanks. Or, as Koydl puts it, "To be precise, tanks and helicopters -- and German export restrictions on weapons." The commentator notes that there is a powerful movement in Germany, reflected inside the coalition government, opposing the selling of weapons to Turkey because of that country's human rights record.
Koydl continues, "Unfortunately while Scharping is busy talking business with the Turks, he is sending them the wrong signal and putting his government in an embarrassing situation at the same time."
Koydl says Scharping should not have visited Turkey at all because Turkey's civilian defense minister answers to the chief of the general staff. He writes that for this very reason Germany and some other EU members had not sent their defense minister on visits to Ankara. Koydl argues this tradition should have been upheld especially now that Turkey is an EU candidate -- the EU requires that a member state's military command be under civilian control.
Koydl says now the Turks are asking Scharping questions: when will they get their tanks? Who's behind the recent decision to prohibit armament sales to their country? What impact will the new weapons export rules have in other areas of German-Turkish cooperation?
The commentator concludes with this: "They are all good questions, and Scharping does not have the authority to answer any of them."