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Western Press Review: Commentary Goes Global And Beyond

Prague, 29 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- With the approach of the Third Millennium, Western commentators are increasingly turning to thoughts of global and cosmic significance.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Recent trends in market economies away from state assistance may reverse themselves again

Britain's Financial Times takes on the topic of welfare in the next century. State assistance grew immensely in the century just ending, then slowed. Recent trends in market economies away from state assistance may reverse themselves again in the immediate future, the newspaper says in an editorial.

The Financial Times puts it this way: "From Bismarck to Beveridge to Franklin D. Roosevelt and beyond, the 20th century was the century of the welfare state. For 100 years, the picture has been one of expansion: Germany's early introduction of compulsory insurance for sickness and pensions, through the growth of social insurance in Europe, social security in the United States, national insurance in Britain and New Zealand and on to the growth of welfare states of rather different models in Asia."

Then mass unemployment, seemingly conquered, ceased to drive demand for ever-greater state assistance, the newspaper says. Now, it says, demand may grow once more.

A number of social changes point that way, says the editorial. It names these: "The combination of aging populations, the re-emergence of unemployment -- and more importantly of persistent unemployment, the growth of lone parenthood, and the markedly changed role of women in a more individualized society. [Also] sharply growing income inequality that is leaving some sections of society detached from the rest [and] how to pay for long-term care for the elderly."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Who enters a new century on top doesn't necessarily stay there

In the U.S. newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, special correspondent Brad Knickerbocker recalls the words of publisher Henry Luce in 1941 just before World War Two. Luce called the 1900s "the American Century." The Christian Science Monitor writer suggests that this raises the inevitable question: Whose century is the 2000s?"

Knickerbocker says that some say, as he puts it, "the 21st century could be American as well, particularly if the development of markets is seen as more important than armaments in a nation's future arsenal. [But], he adds: "others argue that having the most billionaires does not necessarily indicate a nation's true stature -- or the certainty of its future."

The analyst writes this: "America at the end of the 20th Century often has been compared to Great Britain at the end of the 19th. But does that mean a nation that had long ruled much of the globe or one that would soon lose its colonial stature?" He quotes an authority reminding the world that the 16th Century seemed to be Spain's, the 18th France's, and the 19th Britain's. In other words, who enters a new century on top doesn't necessarily stay there.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Russia may have lost its red veneer, but it has not gotten over an imperial reflex

Respected Sueddeutsche Zeitung Editor Josef Joffe issues two commentaries today. In the first, he says that Russia is responding these days to an ancient and familiar imperial reflex.

As Joffe puts it: "The Russians had lost the big war against the West but, after licking their wounds, noticed that the Western powers had turned inward again to concentrate on problems at home. And, gradually, Russia realized that it had a free hand to turn its own attentions to a new arena -- the Caucasus. A German expert on Russia wrote of a Russian war machine that 'forces its way into the forbidding mountain strongholds step by step. It surrounds them with concentric circles, blockades them, devastates them by force and never falls back. Systematically, through sheer superiority of force, it crushes the freedom fighters of the mountains.' Six years later, the Russian supreme commander would report, 'There is no longer any tribe in the Caucasus that has not been conquered.'"

Joffe continues: "A description of Chechnya after the Cold War? In fact, no: it was after the disastrous Crimean War of 1853-56 by which Tsar Alexander the Second first sought to improve the battered morale of the Russian people by launching a campaign in the Caucasus."

Joffe continues: "This may be stretching a point, yet the parallels to the Caucasus of today are undeniable. The cause of the conflict and the methods are the same and the outcome very likely too."

The German editor asks if the Russians can win this war. He answers, yes, so long, as he puts it, "their own losses do not lead to revolt at home." Joffe says that Russia, in his words, "may have lost its red veneer, but it has not gotten over an imperial reflex which needs occasionally to be satisfied."

The commentary concludes: "Speaking more clearly and reminding the Russians of the price they will pay for their blind rage in Chechnya would be more far-sighted than the current approach of the West. For the price is one they paid under the Soviet Union -- that of angst-ridden outsider. Merely changing the red flag for the tricolor while maintaining the same attitudes gets Russia -- and its people -- nowhere."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The old warriors are growing tired

In his second commentary, Sueddeutsche Zeitung Editor Joffe predicts that the year 2000 could be, in his words, "the long awaited year of peace in the Middle East." He writes: "The Arab hatred of the Jews, which dates back to Biblical times, has not ended, and the Israelis have not suddenly fell in love with the Arabs, either. But the old warriors are growing tired after five major armed conflicts and countless smaller ones. They know now that they cannot achieve their goals with violence."

Joffe continues: "The Israelis learned that lesson during the Intifada and by the ongoing conflict in Lebanon which left so many dead on both sides and where the Israelis, finally, lost their imperial pretensions. The Arabs, for their part, know that there can be no beating the regional superpower, an economically advanced nation with a per capita income approaching European Union levels and a Western political culture. Countries like that are only willing to wage war when it means an expenditure of materiel -- not of men. And that makes them ever more eager to make peace."

TIMES: This self-proclaimed architect of Europe prolonged its divisions longer than was necessary or wise

From London, The Times says in an editorial that the world has become so globalized that even an internal scandal in a major nation has implications far beyond its borders. For example, it says: "All Europe is affected by the Kohl funding scandal."

The editorial says this: "For a quarter of a century -- nearly half of Germany's postwar history -- Helmut Kohl dominated to an extraordinary degree not only his own country, but also the construction of Europe."

In the words of The Times: "The revelation that, by his own admission, Herr Kohl for five years broke party funding laws with a slush fund of secret donations should perhaps occasion less surprise [than it has]."

The editorial concludes with this: "Both as party leader and as chancellor, Herr Kohl almost unfailingly got what he wanted. Because, in the critical decade since the Berlin Wall fell, he put economic and monetary union far ahead of bringing the new democracies into the EU, historians may conclude that this self-proclaimed architect of Europe prolonged its divisions longer than was necessary or wise. That is the verdict that matters most."