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Western Press Review: Commentary Continues On Berlin Wall

Prague, 14 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The 40th anniversary yesterday of East Germany's construction of the Berlin Wall continues to attract commentary in the German press, and two British newspapers also join in today.


The "Financial Times" says Germans on this anniversary should pay more attention to what unites them and less to the lingering split between East and West. The newspaper says in an editorial: "Mercifully, nobody parrots any more the old Moscow propaganda about the Wall serving as a bulwark against fascism, not even the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to East Germany's Communist Party. Indeed, PDS leaders last week issued a statement that there was no political, moral, or historical justification for building the Wall."

The editorial says: "The 40th anniversary of the Wall should be a time for Germans to remember what unites rather than what divides them. That is the task for Germany and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. Chancellor [Gerhard] Schroeder, who will spend the next fortnight visiting eastern Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland, seems more in tune with the public mood."


In the "Frankfurter Rundschau," commentator Stephan Hebel writes that German politicians are misusing, cynically, the Wall's anniversary. He comments: "Anniversaries like [yesterday's] both honor and mock the victims at the same time -- something Germans already know from dealing with their Nazi past. The victims are paid tribute to by politicians of every stripe, whose voices quake with pathos as they rail against forgetting, who condemn the crimes of the regime -- in this case the crimes committed by East Germany's Social Unity Party -- in measured words and swear that history admonishes 'never again.'"

Hebel says: "A political culture that is conscious of history would look altogether different: Above all, it would hear the voice of the victims. On a day like [yesterday], politicians could aspire to be more than mere screens projecting the intrigues of power. They could even be protagonists, who speak for themselves rather than simply being led quavering into the field to advance an argument for this or that."


In London, "The Times" says in an editorial that it finds a lesson in the Wall's history for the powers involved in the Balkans and in the Mideast. The newspaper says: "The Berlin Wall was communism's most conspicuous admission of failure. The Wall set the Cold War, quite literally, in concrete. It forced the realization that the West was in for the long haul. Checkpoint Charlie became the backdrop for a generation of vigorous U.S. brinkmanship, proxy wars, and calibrated confrontations with the Soviet superpower."

"The Times" says: "There followed a conscious effort, whose premises were articulated by the not always articulate George Bush Sr., to build a new order." The new order was to be advanced, the editorial says, by "benevolent interventionism by the major powers."

The newspaper says, however, that proliferation of long-haul benevolent interventions has drained the West of resources, energy, and determination. It says, "Each Western-brokered accord has entailed policing, and almost every intervention has turned out to be for the long term."

The paper says, "That is true in the Balkans, where the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, whose Slavic majority is more sinned against than sinning, finds itself gasping for help at a bad moment." It continues: "It is true, too, in Israel. Yassir Arafat, who has counted on Israeli responses to his atrocities to win him sympathy and help, is likely to find that Ariel Sharon has a free hand to respond exactly as he wishes."


"The New York Times" says today that one needn't look far for a model of the tragedy that could follow a failure of the pending peace accord in Macedonia. The newspaper says in an editorial: "The conclusion of a national peace accord usually comes with fanfare and publicity. But in an indication of the perils awaiting Macedonia's new peace pact, ethnic [Macedonian] and Albanian politicians signed the agreement virtually under cover of darkness yesterday to avoid protests from [Macedonians]. The accord also came during the worst week of fighting of the six-month guerrilla conflict."

The editorial concludes: "While the government and guerrillas need to demonstrate they desire peace, NATO may not be able to wait for every brush fire to be extinguished before coming in. Also, the troops may need to extend their presence to ensure that the provisions of the peace agreement are carried out. A glance across the border to Kosovo is a reminder of the human and financial cost that may follow if the peace agreement fails."


"The Daily Telegraph" in London publishes today a commentary by scholar John Casey, who charges that the West, through ignorance and prejudice, misunderstands both the grandeur and the problems of Islam. Casey writes: "A former secretary-general of NATO, Willy Claes, claimed that, after the fall of communism, Islam is our new world enemy. Anyone who writes sympathetically about Islam in the press is likely to get a letter or two informing him of the worldwide Muslim conspiracy. Liberals and feminists denounce the position of women in the Muslim world. It is quite acceptable -- almost de rigueur -- to express vehement anti-Muslim sentiments in polite society without being accused of racism."

The writer says: "No wonder Muslims feel misunderstood -- denounced as blind male chauvinists at best, as terrorists at worst. Nor is it surprising how warmly Muslims greet any attempt by a Westerner to understand their religion."

Casey writes that Islam has a rich tradition of enlightened scholarship, that the Arabic of the Koran matches the glory of Homer's Greek and Shakespeare's English. He says: "It is only if you confront Islam at this level, freed of the miasma of prejudice, that you can reasonably talk also about the defects; [including how] the corrupt despotisms that rule so much of the Middle East make a mockery of the Muslim claim to establish social justice."


"The Irish Times" editorializes today that the radical-fundamentalist Islam of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban contributes to worldwide misconstruing and denunciation of the faith. The newspaper says, "The arrest of eight foreign aid workers in Afghanistan last week on charges of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity has drawn attention once again to the cruel record of the Taliban regime."

The editorial goes on: "Many Muslim scholars argue that the Taliban is giving Islam a bad name. Freedom of religion is an accepted principle in most Muslim societies, even Iran, for the Koran proclaims: 'There is no compulsion in religion.' And yet the Taliban's actions have evoked sympathy in many Muslim societies where proselytism is illegal."

"The Irish Times" says: "The present stand-off once again leaves Afghanistan's people isolated from the West, when they are in desperate need of assistance. But it is also damaging for relations between Islamic societies and the West, and can only help to foster prejudices against Islam and its followers, for prejudice created in one region can have damaging consequences globally."

The editorial concludes, "The Taliban has done nothing to help the West either to understand Muslims or to prepare to live in harmony with Islamic societies."