- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Defending Gelbard

The State Department is strongly defending the embattled U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, the target of anti-American protests and ugly accusations by some members of the Southeast Asian nation's government.

Ambassador Robert Gelbard has been criticized in some newspapers and by Indonesia's defense minister. He has responded by warning of a growing climate of anti-Americanism.

Mr. Gelbard last week closed the U.S. Embassy to public business. He is due to consider whether to reopen it today. Mr. Gelbard cited "credible threats" against the embassy as his reason for shutting the mission.

"The issues that our ambassador is raising the issues of reform, of open economy, of need for anti-corruption steps, and, in fact, the responsibility of the host country to protect diplomats and foreign visitors and tourists these are all things that are very important to us," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday.

"They represent U.S. policy in Indonesia. And he's been raising them on our behalf."

Mr. Boucher also said Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation, is an important U.S. ally in the region and he praised it as a democratic government.

"Naturally, we do regret that we have public disagreements," Mr. Boucher added. "But we recognize that those happen sometimes even between friends."

The latest anti-American incident involved militant Muslims in the city of Solo searching for U.S. citizens in hotels and warning desk clerks not to accept American guests. Police were investigating the matter yesterday, Agence France-Presse reported.

Promoting democracy

The Slovak Republic was a political backwater in post-communist Europe until voters rejected an authoritarian government two years ago and launched a new era of democracy.

Now Slovak activists are helping to promote democracy in other countries and learning from the U.S. presidential election, Slovak Ambassador Martin Butora said.

"Although many critics of political life in the United States speak of the cynicism and alienation of its citizens, those of us who come from new democracies find that there is still much for us to learn from the U.S.," he told Slovak-Americans in a recent speech.

Mr. Butora, a democratic activist in his own country, is impressed by the character and cacophony of American politics.

"Choosing politicians who are under public scrutiny; get-out-the-vote campaigns; expert discussions on the issues on several television and radio channels; polls and surveys conducted on a regular basis; presidential and vice-presidential debates, as well as a C-SPAN series on previous presidential debates; bumper stickers on cars; marches and protests; the life stories of presidential candidates published in prestigious media; focus groups of undecided voters on television; disputes about the role of big money in politics all this presents a fascinating experience for us," he said.

The outcome of the election is important to Slovakia, Mr. Butora said.

"In the long run, they will decide the extent of the American presence in Europe and the future of the trans-Atlantic community, including NATO enlargement," he said.

Slovakia is trying to spread the democratic message it has embraced in places like Ukraine, Croatia and Serbia, where Slovak civic associations helped monitor the recent Yugoslav election.

"For me, the Serbian elections of 2000 resemble not only the fall of communism in Central Europe in 1989, but also Slovakia's democratic rebirth after our 1998 parliamentary elections," Mr. Butora said.

"The world wondered if Serbian people would speak out, if they would take part in the elections in sufficient numbers, if they would align themselves with a democratic candidate, if they would be willing to defend their choice. Today we know the answer. They did."

Three Slovak groups MEMO '98, which monitors the media, Civic Eye, which observes elections, and the Foundation for a Civil Society, a broader civic association formed the Slovak Democratic Initiative for Southeastern Europe to help Yugoslavia organize its election.

"Everyone knows that the bulk of democracy's job in Yugoslavia still remains to be done and that the challenges ahead are immense," Mr. Butora said.

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