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Western Press Review: Pope's Apology; Spain's Election

Prague, 13 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Pope John Paul II's historic ceremonial apology yesterday for errors of the Roman Catholic Church over the past 2,000 years evokes some immediate commentary in the Western press today. So does the electoral triumph in Spain of the ruling conservatives, led by Jose Maria Aznar. There are also comments on Kosovo and on Russian acting President Vladimir Putin.

DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: Intolerance remains with us in a thousand forms

France's provincial daily Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace carries a signed editorial by Jean-Claude Kiefer entitled "Guilty of Intolerance." He says that yesterday's Vatican religious ceremony also has a political side, since the Catholic Church has played a political as well as religious role in Europe over the centuries.

Kiefer writes: "To preserve its dogma and maintain 'order,' [the Catholic Church] legalized intolerance ... persecuting in the name of the 'true faith' Jews, Protestants, victims of the Inquisition ... the list is long!" But the editorial notes that in its words "[other] horrors have been committed by those who said they knew the ultimate truth: the French Revolution enslaved the [European] continent on behalf of freedom, Marxism exploited entire nations in the name of [the proletariat], and the most criminal of all the follies -- Nazi institutionalized racism -- ended in collective murder."

Summing up, Kiefer asks: "Have things changed in our time?" In response, he says: "In Europe at least, there is no more persecution in the name of dogma. But," he adds, "all the same, intolerance remains with us in a thousand forms -- including excluding those who dare not to be 'politically correct,' to use today's jargon."

GUARDIAN: The pope is not the only one with contemporary apologies to offer

Britain's Guardian daily writes: "The Roman pontiff is [apologizing] for how, in the past, the standard bearers of the Catholic version of Christian witness massacred, slashed and burned in the name of the Lord -- Muslims, heathens, Jews and a variety of other Christians included." The paper says this: "The scope of John Paul's exculpation needs watching by other ancient institutions with a checkered past, monarchies for example."

In many past instances, the editorial says "revolution [has washed the slate clean [of sins]. ... The Communist party of the Soviet Union imploded and with it the possibility of repentance. Ethiopians, so barbarously treated by Mussolini, cannot expect the modern Italian state to offer condolence."

And what about Britain, asks the paper? "Like the Vatican," it says, "the 'Crown' rejoices in its long-term existence. [But Queen] Elizabeth is only there because she is the legitimate heir to ... all her predecessors, [one of whom] was a bloody crusader. The pope," it concludes, "is not the only one with contemporary apologies to offer."

JERUSALEM POST: The Vatican has been much more conciliatory toward Judaism

In Israel, the English-language daily Jerusalem Post says the pope's plea marks, as it puts it, "the first time in the history of the Catholic Church that one of its leaders has sought such sweeping forgiveness for the church's past sins in a prayer liturgy." It adds: "Israelis and Jews naturally focus on the part of his appeal which addressed how the church has treated Jews over the past two millennia."

The paper's editorial notes that the pope made his appeal just a little more than a week before he is due to embark on his historic pilgrimage to Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. It says that this pope, "has made more sweeping efforts to reach out to Jews than any of his predecessors. ... In 1990, he said that the burden of the genocide of the Shoah would always weigh heavily on all Christians, and he has made countless statements to this effect ever since. In all of his travels around the world, he invariably condemns anti-Semitism, and he has repeatedly led the way for the church to stamp it out."

The Jerusalem Post sums up: "This ceremony goes a long way toward creating the proper atmosphere for the papal visit, especially after the agreement reached last month between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority raised the ire of many in Israel. However, it also serves to highlight the fact that over the past several decades, the Vatican has been much more conciliatory toward Judaism and the Jewish people than it has been toward the State of Israel."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Prosperity wins voters wherever you are

Two right-of-center newspapers today salute yesterday's victory by Spanish conservatives in parliamentary elections. The Wall Street Journal Europe says in an editorial : "[Prime Minister Jose Maria] Aznar's victory [sends] a message to politicians all over Europe, and America as well in this election year, that removing stifling economic regulations, lowering taxes and allowing more flexibility in markets for products, capital and labor yields up a more vigorous economy. And when all is said and done," the paper argues, "prosperity wins voters wherever you are."

The editorial adds: "Spanish voters seemed to like Mr. Aznar's economic results and to appreciate how he sidelined Francoists in his party, promoting a vision of a smaller government where the individual is sovereign as an alternative to the powerful state. This is a fresh approach in Spain," the paper argues. "Mr. Aznar has succeeded by diminishing privileges of both the right and left. You do that by reducing the power and scope of government."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The election called for a massive turnout to reject Basque terrorism

In a news analysis in Britain's Daily Telegraph, Tim Brown writes from Madrid: "The [conservative] party got the biggest share of the votes in the three main cities in the Basque country -- Vitoria, the capital, Bilbao, and San Sebastian -- and will send seven members to the new parliament from the region. The huge success among the Basques followed years in which several local councilors were murdered by the separatist terrorist organization ETA and the majority were harassed."

Brown then says: "Spain's eighth general election since the return of democracy 25 years ago had been accompanied by calls from all the main political leaders for a massive turnout to reject Basque terrorism. ETA, which killed three people in the run-up to the election, and its political front, Herri Batasuna, had urged people to stay away from the polling stations. ... [Other] issues such as unemployment, the expansion of the European Union to the east, education and immigration were only touched on during the campaign."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: It is totally incomprehensible why the United Nations has not yet lived up to its pledges

In Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende remains concerned with ethnic tensions in Kosovo. It writes in an editorial: "Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic still cannot accept his military defeat in Kosovo. He is cynically trying to capitalize on the tensions in [the northern Kosovo town of] Mitrovica to ensure Serbian control over the area, which is rich in natural resources. The ethnic Albanian militias, however, are not much good, either. On several occasions, they were the ones who provoked the Serbs."

The paper continues: "The tensions in Mitrovica have been in the making since the end of [NATO's air campaign last June]. It is totally incomprehensible why the United Nations has not yet lived up to its pledges to send aid to rebuild the civilian structures in the region. ... The most conspicuous example of this type of procrastination is the [insufficient] number of policemen deployed in the town."

NEW YORK TIMES: The most potent driving force in Russian history has been a conviction that the Russian state is destined for greatness, power and respect

In a commentary for the New York Times yesterday, Serge Schmemann asked: "Peter [the Great] and [Vladimir] Putin: Eastern or Western?" His answer: "Both and neither."

Schmemann wrote: "It is said that a portrait of Peter the Great hangs in the office of Vladimir Putin, the acting president of Russia, who seems likely to win the presidential election March 26. Those in the West who perceive Peter as the Westernizing reformer and scourge of xenophobes, and who have heard Putin's paeans to free enterprise and democracy, are likely to find this heartening." But, he adds, "others, who know Peter primarily for his unrelenting pursuit of power and empire, and who have nervously watched the Kremlin's new master, a former KGB agent, presiding over the destruction of Grozny and expounding the glories of a strong Russian state, might find the identification alarming."

He goes on: "In any speculation about whether [Putin] is reformer or nationalist, autocrat or democrat, Western or Eastern, it must be kept in mind that in Russia these have never been mutually exclusive; that the most potent driving force in Russian history has been neither the sentimental xenophobia of bearded Slavophiles nor the pursuit of American-style happiness, but a deep-seated conviction that the Russian state is destined for greatness, power and respect. That," concludes the commentator," has been true whether Russia aspired to being an empire, a utopia or a presidential republic."