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Press Review: Bosnia and Russia Focus of Press Commentary

  • Don Hill

Prague, May 22 (RFE/RL) -- Growing problems -- war crimes, recalcitrance at the top, historic ethnic antagonisms, and difficulties in preparing for elections -- beset the implementation of the Dayton peace accords. Press commentary focuses on these problems. Other commentators continue to dissect the Russian presidential election campaign.

Chris Hedges writes today in The New York Times: "In a new challenge to the American-brokered peace in the former Yugoslavia, the Bosnian government threatened yesterday to withdraw from elections unless voting rules were drastically changed and NATO arrested the most prominent Serbian war criminals.... The need to begin preparing for elections has been the principal obsession of all parties in the civil war here, as well as the international officials trying to hammer this splintered country back together.... International officials, the United Nations and the United States all say they support the Dayton goal, but have so far been unwilling to risk conflict by removing Karadzic and Mladic, both indicted war criminals who under the accord cannot take part in political life.... Bosnian government officials said that free and fair elections would be impossible as long as Karadzic and Mladic remained in power, even behind the scenes."

The Frankfurter Rundschau today carries a commentary by Rolf Paasch. Paasch writes: "Are Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's days numbered? Perhaps. But the open war of succession that has now broken out between Pale and Banja Luka only illuminates once again the whole artificiality of the 'Serbian Republic' created in Dayton -- and the makeshift nature of the peace process for former Yugoslavia. An "entity" was created that is not supposed to be a state; a sphere of Belgrade's influence, which may not be called that; an administrative unit of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose border Muslim Bosnians can only cross at risk to their lives."

The Frankfurter Rundschau writer concludes, "Hans Koschnick, the former E.U. administrator in Mostar, reckons that western soldiers will have to stay in Bosnia for three or four years to safeguard peace, reconstruction and democratic beginnings against the Muslim, Croat and Serb advocates of ethnically clean areas. Koschnick is one of the few politicians to speak on the subject of Bosnia who does not follow any national agenda and who knows what he is talking about."

In the British newspaper Financial Times, Edward Mortimer comments: "Dayton became possible only when the United States accepted the essence of the European approach to Russia, which was to treat the ethnic entities, especially the Serb one, as an irreversible fact of life, and to concentrate on adjusting the relations between them."

American University law professor Diane F. Orentlicher contributed a commentary on the war crimes tribunal in the Hague to yesterday's Los Angeles Times. She said: "(The) international war crimes tribunal in The Hague... will be a place of national healing. The voices of those who survived 'ethnic cleansing' will be heard, and their suffering honored.... But when the tribunal's first trial began earlier this month, the man on the dock seemed an unlikely antagonist for a drama of such large scope.... The personal culpability of men such as Dusan Tadic should not obscure the fact that countless other individuals willingly participated in the epic crimes for which defendants are brought to book in The Hague.... No one, and no court, can definitively answer the dark questions about human nature raised when brutal leaders enlist masses of humanity to commit crimes against universal conscience."

On the election campaign in Russia, Carol J. Williams writes today from Moscow in the Los Angeles Times: " Battling to remove the tarnish from his reputation as a democrat, President Boris N. Yeltsin paid respects (yesterday) to the memory of dissident Andrei D. Sakharov on what would have been his 75th birthday, and restored a state commission dedicated to the defense of human rights. The moves were clearly aimed at winning back support from democratic reformers who have defected from the Yeltsin camp since he launched the brutal war with Chechnya 17 months ago and because of the epidemic of corruption that infects his administration. But for those who hold the memory of Sakharov in deep respect, the troubled incumbent's solicitation could backfire. Although Yeltsin can probably count on the support of most human rights activists in his fight for the presidency against Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov, some may find his grandstanding on the grave of Sakharov a sacrilege."

Today's Washington Post carries a news analysis by Lee Hockstader. Hosckstader writes: "In the face of an apparent surge in popular support for President Boris Yeltsin, cracks are beginning to appear in the resurgent Communist Party's facade of unity just as the rival camps enter the home stretch of Russia's presidential campaign. There are even reports that some members of the Communist leadership may favor an eleventh-hour deal with Yeltsin, possibly in the form of a power-sharing coalition. At the same time, Russian newspapers abound with reports of soaring tensions between Communist presidential candidate Gennady Zyuganov and the party's second-ranking official, campaign manager Valentin Kuptsov."

Graham Bowley and Gillian Tett write today in the Financial Times: "Russia yesterday suprised leading industrialized nations by asking to join the Organizatiion for Economic Cooperation and Development. If accepted, the request -- made at the meeting of OECD ministers in Paris -- would be the latest step in Russia's integration into the world economy. Acceptance would also be a signal of the West's support for the reforms launched by Russia's President Boris Yeltsin ahead of the country's presidential elections next month." Under the headline "Zyuganov and Yeltsin vie for the holy vote," Phil Reeves writes today in Britain's The Independent: "The (Russian) Orthodox Church is at the center of a tug-of-war between the two main candidates in the forthcoming presidential election, Boris Yeltsin and Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader.... Mr. Yeltsin was a driving force behind the reconstruction in Moscow of the Church of Christ the Saviour, which was destroyed by Stalin. It now stands as a monument to Russia's religious renaissance. Mr. Zyuganov also has been diligent. In his campaign literature, he describes himself as a 'man of faith,' a reference to his commitment to religious fredom, as he is not thought to be a a 'veryushi' -- a believer. As he tours from city to city, he often drops into churches."

Finally, Jane Perlez says in today's New York Times that at least one of Russia's vulnerable neighbors is preparing emotionally for a Communist win in Russia. She writes in a news analysis: "Outwardly at least, Polish officials say they are not panicked but instead are taking a pragmatic view about the prospect of the Communists' winning the Russian election next month."