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Western Press Review: Commentaries Look Eastward, Others To Germany

Prague, 25 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Several Western press commentaries find new reasons for concern over Russia.

DIE WELT: Authoritarian scenarios extend far into the future

Die Welt's commentator Michael Stuermer, in Berlin, says he is alarmed over new signs of authoritarianism in the administration of Vladimir Putin, acting president and virtually unopposed candidate for the office of Russian head of state. Recounting how Putin's forces joined with Communist Party delegates to assume almost absolute control of the Duma, Stuermer writes this: "Obviously, Putin, who already held a key position as Yeltsin's security adviser, came to power by means of a major deal: freedom from prosecution for Yeltsin and his clan in exchange for the blessing of the boyars (that is, Russian autocrats)."

The circumstances of the Duma deal, Stuermer says, "are bad omens for the future." The commentator goes on: "Putin wants the office of president with its full vested powers. At first he invented a party and the finances stopped flowing. Now he has engaged the Communists for this purpose. He has the support of the powerful ministries, the war in the Caucasus is part of the campaign strategy and more terror is already on the cards to fan the flames of Russian nationalism and the foibles of democracy are being done away with in the Duma. These authoritarian scenarios extend far into the future."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Above all the war is an expression of rebellion

Rudolph Chimelli, writing from Paris in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, says the plight of Chechen rebels has attracted sympathy -- but not much else -- from their fellow Muslims. Chimelli explains the Muslim ambivalence this way: "One explanation is that the rebels have declared themselves fundamentalists. Their nationalist-religious zealotry is directed to war, not to fine distinctions. It is above all the expression of rebellion of a people who have already suffered much from the violent persecutions meted out to them by Russians and Communists."

The Russians, meanwhile, are not making a secret of the fact that they would never allow themselves to be expelled from the Caucasus. Because the loss of Chechnya would be a decisive step toward this withdrawal, the war over the tiny territory is more than a bloody obsession of generals whose pride has been hurt. And Russia is, like Europe, too big and too important for the Islamic nations that they would want to burn their fingers because of Chechnya."

INFORMATION: Nothing can justify the West's appalling inaction

The Danish daily Information serves out equal shares of disdain for Russia's four-month-old campaign in Chechnya and for Western Europe's failure to protest effectively against the campaign. In an editorial, Information says this: "Less than a year ago, many in the West were prepared to risk the new world order in Kosovo. Now they have turned themselves into passive and indecisive organizations and committees with the excuse that they take into consideration our long-term strategic relationship with Russia. Their passivity, however, gives a new impetus to Russia to continue moving in an authoritarian direction, and to its military to continue their ruthless war against the civilian population in Chechnya."

In the words of Information's editorial: "Nothing can justify the 100-days-long (The number is 125) Russian assault against a whole nation, nor the West's appalling inaction."

TIMES: Herr Kohl could shorten this agony

While selected German commentary turns away temporarily from the issues raised by a money scandal engulfing former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's CDU -- Christian Democratic Union -- party, commentators elsewhere take up the topic. The Times of London laments Kohl's continuing refusal to identify the sources of illegal money he channeled into CDU coffers. A Times' editorial says Kohl's intransigence hurts not just himself but also undermines Germany's governability.

In the editorial's words: "The wisest move then would be to put the CDU under the temporary custodianship of Kurt Biedenkopf, a highly successful prime minister of Saxony and a longstanding opponent of the (what some call the) Kohl system. But at best, worries about political weakness must be added to concern about the damage done to Europe by Germany's under-performing economy."

The editorial issues this warning: "The CDU's troubles could, paradoxically, weaken (Chancellor Gerhard) Schroeder's position. Because he can no longer threaten to desert his Green partners for a grand coalition with the CDU, he will have little purchase over either his own Socialist diehards or the Greens' dottier foot-soldiers. Germany's zigzag modernizing path will be more haphazard than ever. Herr Kohl could shorten this agony. To have declined to do so is not just base, but unpatriotic."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Scandals help mark the end of the era of European giants

The Wall Street Journal Europe also enters the list of Kohl worriers. The free-market-oriented newspaper says in an editorial that the scandal, in a way, is an opportunity to relinquish some government control. Here are two excerpts from the Wall Street Journal Europe's editorial, entitled "Burying the Social Market Model:"

-- "So now there's a report of a French connection to the slush-funds scandal that has badly stained ... Kohl's reputation and brought his once-dominant Christian Democratic Union party to its knees. Germany's ARD television claims that former French President Francois Mitterrand arranged a $16-million bribe to the CDU in the early 1990s as part of a backroom deal in which French oil giant Elf acquired a former East German refinery. Even if, as a Kohl spokesman claimed Sunday, this is an invention, we surely have not heard the end of it. (Because) this scandal may finally fix the spotlight on the cancer that's eating away at Europe's postwar arrangements and institutions -- and perhaps point the way to a cure."

-- "Today's scandals help mark the end of the era of European giants -- Adenauer and Kohl in Germany, De Gaspari and Craxi in Italy, De Gaulle and Mitterrand in France. We cannot gainsay their place in history. But the future, as we see it, belongs to the aspiring individual, at every economic level. To help him along, European statesman need merely stand out of his way."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Kohl should tell the whole truth

The British economic newspaper Financial Times concurs that Kohl must disclose what he knows. As its editorial puts it: "Given the potential damage facing Mr. Kohl's party and to the wider political system, the former chancellor's insistence on his word of honor to remain silent is arrogant and wrong. He is putting his own personal reputation, and that of his secret financiers, above the good name of the democratic institutions he led. He is confusing his own word of honor with the honorable behavior to be expected of a political leader and elder statesman. He should think again, and tell the whole truth."

Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this press review