International Papers

Cashing the Chechen Dividend

Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Russia dominated the world’s editorial pages early this week. Although the Communist Party will remain the biggest single bloc in the Duma, having won 24 percent of the vote, the success of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Unity Party, which claimed 23 percent, took the ink. El País of Spain called Putin’s success the “Chechen dividend,” a sentiment echoed in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, which said that “beyond bellicosity in the Caucasus, Mr Putin has articulated no clear policy.” The Age of Melbourne headlined its editorial “Putin: the man who rose without trace,” and said, “Public attention no longer focuses primarily on the ailing Mr Yeltsin’s erratic policy-making, or even on the widespread corruption, ballooning debt and huge disparities of wealth that have arisen during the over-rapid privatisation of the Russian economy. Instead the talk is increasingly of a resurgent, nationalist Russia, pinning its hopes of salvation on a strong leader. And it has all happened because Mr Putin launched Russia into a war in Chechnya.”

In a leader Tuesday, the Financial Times of London said the election results brought both good and bad news: “The good news is that the new Duma is likely to be younger, and somewhat more sympathetic towards economic liberalism than the last one. … The bad news is that political liberalism has been sacrificed in the process.” The Daily Telegraph took a similar tack, decrying the “rise in military influence” and “a resumption in the sway of oligarchs such as Boris Berezovsky,” but taking heart in the shift of power “from conservatives to reformers.” Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post also attacked the style of the election, saying “the vote was influenced by an assortment of electoral dirty tricks, involving money, rule-breaking and libelling Kremlin foes on state television,” but said that “given their limited choices, the Russian people were suprisingly selective, backing those who may actually do something about the sorry state of their nation.”

The conservative National Post of Canada asked what the effect of a compatible legislature and executive would be and decided that, “In foreign policy, the recent anti-Western tendency is likely to continue, but more cautiously and less explicitly. Thus, Mr. Primakov’s active pro-Iraqi diplomacy in the Middle East will be moderated, but Mr. Yeltsin’s pursuit of a Chinese rapprochement to offset American influence will proceed at a leisurely pace.”

A cautious note was struck in the St. Petersburg Times, which said that “Putin’s future looks rosy, except as regards concrete policies, his main one so far being the razing of Grozny. And the businessmen who have amassed vast fortunes under the Yeltsin regime are able to continue as usual and are doubtless grinning like Cheshire cats.” Similarly, the Moscow Times said, “The system of succession that will guarantee the Kremlin’s victory is a very positive development. For, in circumstances where the authorities and their opposition are equally corrupt, a corrupt regime based on succession is preferable to a revolutionary corrupt regime, whose ascension to the throne is accompanied by the hollow grunting of pigs rushing the trough–and who, amid the cries of ‘bribe-takers to jail,’ make the same pie all over again.”

Sunday’s handover of the Portuguese-administered territory of Macau to China after 442 years of colonial rule was in marked contrast with the handover of Hong Kong in July 1997. The South China Morning Post described scenes of “unconfined joy” and “delight” at the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army, and according to Britain’s Independent, “[a]lmost everyone agreed that China’s resumption of sovereignty would help wipe out a turf war that has gripped Macau’s gambling industry and sparked 39 triad gangster killings this year alone.” More than a quarter of Macau’s workforce is employed by the casino and gambling industries, and while gambling is illegal on the mainland, China’s promise to maintain the capitalist system in the territory for the next 50 years means that gambling will most likely remain the mainstay of Macau’s economy.

Dawn of Pakistan said that now “the pressure on Taiwan to revert to China is likely to mount considerably,” and the SCMP reported that just before the handover ceremonies, Chinese President Jiang Zemin announced that China will speed up efforts for reunification with Taiwan in the new year. The paper said the strategy will consist of wooing Taiwanese business groups by offering incentives for joint ventures between Taiwanese and mainland firms on one hand, and “military preparation” on the other. The SCMP quoted Jiang saying, “All far-sighted people in the world have seen, from the smooth return of Hong Kong and Macau, that the ‘one country, two systems’ policy is most appropriate and correct and is the best approach to solving the Taiwan question.” An op-ed in Canada’s National Post by David Lee, a Taiwanese official based in Toronto, said there would be “no more handovers following Macau’s,” not least because “Taiwan is not, and never has been, a colony.”

Wednesday’s International Herald Tribune described current efforts to remove “military jargon, acronyms and politically correct euphemisms” that crept into the Indonesian language during the 32-year rule of President Suharto. According to the piece, prisons were known as “socialization institutions,” poverty was “pre-prosperity,” corruption was “procedural error,” and people were “protected” rather than arrested. As the old euphemisms are shed, foreign words are sometimes taking their place, leading novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer to conclude that “We have returned to the colonial mentality, thinking that everything that is foreign is more intellectual and high-minded.”