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Western Press Review: Kosovo Fears, Germany Gasps

By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba/Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 28 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In the past 48 hours, Western press commentary has focused strongly on new violence between Serb military units and ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Serbia's southern Kosovo province. Editorials and analyses reflect strong fears of the Kosovo violence escalating and spreading elsewhere in the Balkans. West European commentators also continue to be preoccupied with the fallout from Sunday's election in the east German state (Land) of Saxony-Anhalt, where voters for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall installed extreme-Right representatives in a regional parliament.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: This is the way that wars begin

"This is the way wars begin," is the title of a commentary on Kosovo today by Peter Muench in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Writing from Munich, Muench warns that "European (Union) foreign ministers (who met yesterday in Luxembourg) still appear to believe that their warnings can drown out the (Yugoslav army's) marching orders. Given the escalation of violence in Kosovo, their recent threat of sanctions against Yugoslavia conveys an impression of both helplessness and the lack of a plan of any kind." Muench continues: "In Belgrade, it will be noted with relief that the boycott list is just a repeat of resolutions approved in March, since when two ultimatums have passed without the Serbs offering ethnic Albanians in the southern Serbian province a dialogue. What foreign ministers may loudly proclaim with clenched fists today could, moreover, have sunk without trace by tomorrow. It is certainly to be feared that en route from the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg to the (six-nation) Contact Group (on the former Yugoslavia) meeting in Rome on Wednesday (tomorrow) many good intentions may fall by the diplomatic wayside."

Muench concludes: "In the shadow of this hesitant policy the conflict itself has now spilled out of Kosovo. The Yugoslav army seems to be involved on a massive scale, and there is an increasing amount of shooting on the border with Albania. In Tirana, as in Belgrade, shrill nationalism predominates. This is the way that wars begin -- and the world is looking on with only a raised forefinger."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The most recent crisis in Kosovo was provoked by Milosevic

In an accompanying piece written from Belgrade for the same newspaper, Bernd Kueppers says: "When chaos broke out in Albania about this time last year, there was a widespread fear that anarchy would affect the conflict between Kosovo Albanians and Belgrade as well as the precarious relationship between ethnic Albanians living in Macedonia and the government there. These fears are now well on the way to becoming reality, if not exactly in the ways that were foreseen." Kueppers explains: "The most recent crisis in Kosovo was essentially provoked by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who used excessive police violence to crush a developing guerrilla movement. A further complication is the fact that the Albanian government (in Tirana) has not made much headway in reorganizing the shattered structure of the state." Kueppers also says: "In view of the escalation of the Kosovo crisis to the verge of a regional crisis, the six-country Contact Group is still divided on how to respond as it prepares for a crisis meeting in Rome on Wednesday. Leaders of the Kosovo Albanians are counting on some sort of action by the international community, but Milosevic is betting the group will be unwilling to go that far."

GUARDIAN: The march towards disaster in Kosovo is gathering pace

Britain's Guardian newspaper yesterday said that "the march towards disaster in...Kosovo is gathering pace and the international Contact Group will have a hard job to stop it when its officials confer in Rome Wednesday." In an editorial titled "Kosovo on the Brink," the paper wrote: "Despite tighter sanctions...Milosevic has stepped up his brinkmanship since the group met last month....For their part, the Kosovo Albanians, who form 90 percent of the province's population, are increasingly turning to military activity." The editorial continued: "Faced with this grim scenario, the consensus in the Contact Group seems to be moving away from further sanctions on Yugoslavia towards a more comprehensive package of carrots and sticks.....In return for a phasing out of sanctions, Belgrade must be required to make a genuine offer of autonomy and not exclude discussion of a new constitutional status for Kosovo and withdraw its forces. At the same time, Kosovo Albanians must be urged to join talks without preconditions...."

The Guardian concluded: "The outside world must also prepare for intervention, if only on humanitarian grounds....As the international force continues to wind down in Bosnia this summer, some of its troops should be sent to Albania and Macedonia to help pre-empt what otherwise could be another looming blood-bath in the Europe."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Massacre is feared as Serb tanks roll into Kosovo

A new analysis in today's British Daily Telegraph says that a "massacre (is) feared as Serb tanks roll into Kosovo. Philip Smucker (in Pristina) and Tony Helm (in Luxembourg) join in warning that "armed (ethnic) Albanian villagers may be on the verge on being crushed by the overwhelming firepower that the Yugoslav army has put on display this past week." They write: "The Albanian rebels --armed with hunting knives, Kalashnikovs...machine guns and anti-tank missiles-- (are) bracing for an attack. (Some of them believe that) the only way to avert an all-out war would be for Western powers to force Yugoslavia into peace negotiations at their meeting in Rome tomorrow. But Western diplomats in Pristina said that little new would come out of the meeting."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The poll result has two messages of national import

Summing up Sunday's elections results in eastern Germany, Britain's Financial Times today says they "produced a spectacular loss --by German standards-- of 12.5 percentage points in support for Chancellor Helmut Kohl's center-right CDU (Christian Democratic Union) party. The chief gainer was the far-Right DVU (German People's Union) which came from nowhere to win 13.2 percent of the vote. The main opposition party, the SPD Social Democrats, came out on top, but only increased its vote by a couple of points." In an editorial, the paper then asks: "How much of a precedent does this offer for September's federal elections?" It notes that "special factors were at work in Saxony-Anhalt, where 25 percent unemployment provides a good recruiting round for the far Right and makes the Greens seem an irrelevance. But," the editorial continues, "the poll result has two messages of national import: First, it is harder to envisage Mr. Kohl winning in September. But second, not many people appear to be jumping on the bandwagon of Gerhard Schroeder, the SPD's (Tony) Blair-like leader."

The paper goes on to say that there is now "speculation about a grand coalition. A combination of Left and Right could push through stalled tax reform, further pension changes and the deregulation that Germany badly needs....All politics in Germany," the Financial Times argues, "is coalition politics --even to the point that when ordinary coalitions of the Left and Right begin to crumble, the reaction is to start thinking in terms of grand coalitions of Left and Right."

INDEPENDENT: The only option open to Kohl is to change course

In a news analysis in Britain's Independent daily today, Imre Karacs writes from Bonn that already Chancellor Kohl is coming "under pressure to borrow anti-foreigner themes from the extreme Right in the coming national election campaign.? Karacs says: "The only option open (to the CDU, Kohl's) dismayed troops acknowledge, is to change course. And with the Center and Left fenced off by...Schroeder, there is nowhere to seek new votes but on the extreme Right." The analysis continues: "Senior east German politicians, who have seen these (far-Right) ultras eat into the Christian Democrat camp, (are) therefore advising (Kohl) to make the necessary adjustments in campaign rhetoric. The loudest instructions for a Right turn are coming --predictably-- from the (CDU's) Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. Their leader, Theo Waigel, left no doubt what Mr. Kohl should do: 'Aside from jobs, (the CDU) needs to put more stress on internal security, immigration and crime policies,' Mr. Waigel said." And Karacs adds: "Such a campaign (would not be) alien to Mr. Kohl. At a rally in (Saxony-Anhalt's capital) Magdeburg last week, he devoted a chunk of his speech to law and order and spoke about foreigners (in Germany) in the context of crime."

LA STAMPA: Saxony-Anhalt cannot be valid as a genuine test election

Italy's "La Stampa" daily today says in an editorial that "the result of the elections in Saxony-Anhalt underlines what may be defined as a 'German malady.'" The paper writes: "True, we are speaking about a state of the Ex-GDR (German Democratic Republic) where the Communists left a sad and despondent legacy, and confused moods and polemics prevail with regard to the past as well as the future. This is a region with the highest unemployment, despite federal assistance and a four-year rule by the Left." The editorial argues: "In other words, Saxony-Anhalt cannot be valid as a genuine (national) test election. But we can read into the results signs of much larger German troubles --notably, Social Democrats who are keen to relieve Kohl, but have no precise program..."

LES ECHOS: The most obvious explanation lies in local unemployment

France's national economic daily Les Echos today writes in its editorial: "As if in a bad dream, the anti-Semitic and xenophobic German extreme Right has surged forward where, logically, it had the best chance of doing so --in the Saxony-Anhalt regional parliament under the leadership of the DVU." The paper goes on to say: "The most obvious explanation lies in the fact that, as in a number of European Union countries, local unemployment (over 20 percent)...and insecurity, real or imagined, has created favorable ground for the spread of nauseating but effective slogans like 'German money for Germans' or 'Out with foreign criminals.'" The editorial also says: "The warning given by Saxony-Anhalt voters resounds so strongly that one inevitably thinks of September's general elections..."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The high proportion of young people voting for the DVU is certainly alarming

Inside Germany itself, Sunday's election continues to evoke strong reactions. In a commentary today in the Frankfurter Rundschau daily, titled "The Magdeburg Debacle," Roderich Reifenrath says that "the whole world is shocked." He writes: "Germans of a democratic frame of mind are gazing bewildered at Magdeburg...rubbing their eyes in astonishment at the result of Sunday's state election, which took virtually everyone by surprise." Reifenrach continues: "The relatively high proportion of young people voting for the DVU (about 30 percent) is certainly alarming... Nor would anyone seriously deny the strong tendency to Right-wing radicalism in the new (east) German states --often fired by a grotesque enmity towards any kind of foreigner. For the number of foreigners (in the east German Laender) is minimal, especially in comparison with the west German states." He then asks: "Is there a mechanism working here similar to that governing anti-Semitism --you don't know any Jews personally, but you hate them, anyway?"