Prague, 20 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary over the weekend and today examines the slowing of the world economy, global warming, and the Bonn agreement, as well as the situation in Macedonia and the status of U.S.-EU relations. Several analyses also look at the failed Soviet coup of August 1991 as Russia observed the 10th anniversary of the uprising yesterday.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," Joseph Kahn and Edmund Andrews say the world's economies are experiencing a rare simultaneous slump. The latest economic figures, they write, "show that many regional economic powers -- Italy and Germany, Mexico and Brazil, Japan and Singapore -- have become economically stagnant, defying expectations that growth in other countries would help compensate for the slowdown in the United States."
The recent sluggish economic performance of Europe is the biggest surprise. They write: "What is striking about Europe's slowdown is that so much of it is linked to domestic weakness. [Exports] are actually slightly ahead of last year, which was one of spectacular growth. Yet consumers at home are clutching their pocketbooks. [Higher] energy and food prices are one big problem for the region."
The writers go on to note that the European Central Bank has so far resisted intense pressure to cut interest rates due to the threat of inflation, adding that "relatively high interest rates have put the brakes on regional economies."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In a contribution to the "Los Angeles Times," David Victor says the agreement reached last month in Bonn to preserve the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming was a "bogus rescue" of the protocol's original objectives.
Victor writes that the Kyoto agreement "seemed headed for the dustbin of history when the Bush administration declared last March that it was pulling out. Then in July, Europe led a coalition of nearly all the world's nations -- minus the U.S.-- to rescue the Kyoto pact with a grand compromise. The deal, in fact, rescues nothing."
Victor continues: "In their zeal to get a deal -- any deal -- the Europeans and environmentalists crafted an agreement that is acceptable to so many nations precisely because it will have no impact on the emissions of the greenhouse gases. In its quest to kill the treaty, the Bush administration has, ironically, driven the rest of the world to embrace Kyoto rather than face the need to fix its flaws."
An analysis in "Le Monde" says that on a Sunday otherwise marked by soothing statements from the political representative of the National Liberation Army (UCK), an exchange of gunfire broke out in the mountainous region that surrounds the city of Tetovo. Ali Ahmeti had convened the press at midday Sunday (19 August) to offer his assurances that ethnic Albanian insurgents would surrender their weapons to NATO forces.
The question now arises as to how many weapons NATO can expect to collect. "Le Monde" cites a Western source in Skopje as saying the rebels should be handing over 2,500 weapons, while NATO has refrained from giving an estimate. In contrast, Macedonian sources assert that they expect the collection of 6,000 light weapons -- not to mention any heavier armaments currently held by the insurgents.
"Die Welt" carries one of the few editorials in the German press on the issue of risking the lives of the citizens of NATO member countries in Macedonia. It writes that, "When the lives of young people are at risk, the hour of the skeptics strikes." It seems only natural, the commentary continues, to ask for the politicians of various political parties to consider both "when" and "but." This is not a question of weakness in leadership, the paper says, rather it is an issue of maintaining a responsible attitude.
But the commentary concludes by saying that considering the turmoil in the Balkans, no engagement can be free from doubt -- whatever the political wrangling among German parties.
Politics in the Balkans are taking yet another turn in what is left of Yugoslavia, according to the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." The Serbs, a year after the demise of Slobodan Milosevic's rule, are still suffering while the new government is currently in-fighting for power.
It is the opinion of the paper that the departure of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's opponents from government is an act "of distancing themselves from the government of his rival rather then a step toward new elections."
The paper goes on to conclude that "Djindjic relies on Western support, [President Vojislav] Kostunica on the support of Serbian national consciousness. So far, their bickering has shown just one result: The social dissatisfaction is growing faster than the reforms."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says Yugoslavia is standing at a crossroads. With the resignation of members of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's party from the government, the ranks are nevertheless clearly aligned. "Now the nationalist forces and the West-oriented pragmatists supporting [Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic are clearly opposed to each other," the newspaper writes.
The outcome of this bid for power is of "immense importance for this country and the entire region, for the result will point to decisions of further direction. Either the Serbs will continue on their way to Europe -- [a route] which is tied to painful, but unavoidable, economic reforms -- and take a stand on the crimes committed by Serbs in the recent past, or they will retire into the nationalist corner and sulk, feeling betrayed by the world and somehow only understood by a Serbian god."
"A year ago," the editorial continues, "the country was united in opposition to Milosevic." Now that he is in jail, he "can look on with pleasure that the persistent fighters for Serbia have not given up by a long way."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at what it considers to be the negative reaction of Europe's leaders to the election of U.S. President George W. Bush last November.
The paper writes that Bush's meager approval-rating numbers in Europe "ought to be a source of concern -- on both sides of the Atlantic. Among European leaders, Mr. Bush's election was greeted with ill-concealed disappointment, then followed with near-hysterical derision of his policies." The paper says that -- while such political posturing may have served the domestic political purposes of some European leaders, such as French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- "it was diplomatically irresponsible and could have had serious repercussions for Europe if Mr. Bush had chosen to respond in kind."
But the paper goes on to say that "there is a lesson here for the Bush administration, too. As Henry Kissinger has quipped, whereas the problem with the Clinton administration was that the explanation was better than the policy, with the Bush camp the problem is that the policy is better than the explanation. As Mr. Bush seeks to improve relations with the wider world, the challenge before him is not one of policy, but of persuasion; of showing how America's national interests -- promoting democracy, opening markets, extending free trade and standing up to rogue states -- are also the interests of the world."
The editorial concludes by saying, "With a little fine-tuning, it shouldn't be a hard sell, even in Europe."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Arab and Islamic affairs analyst Amin Saikal writes that, by accusing foreign aid workers in Afghanistan of promoting Christianity, the ruling Islamic Taliban militia has forced the international community to interact with it -- despite continuing United Nations sanctions.
Saikal calls the arrested aid workers "pawns in the Taliban's wider game to break sanctions and gain wider international recognition," adding that the arrest of the aid workers "fits a pattern of behavior during the last year. Whenever the United Nations has sought to tighten its sanctions, the regime has resorted to some kind of provocative action that has obliged the international community to deal with Taliban officials in one way or another, and to indirectly confer legitimacy on the militia as the government of Afghanistan."
Saikal goes on to say that the detention of the aid workers seems intended to warn the United Nations and the West not to station monitors of the arms embargo against Afghanistan in neighboring countries, particularly in Pakistan, as planned.
Saikal concludes: "But the only way to deal with the Taliban is to stand firm. The militia should not be allowed to use aid workers as bargaining chips. Any weakening of international resolve will encourage the Taliban to engage in similar actions for greater reward."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," arms control analyst Thomas Halsted says that U.S. assurances of the viability of a missile defense system are misleading and faulty. He writes that, for years, "the Pentagon and its Ballistic Missile Defense Organization have engaged in a continuing effort to delude the public and Congress into believing the United States is well on its way to developing a workable defense against ballistic missiles." Halsted adds that, "unfortunately, a gullible news media have unwittingly played along."
Halsted says that the only clear winners in this deception "are the missile defense system's principal contractors -- Boeing Co., Raytheon Corp., TRW Inc., and Lockheed Martin Corp. -- and those among our enemies and detractors who might seek to alienate the United States further from the rest of the world."
Halsted goes on to say that the Pentagon has staged a series of "show-biz"-style tests that have proved next to nothing. He cites the 14 July test of a missile interceptor, which was touted by the Bush administration as a resounding success. He writes that "after the test, it was revealed that the Raytheon X-band radar, the brains of the national missile defense system, had properly detected the target warhead and provided data before the interception, but that its data-analysis capability was then overwhelmed by the cloud of debris caused by the collision. [The] radar would thus have been incapable of tracking any additional targets."
Halsted concludes: "A missile defense system that can find and destroy only one target is no defense at all."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that 10 years after the unsuccessful coup attempt in Russia, the results are mixed: "Most Russians find nothing to celebrate after a decade of attempted reform. The material lot of many has improved, but for many others a kind of secure poverty has been replaced by an insecure one. Those who most championed reforms are dismayed by the brutal war against Chechnya and a creeping return to influence of KGB men and methods. Yet unquestionably the news in Russia is not all bad. The country is far more democratic than ever in its history; religion is freer; a generation is growing up without fear."
But the editorial goes on to say that this is not the case in other parts of the former Soviet Union. While Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are what it calls "full-fledged democratic success stories," other emerging nations "struggle between democracy and corrupt autocracy. And in still others, life is as tightly controlled as ever -- in Turkmenistan and, as a new Human Rights Watch report reminds us, Uzbekistan. In that nation of about 24 million people, the dictator Islam Karimov relies on many of the same methods that kept Stalin in power for so many years."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" also considers the August 1991 coup attempt and examines the attitude of Russian people today toward reform. The paper writes that, a decade on, "Russia seems beset by another kind of loss of belief: the belief that what was achieved on those hot August days was worth gaining."
It continues: "[Former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin spent his later years in power squandering the promise of the liberty he had delivered through corrupt and incompetent governance. Though in Moscow and Petersburg one now finds a Western-oriented middle class, much of the country is beset by woes -- from a never-ending war in Chechnya, to declining health and living standards, to pervasive lawlessness -- that have given democracy a bad name. And it is this that has allowed [President Vladimir] Putin to attain the popularity he now enjoys, even as his government becomes increasingly intolerant of such pesky liberal hobbyhorses as freedom of the press."
Britain's "The Times" writes that the 10th anniversary of Russia's coup attracted only about 100 people to commemorate the event outside Moscow's former seat of parliament. "The Times" writes: "Those who returned to the scene yesterday [Sunday] used the anniversary to protest at the betrayal of their hopes and the failure of subsequent reforms to underpin democracy or prevent the rise of the oligarchs. But the overwhelming majority of Russians have marked the anniversary with indifference."
The paper goes on to suggest the reasons for this indifference, and writes: "For the younger generation, the coup is irrelevant, an echo of a past so distant that it is a foreign land. They take the momentous changes of the past decade for granted. Indeed, newsreel films of Brezhnev and stilted party meetings provoke only titters and naive questions about why voters put up with him for 17 years.
"For the middle generation," the newspaper continues, "the attempted putsch epitomized the incompetence of a fossilized system: Even a coup was bungled by ditherers whose attempt to reimpose order led only to disorder and disintegration. And for the older generation of authoritarians, who made no secret of their yearning for the old ways, there is no need for regret: they find the tone of the Putin administration comfortingly familiar."