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Western Press Review: From Uzbekistan And EU Policy To Macedonia And The Mideast

Prague, 26 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today looks at reform and opposition in Uzbekistan, the revision of EU corporate-takeover policy, and Russia's post-Cold War shift to the West. Other comments center on the chance for peace in the Middle East, China's conviction of two U.S.-based scholars earlier this week, and the situation in Macedonia, as ethnic Albanian insurgents appear to be ready to begin a withdrawal following government threats of a renewed offensive.


An editorial in "Eurasia View" looks at discontent among the Uzbek population. The paper says that although widely expected raids by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, have not materialized, the government has continued a campaign of repression, which some observers say may be fueling radicalism rather than fighting it. The editorial says:

"During the decade since Uzbekistan gained independence, the government has moved to deprive opponents of a political outlet for dissension from the official viewpoint. Mainstream opposition political movements, including Birlik and Erk, were crushed, and their leaders either arrested or hounded into exile. In recent years, Islamic radicalism has filled the void created by the absence of a political opposition. [Having] long relied on the strategy of coercion, the government has lost its powers of persuasion, and is bereft of compelling arguments in favor of religious moderation."

"Eurasia View" adds that another source of discontent lies in the disastrous state of the Uzbek economy, which in turn may also play a role in the Islamic insurgency. Islamic militants may find it easier to recruit followers because of mass unemployment and economic insecurity. In summary, the editorial says, "There are indications that the government's failure to adequately address economic issues, combined with the crackdown against freedom of religious expression, has pushed the population close to the breaking point."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," analyst Tom Grant looks at the European Parliament's recent rejection of a plan to reform EU corporate-takeover policy. He writes: "The EU has been hard at work in the effort to liberalize European law governing takeovers of publicly traded companies since it was the European Community, that is for the past 12 years. [It] would have been a mistake at any time for the Continent to leave in place obstacles to cross-border investment. But at a time when the expansion of the American economy, the engine of Europe's growth, has slowed to eight-year lows -- and the amount of capital fleeing Europe now vastly exceeds inward investment -- the European Parliament's decision amounted to pure folly."

Grant goes on to say that the economic consequences of the decision are "only half the story. The politics are important as well. Labor unions -- seldom allies of the center-right and of corporate management -- frequently have impeded market liberalization in Europe. But this particular liberalizing directive found enemies in the boardroom as well as the union hall. [Then] there were the social conservatives within established Continental parties. They rounded out the alliance by continuing their omnibus opposition to any shake-up of established patterns of economic behavior. It is this merger of disparate political interests," Grant says, "that poses a long-term threat to the creation of a European single market."


In a contribution to "The Christian Science Monitor," Russia analyst Michael McFaul suggests that the best way to maintain East-West global stability is to integrate Russia into the West. McFaul says that recent interaction between the Russian and U.S. presidents has made "real progress in challenging some of the lingering legacies of the Cold War. [But] to end the Cold War totally will require [U.S. President George W.] Bush to advance new thinking on the other major legacy of that era -- the divide between rich and poor, democratic and autocratic, NATO and non-NATO that still separates Europe into East and West. This final remnant of the Cold War will disappear only when Russia becomes a democracy, fully integrated into Western institutions. Unfortunately, the promotion of Russian democracy has taken a back seat to arms control [and] securing Russian acquiescence to missile defense."

McFaul continues: "If Russia becomes a full-blown dictatorship in the next 10 years, a U.S. missile defense system will be a rather useless weapon in the arsenal for dealing with an enemy Russia. If, in this worst-case scenario, autocratic Russia decides to invade NATO-member Latvia, destabilize the Georgian government, or trade nuclear weapons with Iran, Iraq, or China, [a] missile defense system will do little to deter these hostile acts. [But] if Russia becomes a full-blown democracy in the next 10 years, then the prospects for conflict between the U.S. and Russia [will] be reduced dramatically. A democratic Russia moving toward entry into the European Union and even NATO will also make possible the unification of Europe and the final disappearance of East-West walls [that] still divide Europe."


In "The New York Times," Deborah Sontag examines the recent history of the Middle East peace process, and addresses some of what she considers popular misconceptions. Sontag writes in a news analysis: "In the tumble of the all-consuming violence, much has not been revealed or examined. Rather, a potent, simplistic narrative has taken hold in Israel and to some extent in the United States. It says: Mr. Barak offered Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David last summer. Mr. Arafat turned it down, and then 'pushed the button' and chose the path of violence."

Sontag says that the realities of the situation are far more complex. "There were missteps and successes by Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans alike over more than seven years of peace talks. [Mr. Barak] broke Israeli taboos against any discussion of dividing Jerusalem, and he sketched out an offer that was politically courageous, especially for an Israeli leader with a faltering coalition. But it was a proposal that the Palestinians did not believe would leave them with a viable state."

Sontag continues: "Despite reports to the contrary, [Arafat] never turned down '97 percent of the West Bank' at [January peace talks in Taba, Egypt], as many Israelis hold. The negotiations were suspended by Israel because elections were imminent and 'the pressure of Israeli public opinion against the talks could not be resisted,' [according to] Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was Israel's foreign minister at the time. [For] a variety of reasons, the summit meeting never took place. In the Israeli elections in February, Mr. Barak lost resoundingly to Mr. Sharon. It was then that peace moves froze."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" considers the 24 July Chinese trial -- and sentencing to a 10-year prison term -- of two U.S. residents, Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang. The paper calls these "sham trials that were closed to the press, U.S. officials and other outside observers."

It notes that the sentencing comes just four days before the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Beijing, and writes: "The government of Jiang Zemin [has] established its position: that it expects the Bush administration to conduct business and carry out normal high-level relations with China regardless of how it treats its own people, even those who happen to be U.S. residents or citizens.

"[All] of this is a challenge to General Powell," the editorial says, "who has spoken of the administration's interest in smoothing relations with Beijing after the dispute over the downed U.S. surveillance plane. The Bush administration, he said recently, is ready to 'get on to the real issues of trade and economics' with China. It would also like to defuse Chinese opposition to the administration's missile defense plans, and head off any deepening of the strategic alliance that Mr. Jiang signed with President Vladimir Putin of Russia last week."

The paper suggests that "Mr. Jiang knows all this, which is why this was a good week to throw the book at Ms. Gao and Mr. Qin." It writes: "General Powell should not go along. Instead he should make clear that the Bush administration's engagement with China will deepen, and the president's planned visit to China will take place, only when the two academics are released and the campaign against the intellectuals is stopped."


Macedonia is the subject of several commentaries in the German press. Stephen Israel in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" writes of the old method of putting blame on a third party, notably the West, which is now being characterized as the "bad guy" in the conflict between Macedonian nationalists and Albanian rebels. He say further: "The conspiracy theory is a well-tested means of deflecting attention from one's own responsibility. Rather than for bad intentions, the West can be blamed for initial disinterest, belated reaction, a short-lived strategy and at times, pure incompetence."

Israel says the responsibility for the conflict in Macedonia can clearly be attributed "to widespread corruption of the elite in Skopje," which has led to the present crisis. He argues that the representatives of the ethnic Macedonian majority and the ethnic Albanian minority have closely cooperated in this respect.

For him, the responsibility for the present crisis lies squarely on the shoulders of the Albanian rebels, who were able to operate in a general vacuum, as well as on the Serbian nationalists who were unwilling to agree to any kind of compromise. Now, he says, nationalists on both sides have reached a dead end and are calling on the West to arbitrate -- and, at the same time, hastily considering the West to be biased.


An editorial in "Die Welt" considers Germany's role in Macedonia. While Germany is still discussing the possibility of military engagement in Macedonia, events have overtaken the debate. "Macedonia is burning. The country is torn by civil war," the paper says. And the current situation has prompted the West to rethink its strategy:

"Military intervention would meet with much resistance and imponderable obstacles. But if Macedonia flares up, then the West has no other alternative if it does not want to jeopardize what it has built with weapons, money and human life. Now there is more at stake than Macedonia alone. At stake is the fragile order of the Balkans as a whole."


An analysis in French daily "Le Monde" looks at the voluntary surrender yesterday of Croatian General Rahim Ademi to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The paper notes that after a lot of hesitation, on 7 July Croatia finally decided to transfer its war crimes suspects to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. This decision, which provoked a political crisis and the resignations of four members of the Croatian government, seems to have inspired the elected members of parliament of the Serbian Republic, the editorial notes.

"Le Monde" says that the Serbian parliament resumed reviewing a bill on cooperation with the tribunal on 25 July. It says that the situation "is identical: [whether] to give authorities the legal means to arrest and transfer war crimes suspects to The Hague, notably the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former commander-in-chief Ratko Mladic, both actively sought by The Hague."

But, the editorial says, despite the increased international pressures since the extradition of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic, a swift vote on cooperation with the tribunal is unlikely. It writes:

"Everything depends, in fact, on the stance taken by the Serbian Democratic Party, or SDS, founded by [Karadzic]. If parliament adopts the bill [on cooperation with the tribunal], it will mean that the SDS has abandoned its leader. If it rejects it, the SDS risks being delegitimized by the local authorities, its Yugoslavian neighbors and the international community."


"Los Angeles Times" Syndicate columnist William Pfaff says that a happy result of last weekend's G-7 plus Russia meeting in Genoa would be "a serious reconsideration of the ideology of deregulation and free trade expansion, which drives globalism and inspires activists to wreck G-8 meetings."

He writes: "The response that officials and mainstream commentators make to those self-appointed defenders of the poor who demonstrated in Genoa is that even more globalization is necessary to make the poor richer. The sovereign merit of deregulation and expanded trade is taken for granted. It occupies the same status of self-evident truth that the benevolence and progressive character of colonialism did in the 1920s and 1930s."

Pfaff continues: "There is a resemblance between globalization and colonialism. Both are motivated by the wish to export to the colonial/globalized market; to make use of its work force, where wages are less than those in the home country; and to exploit the colonized country's resources, material as well as human. One may argue that this is legitimate in the case of globalism, since globalism also fosters democracy, and illegitimate in the case of colonialism. [But] 70 years ago, Western liberal governments were proud of the progress, education and uplift they thought they were bringing to 'backward' peoples in Asia and Africa. These peoples were being prepared for self-government and being brought into the modern world of technology and trade."

He concludes: "[We] are told today that globalism means progress, education, prosperity and economic modernization. This is only half the story. Yes, it brings investment and industrial technology -- but also social and political disruption, destruction of cultural infrastructure and ruin for internationally uncompetitive local industries and agriculture."