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Western Press Review: Poland's Communist Legacy, NATO Expansion

Prague, 17 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in Western papers today addresses the changing relations between Europe and the U.S., as well as NATO expansion and its bearing on the EU. Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinski urges NATO development alongside EU expansion in order to strengthen both alliances. He says that NATO is "effectively becoming an alliance between America and Europe." Other analyses also focus on Poland's communist legacy in light of the trial this week of General Wojciech Jaruzelski for his crimes committed under martial law in 1971.


Two pieces in today's "The Wall Street Journal Europe" look at Poland's communist history and its cultural aftermath, in light of the trial of General Wojciech Jaruzelski for the deaths of 44 strikers in 1971. An editorial notes that when the general allowed free elections in 1989, he had "reached an understanding with Polish democrats not to seek 'retribution' for crimes committed under martial law. [Few] dictators would cede power without a guarantee of personal safety. [Such] agreements brought democracy to Chile, South Africa, and elsewhere." The paper adds: "If the Polish government revokes its promised immunity [then] many struggling democrats in the world's remaining dictatorships may find it even harder to dislodge their criminal leaders."

However, the paper goes on to call Jaruzelski's trial a just endeavor and the best way for Poland to come to terms with its communist past. The paper says: "Communist officials have largely escaped the fate of their Nazi counterparts. Too often there has been no trial, no testimony, and no punishment." It concludes: "Some Polish 'reformed' communists say that history alone should judge the communist rulers, [but] historians can only judge when they have the facts and many of these facts remain unreported. [The] trial of General Jaruzelski could enable the Poles to discover, and record for all time, the facts about communist rule."


In a related comment, Elizabeth Pond, trans-Atlantic editor of "International Politik" magazine, writes that Polish cultural identity and collective self-image "is heading in the direction of the European mainstream." After a history fraught with battles and resistance against political encroachment of all kinds -- from the Turks in the 16th century through the Soviet era -- Pond writes that Poland's "cult of national heroism," the sense that it is "the special victim and therefore duty-bound to be the special hero [with] every generation sworn anew to stage its own doomed revolt," is giving way to political apathy among the younger generation.

She cites Adam Krzeminski, a commentator for the weekly "Polityka," as writing: "There is a generational gulf. The 20-year-olds are apolitical, consumer-oriented, liberal, not moralizing." Pond herself adds: "Ask the 20-somethings about the decision to put Poland's last communist boss on trial this week for killing demonstrators, and you get a shrug. The sense of heroism is gone." Now, she adds, "Poles are masters in their own house, [and] are looking to the future, not the past, for their legitimacy."


A comment in the "International Herald Tribune" contributed by Zbigniew Brezinski, national security adviser under former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, looks at the development of NATO and says that it should grow along with EU expansion. Brezinski notes that since the EU "will continue to expand, [it] follows that it would be absurd if in the future NATO were committed to the defense of, say, only three-quarters of the European Union."

He also suggests steps the alliance should take regarding the admission of new members: "Any state considered eligible for EU membership should be automatically seen as also eligible for NATO membership, [and] the current mixture of [criteria] should continue to apply for states that seek NATO membership ahead or outside of EU membership." He adds that "current NATO aspirants should be issued formal invitations by the Prague summit meeting [next year] to join the alliance, and [that] in the case of the most ready candidates, NATO should approve their admission at the [meeting] and set in motion the required ratification process."

He notes that it is important to promote, among aspirants as well as member nations, "greater confidence that the enlargement of NATO is a continuous process."


A commentary by William Pfaff, published in the "International Herald Tribune," addresses the souring relations between the U.S. and Europe in light of the Bush administration's decision to abandon certain international agreements and accelerate the creation of a missile defense system, among other developments. Pfaff says it is important to understand the motivations of the Bush administration: "They do not want to rule the world. Their essential impulse is defensive and nationalist. They believe that the United States is the best of all countries, with the right ideas, that it deserves to prevail in international disputes because it is right."

Pfaff goes on to note that the Clinton administration "believed that promoting markets and American-style democracy would eventually integrate international society into a benign liberal capitalist system, politically dominated by the United States. The new administration," he says, "wants expanded trade without constraining global obligations."

He concludes that "America's foreign critics and Washington have no choice today other than to agree to disagree. Those who don't like how the United States is conducting itself will have to look after themselves just as aggressively as the United States looks after itself. Certain internationalist illusions," Pfaff concludes, "will have to be abandoned."


A commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" addresses the issue of energy sources as the Bush administration this week unveils its energy policy. Staffer Kimberly Strassel says energy conservation is a self-defeating goal. She writes: "For the past decade, U.S. energy policy has followed the conservationist agenda like a bible. [Today,] we see the results. Energy consumption hasn't gone down. Rather, it has stubbornly risen [despite] the increasing weight of conservationist policies."

Strassel says further: "Clearly, demand management is not the answer. [Making] a product more efficient makes it cheaper to use. This, in turn, causes people to use a product more. [Consumers,] in short, spend to the size of their billfolds. And that is the failing of government-led demand for reduction. [Only] when gas prices start to pinch will Americans drive less or hunt for smaller cars."

She concludes that conservation must be seen for what it is -- "a personal virtue, a market-led way of allocating resources, and even a healthy awareness of man's place in the world. But not by any stretch should it constitute an energy policy."


Arne Perras, in a commentary for the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," focuses on the issue of aid accorded to the world's poorest countries by more affluent nations. He writes: "What the rich countries have so far done to combat worldwide poverty demonstrates its incompetence. Thousands of millions have been streamed into development programs, but nevertheless this has not led to a reduction of poverty. On the contrary: Poverty is growing while the club of industrial nations helplessly observe the misery, especially in Africa, but also in parts of Asia and Latin America."

Perras accuses the world's more developed nations of only paying lip service to a pledge to alleviate poverty by allocating 0.7 percent of their gross national product to poor countries. Actually, he says, most developed nations have reduced their assistance programs. He notes that only the Scandinavian countries, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands have adhered to their pledges.

Perras admits there are enormous challenges. But he criticizes the rich nations for formulating illusionary goals to halve the world's poverty by 2015: "That is deceptive," he says, "because [it's difficult] to see the way to [realizing] this objective."


In a commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," attorney John Carney examines suspicions that Italy's new prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, will be subject to conflicts of interest based on his business involvements. He praises the Italian public for dealing "a sharp rebuke to those who argued that Mr. Berlusconi is unfit to govern Italy. [Italians] rejected the notion that the wide-ranging business connections [create] unacceptable conflicts of interest with affairs of the state."

Carney asks why "businessmen who turn to politics are presumed to be driven by self-interest, while career politicians are deemed to have loftier motives?" Carney says that "Berlusconi's best answer to his critics would be to adopt [an] agenda of privatization, deregulation and tax cuts. Pushing Italy's already successful privatization program into the vanguard of Europe's move toward freer markets," he writes, "would benefit both Mr. Berlusconi's reputation and allow [capital] resources to benefit from [the] marketplace."

Carney concludes: "The real danger to Italy's new center-right government comes not from Mr. Berlusconi's business ties but from the inevitable temptations of political power."