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Transition Nations Press Review

  • Don Hill



Prague, 30 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The press of nations in transition from communism to democracy is engaged in a lively debate this week about the usefulness of the current NATO air attacks on Yugoslavia over the Kosovo crisis. Following are selected excerpts:

ARMENIA

In Armenia, Aravot says in an editorial that Armenia's government and politicians have exercised restraint in criticizing the West over its handling of both Turkey's Kurdish problem and Serbia's Kosovo crisis. The newspaper writes: "Nobody has rushed to defend the brotherly Kurdish and Serb people. Had it not been for the Armenian Communist Party, the world would have thought that Armenians don't care about the fate of other peoples. The Kurds are fighting for independence. The Serbs struggle to avoid giving Albanians not just independence but also mere autonomy. In sum, the Communists --just like the West-- are not averse to applying double standards." The paper contends: "In reality, our communists support Russia and its interests rather than the Serbs."

BELARUS

In Belarus, under the headline "Stop the Aggression," the Russian-language daily Narodnaja Hazeta publishes a round-up of comments from prominent Belarussians.

From Nikolaj Sergejev of the Slavic Union: "Since NATO is already at Belarus' doorstep and obviously poses a threat to the Belarussian people, we call on the republic's government to provide comprehensive aid to the SRY [Serbian Republic of Yugoslavia]."

From Anatoloj Netylkin of the Republican Party of Labor and Fairness: "As a sign of protest, we call for the removal of all English-language posters and placards throughout Belarus."

From Anatoloj Barankevich of the Belarusian Patriotic Party: "We believe that it is imperative to call [U.S.] President [Bill)]Clinton and his satellites to primary accountability. We urge all radio and television journalists to cease broadcasts of American and English-language music."

From Vladzimir Gostiukhin, identified as a "Belarus people's artist:" "Why hasn't it occurred to anyone to bomb Great Britain? It, after all, has its own Kosovo -- [Northern] Ireland."

BULGARIA

In Bulgaria, Dekran Tebeyan --a director of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce -- in a commentary in the daily Pari (Money), says the Kosovo crisis threatens Bulgaria's economy, just as did the embargo against Yugoslavia during the war in Bosnia. He says: "The problem is not only that the most direct route to Europe is blocked. There's also the deeper concern that the Kosovo crisis will once again drive investors away from the Balkan region, just after the Asian and Russian financial crises did the same."

The Standart daily, in an editorial, also stresses the economic impact of the conflict. Standart says: "According to the management of the oil refinery Neftohim, its business deals with Yugoslavia are collapsing. Cargo trucks were turned back from the border and had to unload their goods in company storage centers." The editorial adds: "This could put at risk the refinery's privatization, which had been expected to be completed this summer. The Bulgarian Telecommunication Company is in the same situation. Unavoidable losses due to the crisis could also affect negatively the very sensitive issue of pricing during the negotiations."

Political analyst Ivan Krastev comments in the daily 24 Hours that the crisis presents Bulgaria with an opportunity to move closer to NATO. He writes: "If there is any open door for Bulgaria to NATO, [it is] through Kosovo." He also says: "Hungary was admitted into the alliance in a similar situation. In 1994, NATO commanders still opposed Hungarian membership, arguing that --lacking a common border with another NATO ally-- Hungary would be difficult to defend. This attitude underwent a major change in 1995 because of the military operation around Tuzla, in which Hungary offered its airports. Afterwards, NATO had no choice but to stop refusing Hungary's admission."

CZECH REPUBLIC

In the Czech Republic, commentator Martin Komarek complains in Mlada Fronta Dnes that Czech politicians have demonstrated a lack of courage and loyalty to NATO by what he terms their "lukewarm or even negative reaction to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia" in the Kosovo crisis. He writes: "The alliance is strong and coherent enough to keep the conflict under control. Despite being the attacker, NATO paradoxically is eager to attain peace."

In the daily Pravo, Jiri Hanak writes that the attacks affirm the necessity of a role for Russia. He says: "If the bombing has had any effect at all, it is confirmation of the key position of Moscow in settling the conflict. Russia has been too quick to give up its responsibility, and NATO shortsightedly has accepted Russia's isolation."

Petruska Sustrova, writing in Lidove Noviny, comments that the embarrassed reactions of Prime Minister Milos Zeman and former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, among others, reveal ignorance rather than any affection for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. She writes: "It is due to lack of knowledge that they react inappropriately. Seeing air attacks, Czech politicians say they would prefer a diplomatic solution. They seem not to have noticed that the West sought a diplomatic solution for so long a time as to become the subject of Western media criticism for passively watching ethnic cleansing in Kosovo."

ESTONIA

In Estonia, the newspaper Postimees comments that what it calls Serbian cynicism forced the NATO air attacks. But the paper also urges that the recourse to military means to solve internal conflicts should never become the rule. It says: "Better poor peace than war. This became the Western policy in the conflict in Serbia's Kosovo province. But the policy proved fruitless. Not even a poor peace could be achieved in Kosovo." Postimees continues: "[In the end,] there was no alternative to Western air strikes as Belgrade cynically ignored international demands to end genocide against the Kosovar Albanians."

Eesti Paevaleht editorializes that the main reason for the necessity of attacking Serbia was the West's error in permitting Milosevic for too long to engage in trickery against Western diplomacy.

LATVIA

In Latvia, the country's largest-circulation daily, Diena, headlines a commentary approving NATO's Kosovo intervention, "Milosevic Caged." It says: "There is only one answer to all the allegations. Even if the military actions have painful consequences, the price which would have been paid for indecisiveness and delay would be unimaginably worse." Nonetheless, the commentary says: "There is no legal basis for the use of military force against an independent state." Juana Avize writes in a commentary that the Latvian Government's support of NATO air attacks on Yugoslavia is faulty. The commentary says: "In this case, our government's support for what is the seed of a world war seems hasty." The commentary continues: "The ambiguous support by the Latvian government for the Kosovo Liberation Army [UCK] --considering reports in the world press that the UCK is been sponsored by Albanian drug dealers-- makes the position of the Latvian Government even more questionable."

The commentary also argues: "The forthcoming war with the Serbs is the worst of solutions because it is not a solution at all. The support of the Latvian government for armed forces of the Albanian Mafia matches the opinions of the world's most influential countries. It matches because we haven't formulated an opinion of our own about what is happening in our neighbor's backyard."

LITHUANIA

In Lithuania, Lietuvos Rytas asks in an editorial how the Kosovo crisis may affect the Baltic nations' eventual entry into NATO. The paper says: "Sooner or later, the three Baltic states will be invited to join the organization. Because of strong Russian opposition, this can't happen as quickly as our politicians have anticipated. It is too early to say how the process of enlargement may be affected by the military conflict with Serbia and by the inevitable confrontation with Russia. But it is clear that the process of Lithuania's joining NATO cannot be speeded up by increased military spending."

The editorial also says: "Maybe it is possible for Lithuania to join NATO more quickly than for Estonia and Latvia. But is that ambition worth the price?"

The daily Respublika says NATO's military action against Serbia actually reveals the West's weakness: "The West did not manage to mediate the Kosovo crisis and so in fact started a new war in the Balkans." The newspaper says also: "The position of Lithuanian diplomacy is not original. The declarations issued by the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs parrot the texts issued in Washington and Brussels. Lithuanian diplomacy is not mature enough to reach independent decisions."

The business daily Verslo Zinios says in an editorial that Lithuania should avoid currying favor with the West by blindly endorsing Western policy in the Balkans. It says: "By supporting the West, Lithuania tries to advance a vital purpose, that of joining NATO. But wouldn't it be prudent for Lithuania to evaluate as a whole the West's Balkans policy, which has been irresolute, inconsistent and ambiguous? This evaluation is essential because someday Lithuania could itself become a victim of such a policy."

POLAND

Two Polish dailies, Rzeczpolita and Zycie, comment with approval on the NATO action. Rzeczpolita says: "The official goal of NATO is to contain brutal actions against Kosovo Albanians, which are being conducted by the regime of Milosevic. But the communists who are demonstrating in Moscow, Rome and Berlin consider NATO operations to be evidence of American imperialism. It would be hard to specify the benefits of this imperialism in Kosovo, which in contrast to, say, Kuwait, doesn't have any oil fields. It seems that the only goal for NATO is to establish peace in Kosovo for the long-term interests of the NATO alliance after Serbia rejected a diplomatic solution of the problem."

Rzeczpolita also says that Russia should be interested in the stability of the continent and says Moscow should apply the same "energy it is using for protests against NATO's operation to convincing Belgrade to accept peaceful solutions."

Zycie writes: "The crimes committed by Serbs on their neighbors in the 20th century are unheard of and could be compared with crimes committed by communist Russia and the Third Reich. Under such a situation, only the determined stand of the U.S. creates a chance for curbing genocide."

RUSSIA

In Russia, Maksim Yusin writes in Izvestia that Milosevic evidently plans -- perhaps has planned all along -- to divide Kosovo. The Russian commentator writes: "Milosevic's logic is clear. Aware of his inability to hold the whole of Kosovo, he intends to retain his control over the part that counts. Natural resources are needed for the country's economy, weakened by economic sanctions and war. As for the medieval monasteries and the Kosovo Field [of Blackbirds], no comment is necessary. No politician in Serbia worth his name will ever entertain a thought of giving up the national holy places to 'terrorists from the Kosovo Liberation Army.' " The writer says: "Paradoxical as it may seem, Milosevic's plan may eventually bring peace to the ill-fated province, provided, of course, that it is implemented."

Yusin goes on: "If Kosovo is not split, the war could go on for years. Serbs will never leave the province of their own volition. Nor will Albanians. That means that the ground phase of the NATO operation would have to be launched. [Evidently,] Milosevic is offering [NATO] a chance to avoid this. Initiated by Belgrade itself, a split of Kosovo does not conflict with international practice and will actually allow both Serbs and NATO to save face."

Vek publishes a brief commentary entitled, "Today Yugoslavia, Tomorow Russia." The commentary says: "What the Americans are doing in Yugoslavia is a general pattern that the U.S. will use in all other domestic conflicts in weak or weakening countries. Is the Kosovo conflict any different from Chechnya? It is not. Why does the U.S. attack Yugoslavia and not, for example, Russian units quartered in the Stavropol territory? Only because of Russia's nuclear arsenals. Backing up Yugoslavia today, Russia defends its right to solve its own domestic problems. First and foremost, problems of separatism -- the right to solve them as it sees fit, as circumstances dictate, and not the way Washington wants it."

SLOVAKIA

Slovakia's Narodna Obroda says in a commentary that the NATO attack on Yugoslavia has harmed rather than helped the Albanian ethnic minority in Kosovo. The daily writes: "If the military campaign lasts several more weeks, Belgrade will reach its real target: Kosovo will be burnt to ashes, bombed out, but will be ethnically clean -- without Albanians." Narodnba Obroda adds: "There are only two ways out. One of them is to use ground forces and separate the fighting sides." It says, "The second possibility is to stop the air attacks and demand that the Russians mediate a new round of Paris talks." The newspaper contends: "Everywhere except the United States, this solution is being supported."

Slovakia's Pravda (Truth) writes of "hysteria against NATO and the pacifism" of nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) politicians. It says: "Two weeks ago, the same politicians did not have the slightest objection to the words of their leader, Jan Slota, who called for a tank attack on Budapest. So why Budapest, where there is not a single sign of ethnic purges, and not Belgrade?"

Sme comments that Yugoslav Ambassador to Slovakia Veljko Curcic has become a media star in Bratislava. Sme says: "Curcic cannot complain that he has nowhere to present the attitude of his government. The way he presents it corresponds exactly with the policy of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. His Excellency claims that 'no humanitarian catastrophe exists or has ever existed' in Kosovo.' The fact that people can watch it with their own eyes on television news every evening [Curcic explains as] a distortion by the media, which 'have persuaded U.S. President Bill Clinton and the Americans that there is a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo and that bombs have to be dropped.' "

TATARSTAN

Tatarstan's press doesn't offer independent commentary on the Kosovo crisis. Respublika Tatarstan offers this commentary by President Mintimer Shaimiev: "Wars begin when politicians stop understanding each other and negotiations deadlock. Most likely, there isn't a person in the world who supports military action, the use of force."

The commentary also says: "It's impermissible for Russia to get involved in this war. It has not enough strength or means to affect the decision that already has been made. Attempts to help Serbs with small strength might just result in continuation of military actions."

CZECH REPUBLIC

Finally, from the Czech Republic, this ironic note: Mlada fronta Dnes quotes a Prague psychiatrist as worrying that children may misinterpret the Kosovo-related violence they see on TV. Parents, he says, should instruct children that they are really watching a contest between the forces of good and evil. "The good guys," the psychiatrist explains, "are the ones dropping the bombs."

(The Transition Nations Press Review is compiled from the contributions of RFE/RL's broadcast services.)

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