Accessibility links

Press Review: Bosnia, Chechnya Draw Commentary and Thoughts from Holbrooke

  • Don Hill

Prague, July 22 (RFE/RL) -- Over a quiet news weekend, Western press commentary touched on Bosnia and Chechnya, and negotiator Richard Holbrooke wrote about the continued need for U.S. involvement in Europe.


In yesterday's edition, Steven Erlanger wrote: "Richard Holbrooke has done it again. With bravado, bluster and skill, the American negotiator has brought back from Belgrade, Serbia, an agreement where others before him have failed. But his trophy is nothing more than the minimum required to keep the Bosnian peace accords from collapsing. Holbrooke, before hours of brinksmanship with Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, said he wanted the Bosnian Serb leader, psychiatrist and indicted war criminal, Radovan Karadzic, out of power and out of Bosnia so that elections could proceed."

The article continues: "What Holbrooke got was an agreement by Karadzic to give up his public positions, including the presidency of his political party. But Karadzic, who is accused of genocide, remains at large, presumably able to control his self-styled Serb Republic through hand-picked proxies. Every poll indicates that both Karadzic and his policies remain popular. Still, this appearance of resignation will be enough to pass what a senior White House official calls 'the pornography test of decency' about the possibility of holding elections in Bosnia about two months before the American presidential election."

Erlanger continues: "Credit Richard Holbrooke with getting closer than anyone else has to protecting Bosnia's election from manipulation by Dr. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader indicted for war crimes. Holbrooke, a veteran diplomat and architect of the Dayton peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war, returned from private life on a special assignment from President Clinton. To back up his persuasion, Holbrooke carried threats to ban Karadzic's party from participating in the elections and to reimpose economic sanctions on Serbia."

The editorial concludes: "If Karadzic (keeps) his word, the Dayton peace agreement can proceed according to its originally agreed timetable. His separatist party may capture most of the seats in Serbian areas of Bosnia, but it presumably will not be allowed to get away with intimidating more conciliatory candidates or driving them from the race. In December, when NATO troops are scheduled to withdraw, Bosnia will not be whole, but it will be at peace, with the possibility of reunification at a later date preserved. That is less than many Americans would want. But it corresponds precisely to the deal Holbrooke hammered out in Dayton last year. His diplomatic mission last week keeps that deal on track."


In the current issue of the U.S. magazine, Holbrooke writes: "The United States has become a European power in a sense that goes beyond traditional assertions of America's commitment to Europe. In the 21st century, Europe will still need the active American involvement that has been a necessary component of the continental balance for half a century. Conversely, an unstable Europe would still threaten essential national security interests of the United States. This is as true now as it was during the Cold War."

Holbrooke says in the article: "(Past treaties have) left throughout Central Europe a legacy of unresolved and often conflicting historical resentments, ambitions and, most dangerous, territorial and ethnic disputes. Without democracy, stability and free-market economies, these lands remain vulnerable to the same problems, often exacerbated by an obsession with righting historical wrongs, real or mythical."

Holbrooke continues: "If any of these malignancies spread--as they have already in parts of the Balkans and Transcaucasus--general European stability is again at risk. . . .For the first time in history, the nations of this region have the chance simultaneously to enjoy stability, freedom and independence based on another first: the adoption of Western democratic ideals as a common foundation for all of Europe."

Karadzic, through Holbrooke's intervention, appeared over the weekend to have renounced political power. But the question remained alive of war crimes indictments naming him and Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic.


Diplomatic correspondent Eve-Ann Prentice writes today that the danger of Bosnian Serb military retaliation for a Karadzic arrest may be exaggerated. She writes; "The arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, would not provoke a violent reaction among his people, the Bosnian Serb Army said at the weekend."

She continues: "Fears that there would be a backlash against moves to arrest Dr. Karadzic and try him for war crimes at the UN tribunal in The Hague have been allayed further by a group of senior Western analysts, the International Crisis Group. . . . The group sent a team to the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale outside Sarajevo (and the group) concluded in a report that 'the likelihood of violence if Karadzic is arrested in minimal.' (The report said): 'The long-term risks of leaving him at liberty outweigh the short-term risks of arresting him."

Another Times writer, Thomas de Waal in Moscow, writes today of a possible change in Russian strategy in Chechnya. De Waal says in an analysis: "The latest brutal Russian assault on southern Chechnya, in contravention of a pre-election peace deal, may be a prelude on an 'Afghan option,' in which Moscow pulls out most of its troops and leaves a well-armed local government to cope by itself."

de Waal continues: "The man to declare a latest shift in policy towards the breakaway republic should be Aleksandr Lebed, the Russian security chief, who is expected to visit Chechnya in the next few days. . . . General Lebed used to be a fierce critic of the Chechen war, but he has so far endorsed the latest intensification of the fighting. However, two former comrades of the general, interviewed last week, were cautiously optimistic that his visit. . . could be part of a pre-planned scenario in which he announces peace."


In Friday's edition, David Hoffman wrote: "Hopes for a negotiated peace (in Chechnya), which President Boris Yeltsin raised before his reelection earlier this month with the signing of a cease-fire agreement, have been dashed by violence. The Russian authorities seem divided, and the war appears to be intensifying. . . . The renewed combat so shortly after the second round of the presidential election--Russia opened an offensive against two Chechen villages within days of Yeltsin's July 3 runoff victory--also has drawn criticism that Yeltsin's preelection truce was a political gimmick."

Hoffman continues: "Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has been relatively conciliatory on the war, told Gore this week that Russia would begin pulling out troops. But the hard-line internal affairs minister, Anatoly Kulikov, who commands most of the forces in the region, said he was dead set against it. 'Today it is premature to consider any withdrawal of the federal forces from the region,' he said."