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Western Press Review: Commentary Discusses Y2K, Putin, Other Topics

By Brent McCann/Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 7 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press continues to discuss the millennium bug that didn't bite, the future of Russia under acting President Vladimir Putin, and other topics.

NEW YORK TIMES: The bug didn't lead to a global meltdown because countries and companies got informed early

In the United States, commentators differ over justification for the effort and money spent on preparing for the Y2K problem. Thomas Friedman, writing in The New York Times, says this: "What was supposed to have been the world's first global meltdown turned into the world's first global prom."

Friedman says people decided to celebrate rather than be intimidated by warnings of possible terrorism. And, as he puts it: "Best of all, the Y2K computer bug didn't lead to a global meltdown -- not because it was a false alarm, but because countries and companies got informed early and mobilized to defeat it, each in its own way."

WASHINGTON POST: We're not as far from the Middle Ages as we like to think

E. J. Dionne Jr. differs in The Washington Post. Dionne writes this: "Few of us fully understand the inner workings of the technology we're so proud of, and some are prepared to exploit that fact by trying to scare us. The same human reason that went into creating these ingenious machines might usefully be applied to the task of tempering our fears." Dionne continues, "A high-tech society that claims to be so rational may be peculiarly vulnerable to wild fits of irrationality. We're not as far from the Middle Ages as we like to think."

Dionne looks back at some of the disasters Y2K experts predicted and says, in his words, "It will be fun in the coming months to watch those who made profits from doom try to justify what they said and did."

POLITIKEN: The Kremlin can certainly get it its own way

A number of Western newspapers continue to give attention to Russian acting President Vladimir Putin. In Denmark, the Politiken says Yeltsin's resignation and Putin's incumbency make it almost certain Putin will be the next elected Russian president.

A Politiken editorial puts it this way: "Even the Kremlin-unfriendly media describe interim president Vladimir Putin's election as head-of-state as a foregone event. His victory is represented as being devised through what in Russia is referred to as the Kremlin-engineered election of a new monarch: the decision has been made, now it is the people's job to confirm it." The editorial continues with these words: "Things can change a bit now that there are formally democratic rules in place, but the Kremlin can certainly get it its own way."

The editorial says that if the Russians grow tired of the current war in Chechnya, they could turn sour on Putin. But the paper says if that were to happen, the Kremlin would attempt to cover up the truth by manipulating the media.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Russian flag flying over Grozny would attract the percentage of votes that Putin needs

In German commentary, Tomas Avenarius presents a similar view in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. But, Avenarius says, the Kremlin's desire to control the next election will be reflected in its action in Chechnya. In his words: "The Russian flag flying over Grozny -- that would be the very picture to attract the percentage of votes that Putin needs for a clear win in the presidential election." Avenarius continues, "So we can expect the army to step up its offensive against the rebels even further in the weeks to come."

Avenarius says there is little doubt the Russian army will take Grozny because, eventually, the Chechens will run out of ammunition. But, the commentator says, the price Moscow is paying is rising, in his words, "in a most bloody way."

NEW YORK TIMES: The assault on Chechnya is the wrong way to begin

The New York Times says in an editorial that Russia risks paying a high price for continuing the Chechen war. In the editorial's words: "With that ugly campaign now bogged down amid heightened Chechen resistance, there is a serious risk of rising casualties among Russians and Chechens." The editorial continues with this: "If Mr. Putin's goal is to build a strong democracy, the assault on Chechnya is the wrong way to begin."

The editorial says it is unclear if Putin wants to create a strong democratic state or an authoritarian one. But the paper says this: "What is needed now is a government that is democratically accountable, but strong enough to collect taxes, restore basic services, control crime and create an environment conducive to democratic politics and freely competitive markets."

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton wants a ceremony

In The Washington Post, columnist Charles Krauthammer comments on peace talks in the United States between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara. In the commentator's words, "[Barak] is trying to obtain a peace, both with Syria and the Palestinians, that will leave Israel with enough territory, enough depth, enough defensible positions to be able to withstand a renewed war in case the Arabs find their hatred for Jews not quite fully assuaged by paper agreements."

But, the writer says, U.S. President Bill Clinton could compromise this. In Krauthammer's words, "[Clinton] is in a desperate search for a legacy. And that for him means an agreement -- any agreement -- that he can trumpet on the White House lawn. He doesn't really care about its shape and content. He wants a ceremony."

Krauthammer concludes with this: "The question for Clinton is whether he will have the statesmanship to subordinate his personal political needs to the more enduring needs of an enduring peace."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Turks are full of satisfaction

In German commentary, Gerd Hoehler says in the Frankfurter Rundschau that Turks may welcome to an extent the trouble that former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is having. In Hoehler words: "The decline of the everlasting chancellor, as Kohl has become known, is being watched with a certain mockery by large sections of the Turkish public."

Hoehler says many Turks believe Kohl undermined their country's approaches to the EU throughout the 1990s and that German-Turkey relations reached a nadir during his 16 years in office. In the commentator's words: "Now that the monument, Kohl, is crumbling after his loss of the elections, Turks are full of satisfaction."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Constitutionalism is profoundly important though largely unsung

In the International Herald Tribune, New York Times writer Anthony Lewis tells of an international phenomenon at the turn of the millennium that is, in his words, "profoundly important though largely unsung." It is constitutionalism, he says. Lewis defines constitutionalism as the idea that governments and their leaders are subject to the restraints of bills of rights and other fundamental law, enforced by judges.

Lewis says this is what has given U.S. citizens free speech and freedom of the press, as well as other freedoms. He says the concept of a legal structure confining a political power was introduced by the U.S. Constitution in 1787, with the first 10 amendments -- called the Bill of Rights -- added to it in 1791.

But Lewis says it was not until after World War Two that the U.S. example caught on elsewhere. He quotes the president of the Supreme Court of Israel, Aharon Barak, as saying people used to think the fundamental rights in a society could be guaranteed by self-restraint of the majority, but the great war and the Holocaust proved this untrue. After World War Two, Lewis says, constitutionalism caught on in many places, from Germany to South Africa to India to Canada.

And Lewis quotes Barak again, as saying there can be no true democracy without recognizing, in Barak's words, "the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, and no democracy without safeguarding human rights."