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Western Press Review: From Europe's Political Cultures To Argentina And Kashmir

Prague, 4 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Topics addressed by commentary in the Western press today range from differing attitudes toward the EU to Argentina's economic crisis. Other subjects include the euro single currency, the future of Kashmir, and the Middle East, among others.


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Karl-Peter Schwarz considers European Union expansion to the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. He says that Europe's East and West have different political philosophies, particularly regarding the significance of the nation-state and the benefits of supranational unification. Schwarz says that as "victims of dictatorships that disregarded the borders of individual nation-states" throughout the last century, Central and Eastern Europe has come to prefer the nation-state form of political organization.

The "crisis of the nation-state," Schwarz says, is a Western European phenomenon. In Central and Eastern Europe, there is little sympathy for the argument "that peace can be safeguarded only by doing away with nation-states, including democratic ones. [These] countries see as potentially dangerous all attempts to question their borders -- borders repeatedly violated by force -- and to curtail once again their newly regained freedom to act as nation-states."

Schwarz says that integrating the countries of Central and Eastern Europe "will remain the EU's chief task even after they officially join. Finding common ground among the different political cultures could prove to be more difficult and protracted than negotiating the accession treaties themselves. The sooner one discards the illusion that the EU's Eastward expansion consists solely in transplanting the Western European model of integration onto the post-communist countries, the less disappointing the results will be."


The U.S.-based "Christian Science Monitor" considers the successful launch of the euro single currency earlier this week and calls it "the most tangible expression yet of a long experiment to create a united states of Europe that could rival the power and stability of the United States."

The "Monitor" notes that critics have questioned whether the euro's "convergence of a continental identity will erode each nation's cultural uniqueness." It says the EU "is an experiment to shave off the worst of nationalism and create a new identity loosely defined as European. As long as Europe remembers its history of wars, and wants to compete against a superpower across the Atlantic, it will create its own unique form of unity."

The question also remains over how much to create a "superstate" out of the eurozone. The "Monitor" writes: "Despite the euro, each nation still manages its economy. That explains why the euro's value is weak against the dollar. Should the EU harmonize tax policies, pension rules, labor mobility policies, etc.?" asks the paper. "Yes," it answers, "but slowly and carefully. For each nation to compromise on its social regulations would overturn a century of building safety nets for individuals and businesses. Yet not doing so would keep Europe second in its economy to a more flexible U.S."


A "New York Times" editorial today considers Argentina's current economic crisis. The editorial notes that President Eduardo Duhalde -- the fifth Argentine president to be sworn in during the past two weeks, amid a flurry of resignations -- is expected to end Argentina's pegging of the peso to the U.S. dollar at a one-to-one rate of exchange. The paper says, "This monetary straitjacket helped tame inflation in the 1990s, but also allowed the country to go on its disastrous borrowing binge," which buried the nation under a mountain of foreign debt. The paper says that the government must now also restore confidence in the financial system, to a point where it can lift the limits on bank withdrawals now in effect.

The paper goes on to say that the "International Monetary Fund and other foreign creditors share the blame for Argentina's woes. They were arguably too indulgent for too long, even after it became apparent that Argentina was too indebted and its currency was overvalued. The IMF then held Argentina to an unsustainable austerity program amid a recession, and abruptly cut off promised loans late last year, contributing to the financial panic."

"The New York Times," says President Duhalde, "needs to keep his promises and avoid governing narrowly as a Peronist. In return, the international community ought to give his unity government all the assistance possible."


A "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial says that now that the euro has been successfully launched, "the hard decisions on enlargement can't be put off any longer."

The EU has committed itself to finishing negotiations with the 10 leading candidates for membership by the end of this year, and has agreed to enlargement by 2004. But, the "Journal" says, "It won't be easy to keep the political tensions inside the EU from delaying or, worst-case scenario, killing enlargement. After years of talks between Brussels and the 12 candidates in negotiations, the hard bargaining will be among the current EU members themselves."

It says the real question is "whether current EU members, acting in everyone's common self-interest, [can] strike the necessary compromises and move swiftly. The signs, so far, aren't encouraging for the camp of EU visionaries," says the paper.

The "Journal" suggests that the case for enlargement "ought to be made more forcefully, starting now. This is especially true in France, Germany and Austria, where anti-enlargement sentiment seems strongest. If not, the danger in the coming months is [that] vocal interests who think they stand to lose, like farmers and trade unions, or Europe's xenophobes, will hijack the debate."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations says that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent comment that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is "irrelevant" is "dismissable as nonsense for many reasons." Actually, says Siegman, Sharon's government sees the "entire Palestinian struggle for national self-determination [as] irrelevant."

He writes: "While they sanitized their verdict of irrelevance by linking it to Mr. Arafat and to Palestinian terrorism, [Sharon's] government was defined from its outset by its determination never to allow the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. And indeed, no such state will emerge during its lifetime," says Siegman. "Sharon and his advisers considered only two possibilities: create so deep a sense of hopelessness among Palestinians about their struggle for statehood that they would accept the truncated [former homelands] that Mr. Sharon has been promoting or, alternatively, discredit the Palestinian national cause entirely because of the Palestinians' resort to terrorism."

Siegman adds: "It is Palestinian moderation that this government fears most." Siegman says that, for all its hard-line tactics, the reason Sharon's government "has not been ostracized -- as has been, for example, a right-wing Austrian government -- is the fear of Western countries of being accused of anti-Semitic motivation. Another reason is the cover of respectability provided by Shimon Peres to policies that mock all he has always stood for."


In a contribution to the "Wall Street Journal Europe," Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation considers comments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Christmas Eve. In a televised statement, Putin urged Russians and Russian-speakers in former Soviet states, and the Baltics in particular, to "demand official status for the Russian language and numerical quotas of representation in government bodies." Putin also stated that Russia would pursue "a much more vigorous stance on protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking population...."

With this, says Socor, the Russian president "[targeted] countries that have yet to recover from Soviet ravages against their own national identities." Socor says that this new Russian policy seeks "to create a controllable level of ethnic and linguistic tension, through which to advance the Kremlin's foreign policy goals. In the Baltic case, that agenda currently focuses on thwarting NATO's enlargement by playing the ethnic card. [The] Kremlin evidently calculates that a bit of local ethnic strife could dissuade NATO leaders from admitting the Baltic states as members."

Socor says that Moscow cannot come out in open opposition to enlargement, because this "could ruin Russia's quest for a still higher stake -- that of a decision-making role within the alliance." Instead, Socor says, Russia "may try, through overt and covert moves, artificially to destabilize interethnic relations and, thus, the overall political processes in Latvia and Estonia."


In Britain's daily "The Guardian," columnist Martin Woollacott says that the 13 December attack on India's parliament "was aimed much more at the leadership of Pakistan than it was at that of India, [in] the political rather than the physical sense."

Woollacott says that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf "is engaged upon an extraordinary reversal of Pakistani strategic policy, forced upon him initially by events in Afghanistan...[A] changed approach to Afghanistan, a changed approach to Kashmir, a changed approach to India, and a changed approach to Islamist parties and movements in Pakistan itself are all part of the broader shift...."

The attack last month, he says, was "surely aimed either at embroiling [Musharraf] in a new confrontation with India or at producing an upheaval in Pakistan in which he and his new policies would be discarded."

Indian policy, for its part, says Woollacott, "ought to be bent toward producing [a] quid pro quo rather than bullying Pakistan into concession after concession." Woollacott suggests, "Perhaps the desire now of most of the inhabitants for independence, a desire which pleases neither India or Pakistan, could be parlayed into a substantial autonomy which could be made acceptable to Kashmiris, Indians and Pakistanis alike. What was impossible or improbable before has to be considered now because, as the attack on the Indian parliament showed, the stakes have increased so hugely."


In Belgium's daily "Le Soir," Agnes Gorissen discusses the prospects for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit opening tomorrow (Saturday) in Katmandu, Nepal.

The summit is being attended by both Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and it has been widely hoped that the talks might offer an opportunity for bilateral negotiations regarding their recent tensions. But Gorissen says that the only motivation apparent on the part of the two leaders is "not to lose face." She says their respective public opinions are "not particularly inclined" towards moderation and, as a result, neither of the two leaders wants to compromise.

Gorissen writes: "In words, each [leader] attests that he does not want war and that in any case, he will not be the one that launches it." Their statements reflect each other's as in an echo, she says. But the hopes for a bilateral meeting at the summit are fading, she observes. And the foreign ministers of the two countries -- India's Jaswant Singh and Pakistan's Abdul Sattar, both in Katmandu since 2 January -- also seem likely to have only marginal discussions.

Gorissen says that neither foreign minister wants to "take the risk" of extending an invitation that the other could refuse.