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Western Press Review: Chechen War, Poland's Small Businesses, And Central Asia

Prague, 9 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Issues addressed by commentary in the Western press today include the European Central Bank's decision yesterday to cut interest rates to stimulate the economy, Russia's operations in Chechnya, and the difficulties facing Poland's small businesses. Other topics discussed are the World Trade Organization conference, which opens today in Doha, Qatar, and the role of both NATO and Central Asia in the antiterrorism campaign.


The European Central Bank's decision yesterday to lower interest rates by one-half a percentage point in order to stimulate the economy is the subject of a commentary by Hans Barbier in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung." Barbier notes that experts disagree on what effect this rate cut will have on the economy. Some view rate cuts as the "only salvation" for a global economy close to recession. Others, he says, view it as "the seed of the next exaggerated, monetarily fueled upswing, with the subsequent inevitable correction of a downswing." Some economists believe the ECB has done enough to enable a smooth economic recovery, while others fear that its policy of protecting the economy from inflation by carefully controlling the money supply is deliberately ignoring the risk of deflation. If this is correct, says Barbier, the resulting economic downswing could be unnecessarily severe.

The European Central Bank, he adds, is trying to walk a delicate line between all these conflicting opinions. He concludes that because yesterday's half-percentage-point cut was substantial, "it is presumably intended to convey the message: That's all there will be."


In Britain's "The Guardian," correspondent David Hearst warns that there may be unsettling parallels between the Russian experience in Chechnya and the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. Citing authors Carlotta Gall and Thomas de Waal in their book entitled "Chechnya," Hearst says that Chechens were not very observant Muslims when the republic declared its independence in 1991. But the Russian assault that followed "had the effect of increasing both the Islamic and the fundamentalist nature of the Chechen resistance," he writes. In addition, when in 1994 the first Russian tanks rolled in, the target was quite specific. As Hearst puts it, Russia's objective "was a bunch of wild gunmen who had seized power and were baiting the Russian bear in Grozny." But he says by February 1995, "with Grozny in ruins, [every] farmer, every householder, every son, every trader was stripping down their AK47s and filling water bottles with petrol."

In comparing the current Chechen war with the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, Hearst notes that both began as antiterrorist operations that then escalated. He writes: "Russia too thought that the Chechens would give up [when] faced with overwhelming air superiority." But the struggle only reinforced the Chechen will to resist. And something very similar may be happening to the Taliban, says Hearst. Those involved in planning the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan, he says, would "do well to consider" the precedent of Chechnya.


In the "Financial Times," John Reed says that Poland's small businesses may be facing "their toughest test yet." Businesses in Poland had been doing well since 1989, when numerous opportunities arose for private enterprise. But in the past year, Reed says, growth has slowed to 1 percent in both Poland and Germany -- Poland's largest trading partner. Lending rates are now high and loans more difficult to obtain. Since the market shock of Russia's 1998 crisis, many companies have been cutting back on expenses and improving quality. But Reed says that although those cuts have boosted their long-term viability, they may be detrimental in the short term as companies postpone needed investments or cut back on labor.

Poland's politicians have pledged 72 million zlotys (about $17 million) in assistance for the business sector in this year's budget. But Reed says this aid may not be disbursed in full amid the new government's plans "to cut state spending drastically to try to avert a budget crisis."

However, Reed notes, not all the economic news is bleak. Poland's new government has promised to ease some of the red tape that businesses face. And Polish banks have recently begun to show a willingness to work with small businesses. Reed quotes one economic analyst as saying that Poland's businesses "are managing to remain profitable, albeit at a low level."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" says that World Trade Organization members opening five days of talks today in Doha, Qatar, are moving closer to launching a global trade round. Since the 11 September terrorist attacks, the paper says, "growing international concern about the economic outlook has brought fresh political momentum. The opportunity must be seized."

The editorial continues: "Differences remain on issues including agriculture, the environment, intellectual property protection and, more generally, developing countries' complaints about a raw deal on trade. Inability to resolve those disputes could still spell defeat." But with "a modicum of goodwill and skilful drafting," the paper says, overcoming these differences should be possible.

The paper warns against allowing this conference to fail. It says that "[another] debacle, after the collapse of the WTO's 1999 meeting in Seattle, would signal an alarming lack of cohesion in the face of global uncertainties."

The paper goes on to say that governments "need to be clear about the central purpose of a trade round. It must unequivocally aim to promote liberalization." But the paper adds that liberalization alone is "no substitute for good governance and proper development strategies."


In France's "Liberation," Vittorio de Filippis and Christian Losson say that before discussing the launch of a new trade round at the WTO meeting opening today in Doha, a re-examination of the agreements made during the previous round is necessary. "Seven years after the end of the Uruguay round [in] 1994," the authors write, "the [developing] countries of the south are still waiting for the benefits they expected." Developing countries point out that the liberalization lauded by the West has been one-sided. "[Those countries'] ability to sell their products on Western markets remains hindered by tariffs, which they consider prohibitive, on raw materials and textiles." The authors also note that French farmers receive significant agricultural subsidies from the EU, and the U.S. has been accused of providing its farmers with "disguised" subsidies. This aid to Western farmers leaves those from the third world unable to compete with them on the global agricultural market. Developing countries, the authors say, are only asking for one thing: to be able to put their farm produce on markets which are no longer protected by tariffs and other barriers.


An editorial by Alexander Hagelueken in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" also discusses the WTO meeting. He says the meeting in Qatar has a good chance of success because the United States is taking the rest of the world into account, rather than proceeding in its own isolationist way as it did when confronted with the issue of global warming and the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, he says, since the terror attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. has won considerable sympathy, even among its critics.

All these factors, Hagelueken says, are improving the chances of success at Qatar. But he stresses that poor countries make up a majority of the WTO and it is they who are most opposing Western plans. Hagelueken says that the West must realize that trade liberalization comes at a price. The West must resist its own lobby groups and its abuse of power. A failure to be more forthcoming, he adds, will ultimately undermine the West's own interests.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" considers what role NATO might play in the campaign against terrorism. The editorial notes that some U.S. officials are calling for greater NATO involvement in the campaign, rather than the formation of ad hoc coalitions between individual alliance members. But the editorial says that it makes sense "to examine the individual circumstances of NATO members, particularly with regard to domestic politics and military capabilities, that influence what role they choose to play, and are able to play, in the [antiterrorism] coalition. Great tasks can be accomplished only when everyone is clear-eyed about ways and means."

All alliance members, the editorial says, seem to genuinely support the U.S.-led antiterrorism effort. But, the paper adds, "a war against terrorism is not like other wars the allies have fought. The most important tasks might often be police work, such as following money trails, rather than military missions. This might mean less formal arrangements than those that exist within the NATO military command." The editorial says that in facing the threat it is under, the U.S. "is fortunate to have strong allies. [One] of its missions now must be to figure out how best to put their different potentials to good use."


Also in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Central Asian affairs analyst Vladimir Socor looks at the politics of that region as they relate to the antiterrorism campaign. Socor writes that the U.S., looking to establish a military presence in Central Asia, presented the region's countries "with a unique opportunity to align themselves with the West" by granting the use of their airspace and bases. And it left Russia with little choice but to accept these arrangements. As Socor puts it, "Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan [have] always known that Russia was unqualified to function either as a guarantor of their security or as a motor of economic development."

In considering what the Central Asian states stand to gain from their newfound partnership with the U.S., Socor says that Tajikistan hopes its rapprochement with the West will bring it much-needed economic assistance. Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, meanwhile hopes to "solidify independence from Russia" and end the security threat posed by Islamic terrorism. But Socor says Karimov's objectives may not be met, "unless his government moves to introduce serious economic and political reforms." He adds: "At the moment, the American-Uzbek alignment rests primarily on common military and security [interests]. But the democracy-human rights agenda is no less important."

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