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Western Press Review: Kosovo Engendering Second Thoughts

  • Don Hill

Prague, 16 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary on the Kosovo conflict appears today to shift substantially toward second thoughts and contemplation of the consequences of the bombing.

WASHINGTON POST: Phase Four is where we are now

Commentator Stephen S. Rosenfeld calls current public attitudes "Phase Four" in the forming of American opinion on Kosovo. The first phase, he writes in The Washington Post, was an early consensus; the second, "the national-interest quotient required for a difficult foreign intervention;" and the third "fastened on the humanitarian factor." The writer says "Phase Four is where we are now."

Rosenfeld writes that the United States should reduce its aspirations in Kosovo. He says: "Not a peace but a cease-fire is the right American priority. A referee's role, not a mediator's, is the one to which we should aspire. Otherwise, it's Europe's baby. Americans have no historical feel for the Balkans."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Aerial war is automatically accompanied by an irreconcilable conflict

Commenting in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Peter Muench says that NATO failed this week in meeting the test of truth under pressure. He writes: "Since it began ... NATO has justified the aerial war over Kosovo on the grounds of humanitarian intervention. Rightly so. But a war of this nature is automatically accompanied by an irreconcilable conflict between the best of intentions and the worst of consequences. Every bomb which hits its target demands justification -- and every bomb which goes astray must immediately be questioned on its legitimacy."

Muench concludes: "The great difficulty the people responsible for conducting NATO operations in Kosovo have in dealing with that tension was demonstrated by their first, almost contradictory reactions" to reports that a refugee convoy in Kosovo had been attacked -- allegedly by NATO planes -- and that many had died. NATO insisted that it had only attacked a military convoy, while the Pentagon spread its own reports that 'soldiers sprang out and started attacking civilians.' Germany's Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping even claimed that it was in fact Serbian artillery which had opened fire on the refugees -- in order to blame NATO. If they had only stayed silent -- until they knew what they were they were talking about."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The war will spread

One development seems to be that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is trying deliberately to spread the war, commentator Stephan Israel writes from Belgrade in the Frankfurter Rundschau. Israel writes: "The increased incidence of armed skirmishes on the Yugoslav-Albanian border over the past week has again underlined Belgrade's apparent intention to spread the war over Kosovo to neighboring countries."

The writer says: "During the near civil war in Albania two years ago, when angry citizens took to the streets in large numbers after losing most of their savings in controversial investment pyramid schemes, hundreds of thousands of guns and other weapons looted from army barracks and police stations found their way into circulation. And there is no shortage of men willing to fight for fellow Albanians across the border. This, however, is the very sort of excuse being sought by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to spread the conflict into neighboring states. That the war will spread has seemed certain for several days. Serbian state television broadcasts are now being increasingly taken up with reports of border infringements by Albanian 'terrorists.' "

DIE WELT: At normal times we treat them; at abnormal times they rule us

But is Milosevic ready to alter his aspirations? Writing in Germany's Die Welt, commentator Herbert Kremp seems to respond that you can't read the mind of a mental patient.

Kremp writes: "Balkan diplomacy is preparing for a 'great leap forward.' At present, it still seems largely virtual. Milosevic is not budging, he is just registering the signals and looking at the offers. Has he reached the stage where he has to kill a chicken so as not to die of hunger? Or does he have the reserves and the nerves to watch the flying coat-tails? Meanwhile, the western consensus is putting itself to the test, with no certainty that a master plan will emerge."

Kremp says: "The United States believes diplomacy is necessary and is engaged in some itself, but internally it is vehemently opposed to the plan to let its high commitment ebb away into a compromise U.N. mandate and monitoring without decisive NATO influence."

The writer goes on: "(The U.S.) ideal scenario of bringing Milosevic back to the negotiating table is not without an element of irony. The man classified as a political criminal would gain new kudos. That is no more unusual in diplomacy than it is in psychiatry. Something the famous psychiatrist Ernst Kretschmer once said may well apply to Milosevic: 'At normal times we treat them; at abnormal times they rule us.'

NEW YORK TIMES: NATO cannot avoid civilian deaths entirely

The New York Times takes an editorial second-look today and, despite discomfort, sticks to its support for the bombing. The newspaper says: "The whole point of NATO's air campaign against Serbia is to stop the killing and reverse the expulsion of Kosovo's persecuted ethnic Albanians. Yet on Wednesday a NATO pilot mistakenly bombed a convoy of Kosovo refugees headed toward the Albanian border, killing 72 of them, according to Serbian figures. It was a tragic and painfully ironic accident of war."

The Times contends: "NATO must continue to do all it can to minimize civilian deaths, but it cannot avoid them entirely. Only Slobodan Milosevic can do that, by agreeing to NATO's peace terms, including a withdrawal of all Serbian forces from Kosovo, the safe return of all refugees and acceptance of an international military force to protect them. By far the greatest threat to Kosovo's Albanians is Serbia's soldiers and police. NATO bombing is the best hope for ending that threat by forcing Serbia's withdrawal."

INTERNATIONAL HERAL TRIBUNE: Three weeks of war have OBE'd plans

From Paris, Flora Lewis, a frequent contributor of commentary to the International Herald Tribune, examines the phenomenon of public affairs being "OBE'd." That is, overtaken by events. She writes: "Three weeks of war have (rendered) much of the allied plans and diplomacy into what (U.S.) Secretary of State Madeleine Albright calls OBE." For instance, the Rambouillet agreement no longer will do, she contends.

Lewis writes: "It is painful and frustrating to be in a position of waiting to be OBE'd because acceptable answers to the current dilemma are not available and events are changing the questions. What is to become of the people? What is to become of the land?"

INTERNATIONAL HERAL TRIBUNE: Kosovar Albanians now deserve full independence

The International Herald Tribune also publishes today a commentary by Nicholas X. Rizopoulos. Rizopoulos is academic director of the Honors College of Adelphi University. He writes that the Kosovar Albanians now deserve full independence. Rizopoulos says: "President Bill Clinton's foreign policy team apparently still is reluctant to take the necessary steps." He says: "As for the truly desperate Kosovar Albanians -- (a) moral imperative is at play for the West. Only through their control of their destiny and territory can the genocidal catastrophe visited upon Kosovo by Mr. Milosevic ever be put to right."

Finally, separate commentaries in the New York Times, the Frankfurter Rundschau and Die Welt examine the roles of other figures in the Kosovo drama.

NEW YORK TIMES: Yeltsin put out smoke so he wouldn't have to use any fire

In The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman comments that Boris Yeltsin remains an essential element. Friedman says: "Last week the West got a lesson in why we can't live with Boris Yeltsin and why we dare not live without him."

The writer says: "Oh sure, the headlines last week were that Yeltsin was retargeting Russian missiles at the West, because of NATO's bombardment of Serbia; the Duma passed a resolution calling for arms to be shipped to Serbia; and there was even talk of World War Three. But when you looked closer at what Yeltsin was actually doing, you could see that he was putting out all sorts of smoke -- to satisfy the anti-U.S. hotheads in the Russian Duma -- precisely so he wouldn't have to use any fire.

He continues: "Whatever aid the Russians were sending to Kosovo seemed to be going via the Arctic Circle. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov also used his Bolshevik credentials to keep Russia's nationalists and Communists in line, and prevent the relationship with Washington from spinning totally out of control. Trust me, the Dow would not be at 10,000 for long if the Russians were opposing NATO in Yugoslavia with more than just hot air. War in Kosovo is one thing; war in Europe is another."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The longer the debate goes on, the more clearly Gysi is put on political trial

Richard Meng comments in the Frankfurter Rundschau that Gregor Gysi, leader of Germany's Party of Democratic Socialism, may have shot himself in the foot with a gun powered by hot air. Meng says: " 'Working for peace, even if the approach is different, can't be discriminated or discredited,' thundered (Gysi), looking pugnaciously round at the other members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. His fellow legislators glared back with icy disapproval and a few even shouted back their heated disagreement. Gysi may be used to that by now -- his party is the political successor to the Communist party that once ruled former East Germany."

Meng writes: "The other parties in Germany's parliament are trying hard not to turn Gysi's recent visit to Yugoslavian President and Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic into the secret main topic of discussion in the special debate over the war in Kosovo. But the longer the debate goes on, the more clearly Gysi is put on political trial right along with Milosevic."

DIE WELT: It is not clear whether the Serbian Orthodox church is turning into a force for peace

Gerno Facius, writing in Die Welt, says that even Patriarch Pavle, the 84-year-old leader of Serbia's 10 million Orthodox Christians, may be modulating his tune. Facius writes that Pavle once "gave his blessing to Serbian nationalism. In Bosnia his sympathies were on the side of accused war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic despite his church's pledge at the 1989 Ecumenical Council for Peace and Justice in Basle to work for reconciliation."

But now, Facius writes: "The Patriarch has a more moderate approach even if he still does harangue on about 'holy Serbian ground.' As head of a national church, he says, he has a tight bond with his flock. Tight bond or no, the Patriarch seems to be backing off from the political one-sidedness of which he has so regularly been accused. For the first time in years, Patriarch Pavle seems to be experiencing a public rebirth of ecumenical thinking and consciousness.

"But can the Serbian Orthodox church really be turning into a force for peace in the Balkans?" Facius asks. He confesses he doesn't have the answer. "That's a question that needs to be answered with a big question mark, at least temporarily."