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Western Press Review: Italian And Swiss Referendums; Russia

Prague, 22 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The outcome of yesterday's referendums in Italy and Switzerland are the focus of many European editorials today. Russian President Vladimir Putin's first moves in office also draw comment.

LA REPUBBLICA: Mistrust has won

In the left-of-center Rome daily La Repubblica, Giovanni Valentini writes that the Italian populist media magnate and opposition leader, Silvio Berlusconi, bears the blame for the low voter turnout that resulted in the failure of Italy's referendum on electoral reform.

Valentini says this: "If only a third of the electorate votes in a referendum that is viewed as decisive for the institutional order and the future of democracy, unfortunately it must be said that mistrust has won. The second failure of a referendum within one year represents a rejection of politics and the triumph of anti-politics. And it also means the glorification of Berlusconi, the great communicator, father and boss of a country that is already living -- and even worse, thinking and voting -- in its own image."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: One must speak of a political aversion to an extent previously unknown

The conservative Milan daily Corriere della Sera comments in a similar vein: "With such voter apathy, one must speak of a political aversion to an extent previously unknown. And there is no doubt that this antipathy is growing day by day." Corriere della Sera's editorial says further: "There is no way of knowing how many Italians did not participate because Berlusconi called on them not to. But the paper predicts that things will become increasingly more difficult for Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, because the biggest loser in the country was the Democratic Left, the largest party in his ruling coalition."

EL MUNDO: The opposition made this sacrifice to provoke a domestic political crisis

The Madrid-based Spanish daily, El Mundo, also blames Berlusconi for the referendum's failure. "It may seem a paradox that the opposition boycotts a referendum that could also be of benefit to it. But they made this sacrifice to provoke a domestic political crisis and force the government to move toward early elections."

NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG: The vote is no signal for a speedy EU entry

Switzerland's referendum on closer relations with the European Union was approved by a two-thirds majority, winning approval in all but two (Ticino and Schwyz) of the country's 26 cantons.

The Neue Zuercher Zeitung says the outcome should be taken at face value and not be misinterpreted as a vote for membership in the EU, which Swiss voters rejected in a referendum in 1992: "The clear vote over the weekend in favor of the bilateral treaties is to be taken for what it is: a 'Yes' to the seven treaties, no more, no less. No signal for a speedy EU entry, and even less so as a hint of a final goal in the process of moving closer to the EU."

VATERLAND: The 'yes' vote opens Switzerland's borders to free trade

In the principality of Liechtenstein, which in foreign affairs is a Swiss protectorate, the newspaper Liechtensteiner Vaterland comments that the "clear 'Yes' in the Swiss referendum opens Switzerland's borders to free trade in people, goods, and services."

DIE PRESSE: The Swiss are living in sin rather than getting married

In neighboring Austria, a commentary by Clemens Schuhmann in the Viennese daily Die Presse says the Swiss "have recognized the sign of the times and perceive the bilateral treaties as a real chance to profit fully from the European domestic market with its 370 million consumers -- without joining the EU. According to the motto, living in sin rather than getting married."

STUTTGARTER ZEITUNG: This approval means a big step in the right direction

And in Germany, a commentary by Adrian Zielcke in the Stuttgarter Zeitung says: "Had Swiss voters rejected the EU treaties, the relationship with the European Union, including with all Switzerland's neighbors, would have been hindered for a long time to come. But this approval means a big step in the right direction for the small neighbor. Cause for joy!"

NEW YORK TIMES: On issues such as respect for democratic principles, Mr. Putin has not made a promising start

Across the Atlantic, The New York Times focused on matters further east in an editorial titled "Mr. Putin's Missteps."

"As President Clinton prepares to visit Moscow next month," the New York Times says, "there are disquieting signs that Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin, is steering the Kremlin toward anti-democratic policies. A government raid on a private media company earlier this month and Moscow's recent welcome for Yugoslavia's defense minister, who has been indicted for war crimes, suggest a contempt for democratic values that Mr. Clinton and his aides must consider as they plan for the Moscow summit meeting."

The editorial goes on to say: "By hosting Dragoljub Ojdanic, Belgrade's defense minister and a loyal ally of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, Moscow defied the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which was established by the United Nations Security Council to deal with atrocities in the recent Balkan ethnic conflicts. Mr. Ojdanic was army chief of staff during the war in Kosovo. The tribunal last May charged him and other Yugoslav leaders with responsibility for the deportation of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians and the murder of hundreds of others."

"As a member state of the UN," the editorial says, "Russia had an obligation to detain Mr. Ojdanic so he could be brought to trial. Instead, he met with Russian defense officials and moved freely through Moscow during a five-day visit that coincided with Mr. Putin's inauguration. Last week, after a visit by Belgrade's foreign minister, Moscow granted Yugoslavia a $102 million loan. Mr. Putin may be playing to nationalist and Slavic sentiment in Russia with his embrace of Belgrade, but these steps are a direct slap at Washington."

The New York Times concludes: "Mr. Clinton's advisers talk about the coming summit meeting as an opportunity to take the measure of Mr. Putin, and a chance to explore a broad agenda of common interests. The Russian leader may turn out to be a pragmatic negotiator. Certainly he is more energetic and more familiar with policy details than his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. On economic issues, he seems inclined to spur reform. But on such critical issues as respect for democratic principles, Mr. Putin has not made a promising start."