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Western Press Review: From The Hague And Ukraine To The Euro Single Currency

By Khatya Chhor and Dora Slaba

Prague, 31 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today looks at several events, including the UN conference on racism set to begin today in Durban, South Africa; challenges for the Hague international court and energy conflicts between Russian and Ukraine. Other comments look at the Middle East, Operation Essential Harvest, and the euro single currency after the 30 August decision by the European Central Bank to cut interest rates.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Jim Ottaway and Ronald Koven of the World Press Freedom Committee examine some of the proposals up for consideration at the UN conference on racism. They say that the controversies surrounding Zionism and slave reparations have obscured the conference's disturbing proposal to curtail press freedom.

One of the propositions drafted in Geneva for conference consideration is for governments to create national bodies to monitor and write codes of conduct for the press. Another proposal is for the UN Human Rights Commission to write an international code of ethics on "hate speech." Ottaway and Koven write: "This amounts to a call for governmental press councils that would surely limit public debate and press freedom. It's hard to imagine that, once established, such councils would confine themselves to dealing with 'hate speech' and racism."

They remark that such proposals "assume that racial and ethnic conflict and hate can be wished away by banning its expression in the public press. Yet it is obvious that the only way of preventing such hate and conflicts from festering and spilling over into violence is to be able to identify and combat them in the open -- through the press." The writers contend that "governments should not dictate to a free press its duties to fight racism or anything else. [An] international ethics code is a dangerous idea [and] it is certainly not the business of a UN agency to write, adopt or try to enforce it."


Also in today's "The Wall Street Journal Europe" is a contribution by attorneys David Rivkin and Lee Casey, who debate the difficulties of the international justice system. The writers consider the indictment of Croatian General Ante Gotovina for violations of the laws of war and crimes against humanity. They note that "Newsweek" magazine has asserted that the operation for which Gotovina is indicted was assisted by the U.S. government, which provided intelligence and reconnaissance assistance.

They write: "The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will certainly seek the testimony of former U.S. officials in this matter. [However,] much more is at stake here. [The] real question presented by general Gotovina's indictment is nothing less than the following: whether the Western way of war, as practiced by the United States and its NATO allies [is] now to be declared illegal."

Rivkin and Casey say that this is because Gotovina is not charged with individual crimes, but is charged as the commander of an operation that Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte considers criminal. They write: "The premise of General Gotovina's indictment, however, is that any use of overwhelming force [should] be considered illegal."

They write: "If the Hague prosecutors want to outlaw war, then they should be up-front about it and a debate could be had by all. [The] Western powers [will] have to understand that their own ability to use decisive force will be seriously undermined. [The] United Nations [cannot] answer for the actions of independent international prosecutors like Mrs. Del Ponte. [This] problem will become even more acute if the permanent international criminal court, which is likely to be more aggressive and less accountable than the existing Hague tribunal, is established."


Katja Ridderbusch, writing in "Die Welt," calls Slobodan Milosevic's performance yesterday at the Hague war crimes tribunal a "tragi-comic finale."

She writes that Milosevic appeared before his judges with all the self-confidence of an absolute sovereign, but adds: "He misjudged the situation. He has fallen as a ruler, his kingdom has disintegrated, his allies have fled. And the world is bemused."

Ridderbusch thinks Milosevic's tirade in court fell on deaf ears. The scene, she says, was somewhat tragic. While history goes on, while the end of Yugoslavia as a whole is in sight, while yet another Balkan state is likely to suffer from civil war and NATO is intervening for the third time to calm the situation, the "last dictator in Europe is sinking ever deeper into his own autistic world."

Ridderbusch concludes: "Slobodan Milosevic has come to an end, even before his trial has begun."


Stratfor's intelligence report looks at the 29 August meeting between four of Europe's natural gas distributors and Gazprom, Russia's natural gas monopoly. The representatives agreed to ensure that a new pipeline being built to increase Russian gas supplies to Europe would bypass Ukraine, in order to prevent it from siphoning off gas bound for elsewhere to offset its severe energy shortages. Stratfor says that "in helping Russia bypass Ukraine, Europe has placed itself in the ironic position of helping fund the Russian domination of its former satellite."

Stratfor writes: "European demand for more plentiful Russian gas is robust and will only strengthen over time. [By] assisting Russia in building pipelines that bypass Ukraine, Europe will get a more secure energy supply, but at the cost of damaging the West's decade-long policy of bolstering Ukrainian independence. [A] sovereign Ukraine is a central feature in the Western worldview. An independent and strong Ukraine ties down Russian forces by occupying their flank, keeping them 1,000 kilometers away from Central Europe while limiting Russia's sea access. It also stifles overall Russian economic expansion and industrial production capabilities. [With] a population of 40 million, an independent Ukraine holds significant geopolitical weight all by itself."

Stratfor concludes that "it seems counterproductive that these European firms, with their close government connections, would so directly work to hobble Ukraine's most effective economic and foreign policy lever -- control of Russia's energy exports."


Writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Arne Perras describes the United Nations summit on racism -- which begins today in Durban, South Africa -- as a "pirate congress." Military theoretician Carl von Clausewitz is often cited as having said that war is a continuation of politics with other means. But Perras says that at times the reverse is true: "Politics is a continuation of war by other means, which is confirmed by the racism conference in Durban."

Perras continues: "The conference is frosty to the point of being hostile and it could prove difficult to change this mood." Ironically, there exists the danger that instead of providing the impulse to solve the problems of racism, the conference will do the very opposite.

The summit, Perras writes, is faced with an extremely difficult task. It is debating whether to deal with past wrongs or present problems. Perras is of the opinion that the debate should focus on how best to fight racism in its present forms, while realizing that the conference can do no more than establish guidelines. These include setting up an independent justice system, creating better structures and education, and improving protection for victims. These requirements can only be implemented by each individual state, for the problems differ everywhere. "There is no pattern," he writes, "for a recipe to combat racism."


An editorial in the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" looks at the vast range of problems the Durban summit on racism is trying to tackle. Of the streams of paper produced by the preparatory committee, the editorial says, the "emptiest sentence" appears to be this: "In spite of all the efforts by world states to rid itself of this evil, untold numbers have been victimized."

The paper says that although critics have pointed to the ineffectual outcome of previous world conferences on racism and the 1993 human rights conference in Vienna, this has not deterred the United Nations from convening yet another "mammoth conference." Accordingly, the number of items on the agenda has multiplied. Additional themes to be discussed are migration, anti-Islam and anti-Arab sentiment, slavery, colonialism, and Zionism. Such a wide range of issues, the paper says, offers little hope for a conclusive outcome.


In an editorial in the French daily "Liberation," Gerard Dupuy writes that the upcoming switch to the euro single currency on 1 January will be "a party for policemen and thieves." A currency that appears out of nowhere, he writes, presents a terrific opportunity for counterfeiters. He writes: "Because [no] one will be familiar with the coins or the bills, the counterfeit artists can hope for less control over their works. As for the flow of exchanges, it will be enormous."

Dupuy adds: "The two difficulties of the counterfeiter's profession -- creating a resemblance between the false to the real and the [monetary] flow -- will be largely alleviated." Moreover, he adds, streams of armored trucks piled full of new banknotes provide the kind of chance that most thieves can only dream about. The U.S. treasury stronghold of Fort Knox, Dupuy says, may not be any more difficult to defend than 10,000 euro distributors.


A "Financial Times" editorial also looks at the upcoming introduction of the euro. The paper says that the euro is "more than just a currency -- [it is] without doubt the greatest achievement of European integration, a symbol of stability and unity. The introduction of euro notes and coins on January 1 will be a momentous occasion."

The paper goes on to say: "Fears of counterfeiting are real but should not be exaggerated. With its state-of-the-art security features, the euro banknote is far more sophisticated than the U.S. dollar bill. The bank has devised its own slogan of 'Look, Feel, Tilt' as a reminder of the notes' security strips, raised lettering and fancy holograms. Its practical approach is reassuring."

The FT continues: "The euro is clearly about more than just money. But the public also needs to be assured that this is a normal currency. With its quarter-point interest rate cut on Thursday, the ECB helped matters by showing that it was a forward-looking central bank prepared to loosen monetary policy when price stability is not at risk. That should help to increase Europeans' confidence in the single currency just as they prepare to take a leap of faith."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Mohammad Tarbush says that the West's common perception and treatment of the Israel-Palestine conflict is off target. He says that it is not a "Jewish" issue, but simply a territorial dispute. He writes: "The Palestinians are resisting Israelis not because they are Jewish but because they are occupying their land. As George Corm, a leading Lebanese intellectual and former finance minister, wrote recently in [French daily] Le Monde, had the occupiers been Buddhists or Mormons, the Palestinians would still have fought them as long as they forcibly occupied their land." He adds that the media's rhetoric is partly to blame: "Confrontations between the Israeli armed forces and largely stone-throwing protesters are routinely described as exchanges of fire, as if Israel, a world power, were in battle with the Russian Army."

Tarbush continues: "Because Israel, the occupying power, is Jewish, Western media and public opinion are on the whole unable to look at the Palestinian problem with the degree of objectivity they readily apply when analyzing other world conflicts. [Yes,] terrorist acts have been committed by some Palestinians against Israeli civilians. But it is disgraceful to refer to the whole struggle of a nation for liberty as violence or terrorism."


In "The New York Times," Edward Joseph looks at the situation in Macedonia and says that NATO's current mission will not be enough to ensure a lasting peace. He writes: "NATO, if it follows only its declared plan, will probably leave Macedonia with a seething conflict that could keep the region mired in instability. Western ministries are deluding themselves if they think that NATO can escape both Macedonia and the responsibility for failing to keep it from lapsing into open war."

Joseph suggests an additional strategic deployment to help rebuild confidence among both ethnic Albanians and Macedonians: "One additional step could help NATO make the paper peace a real one: deploying a force along the borders with Albania and Serbia. This would allow Macedonians to feel confident that their borders are secure and NATO is not against them. In turn, it would ease ethnic Albanian fears of an attack by their foes aimed at 'recovering' territory currently controlled by the [National Liberation Army, or UCK]. And it would show neighboring countries that Macedonia's borders are inviolable and that the framework agreement is indeed a foundation for a civic society, not a precursor to partition."