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Western Press Review: Aliev's Health, Uzbek Civic Stagnation, And Iraq's New Civilian Administrator

Prague, 7 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis in the major Western news dailies today takes a look at the continuing speculation over Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's state of health; Uzbekistan's lack of civic progress despite incentives from the West; the ongoing search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the new U.S. civilian administrator in the country, Paul Bremer; and the multitude of choice and cultural diversity -- rather than homogeneity and standardization -- that globalization can bring.


Writing in regional daily "Eurasia View," analyst Mevlut Katik discusses the speculation that continues to surround the health of Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev. Aliyev collapsed last month while delivering a speech and has spent the last three days at the Gulhane Military Medical Academy in Ankara.

Officials remain "tight-lipped" about Aliev's condition and their discussions of his prognosis have been "relentlessly upbeat." Authorities say the trip to Gulhane is a "routine" hospital visit planned well in advance; Azerbaijan's Turan news agency, however, described Aliev's condition on arrival as "critical."

Katik says some observers "suggest that the way authorities are handling Aliyev's illness [may] be a reflection of their concern over their own political future. If Aliyev were to die, the political transition process would, at present, seem unclear."

According to the Azerbaijani Constitution, Prime Minister Artur Rasizade would become interim president if Aliyev is unable to fulfill his official duties. Rasizade is currently reported to be recovering from eye surgery in the United States. But Katik says, "Many observers believe Rasizade was dispatched to the United States to clear the way" for the president's son, Ilham Aliev, to become interim president if Aliev's suspected health problems should make this necessary. It is still questionable, however, "whether Ilham has sufficient support within the Azerbaijani political elite to succeed his father."


The European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" carries a contribution by Dow Jones Newswires' Moscow bureau chief, Geoffrey Smith. Smith discusses Uzbekistan's lack of social and civic progress in light of the recent annual meeting in Tashkent of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which gave the country one year to improve its political and economic performance.

The U.S. has cultivated Uzbekistan "as an ally in the war on terrorism in spite of a dreadful human rights record, even by Central Asian standards. The EBRD has [lent] over $600 million to the country over the last 12 years." But Smith says, "All this interest from the West hasn't made Uzbekistan any more democratic or its civil society any stronger."

Bank officials hoped last week's meeting would offer "some public acknowledgment of the human rights violations and economic mismanagement that has stopped the EBRD from investing more in Uzbekistan to date." But Uzbek President Islam Karimov, addressing the delegation, "omitted any mention in a speech broadcast nationwide on tightly controlled state television of the torture the UN says is systematic in his country."

There was little indication "that the Uzbek leadership believes the country needs to make any political or economic transition. Mr. Karimov avoided any self-criticism, not mentioning his decision to close the country's borders and deny currency convertibility," or the "recent firing of editors from publications that have dared to criticize the regime."


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's official appointment yesterday of a new head of reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The nomination of Paul Bremer, a former U.S. ambassador and senior State Department official, was a source of some friction between the hawks and doves in the U.S. administration. Moreover, as the person now in charge of rebuilding Iraq's government and infrastructure, Bremer will take charge of a multibillion-dollar enterprise, currently run by the now-outranked retired general, Jay Garner, much to the latter's discomfort "at the prospect of having to serve under a civilian."

The German paper, however, expresses high regard for Bremer, whom it describes as a person who appears to possess a number of the attributes often associated with the military: "He was always undiplomatically brisk and direct, and won the respect of former conservative politicians for his courage to take risks."

Bremer is now faced with the primary task "of overseeing a military campaign with a civilian image and, where possible, of engaging as many countries in the rebuilding as is feasible." The paper cites high-level U.S. politicians as saying they have faith in Bremer, who may look tame at first but who has always met his challenges without faltering.


As the search for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction continues, "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof says a recent piece he wrote questioning the existence of such weapons received a barrage of angry e-mails. His critics suggested that uncovering Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is unnecessary, since the Iraqi people have truly been freed from a repressive and autocratic regime.

But Kristof says finding weapons "does matter, enormously, for American credibility." He points out that Ari Fleischer, the spokesman for U.S. President George W. Bush, said of weapons of mass destruction (10 April): "That is what this war was about."

The "newfound freedoms" in Iraq are a cause for celebration, Kristof says. However, "there are indications" that, ahead of the war, the U.S. government fabricated military intelligence, pressured spies "to change their conclusions and concealed contrary information to deceive people in America and around the world" about Iraq's weapons program.

Kristof says he hopes weapons of mass destruction are eventually found in Iraq, because he does not want "to believe that administration officials tried to win support for the war with a campaign of wholesale deceit."


The "International Herald Tribune" today publishes an item by Philippe Legrain from "The Chronicle of Higher Education," in which he discusses the widespread fear that globalization is responsible for "imposing a deadening cultural uniformity" across the globe. Such "cultural imperialism is said to impose American values as well as products, promote the commercial at the expense of the authentic, and substitute shallow gratification for deeper satisfaction" in a process Legrain refers to as "Coca-colonization."

But he says such criticisms do not address the "rich feast of cultural mixing" that is also taking place: "Algerians in Paris practice Thai boxing [while] Asian rappers in London snack on Turkish pizza." And "this cross-fertilization is overwhelmingly a force for good," he says.

"The beauty of globalization is that it can free people from the tyranny of geography." More people than ever before "are increasingly free to choose our cultural experiences." Moreover, says Legrain, cultural crosspollination "revitalizes cultures and cultural artifacts through foreign influences, technologies and markets." He calls it "a myth" that globalization imposes a brand of U.S.-driven "uniformity," rather than "an explosion of cultural exchange."


Writing in "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman says the U.S.-led rebuilding in Iraq is addressing "the most fundamental question" facing many developing countries and the Arab world: How to turn a "brutal authoritarian regime" into an "accountable, democratizing society, without ending up with an Iranian-style theocracy or chaos?"

He says ironically, what many analysts seem to agree on is that the U.S.-led interim Iraqi authority should not yet focus on paving the way for Iraqi elections. "Elections should come last," he says. First, the institutions of a free society must be established, including a "functioning judicial system, a free press, free speech, economic reform, civic institutions and multiple political parties," all of which must be protected by "a constitution that has the support, and input, of the main political forces."

Building this type of society will first entail countering corruption and allowing for an independent press and independent political parties. A multinational peacekeeping force will be needed for years, while Iraqi political moderates emerge and establish themselves. Under the former regime, Friedman says both secular and religious political moderates were "disempowered," "squeezed between the iron fist of [the] state" and religious extremists.

Even under ideal conditions, Friedman says, establishing Iraq's democratic institutions "will take years -- and it is not clear the Bush team is ready to invest that degree of time, money and people."


The "International Herald Tribune" carries a contribution today from former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who was also the first serving High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina and a Balkans envoy for the United Nations and the European Union. Considering Iraq, Bildt enumerates "seven lessons" that can be gleaned from past nation-building efforts.

First, he says, it is "imperative" to quickly establish a secure environment. Secondly, the "central challenge" is state-building, creating "a political infrastructure that unites competing forces and ensures some sort of order, and an infrastructure of economic governance that promotes jobs and growth."

Thirdly, some sort of peace agreement or constitution is necessary so it is clear what type of state is to be built. Bildt says the fourth lesson is that while humanitarian efforts are crucial at first, they must not "predominate over the long-term issues. There must be an early focus on economic questions such as currency, customs, taxation systems, commercial law, banking, debt restructuring and accessing international capital markets."

Lesson five is the importance of a "benevolent regional environment." If neighboring countries seek to destabilize a fledgling nation, "they will sooner or later succeed."

Bildt goes on to say that the more international support the nation-building process has, the easier it will be. "Some sort of UN framework normally helps," he adds.

Finally, he says, "Nation-building takes a longer time, and requires more resources, than most initially believe." The years to come will determine whether Iraq will become "fertile for the forces of reform and representative government, or for the forces of resentment and revenge."


Writing in "Die Welt," Mariam Lau describes the newly elected "man in Ramallah," Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), as a man of uncompromising anti-Jewish opinions. Abu Mazen's attitude toward terrorism is a pivotal issue. Lau points out that rarely has Abbas unequivocally renounced violence on "moral grounds." Rather, he advocates a "different military form" for the intifada. He supports a return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory "as a natural right, and demands compensation on their behalf."

The history of the region, he said, indicates there exists a firm and widespread conviction that the Jews have no historic or any other right to Israel. "If they win, we lose," many Palestinians seem to feel. When Ben Gurion, the founder of the Israeli state, declared that Jews brought progress and prosperity to Palestine, many answered that they would rather continue living in poverty and misery.

But Lau says Palestinian identity "is unthinkable without Zionism." The Israeli settlements were built in the 1960s with the help of thousands of Arabs, who did not consider the settlements a national issue. But moving forward with caution in the negotiations is desirable, says Lau. And considering the intractable nature of the problem, all that remains is hope.

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