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Western Press Review: Political Upheaval In Georgia, Polish Corruption, Saudi Stability

Prague, 5 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis today and over the weekend examines the renewed prospects for missile defense and disarmament, political upheaval in Georgia, and government corruption in Poland. Other topics include Turkey's role in the antiterrorism campaign, stability in Saudi Arabia, and why many people reject both terrorism and the bombing campaign in Afghanistan.


An editorial comment in Britain's "Financial Times" says that while not much progress has been reported from the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, the war against terrorism has spurred progress on another important front: negotiations between the United States and Russia on nuclear disarmament and missile defense. The paper says that both nations seem to be moving toward agreement in making significant cuts in their respective nuclear arsenals. U.S. officials have indicated that they may gradually reduce their strategic warhead arsenals by two-thirds. Russia cannot afford to maintain its own huge arsenal and welcomes such cuts. In return, Moscow has been more open to allowing U.S. tests to go ahead for a ballistic missile-defense system. The paper notes that both sides will have to make concessions. Hard-liners in the two nations oppose such compromises, but both, the paper says, "have to give ground."

The paper goes on to urge transparency in pursuing missile defense. It writes: "If the U.S. does go ahead with tests, it should do so with maximum transparency to ensure mutual confidence. That concerns not simply the Russians. America's European allies also deserve to be kept fully informed about a move that would transform the present strategic balance."


In "Eurasia View," Jaba Devdariani looks at the recent political upheaval in Georgia. Protests in Tbilisi, he says, "have exposed broad popular distrust for the country's leadership." He adds that "popular frustration had been primed to explode in Georgia for months."

The 30 October raid by government troops on the Rustavi 2 independent TV station was "merely a catalyst," sparking days of anti-government protests. Devdariani writes: "A severe and sustained economic crisis, combined with persistent and rampant corruption, [has] worked to steadily erode popular confidence in the government." Underscoring this corruption, a recent investigation by Rustavi 2 "provided details on the financial machinations of the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The reports said that the government agencies engaged in racketeering and mismanagement of state property."

Devdariani continues: "The demonstrations have given people a taste of the power of popular action. Many in Georgia now have renewed belief in the possibility for democratic development -- a concept that they thought had already been squandered, consumed by a period of protracted stagnation." But he adds that "it is far from certain that the government crisis of early November will actually result in substantive change."


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses what it calls "monstrous" corruption in Poland. The paper says: "It was veritable fireworks of corruption that accompanied the demise of the civic Polish government after the September elections." Bribery was rampant in allocating armament contracts and telephone licenses, and grand-style fraud was being practiced in the state-owned insurance company. So it comes as no surprise, the paper says, "that [former Premier Jerzy] Buzek is keeping a low profile following the inglorious finale of his rule."

The latest scandals have been revealed in the agricultural sphere, where little has been done to change the structure of farming to make it compatible with EU regulations. This government project, the paper says, eventually resulted in billions worth of subsidies being channeled into private hands. The editorial says that it is nevertheless comforting to know that the "EU is taking this phenomenon into account and is keeping a sharp eye on Poland." Similarly, the paper notes, in October the EU froze contributions to Slovakia because that government "did not handle the use of funds sufficiently well." But in Poland's case the EU is even threatening to demand the money be returned. The editorial concludes by advising that the new Polish government should exert an effort to trace the EU funds and should not wait for the mandate from Brussels.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Central Asian affairs analyst Antoine Blua says that Turkey's move to commit ground troops to Afghanistan "is designed to win Ankara a larger role in shaping the country's post-Taliban development." Blua says Turkey's decision to send troops "provides a needed boost" to the antiterrorism coalition just as many observers are deriding the lack of progress in the campaign. But he says two factors hinder Turkish participation in the antiterrorism coalition: "First, powerful domestic Islamic groups, supported by a large majority of the population, disapprove of the American military campaign in Afghanistan. Second, Turkey's economy is struggling to overcome a fiscal crisis. [The] Turkish government, which is already deeply unpopular due to the ongoing economic crisis, is anxious to minimize public discontent over its support for the United States."

Turkey has also made it clear that it does not support expanding the antiterrorism campaign to include confronting Iraq. Blua writes: "Ankara is concerned that Saddam Hussein's ouster could lead to the division of Iraq, and the founding of a Kurdish state, which would pose a challenged to Turkey's strategic interests."


In the "International Herald Tribune," executive editor David Ignatius examines tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia in the wake of the 11 September attacks. "This is a time for honesty," Ignatius writes, and several points have become obvious in relations between the two countries. "The first is that these are very different societies. [The] two nations do not have to like each other, but they do have to conduct business -- especially now, when they share a common enemy in [Saudi-born suspected terrorist Osama] bin Laden. Second, Saudis are going to have to solve their internal security problems for themselves. [Riyadh] is likely to do a better job of it than Washington."

Finally, Ignatius says, "America should recognize that a leadership transition has taken place in Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Abdullah has effectively succeeded his ailing half-brother, King Fahd. And although his policies may be less pro-American, they may lead to greater stability."

Change will come to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of 11 September, Ignatius writes -- just as it has to the rest of the world. But while the Saudi royal family might appear "timid" or "corrupt," he writes, "if there is one thing the House of Saud has proved it understands, it's the art of survival."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Chandra Muzaffar of the International Movement for a Just World warns that a "dangerous idea" is developing -- that if a person does not support the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism, he or she supports Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network. Muzaffar calls this a simplistic approach, and points out that, in his words, "many honest people condemn the carnage of September 11 and are determined to see terrorism eliminated, while being genuinely pained by the bombing of Afghanistan." Afghan civilian victims of the airstrikes, he says, are just as innocent as the 11 September victims.

Muzaffar writes: "The time has come for Washington to listen to critics of the bombing." While these critics support a campaign against terrorism, he says, they are more inclined toward legal, financial, political, and diplomatic measures -- rather than military ones. Dealing with terrorism, Muzaffar says, requires a broad approach. He writes: "[The] root causes of terrorism should also be addressed. Just solutions should be found to issues such as the Palestinian struggle for a homeland and the deaths of Iraqi children from economic sanctions, both of which have generated much anger in the Middle East, thus fueling terrorism. The terrorists have also been able to exploit the feeling of alienation and exclusion so pervasive among the impoverished and disenfranchised in many countries."


In Belgium's "Le Soir," Serge Dumont writes from Tel Aviv of the three people killed when a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a bus and the incursions by Israeli forces in Rafah on 4 November. Dumont notes ruefully that these events occurred the same weekend as the commemoration of the assassination of former Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin. Dumont says these occurrences do not bode well for the future.

He writes: "The situation is considered so 'delicate,' by the Israeli administration that Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, decided to cancel his official trip to the United States [beginning] November 7." Dumont quotes Minister without Portfolio Dany Naveh as saying that this decision was made because "the Americans have their own problems at the moment." But a lot of observers think that the postponement of the visit is connected to what Dumont calls the "continuing degradation of relations" with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. Or perhaps, Dumont says, the Israeli prime minister also wishes to avoid hearing the new American peace plan, which would most likely include the sharing of Jerusalem as well as the creation of a Palestinian state.


In "The Christian Science Monitor," staff writer Peter Ford says that "despite the best efforts of U.S leaders from George W. Bush on down to deny that the war against terrorism is a war against Islam, Muslims everywhere are afraid that this is just what the campaign has become. Poor and powerless, most of them already resent America's sway over large parts of the world, and that resentment feeds a readiness to see Washington as the enemy when bombs start falling on fellow Muslims."

Ford says that appeals for a jihad, or holy struggle, "are especially catchy among disaffected, frustrated and disillusioned people, who can be found by the tens of millions in poor and struggling Muslim countries. It is their despair that makes the radicals' interpretation of jihad so appealing. [In] many Islamic countries, in fact, significant numbers of people refuse to accept that bin Laden, or any other Muslim, was responsible for the attacks, preferring to believe conspiracy theories blaming them on Israel or on other culprits."

Ford writes: "Though the vast majority of ordinary Muslims everywhere are as constitutionally predisposed to moderation as anyone else, moderate-minded leaders are not anywhere near as active as their radical colleagues when it comes to organizing storefront mosques, setting up neighborhood clinics, or establishing simple schools."


In Britain's "The Guardian" newspaper, Madeleine Bunting examines arguments that the anti-corporate, or anti-globalization, movement has been undermined by the events of 11 September. She says that on the contrary, recent events have underscored the urgency of many of the movement's causes. Bunting writes: "This is the silver lining for the anti-corporate movement. The tragic events of September 11 have underlined the urgency of its critique of globalization. It shattered the traditional notion that security depended on the individual state's superior military technology. Now, security requires unprecedented transnational cooperation on a huge agenda ranging from intelligence to poverty eradication."

The anti-corporate movement, Bunting continues, "has articulated a critique of how corporate-dominated globalization concentrates power and wealth, and dangerously excludes and disempowers a majority of the world. That critique is as valid today as it was on September 10. The intervening events are driving home that it is not just a moral or environmental agenda, it is also a security one." Bunting notes that according to the World Bank, "the 1990s saw a dramatic increase in inequality between rich and poor countries, and we will pay a bitter price in violence and conflict for our wealth. We ignore the rage of the dispossessed at our own peril."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)