If it isn't a cruel joke, then what is this? Mere hypocrisy or perversity it isn't. Consider how swiftly the U.S. and the E.U. have taken diplomatic action against Austria for a symbolic crime, and consider how persistently they have supported Russia, ignoring its concrete war crimes in Chechnya.
This past week, the U.S. recalled its ambassador to Austria for consultations and European Union countries froze bilateral political contacts with Vienna. Israel withdrew its ambassador and Belgium cancelled a $1 million defense contract for armored ambulances with an Austrian firm.
The crime was that the Austrian government formed a coalition government with the democratically elected right-wing party of Joerg Haider, who sometime ago advocated anti-immigrant policies and praised Nazi Germany's employment policies, though in the wake of protests, he repudiated those remarks as being quoted out of context and vowed to redress the grievances of "our Jewish fellow citizens."
Israeli author and journalist Tom Segev, who visited Vienna to report on Austrian politics, described Haider neither as a Nazi nor as a neo-Nazi, but an electoral opportunist who plays on anti-immigration sentiments and appeals to 'old Nazis' among his constituents (Washington Post, Feb 3). Austrian President Thomas Klestil defended his decision to swear in the new coalition, saying Haider was no Hitler.
Yes, Haider is a racist. Yet, his joining the Austrian coalition is not a crime that should warrant the reaction the West has shown. First, Haider's crime was still in the symbolic or verbal domain. Second, the Western leaders didn't punish Israel when its former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed coalition with the Moledet party that openly called for mass deportation of all Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories. Third, Western leaders haven't punished Putin for his killing campaign in Chechnya.
Western leaders know very well that Chechnya is as much a part of Russia as Algeria was a part of France. Since the 1800s, the Chechens have resisted Russian occupation and killing campaigns. In 1944, Stalin decimated the Chechen population while deporting them all to Siberia and Kazakhstan. The surviving Chechens rebuilt their lives after returning to Chechnya in 1958.
Western leaders know that Putin is smashing the values the West stands for. Putin's forces are committing war crimes -- using high explosive fuel bombs on targets where civilians live, killing civilians even in territories that they have seized, raping Muslim women, and burning and plundering the Chechen properties. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other observers provided verifiable accounts of atrocities committed by Russian soldiers.
Western leaders know that Putin is shielding his war crimes by barring international journalists from covering the scene. They know, for example, what his forces have done to Andrei Babitsky, the Russian journalist who worked the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty and dared to tell the truth that Putin didn't like.
Despite the Russian blockade on information flow in Chechnya, reports trickling out of Chechnya are so disturbing that they bring tears in eyes of any human being who cares to read. A Feb 2 report by the Chicago Tribune correspondent Colin McMahon, for example, provides a survivor's account of how Russian soldiers killed women and took jewelry and belongings from their dead bodies before setting fire on them. Human Rights Watch has also documented how the Russian soldiers killed at least 22 civilians after "liberating" Grozny and how they forced traumatized civilians to collect dead bodies of their fallen comrades from active combat zones.
Western leaders know that Russia has installed a new version of concentration camps called "filtration" centers where they torture the Chechen Muslims aged 10-70 until they either admit to being "bandits" or are killed.
Indeed, Western leaders have pronounced some criticism of Russia over Chechnya. But they did not match their criticism with action as they did with Austria. Instead, the West continued giving foreign aid to Russia enabling Putin to continue his bloody campaign.
In December 1999, the World Bank approved a $100-million loan to Moscow. The U.S. is now providing Russia additional food aid under two new programs worked out during Secretary Albright's three-day visit to Moscow last week. It's bizarre that Albright has praised Putin both before and after her meeting with him.
Western governments are swift to score points with anyone who makes symbolic threats or racist comments about a people. But they sympathetically criticize and even support the real killing and destruction of another people. If it isn't the cruel joke of the West, then what it is?
Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for iviews.com
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