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Western Press Review: Pinochet, Russian And German Politics Dominate Commentary

By Don Hill, Anthony Georgieff, and Alexis Papasotiriou

Prague, 19 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet is back in the news and once again in the minds of Western commentators. Governance and politics in Russia and Germany also elicit commentary in the West.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Punishment is weighed against a desire to create a society built on higher principles

In the United States, the internationally-minded Christian Science Monitor finds a congruence between Pinochet's case and that of Turkish Kurd rebel faction leader Abdullah Ocalan. As the newspaper puts it in an editorial: "Two upwardly mobile nations, Chile and Turkey, have suddenly lost their zeal to severely punish two warriors who terrorized people in their land. No longer does Chile seek harsh judgment for former dictator Augusto Pinochet. And no longer does Turkey seek to execute the leader of the Kurdish rebellion, Abdullah Ocalan."

The editorial says that both Chile and Turkey are, in the Christian Science Monitor's words, "maturing into fuller democracies -- examples of a global trend in the post-Cold War era. And as in any democracy, justice is more than an eye for an eye. Punishment is weighed against a desire to create a society built on higher principles."

ELEFTHEROTYPIA: It is the revenge of history which is removing a dictator from its dark pages

Sifis Polymilis wrote in a commentary yesterday in Greece's Eleftherotypia that Pinochet, who the writer called "one of the most terrible dictators of the century," may avoid a public trial. Polymilis went on to say this: "The election of a socialist as president of Chile proves that violence and tyranny are not unbeatable. It is a vindication of [former Chilean president] Salvador Allende -- who believed in a more just and humane society -- but also for the thousands of victims of the Pinochet dictatorship who did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs. It is the revenge of history, which at the dawn of the new century is removing a dictator from its dark pages, and keeping alive the memories of the past, as Richardo Lagos said, yet with its eyes turned to the future."

GUARDIAN: The general has found his true place in history

In The Guardian, London, columnist Isabel Hilton comments that the arrest and detention of Pinochet already has had much of the effect that proponents of extradition desired, especially for survivors of his victims. Hilton: "For them, Pinochet's arrest and detention has been a liberating event."

As the columnist puts it: "Even if there will be no court verdict, society has lost enough of its fear to have recovered a measure of its conscience; the least the victims are owed is a frank account of their fate." The Guardian's writer also says this: "Pinochet and his admirers will never again be able to impose their view of history on their country and never again be able to force the lie that the general is a hero to his people down the throats of his victims. The general has found his true place in history. For that, we should all thank [Spanish Judge] Baltasar Garzon."

The Times, London, and the Boston Globe concur in separate editorials that the greatest political uncertainty haunting Russia's Vladimir Putin is Chechnya. Putin, the editorials agree, deftly positions himself as a strongman who can end his country's embarrassing vacillation of the last ten years. But, they suggest, Chechnya could knock him out of that position.

TIMES: It is questionable whether Putin can project himself as a strongman until the vote

The Times puts it this way: "The message he has been transmitting in recent days is clear enough. Russians of all persuasions are being invited to put aside the differences that have long divided them, swallow old discontents, and unite behind Mr. Putin."

The editorial concludes with this: "Mr. Putin's one visible policy in his last job as Prime Minister was pursuing war in Chechnya. [One must now question] whether he can project himself as a strongman until the vote on March 26 without being undermined by reality -- either in the shape of a worsening economy or of military reverses in Chechnya."

BOSTON GLOBE: The fire should be put out before it spreads any further

The Boston Globe's editorial says this: "As Russia's siege of the Chechen capital, Grozny, lurches on under Boris Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin, two nasty prospects loom, one conceded by Russian officials and the other veiled in denial. What Russian authorities admit is that even after they take Grozny, they will have to go on fighting Chechen resisters in the southern highlands for months or years. Even more ominous is the likelihood that the Kremlin's politically useful war on the Chechens will set off a conflagration elsewhere in the Caucasus, both within the Russian Federation and in the independent nations of Azerbaijan and Georgia."

"Most dangerous of all," the editorial continues, "are foreshadowings of the Kremlin's readiness to make Georgia and Azerbaijan the next targets of a drive to revive Moscow's dominance in what Russians call the 'near abroad.' The Kremlin has used the excuse of war in Chechnya to demand a Russian troop presence in both countries. This fire should be put out before it spreads any further."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The Kremlin has chosen to distance itself further from the rest of the world

Denmark's Berlingske Tidende says in an editorial that Russia's new national security doctrine has -- in the editorial's words -- "sent chills down the spines of most democratic countries." The editorial says this: "Its text is heavily imbued with anti-Western rhetoric that evokes the Soviet times."

The newspaper says the doctrine's slightly loosened criteria for using nuclear weapons, as the editorial puts it, "in itself can hardly be interpreted as something new or particularly aggressive." It says also that there is nothing wrong in Russia trying to identify a better role for itself internationally. "Yet," in the words of the editorial, "the Kremlin again has wasted the chance to articulate the country's national interests. Instead, it has chosen to distance itself further from the rest of the world."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The CDU must bring to the fore new leadership

A Wall Street Journal Europe editorial says of the current scandal engulfing former German chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that the scandal lays bare what the editorial calls "an exhausted political party." The newspaper says that the CDU now must do two things to survive. "It must come fully to grips with the extent of venality in its own ranks. Far more important, however, is that the CDU, as Germany's party of the right, must bring to the fore new leadership."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The FRG success story depends on the ability of the CDU to create itself anew

Commentator Heribert Prantl, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, seems to concur. He writes this: "Whether the success story of the Federal Republic of Germany is to continue in Berlin may well depend largely on the ability of the CDU to create itself anew, to rediscover its self-belief. It may get there yet."