The scuttled Russian submarine Kursk continued to dominate European front pages this weekend, save in Spain, where the papers led on the assassination Sunday of two civil guards apparently by the Basque separatist group ETA. (Click here for earlier reaction.)
Many papers criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin's heartlessness. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, former KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky asked how Putin could appear so unmoved by the fate of the submariners and concluded: "The answer is simple: because he is indifferent. He genuinely doesn't care. … [H]e is a product of the Soviet system." The Financial Times agreed, saying, "The Soviet era placed a low value on the lives of ordinary Russians, nowhere more than in the armed forces where political leaders have accepted loss of life on a scale unacceptable in the west."
Komsomolskaya Pravda published the Kursk's crew list Friday, claiming that it had obtained the names for $650 from navy officials. The paper declared, "We have lost all faith in the honor of our commanders." (The navy officially released the information after the paper broke the news.) The Telegraph quotedIsvestia: "People's faith in the state's ability to protect them from misfortune has also sunk to the oceanbed. Along with the submarine, our government, too, has hit the bottom." Britain's Sunday Times said that Putin's reputation "has suffered grievous damage" and called his "collusion" in the attempted cover-up "alarming." It continued:
The West … has staked a lot on Mr Putin's ability to create a new Russia based on civilised norms, living in peaceful co-operation with the rest of the world. Were it not for the protests from the free parts of the Russian media, he might not have interrupted his jet-skiing holiday in the Black Sea to return to Moscow on Friday.
An excellent ticktock of the disaster in Britain's Observer stated, "The fate of the Kursk has struck a chord across the nation in a way not witnessed in years. The huge steel tomb on the bed of the Barents Sea has become a symbol of all the grievances, the pent-up frustrations, the anger and the disappointment in contemporary Russia." The Daily Telegraph asked why, after giving him "an easy ride" on the second Chechen war, the Russian press has now turned on Putin and concluded:
Part of the reason is that the Chechens are widely loathed by the Russians, whereas the submariners are admired. But prejudice cannot hide the fact that the leadership displayed by Mr Putin over Chechnya, however short-sighted, has been singularly absent over the stricken submarine.
The Moscow Times described Sunday's elections in Chechnya as "an ugly farce." Noting that 30 servicemen and two civilians died in election-related violence this week, the paper said, "As with the Kursk fiasco, officialdom again casually writes off innocent lives in the name of abstract prides." During the December 1999 general elections for the Duma, Russia's federal parliament, voting in Chechnya was postponed because the territory "was not sufficiently under federal control." Although little has changed since then, 13 pro-Moscow candidates contested the election Sunday. An editorial in the Moscow Times stated:
[T]his is why we are now charging forward with another election: As a way of insisting, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Chechnya is a normal part of Russia. But it's not. … No doubt, hundreds more—at minimum—will end up uselessly killed in the name of fake "democracy" before the Kremlin admits otherwise.
Forget I ever said that: An ethnic-Chinese businessman's challenge of Malaysia's policy of special privileges for ethnic Malays failed. According to the Australian, last week David Chua proposed changes to a program instituted in 1971, which "established quotas allowing Malays to enter universities and gain employment even if they were less qualified than applicants from other races." The privileges were intended to close the wealth gap between Malays, who comprise just over half of Malaysia's 22 million population, and ethnic Chinese and Indians. In 1971 Malays owned just 2 percent of the country's corporate wealth; by 1990 this had risen to 20 percent, at least in part because of the quota system. The Straits Times of Singapore reported Sunday that Chua claimed Friday that the media had sensationalized his statements and that he had never raised the question of abolishing Malay special rights. "In the interest of racial harmony in this country, I sincerely urge all Malaysians to refrain from raising the issue further," he said.
Olympic equine fever: With 25 days to go before the opening of the Sydney games, the papers got off to an early start on publishing human-interest feature stories. The Age of Melbourne reported that East Timor will realize its "Olympic dream" by sending four athletes to the games. Since the territory is still under United Nations control, they will compete as "individuals" rather than as representatives of their country. The International Herald Tribune published a fascinating story about the logistical nightmare for the games' "equine athletes." Australia's animal importation rules are "the toughest on the planet," and every horse heading to Sydney has to stay 14 days in a pre-quarantine stable and provide details of its exact whereabouts for the preceding 46 days. Horses from countries other than Europe, North America, Japan, and New Zealand have to stay in one of the approved countries for another 46 days. All the horses are subject to a further 14 days of quarantine in Australia. During the 26-hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Sydney, it is possible that a horse will be so unruly that it could threaten the flight. If so, it will be killed—no matter how long it's been in quarantine.