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Western Press Review: Commentary All Over Map

Prague, 19 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Editorials and staff-written commentaries in our survey of the Western press today take aim at varied topics all over the world map -- from anti-recession action by the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, which economists shorten to "the Fed," to reports of child-slave trafficking in West Africa.


Britain's "Financial Times" describes some possible missteps today in an editorial about the Fed's decision to lower the cost of business borrowing in the United States. The Fed cut its discount rates (that is, the rate at which it lends money to member banks) by half a point. One is that speculators may believe that the Fed is prepared at any cost to rescue the economy from a slowdown, another that the Fed may be adding fuel to an economy that remains overheated.

The state of the U.S. economy affects national economies around the world, especially those of EU members and Japan.

The editorial says: "It is easy to forget that the Fed is dealing with an economy that has just emerged from a period of inflated asset prices and unsustainable high growth in both investment and consumer spending."

The editorial continues: "With output growth already slowing substantially there is no suggestion that the United States will bounce back to those heady days. The country does, however, need a period of slower growth in order to correct the imbalances that have built up and avoid a worse crunch later."


A "Washington Post" editorial -- in contrast to the "Financial Times'" caution -- hails the Fed decision as, first, a needed lift to the economy and, second, a rebuttal to President George W. Bush's tax-cut program. More discount-rate cuts may be called for, the editorial says. Here's an excerpt: "The Fed's aggressive use of monetary policy, the best short-term stimulus at the government's disposal, also undercuts the White House's attempt to re-package its proposed tax cut as a necessary means to quickly re-ignite the economy."

The editorial says also: "The [real] concern is that the Fed's traditional anti-recessionary medicine, stimulating spending by lowering the cost of borrowing, may be slow to take effect when businesses already have over-invested and, along with consumers, face high debt burdens. Further cuts, in other words, may be in order."


"Die Welt's" Jens Hartmann, writing from Moscow, condemns the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin as cynically repressive. Hartmann writes: "The late-night seizure of the Kremlin-critical television [network] NTV by state-owned natural gas company Gazprom, the closure of the liberal "Segodnya" daily newspaper and Gazprom's decision to pull the plug on the news magazine "Itogi" gives the West everything it needs to size up Putin. He should be judged by his deeds, not his words. During their recent meeting in Saint Petersburg, Putin talked a great democratic game with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. And a few days later gave the order to gag the most outspoken members of Russia's opposition."


Foreign affairs columnist Jim Hoagland, writing in the "Washington Post," describes his impressions during a recent visit to Kosovo. He says NATO evidently is making progress in enabling stabilization there. He writes: "Kosovo may be a Vietnam in reverse. From afar it looks like a quagmire. Up close, those who work with the daily problems and are most aware of the flaws and pitfalls see progress. They are daring enough to sense a foundation of stability being laid for the Balkans."

The writer says: "The Kosovar leaders I met praise NATO's handling of the recent skirmishing in Macedonia. They seem comfortable with the presence of 38,000 KFOR troops from 39 nations on their soil, and say they will be flexible in pursuing independence from Serbia's version of ex-Yugoslavia."


The suspected child-slave motor vessel Etireno docked on 17 April in Cotonou, Benin, with a number of evidently unaccompanied children aboard. International child welfare authorities had been seeking the vessel for a week along a stretch of West Africa identified in world atlases as "The Slave Coast." A news blackout so far has obscured whether or not the Etireno actually carried or had carried children sold into slavery, but the "Los Angeles Times" seizes upon the case to urge world attention on child-slave trafficking.

The newspaper says: "The universal willingness to believe that 180 children had been sold into slavery and were abandoned on a modern-day slave ship stranded off the coast of West Africa indicates the depth of the child-trafficking problem in that region. The truth may never be known about the vessel that docked Tuesday [17 April] in Benin -- whether its human cargo ever included scores of young slaves -- but the world should keep paying attention. [The United Nations Children's Fund, or] UNICEF estimates that 200,000 boys and girls are sold into servitude in Africa every year."

The editorial concludes: "The end is not in sight for the slavery that goes under the name of child trafficking, but world awareness and African vigilance can steadily diminish it."


The "Irish Times" examines the Kremlin's contrasting handling of two prominent Russians charged -- but not convicted -- of crimes. The newspaper says in an editorial: "The decision of the Spanish High Court not to permit the extradition of Mr. Vladimir Gusinsky to Russia is a further embarrassment for President Putin's administration. The reasons stated by the Spanish court, that the fraud charges brought against the Russian media magnate would not constitute a crime under Spanish law, leave the Kremlin open to charges that the move to extradite was politically motivated. Mr. Gusinsky's case has been unusual even by the unpredictable standards of law enforcement which have prevailed in Russia in recent years. The editorial says that Gusinsky has been harassed and jailed. Charges have been raised and dropped and then raised again. Prosecutors say they will do all in their power to bring him from Spain."

It goes on: "This treatment is interesting when compared with that of Mr. Pavel Borodin, who brought Mr. Putin to the Kremlin from the political obscurity of Saint Petersburg." President Putin, himself, leaped to Borodin's defense when Swiss authorities attempted to extradite him from New York. When Borodin finally waived extradition and flew to Switzerland under escort, the Kremlin put up his $3 million bond. He came home to an official warm welcome.

The "Irish Times" says: "The major difference between them is that Mr. Borodin has been a consistent supporter of Mr. Putin, while Mr. Gusinsky's Media-MOST empire, composed of the TV [network] NTV a major radio station, and a number of print publications, has been the president's only significant opponent."


In a signed editorial in the "Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger writes approvingly of what he says was effective U.S. pressure that caused Israel to temper its military force in Gaza. The editorial says: "The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon naturally denies that U.S. pressure prompted it to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip. To do otherwise would be to admit a dependency that doesn't officially exist."

Frankenberger continues: "But no matter what Mr. Sharon hopes to achieve by militarizing the conflict with the Palestinians, the criticism of Israel's military operations coming from the Bush administration leaves nothing to the imagination. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell used the terms 'excessive' and 'disproportionate' to describe those operations. This is clear language that conveys the Bush administration's concern that the whole region could self-combust at any moment."