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Western Press Review: Milosevic Criticized, EU Assessed

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 18 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic comes in for some heavy criticism in the Western press today for his refusal to agree to what The New York Times calls "a reasonable peace plan" for the embattled south Serbian province of Kosovo.

There is also continuing press comment on the crisis in the European Union triggered by the collective resignation of the EU's 20-member Executive Commission earlier this week (March 16).

NEW YORK TIMES: NATO must be united in carrying out its threat

In its editorial, The New York Times says: "By balking at [the] peace plan and sending more combat forces into Kosovo ... the Serbian leader is pushing the U.S. and its NATO allies to the brink of military conflict in the Balkans. Unless Milosevic retreats at the last minute, which he has done before, American missiles and NATO warplanes could be attacking Serbian targets within a matter of days."

The NYT continues: "President Clinton and European leaders will be justified in doing so because Milosevic has arrogantly defied every effort to end the Kosovo conflict on terms that ought to be acceptable both to Serbia and to the ethnic Albanians who account for more than 90 percent of Kosovo's population. The latest diplomatic casualty of Milosevic's aggression may be the peace talks convened by the U.S., its European partners and Russia, which are aimed at agreement on a plan to return the province to self-government by the ethnic Albanians. ... The negotiations in France are likely to end in failure [today] because Milosevic suddenly demanded unacceptable changes in the proposed agreement and has refused to approve the presence of a NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo."

The editorial concludes: "NATO should not undertake bombing casually, especially to change the way a government treats its own citizens. But in this case, NATO must be united in carrying out its threat. If Milosevic does not immediately stop attacking ethnic Albanians and agree to the peace plan, bombing is the appropriate response."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Belgrade is contemptuous of the 'peace process'

Under the heading "Slobo's Dangerous Game," the Wall Street Journal Europe's editorial is at least as severe in its criticism of Milosevic. The paper writes: "Under threat of a NATO attack, [Milosevic] is growing more stubborn, not less. His minions emerged from the negotiations in France yesterday to announce that an agreement granting Kosovo's ethnic Albanians a degree of autonomy is out of the question unless the West 'meets all of our demands.'"

The editorial adds: "Further proof that Belgrade is contemptuous of the 'peace process' emerged yesterday afternoon, when more than 15,000 additional Serb army troops ... entered Kosovo. Obviously," the paper says, "Milosevic is willing to recklessly press his luck. ... Belgrade might be more eager to sign on to Kosovar autonomy ... if the West were to back Kosovar independence. The Serb people could [then] only conclude that their leader's unwillingness to cooperate strengthened the hand of the province's ethnic Albanians."

The paper sums up: "[Milosevic's game involves] very dangerous calculations, both from Serbia's point of view and for the peace of Europe. They derive in large part," the WSJ argues, "from the calculation of a ruthless national leader that, when it comes to a crunch, [U.S. President Bill] Clinton will back down. Such tests arise when an American president lacks credibility. It's the way a small war can grow into a bigger one."

WASHINGTON POST: Poison at home promotes instability throughout the Balkans

The Washington Post today criticizes the Yugoslav president on another ground -- his treatment of his opponents in Serbia itself. In its editorial, the paper writes: "While ... Milosevic wages his war against civilians in Kosovo, he is also cracking down on freedom of expression at home in Serbia. This is no coincidence," the WP goes on. "Every time the U.S. threatens Mr. Milosevic and does not follow through, he has an excuse to turn on those he regards as internal enemies."

The editorial says further: "Repression of all independent media in turn allows the Serbian dictator to fill his airwaves with hateful nationalist and anti-American propaganda. Whipping up nationalist support for his brutal campaign against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo then helps him solidify his grip on power, despite the economic misery he has brought on."

Summing up, the paper worries that "poison at home [that is, in Serbia] promotes instability throughout the [Balkan] neighborhood. Official [Serb] media helped produce the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the first half of this decade. Now they are providing a cover for Mr. Milosevic's crimes in Kosovo." It concludes: "Europe and the U.S. once again are vacillating on whether to stand up to this evil. Until they do, it will continue to expand."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The West will have few options aside from bombing Serb military installations

In Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende carries a commentary today by Lene Froeslev, who writes: "The Kosovo peace talks [now in] Paris are nearing a collapse. The blame for this," she says, "is put mainly on the Serbs, who have requested considerable changes to the Rambouillet peace plan, and who have refused to discuss ... 28,000 NATO soldiers as peace-keepers in Kosovo."

Froeslev, too, believes that a military strike is inevitable unless Belgrade changes its mind. She writes: " If President Milosevic doesn't order his delegation in Paris to change its stance within a few hours, the West will have few options aside from putting into practice its public threats to bomb Serb military installations."

GUARDIAN: War looms in Kosovo

A news analysis in Britain's Guardian daily also declares that "war looms [in Kosovo] as [Serb] troops assemble." Analysts Ian Black and Richard Norton-Taylor say that "with concern mounting about Yugoslav army movements, Britain's Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine are likely to order the suspension of the Paris talks today and then visit Belgrade to tell ... Milosevic to back down or face NATO air strikes."

The analysis continues: "As the now familiar drum beat of threats resumed, gloomy Western diplomats in Paris said the Serbs were showing no signs of engaging in substantive negotiations on the proposed three-year autonomy deal for Kosovo ... But," it adds, "divisions [among] the mediators were glaringly obvious at a press conference, with Russia's Boris Mayorsky distancing himself from his Western colleagues' criticism of the Serbs ..."

The analysis adds: "Yesterday' sense of crisis was compounded by a Pentagon warning of an ominous buildup of [Serb] forces in and around Kosovo. ... The U.S. Defense Department said that the troop levels were far in excess of those allowed under last year's cease-fire deal and that Belgrade was 'bracing for war' with NATO."

INFORMATION: Reforms are an issue now only as long as they affect domestic political interests

In the wake of Tuesday's mass resignation of the EU's Executive Commission, the flood of editorial comment on the 15-nation group's uncertain prospects continues today.

Under the title "Euro-Cynicism!" the Danish daily Information says that "the EU needs to get its house in order. [Many share the feeling that the current crisis could have a salutary effect because] much that we do not like about the EU has now unraveled. So now we can begin to purge it."

"But," Information adds, "it is worth considering what kind of reforms big EU countries [like Germany, France and Britain] are asking for. Faster action in cases of suspected corruption? Firings of civil servants suspected of nepotism and mismanagement? No. The demands of the big countries concern only those aspects [of the EU Commission's functions] that have been politically unacceptable at home. The Germans, for instance, insist on a revision of EU competition rights that would benefit German industry."

The editorial sums up: "The last time the 15 EU governments had a chance to reform the Commission was during the talks leading up to the [1997] Amsterdam Treaty. But at that time such reforms were not an issue. They are an issue now only as long as they affect domestic political interests."

GLOBE AND MAIL: The EU's political leadership must face the problem squarely

Canada's Globe and Mail daily titles its editorial today "The Rot at Europe's Heart." The papers writes: "It was only a question of time before the democratic deficit within the EU caused a crisis of authority and credibility. But it could hardly have come at a worse time, as the 15-nation group faces some of the biggest challenges of its history. Now that the crisis has broken, however, the EU's political leadership must face the problem squarely, and not try to sweep it under the carpet."

The paper goes on to say: "[The resignations] leave the Commission headless on the eve of one of the most difficult meetings [next week in Berlin] of the EU's heads of [state and] government in recent years. Huge rows are looming over national contributions to the EU's budget, as well as reform of its Common Agricultural Policy and regional development spending. Without reform, any of these policies could sink the EU's plans to take in the much poorer former Communist countries to the East."

"But," the editorial adds, "there is little point in expanding the Union if it cannot run its affairs properly now. Reform of the commission must rise to the top of the agenda of both the [EU] Parliament and [the EU's] political leadership. ... And national governments must grant more oversight power to the Parliament, while reminding themselves that commissioners are too powerful for the job to be treated as a consolation prize for failed national politicians. The European ideal," the Globe and Mail observes in conclusion, "deserves better."

BILD: Competent and energetic people must head EU's executive body

Several German newspapers also comment briefly on the EU's travails. The mass-circulation daily Bild says: "The [Commission's] system of nepotism and corruption must come to an end now. The EU has to have competent and energetic people heading its executive body."

DIE WELT: A fundamental reform of the EU's bodies is needed

For Die Welt, published in Berlin, "there are simply not enough controversial debates in the European Parliament [like the one in January that set in motion this week's mass Commission resignation]. ... Democracy," the paper adds, "is usually characterized by a give-and-take between a government and its opposition. What is needed now is a fundamental reform of the EU's bodies [that would provide this kind of give-and-take]."

FULDAER ZEITUNG: Who will be the next president of the Commission?

The Fuldaer Zeitung asks: "Who will be the next president of the Commission? [Former German Chancellor] Helmut Kohl," it notes, "has already said no. Former Italian prime minister [and current Foreign Minister] Romano Prodi would be the first choice, but he [may be] needed in Rome to form a new Center-Left coalition government. Perhaps [Germany's just-resigned finance minister] Oskar Lafontaine could be lured into the office," the paper suggests with some cynicism.

THUERINGER ALLGEMEINE: A corrupt bunch has been sent to Brussels

But today's prize for cynical comment on the EU crisis must go to the Thueringer Allgemeine, which writes with acidic irony: "Nobody has to worry about the future of the [resigned] EU commissioners. They can always find a job with the International Olympic Committee [in Lausanne, where there is also an ongoing corruption scandal]."

More seriously -- but no less sharply -- the paper also says: "The reputation of international organizations is not the very best these days. The crisis in the European Commission confirms earlier suspicions that the EU has been governed by a bunch of corrupt money-wasters who have been sent to Brussels because they are only second-best and of no use in their own countries."