Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: AIDS, Securing a Balkan Peace, and Afghanistan

Prague, 10 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several articles in the Western press today discuss the findings of the International AIDS Conference, taking place this week in Barcelona. The conference warned yesterday that rising rates of infection in Eastern Europe threaten to put the region's AIDS crisis on a par with that of sub-Saharan Africa. Other discussion centers on the mounting resentment over Western policies in Afghanistan, the ongoing peace process in the Balkans, and the U.S. president's speech yesterday on tackling corporate malfeasance, which left many observers dubious.


Two of Britain's major dailies today carry items on the rising incidence of AIDS in Eastern Europe. The International AIDS Conference taking place this week in Barcelona warned yesterday that if the spread of the disease is not checked in former Soviet-bloc nations, the region could face "the same sort of devastation as in sub-Saharan Africa and could soon menace the rest of Europe," writes health editor Sarah Boseley in "The Guardian." She notes that AIDS cases in the region have been doubling every year for the past three years. Infection occurs mainly in drug users -- a million are currently infected -- but is expected to spread through the rest of the population in coming years. There were 250,000 new HIV cases in the region last year alone.

Boseley says the situation is particularly dire in Ukraine, where almost 1 percent of the country's 48 million people is estimated to have HIV, the precursor to AIDS. Boseley cites Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the International Harm Reduction Development wing of the Open Society Institute, as saying that in a 27-country survey by her network, it was found that less than 1 percent of those infected in Central Europe and post-Soviet states are receiving the three-drug treatment for the disease recommended by the World Health Organization.


In "The Times" of Britain, science correspondent Mark Henderson points out that Eastern Europe now accounts for more AIDS cases than North America and is almost double the number in Western Europe. Virtually unknown in the region prior to 1994, he says it is now growing more quickly there than anywhere else in the world. In Russia alone, 700,000 people carry the HIV virus and the number of infected has doubled each year for the past three years, according to the United Nations.

Henderson says rising infection rates have spurred concern about transmitting the disease to Western Europe and beyond through East-West drug or prostitution rings. More than 90 percent of those infected in the region are thought to have contracted the virus through intravenous drug use. Henderson notes, "Social stigmatization of drug-users, and hard-line law-and-order policies that often see addicts imprisoned for minor possession offences, mean that only a handful of needle-exchange programs have been established" to help check the drug-related spread of the disease.


The European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" discusses the speech delivered on Wall Street yesterday by U.S. President George W. Bush. After a recent flurry of accounting scandals involving U.S. corporate giants Enron and WorldCom -- and the ensuing drop in investor confidence -- Bush sought to address fundamental issues such as executive responsibility, accounting practices, and corporate fraud.

The "Journal" expresses the skepticism of many observers when it suggests Bush's speech was politically motivated. "Everything you're hearing now from Washington is aimed at winning the November elections, not calming financial markets," the paper writes. In coming "so long after the Enron scandal first broke, and amid election season, the speech was widely and accurately described as an exercise in defensive politics."

However, Bush has created a new Justice Department task force on corporate fraud, the paper notes. Corporation heads will now also be "personally and criminally liable -- and face stiff penalties -- for their companies' financial results." Just as significant, the paper says, will be scrutinizing "stock options and other forms of executive compensation. This sort of due diligence too often went missing in the 'decade of greed.'"


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Selig Harrison of the Center for International Policy says, "Mounting anger over growing civilian casualties inflicted by U.S. forces is not the only reason why anti-American sentiment is growing in Afghanistan." He says even before an errant U.S. air strike on 7 July killed and injured Afghan civilians in Oruzgan Province, U.S. pressure "to block the re-emergence of a Pashtun-dominated regime at the recent Loya Jirga, or Grand Council," had angered many in the ethnic Pashtun majority.

Ahead of the Loya Jirga, Harrison writes, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad "openly demanded" that the popular Pashtun former king, Zahir Shah, renounce his presidential candidacy and throw his weight behind Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-supported Afghan leader.

Harrison says, "Pashtun domination has been the historical norm in Afghanistan." But when the U.S. "hastily" launched its military campaign in Afghanistan last October, the U.S. "cast its lot with a triumvirate of generals from the Tajik ethnic minority who helped to dislodge the Taliban and now dominate the government of Hamid Karzai," the Pashtun leader he describes as a "powerless front man."


An item in Belgium's "Le Soir" discusses the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as the European Commission meets in Brussels to discuss its reform.

Today the EC will discuss breaking the link between production levels and subsidy grants. Traditionally, subsidies were rewarded based on the level of production achieved. The paper says European Agricultural Commissioner Franz Fischler is about to break with "40 years of productivist logic" to instead reward subsidies to those with good records on food safety, respect for the environment, and rural development.

Fischler's proposals should be the subject of detailed discussions among the 20 EU commissioners today, says the paper. It cites an unnamed source as saying that some commissioners have already suggested the project may be "too ambitious" in its principles. "Le Soir" goes on to note that France, as the EU's main agricultural producer and the main beneficiary of the CAP's current rules, has already expressed its dissatisfaction at the reforms. But the paper's source predicts that the CAP reforms should be accepted around midday, without too many major changes.


In France's "Le Figaro," Phillipe Reclus says behind the hype surrounding the recent spate of corporate-accounting scandals in the United States, the real issue is not just about how certain companies succeeded in violating the rules of the game. He says recent revelations call into question international accounting practices and suggest it is necessary to redefine and harmonize them.

America is responding quickly to the rash of dubious accounting practices, says Reclus. But there is a good chance that whatever reforms the U.S. adopts will have influence beyond its borders. He says the big question is whether America's move to set up new accounting structures and strengthen auditing systems will have an affect on the many European companies who seek capital across the Atlantic.

Reclus uses Vivendi Universal as an example of a company that, based in both Europe and the United States, was forced to "juggle" between French and American accounting rules. If the U.S. imposes one-sided accounting reforms, he says, such confusions will be compounded, and companies may run the risk of being persecuted for practices forbidden in one nation but allowed in another.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former EU representative and UN envoy to the Balkans Carl Bildt says the issue of Kosovo's final status must soon be addressed. The Kosovo war of 1999 ended without a peace agreement, Bildt notes. The UN Security Council reaffirmed the sovereignty of Yugoslavia over the province, but left its future status open. Since then, the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo "has had its successes and failures." But "at the end of the day," Bildt writes, "this is no more than a holding operation."

He says originally it was believed that "time would be a healing factor, that small steps would pave the way for the big jump to a peace agreement." But this "simply hasn't happened," he says. "The overwhelming majority of Kosovo Albanians want independence. An overwhelming majority in the minorities adamantly oppose it."

Bildt goes on to say it is generally accepted that the region "must move toward integration with the rest of Europe, and that this will be a step-by-step process over a long period. But as things stand now this process can hardly even be started," Bildt says. "States simply cannot be integrated if there is conflict over which states there are, which areas they cover, and how they relate to each other."