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Western Press Review: From Prague Meetings To Chechnya

Prague, 20 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Today, much Western press commentary focuses on the upcoming elections in Yugoslavia, the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Prague and related economic matters. There are also comments on U.S.-Chinese relations and the ongoing war in Chechnya.


Spain's El Pais daily, in an editorial on Yugoslavia, writes: "The European Union has promised the Serbs an end to [EU] sanctions if the opposition, as predicted by the polls, wins the presidential elections on Sunday [Sept 24] or the second round on October 8. The 15 [EU member states] are in the ironic situation of urging people to vote on premises which are distorted from the start. Nobody can believe that Milosevic -- a man charged by The Hague [tribunal] as a war criminal, a man who changed the constitution so he could be re-elected -- is willing to relinquish a position that is his only possibility for survival."

The paper further notes that falsifying elections is a game Milosevic has practiced numerous times. With the media in his grip, it is not difficult to achieve: " In the past he has falsified elections without scruples," the editorial says. "Yugoslavia lacks the requirements for a transparent vote. There is no freedom of information or freedom of association. [In] a country still traumatized by [last year's] NATO bombings, it is easy for [the dictator] to call his opponents traitors serving the great anti-Serbian conspiracy."


Peter Munch, writing in Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung, says Yugoslavia's elections make little sense: "[They] will take place on Sunday, but their results will be absolute fiction," he argues. "They will be ratified by the president and the parliament. But the government of which they are a part in fact no longer exists. Yugoslavia -- the federation of the South Slavs -- is ethnically, geographically and politically in decay. It has become an instrument to maintain the power and survival interests of Slobodan Milosevic."

Munch goes on to fault the West for accepting Milosevic's rules: "In reality," he says, "the West and the opposition fell into the trap laid by Milosevic. When they accepted the elections -- which they had to do in order not to look like losers -- they accepted the rules based on Milosevic's wishful thinking and fictions."


Turning to economic issues, the International Herald Tribune carries two comments on the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, or IMF, which are taking place in Prague.

In a news analysis, Alex Zaitchik focuses on the anti-globalization protestors and the clash of cultures about to take place in the city. He writes from Prague: "The protesters are here. Although not yet the deluge feared by World Bank officials and the Prague mayor's office, the early arrivals have made their presence felt among the hordes of late summer tourists. Political tee-shirts and pierced faces give the newcomers away. With them, the strangeness of what is about to happen comes into focus."

Zaitchik goes on: "Unlike Western European countries, where fashionable leftism has deep roots in youth culture, radical chic does not yet exist [in Prague]. Other than a small group of Czech anarchists and a sprinkling of communist youth, the [Czech] kids are happy with their mobile phones." He adds: "The meeting of generations and nationalities across the memory divide of the Iron Curtain thus makes for quite a show. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank want to showcase the success of the region since the fall of communism, the protesters want to bring attention to their causes and the government wants to prove its ability to handle the situation. And the Czechs? Most of them just want to get the hell out of town."


Also in the International Herald Tribune, Peter Woicke -- a managing director of the World Bank -- makes the case for globalization. In a column entitled "Globalization, Done Right, is What Developing Countries Want," he writes: "We have heard a lot of debate recently about globalization from both detractors and promoters. But we tend to hear very little from one group of people affected by globalization: those in developing countries who are running businesses and providing jobs -- sometimes to thousands of workers, sometimes to just a few."

Woicke offers examples: "An insurance company president, rose-grower or cabinet-maker in Uganda will tell you what it is like trying to do business where the power can shut off at any time. Their scarce and unreliable electricity supply means that Ugandans consume about one 200th of the amount of power used in developed countries, with all the implied privations in human and economic terms. But," he says, "there are prospects for a better future. A multinational power plant builder wants to work with international organizations to construct a hydroelectric dam that will benefit the people and not harm the environment. Ugandans do not see that as a threat of domination by foreign corporations. They see it as bringing welcome investment, expertise, technology, training, protective controls -- and the opportunity to build their own lives and businesses."


The continuing fall in value of the euro, the EU's common currency, is the subject of a commentary by Paul Krugman in The New York Times. He seeks to make a case for U.S. intervention to prop up the currency, writing: "Alas, poor euro! Europe's new currency, proudly introduced less than two years ago at a value of $1.17, has fallen to a humiliating $0.85. And," he adds, "things look rotten in the state of Denmark, where next week's referendum -- "to be or not to be part of European monetary union, that is the question" -- looks likely to result in defeat for the pro-euro forces.

Krugman continues: "Over the weekend, when finance ministers from the major industrial nations meet in Prague, the slumping euro will surely dominate the discussion. Europeans would very much like the United States to join them in intervening -- that is, buying euros and selling dollars -- to drive up the euro's value. By all accounts, America won't go along. But it should. [True,] attempts to manipulate currencies through intervention have a bad track record. They usually fail, and when they fail the currency and the credibility of the government plunge in tandem. But there are times when general rules don't apply, and this looks like one of them. "

Krugman explains: "Sometimes a run on a currency is driven not so much by economic fundamentals as by herd mentality. And the fall in the euro now looks very much like herd behavior. To justify the euro's current weakness you have to believe not only that America's 'new economy' will keep delivering spectacular growth indefinitely, but that Europe will never experience a comparable surge of its own." That, he concludes, "just isn't plausible. The extraordinary weakness of the euro is possible only because investors, focused on the short term, have stopped thinking about tomorrow -- or maybe the day after tomorrow."


Italy's La Stampa newspaper, in an editorial, argues that intervention to prop up the euro will not help until the EU's European Central Bank changes its policies. The Milan-based paper writes: "Part of the problem, without a doubt, comes from monetary policy that is considered uncertain and unconvincing by the market. [As] for coordinated intervention in the currency market, it is not enough to talk about it if we are not ready to accompany it with credible and coherent changes in economic and monetary policy. Otherwise, its effectiveness can only be ephemeral."


Yesterday's U.S. Senate approval of permanent normal trade status for China elicits this editorial from the Boston Globe, written just before the vote: "It is important not to oversell the benefits or exaggerate the harm that would flow from the China trade bill. [The] legislation would neither devastate U.S. employment nor guarantee U.S. prosperity. Rather, it would cement the world's most populous nation into the international trading system and put new stresses on the Chinese oligarchy." The paper adds: "Businesses may be salivating at the prospects of new customers in China, but even with the passage of the trade bill they will still face competition from European and Japanese companies and the Chinese themselves."


Finally, in an editorial entitled "The World Must Not Look Away," the Los Angeles Times turns its attention to the war in Chechnya. The paper notes: "Chechnya is a battle zone where the rules laid down by the Geneva Convention are ignored, where Russian forces regularly commit atrocities without fear of being held accountable by their superiors, where the Chechens routinely resort to torture, mutilation and murder of their captives."

"Chechnya," it continues, "is a no-quarter war without heroes. Each side demonizes the other to justify the terrible things it does. Each side dehumanizes itself by the terrible things it does. Moscow, with the approval of most Russians, fights doggedly to hold Chechnya to keep its access to natural resources and because it knows that if the Chechens succeed in breaking away, other restive peoples in the multi-ethnic country will be inspired to seek their own independence. But," it adds, "Russians also fight brutally because that is part of the Russian military ethos, a tradition of total war fought with every means and without moral restraints."

The paper disputes Russia's justification for the fighting in Chechnya. It writes: "Chechnya, Russian leaders insist, is an internal matter and not the business of outsiders. They are half right. International law does recognize the fighting as an internal matter, but that doesn't preclude humanitarian concerns about what this vicious conflict involves. Human rights organizations have called frequent attention to the abuses occurring in Chechnya, though with only limited impact." The editorial concludes: "Chechens have suffered much under nearly two centuries of Russian rule. And Russians can't escape suffering themselves as they try to maintain that rule."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego and Charles Recknagel contributed to this report.)