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Western Press Review: The Decline Of Russia's Communists And The Global Information Gap

Prague, 5 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Some of the topics addressed in Western press commentary today include the decline of the Communist Party in Russia, the global information-technology gap, Poland's economic troubles, Russian oil exports, and the Middle East.


In "The Washington Post," deputy editor of the Russian "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal" Masha Lipman says the power of the Communist Party is slowly fading in Russia. While public support for the Communists remains at 30 percent, recent maneuvers by the Kremlin have lost them all chairmanships in the Duma.

But Lipman says the Kremlin's moves to reduce the political influence of the Communists is "purely situational tactics. The Kremlin regards political parties as mere voting numbers, and reshapes them as it sees fit."

In the past year, the Kremlin has managed to reshuffle political parties and ensure a favorable majority in the Duma. As a result, says Lipman, the Kremlin has shifted to a more anti-Communist stance. But in doing so, she says, the Kremlin has not clearly communicated "what is so bad about the Communists -- except that their Duma faction would not support the Kremlin's legislative initiatives."

She says Russian President Vladimir Putin has "vaguely blamed the current Russian economic disaster on 'the previous decades,'" but has not cited communism's direct role. Lipman writes: "The Communists' responsibility for the tragic history of 20th-century Russia is not an issue. Nor are they held accountable for the Soviet Union's economic collapse or for the terrible damage the years of terror inflicted upon the Russian identity."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was severely critical of the Polish economy in its annual report, released yesterday. The report criticized "everything from political interference in administrative appointments to monetary policy."

Poland's unemployment is nearing 20 percent, and populist politics are gaining support. The editorial suggests that the government should "act quickly to restore political and economic discipline." Otherwise, it says, the European Union may have to delay Poland's admission. The "Financial Times" says Poland's priority should be raising economic growth from the current 1 percent to around 5 percent. It adds that Polish authorities must adopt new macroeconomic policies and drastically cut spending.

The paper acknowledges that these economic reforms will be difficult for a government also trying to meet EU accession criteria. EU agricultural policy in particular "presents Poland with great difficulties," it says. The editorial concludes that the EU "can assist by making the entry conditions tolerable, especially in agriculture. It can also help by the faster disbursement of aid projects, which are often delayed by red tape. However, the main burden falls squarely on Polish shoulders."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" carries a commentary by Peter Muench today entitled "Chaos Reform a la Arafat." The writer points out that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is "masterful" in the art of selectiveness. Muench says he selects truths, for example, in reporting on the arrest of terrorists. Muench says suspects are "put into prison through the front door and are released through the back door." When, under American pressure, he promises a reform of the autonomous Palestinian Authority, Muench says Arafat deliberately overlooks the possibility of his own resignation.

Muench says Arafat seeks to save his own skin and is now intent on seeing "other heads roll," such as the Palestinian Authority police chief in the Gaza Strip and the security chief in West Jordan. Both officials were recently dismissed from their posts.

Muench regards such measures as an indication that Arafat is no longer master of the situation, and adds that it is unclear what Arafat seeks to gain through such steps. At any rate, the commentary concludes, "these actions do not bode well."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," United Nations Undersecretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor discusses the information gap between the world's rich and poor countries. It is no longer only money that divides the haves and have-nots, Tharoor writes. In the era of the information revolution, information inequality is "the most striking global divide."

Tharoor says an estimated 1.3 billion people "subsist on less than $1 a day; nearly 1 billion people are illiterate; well over 1 billion lack access to safe water; [and] some 840 million starve or face food shortages." He says each year, the UN's Index of Human Development reveals "that more countries have lower scores than in the previous year. Dozens of countries are regressing, not progressing, in terms of human development." Tharoor says one crucial reason for this trend is that "the knowledge gap -- embracing information, education, and access to technology -- is widening."

Tharoor says the challenge is how to broaden access to information, "how to make it available to people everywhere, whether they live in the industrialized world or the developing world." He says the ability "to receive, download and send information through electronic networks, and the capacity to share information, has already become the new hallmark of development."


In the "Financial Times," Robert Cottrel discusses Russian oil exports in light of the 3 July arrival of a supertanker of Russian crude at the U.S. city of Houston, Texas. Russia and the U.S. are both seeking to promote Russian oil exports, he says, and the Houston docking may help raise the Yukos oil company's international profile. As the world's No. 3 oil producer and second-biggest oil exporter, Russia is not a member of the Organization of the Oil Exporting Countries, or OPEC. Thus, it is not subject to OPEC's political and economic maneuvers. Russia's independent supply means more-secure global exports.

For the United States, Cottrel says, the main thing is to have "as much Russian oil as possible flowing into world markets." He cites a U.S. official as saying Russia has become the new "buffer producer, moderating and mitigating OPEC's ability to manipulate prices."


An analysis in the Austrian daily "Die Presse" by Wolfgang Bohm and Friederike Leibl questions why there is such an uproar, particularly in Austria, about the financial burdens of European Union expansion. The commentary describes EU Commission discussions as unrealistic and says, "Numerous EU governments are failing to deal with the truly important structures, and are concentrating instead on resisting granting direct agricultural subsidies to future members."

Austria is itself faced with contradictory interests, say the authors. On the one hand, under the current system, it would have to pay an annual contribution of 95 million euros ($93 million) to the EU beginning in 2013. On the other, Austria recently received some 75 million euros more than it has paid into the agricultural fund.

As Denmark now takes on the EU chairmanship for the next six months, Danish Finance Minister Thor Pedersen also questions what all the fuss is about, pointing out that Austria's financial contribution to expansion will be minimal.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Simon Chesterman of the Project on Transitional Administrations at New York's International Peace Academy says Afghanistan is about to enter "the most dangerous period for a return to conflict."

He points out that the UN mission in Afghanistan "remains intimately involved" with the new Afghan transitional government. "This creates a divide between formal authority and practical influence, increasing the risk that the political consensus established in the Bonn Agreement and recently affirmed at the Loya Jirga in Kabul will spin out of control."

He says the conventional wisdom on peacekeeping dictates that success "should ideally consist of three sequential stages. First, the political basis for peace must be determined. Then a suitable mandate for a UN mission should be formulated. Finally, that mission should be given all the resources necessary to complete the mandate."

But Chesterman says in reality, "This usually happens in the reverse order: Countries determine what resources they are prepared to commit to a problem and a mandate is cobbled together around those resources."

Chesterman says now that coalition forces are being scaled back, the next step is for the international community to help the new Afghan regime "engage in constructive discussion about power-sharing arrangements, so that Afghans can provide for their own security."


In "The New York Times," columnist Nicholas Kristof looks at farm subsidies in Western countries and their relation to Third World economies. Kristof says the U.S., Europe, and Japan spend $350 billion on agricultural subsidies, which he points out is seven times more than they spend on global aid to poor countries. These subsidies, he says, create excesses "that lower commodity prices and erode the living standard of the world's poorest people."

He cites the head of the United Nations Development Program, Mark Malloch Brown, as estimating that subsidies in rich countries cost the world's poor close to $50 billion in lost agricultural exports. Kristof says that, "By coincidence, that's about the same as the total of rich countries' aid to poor countries, so we take back with our left hand every cent we give with our right."

He remarks: "It also seems a tad hypocritical of us to complain about governance in Third World countries when we allow tiny groups of farmers to hijack billions of dollars out of our taxes."

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