The world's papers don't know if they should try to explain Boris Yeltsin's actions Monday--his sudden dismissal of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and his naming of Vladimir Putin as the country's fifth premier in 17 months--or write them off as vodka-induced silliness. Most conclude that Yeltsin is democracy-impaired. In an editorial Wednesday, Toronto's Globe and Mail blamed his Soviet past. The paper said that Yeltsin is "essentially a party hack, schooled in the arts of personal survival through manipulation of rules, arbitrary acts and unpredictable alliances. In this he is in the dark company of most members of the Russian Duma and provincial legislatures, a generation of former Soviet officials thrown into democratic forums for which they have no instinct and little respect. It will take more than one generation before the ways of a bureaucratic dictatorship give way to those of a liberal democracy, whatever Russia's legal framework says." The Independent of London concluded that the "episode only shows how abnormal a state Russia remains, utterly unschooled in the orderly democratic transfer of constitutional power."
Some papers pointed out the essential contradiction between Yeltsin's repeated protestations about his commitment to democracy and his selection of a "successor" with little chance of legitimately winning a presidential election. The St. Petersburg Times said that "Yeltsin's problem seems to be that he wants to be remembered as having overseen the first democratic transfer of political power in Russia--but at the same time doesn't want to give up power. This is the intractable contradiction Yeltsin keeps bumping up against."
The escalating violence in the Russian province of Dagestan--where late last week Islamic militants from across the Chechen border seized several villages and declared Dagestan an independent Islamic state--was described by the St. Petersburg Times as "the other crisis." The Moscow Times said, "[O]nce again, the Russians are bombing Chechen guerillas--with the same dismaying inaccuracy that in Chechnya claimed so many civilians and roused so much anti-Russian sentiment." The same editorial asked, "Why are Russia's elite troops in Bosnia and Kosovo? The KFOR forces should be brought home and redeployed in the Russian south."
Another border dispute flared up again this week when India shot down a Pakistani naval aircraft, killing 16 crewmen. India claims the plane was on a spy mission in Indian airspace, accusations Pakistan denies. In an editorial titled "Kamikaze Tactics," the Times of India described the incident as "a regrettable necessity" and said that "[f]or the sake of peace and security in the region and beyond, India has to sensitise the international community to the new threat posed by Pakistan." The Pakistani daily Dawn took a parallel track when it editorialized, "This latest incident ... should serve to open eyes and minds in the western world and give Indian apologists their useful insights into New Delhi's unreconstructed hegemonic intentions." The Hindu of Madras, on the other hand, recommended that both nations call a cease-fire in the spin war: "The danger at the present time is that neither Government--one facing crucial elections and ready to reap the rewards of chest-thumping triumphalism and the other confronting a resurgent fundamentalist militancy--seems in a hurry to help de-escalate."
In Turkey, Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is under a death sentence, announced that his Kurdistan Workers' Party has renounced violence and is willing to surrender its arms in exchange for Kurdish rights. The South China Morning Post said that the offer "gives Turkey another chance to deal with its largest and most fractious minority in a reasonable way. With luck and wisdom, Ankara could now end a bloody insurgency that has cost some 31,000 lives, slowed economic development and given Turkey one of the world's worst records in the human rights field. But doing so will demand more tolerance and flexibility than any Turkish government has shown to date. Ankara's preferred attitude towards its 12 million Kurds is to deny they exist, in an ethnic sense, by contending they are really something called 'Mountain Turks.' " The SCMP says that now "there is a chance to reverse this sorry record."
A feature in Britain's Guardian Wednesday described a debate in Japan over vending machines that dispense ... beetles. According to the piece, "collecting live insects has a long tradition in Japan," but with increasing urbanization and the loss of wild habitat, they are becoming more difficult to find. As of this summer, there's no need to schlep out to the country just to stock up on bugs: A pair of live horned beetles can be purchased from a vending machine for around $3.50. The machines have been tremendously successful--more than 1,500 beetles were sold from them in July--but conservationists complain that "automated bug sales are a step too far and teach children that living creatures are of no more value than tamagotchi electronic pets." A clerk in the beetle department of a Tokyo department store (who has a pair of okuwagata stag beetles captured from the wild "on sale" right now for just $43,000) told the paper that the bugs "might actually like it in a machine because they seem to be comfortable in dark, narrow spaces."