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Western Press Review: Croatian Extraditions, Chechnya, Chirac, Iran, 2008 Olympics

Prague, 13 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Today's Western press commentary looks at several issues, including Croatia's decision, scheduled for Sunday (15 July), on whether to extradite two high-ranking army officers to the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. The conduct of Russian troops in Chechnya is also discussed, in light of events that occurred in two villages in the region earlier this month. Other subjects considered are the allegations of financial transgressions facing French President Jacques Chirac, U.S. investment sanctions on Iran, Bulgaria's new king-turned-prime minister, and today's scheduled vote on the venue for the 2008 Olympic Games.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Vitomir Miles Raguz, the former ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the EU, looks at the controversy in Croatia over the potential extradition of two of its military officers indicted by The Hague. Raguz considers the debate on whether the case should be tried by Croatian courts or internationally, and writes:

"The case for sovereignty is no less compelling now. The potential for social unrest in Croatia remains very high. While the government is likely to win Sunday's (15 July) confidence vote, its majority may become very thin, eroding its ability to implement necessary economic and judicial reforms. These, along with the avoidance of political polarization, are much more crucial for the country and the region at this time than the prosecution of war crimes."

He continues:

"While international courts are absolutely necessary to bring to justice international tyrants, like [Slobodan] Milosevic and [Iraqi leader] Saddam [Hussein], they do harm in circumstances where there is no evidence that any 'collective crimes' have been committed. Persons charged with committing individual crimes should be tried and judged before their own people, especially -- as in the case of Croatia -- when there is a legally constituted government in place finally willing to pursue and prosecute them."


An editorial in "The New York Times" looks at the conduct of Russian troops in a recent offensive on two Chechen villages. The paper writes: "In violation of official military procedures, hundreds of Russian soldiers arrested 1,500 people in the two villages, beat and tortured all the men [and] looted school and hospital rooms and the homes and vehicles of local inhabitants. The assault on the villages came in response to two mine explosions on nearby roads that killed at least four Russian soldiers. But the retaliation was inflicted on innocent civilians, whose only offense was being Chechen and living near the mine blasts."

The paper goes on to note that "Moscow's political and military officials in the region have openly condemned the attacks. [But] more decisive action is needed. Leaders of the assault should be identified and prosecuted. Beyond that, President Vladimir Putin must impose professional discipline on Russian military forces."

"The New York Times" concludes that "what happened in the two villages is also an embarrassment for Mr. Putin, whose calls for restoring order and discipline have been a major theme of his presidency. His own authority will suffer if he tolerates continued lawlessness among Russian troops in Chechnya."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," attorney Aram Kevorkian takes a look at the allegations facing French President Jacques Chirac that he illegally used funds granted by the French parliament for private ends and took kickbacks from contractors while he was mayor of Paris. Kevorkian says that "these and other 'affaires' say much about the moral decadence of the Fifth Republic. [But] what's really extraordinary -- and telling -- about Mr. Chirac's defense is that he is, in effect, saying, 'The money didn't come from kickbacks, I simply took it from the public treasury.' Somehow, this is meant to be exculpatory."

Kevorkian continues: "In other countries that believe in the rule of law, this taking would be called embezzlement. [Yet] when French government officials, including the highest officials in the nation, use public funds for personal ends, they are, in practice, immune from prosecution for stealing and tax evasion. Immune from shame, too," he adds.

Kevorkian notes that until recently, these secret funds were a taboo topic for the French press. "The servility of the French press to the people in power is well established," he writes. "The French may love the juice of a scandal, but that doesn't mean they're prepared to reform the system that produces so many of them."


In "Eurasia View," Alec Appelbaum considers Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's 10 July speech at Colombia University in New York, and remarks that Kharrazi appeared "eager to promote trade and encourage regional friendships. He called on U.S. President George Bush to move aggressively to ease U.S. sanctions, hinting that Iranian growth could help stimulate economic expansion throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia."

But Appelbaum remarks that "the vision for regional cooperation sketched by Kharrazi lacked specifics. Large obstacles stand in the way of Iran's regional goals. [Substantial] foreign investment is needed." He further notes that Western oil companies are already "itching to get into Iran," and quotes Kharrazi as saying that Western companies' interest in Iran "cannot be ignored."

Appelbaum writes: "[Kharrazi] specifically pressured President Bush, who has often tried to please big oil interests, to attack the sanctions. [U.S.] policy remains such a steep obstacle to Iranian economic progress that it's hard to see around it. The pace at which that obstacle shrinks [will] go a long way toward determining whether Iran can pull up itself and its neighbors."


The German press expresses sympathy and a measure of pity for the new Bulgarian prime minister, ex-King Simeon II, who now faces a formidable task as the newly appointed head of state. Karl Grobe, in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," questions how one should address a former king with, for the Bulgarians, an unpronounceable name (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, or Saxcoburggotski, as he will be called in Bulgaria). But the premier is faced with far more pressing problems: he will have to deal with the healing of an economy suffering from 10 years of incompetence, corruption, and intrigue, and the re-establishment of trust within the country and abroad.


"Poor King" says the editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." While campaigning for election Simeon had little to offer but a meager bundle of promises to combat corruption, to improve the standard of living within 800 days, and to win over foreign investors. The poverty-stricken Bulgarians, however, placed their trust in these vague promises, considering them worth a sack of gold.

But such trust will now have to be transformed into deeds. Simeon must bring his country close to European institutions, to NATO and the EU. This will surely be a thorny path, it writes. He needs patience and time -- something, the paper says, "if he were sincere, he would have stated outright. Instead, the king promised to roll out a red carpet. He will need to be firm to prevent stumbling over himself in the end."


A commentary by Francis Deron in France's "Le Monde" says that in awarding the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing, "a moral contract would be [established] -- a decade after Tiananmen's tragic repression -- between Beijing and the public opinion of the international community."

Deron writes that the award would also force the Chinese government to be more open toward foreign guests of all kinds, including journalists, as well as allow the political reformers to emerge from the anonymity into which the repressive governmental atmosphere has driven them.

He adds that with the promise of the games, China is less likely to get into rows with its neighbors, notably Taiwan. "The last country to have courted a similar experience was the Soviet Union, and it is well known what happened to the Moscow Games after the invasion of Afghanistan," he writes. By undertaking to receive the Olympics, Beijing knows that its margin of error is small.

While Deron says it was good strategy in 1993 to "punish" China for the Tiananmen Square massacre by refusing it the 2000 Games, it is much better strategy to integrate China into the modern world in 2001, and charge it with "finally listening to the aspirations of its population, which wants, thanks to the games, to believe in the hope of better governance."


An editorial in "The New York Times" calls China's record on human rights "abysmal" and writes: "As a matter of principle, China's human rights abuses and suppression of dissent should disqualify it from holding the Olympics." However, the paper acknowledges that the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, seems likely to approve Beijing's application.

Viewed in this light, the paper says that the international community and the IOC should "do what they can to turn the 2008 Summer Games into a force for constructive change in China. The long-term interests of advancing democracy and freedom there can be served if China recognizes that its handling of every aspect of the games -- including the construction of new Olympic arenas, the treatment of foreign visitors and reporters and the political climate in which the games are held -- will be closely monitored by the world."

The paper adds that China's leaders remain opposed to political reform "even as they expand economic freedoms and encourage entrepreneurs. But the Chinese people seem to have higher hopes for their nation. [Their] enthusiastic engagement with the outside world, although restricted by the government, suggests a yearning to become active participants not only in global commerce but in the international community as well. The IOC and the world at large should make clear that granting the Olympics to China is not meant to reward the government but rather to signal to the Chinese people that they are welcome to play a greater role in international life."