Prague, 30 August 2000 (RFE/RL -- Much Western press commentary today focuses today on nations in transition from communism -- misfortune in Russia, a disappearance in Belgrade, an anniversary in Gdansk.
Larry Elliott, economics editor for the Guardian, London, comments: "The speed of Russia's decade-long descent from superpower to basket case has been staggering." It is not sensible, Elliott writes, for Russian President Vladimir Putin to lapse into Cold War posturing when his feeble country needs Western aid. As Elliott puts it: "A more effective long-term strategy would be for Mr. Putin to show that the Russian state is capable of performing its basic functions -- not least the maintenance of a rule of law and a rule of contract."
In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, columnist Daniel Broessler sails before a similar wind. He writes: "Russia could hardly have fallen any further than it has this August -- from 540 meters atop the Moscow television tower all the way to 108 meters below sea level at the bottom of the Barents Sea."
The German commentator says: "It's not as though the Russians have just been riding a month-long wave of bad of bad luck. With tens of thousands of soldiers dead in Chechnya, they've been having more like a bad year. And they already had a bad decade behind them before that."
Broessler writes that Putin portrayed himself as a strong president for a strong state. The columnist says that Putin and his supporters are victims of a big misunderstanding. In the writer's words: "The power of the state can't turn Russia into a functioning society, [which] is a country's only source of strength. The more time Moscow wastes before getting around to that task, the more catastrophic its freefall will be."
The Guardian's editorialists agree with both commentaries. The newspaper says: "Russia is a society trying to do too much with too few resources. Corruption, thievery and evasion of standards for purely monetary reasons obviously play their part. But the fundamental problem is that too many tasks are loaded onto organizations and enterprises by authorities perpetually ready to admonish and punish but reluctant to provide the funds and other means for those tasks to be carried out."
The British economics newspaper Financial Times says that Putin is right to perceive the fire that destroyed Moscow's television tower as a metaphor for the condition of Russia's civil and moral infrastructure as well as of its physical plant. The newspaper says in an editorial: "Time is running out. The Ostankino tower fire is a call for urgent action. Without it, the fragile Russian economy could once again be thrown into crisis and the Russian people drive to even greater depths of human misery."
From Oslo, the daily Aftenposten says that the disappearance last week of yet another former supporter of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, along with the failure of the government and the state-controlled media to acknowledge it, shows the real face of the Serb-Yugoslav "regime."
Commenting on the evident kidnapping of former Serb president Ivan Stambolic, the newspaper says: "Serbia has lived with so many murders of prominent individuals during the past decade that political assassination has emerged as an important method of the regime. The current situation has obliterated the borderline between politics and mafia."
Writing from Budapest in Germany's Die Welt daily, commentator Boris Kalnoky sees hope in Yugoslavia's shifting political sands. He writes: "The elections are only four weeks away. Most political observers have been convinced all along that President Slobodan Milosevic will once again come away as victor and be more secure than ever. There are signs, however, that buds of something like hope have started to appear in Serbia for the first time in several years. As unlikely as it may sound, a growing number of Serbs are sure that Milosevic's latest tricks have resulted in him shooting himself in the foot."
The writer says that popular polls in Serbia seem to favor Milosevic rival Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia. He adds that " Milosevic has any number of ways at his disposal of ensuring that he comes out on top." Kalnoky concludes: "Nevertheless, Milosevic has been walking close to the edge for the last ten years. Perhaps, this time, he has taken one step too far."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
Author George Weigel, commenting in today's Los Angeles Times on the 20th anniversary this week of the Polish trade union Solidarity, refers to the "Gdansk Heroes." Weigel writes: "Solidarity exemplified moral convictions boldly articulate and bravely acted upon." He concludes: "The world has not been the same since. For that, we owe Solidarity a great debt of gratitude."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In an editorial today, the Los Angeles Times examines another institution and finds it short both of heroism and effectiveness in its goal of changing the world. The subject is the whole United Nations complex of peacekeeping operations. The newspaper says: "Peacekeeping operations by the UN over the past decade have been more notable for their ineptitude than for their effectiveness." It adds: "Peacekeeping works best when peacekeepers have a clear sense of why they are there."
The editorial also says this: "Next week UN members gather in New York for a two-day millennium summit at which 150 heads of state are expected. High on the agenda is the need to improve peacekeeping. The [recent UN] special panel's report provides sound direction for what's required for UN interventions to work: political support, rapid deployment with a robust force posture and a sound peace-building strategy. Without these, high-sounding resolutions count for next to nothing."
The Guardian, in yet another editorial today, finds in U.S. President Bill Clinton's current 11th-hour globetrotting an almost -- the newspaper's word -- "pathetic" search for some international triumph, however small.
The Guardian says: "As Clinton's eight years in office narrow to their final few months, the search for an international signing ceremony somewhere, anywhere, has become almost pathetic. But the more he tries, the less seriously it has been taken. Vladimir Putin brushed him off in Moscow in June over missile defense. Yasser Arafat rejected his blandishments at Camp David in July. Now we have what is in some ways the most striking sight of all, in Arusha this week, of even the leaders of benighted Burundi turning their backs on the supposedly indispensable leader of the world."
The editorial concludes: "As Clinton makes his latest day trip to a major country, we see the limits of American indispensability. But when the next ethnic cleansing, the next military coup, the next civil war -- even the next talks impasse -- breaks out, to whom will we turn but to America?"
(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to the report.)