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Western Press Review: New Complexities In Yugoslavia

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba



Prague, 10 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO's destruction of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Russia's leadership in seeking a diplomatic solution, and Western ambivalence about sticking to high-altitude bombardment of Yugoslavia attract a broad and divergent array of commentaries in the Western press.

WASHINGTON POST: This small nation cannot be defeated, only destroyed

Two long commentaries by authorities directly involved appear today in he Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune. In the Post, Roy A. Medvedev, a Russian historian living in Moscow, seeks to explain his country's outraged response to the NATO bombings by evoking the collective Russian psyche .

He writes: "No single event in the past 50 years has provoked such elemental and fierce emotions in Russia as NATO's bombing of Serbia. Polls here show that 95 percent of Russian citizens condemn the Western Alliance's actions in the Balkans." Medvedev adds: "Nobody here believes talk about the determination to prevent a 'humanitarian catastrophe' [in Kosovo. NATO's] bombs and missiles have simply hastened and deepened the humanitarian tragedy and strengthened doubts about the advantages of Western civilization."

Medvedev also writes: "Some analysts here have argued that the United States and NATO want to try out their new, precise weaponry under military conditions. Other, more serious theories say NATO, having lost its purpose after the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union disintegrated, simply seeks new ways to justify its existence. Geo-politicians say the war in the Balkans is intended to show the world that only one military superpower --the U.S.-- remains."

Then the Russian author lists other causes for the strong Russian response. He writes: "[The] violent reaction [of ordinary Russians] stems not from political logic but from human feelings, [such as]: "The strong strike the weak...; a Slav, Orthodox country is being destroyed.,,; Serbia is being beaten to humiliate and teach Russia a lesson...; the West deceived and robbed Russia."

Medvedev concludes: "For NATO to win a war, it will be necessary to smash the will not only of the Serb leaders but of the whole people. Serbia has lived in bondage longer than it has been free. This small nation cannot be defeated. It can only be destroyed. If NATO does not intend to destroy Serbia, it would be better to stop now, and prevent a more serious war."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: There is hope for the democratic forces

In the IHT, Milo Djuknaovic, President of the Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro, and Zoran Dindic, a Serb opposition leader, jointly write that any solution to the Kosovo conflict that leaves Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in power will be no solution at all. They say: "We remain committed to Yugoslavia's integration into Europe." They go on: "If the war ends with a signature on a peace agreement and the same leadership in power, with Slobodan Milosevic at the helm, the tragedy and violence will continue."

The two commentators conclude: "There is hope for the democratic forces. Mr. Milosevic's policies are facing destruction, which would create the glimmer of a chance to build something new on those ruins. If anything good can be extracted from the evil that is now among us, it is the chance --with international help - for a new beginning for Yugoslavia."

WASHINGTON POST: Kosovo can hardly recover as a democratic, autonomous region as long as Milosevic is in power

In an editorial, The Washington Post concurs, saying: "In the end, whether or not NATO now finds it acceptable that Mr. Milosevic remain as a European leader, it seems unlikely that Kosovo can recover as a democratic, autonomous region as long as he is in power. The Serbian strongman remains a destabilizing influence not only in Kosovo but also in Montenegro, Macedonia and throughout the neighborhood. That is a reality that, in the long run, NATO will not be able to fudge."

NEW YORK TIMES: Cohen owes the public a fuller explanation

The New York Times describes the attack on the Chinese Embassy attack in an editorial as a "very careless mistake" and calls for a better explanation than has been offered. The Times says: "In a statement yesterday, Defense Secretary William Cohen conceded that there had been a targeting error and acknowledged that the military's extensive process in place used to select and validate targets had not caught the original error. He also called the mistake an anomaly."

The NYT goes on to argue: "[These are] soothing words, but not entirely reassuring given the fact that ever since NATO's strikes began six weeks ago, allied officials have relied primarily on laser- and satellite-guided weapons. Such weapons presuppose reliable targeting information on the ground, and Cohen owes the public a fuller explanation of why it was not provided in this case."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Jiang Zemin's government is playing with fire

In London, The Daily Telegraph writes of the Chinese reaction to the attack: "Shades of the Cultural Revolution. The xenophobic mobs on the street of Beijing have not been seen since Mao unleashed the Red Guards in his crazy bid to regain the political initiative in 1968. The [embassy] bombing was a crass mistake, but in organizing and encouraging the protests, [President] Jiang Zemin's government is playing with fire."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It is not a good idea to bomb cities

Editorial director Josef Joffe says in a commentary in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that NATO's seminal error lay in bombing population centers at all. He writes: "Whoever bombs towns, irrespective of how precisely, will sooner or later hit places he never intended to destroy." Joffe continues: "In this case it was the embassy of a country which is not exactly on NATO's side anyway. The Chinese have every reason to be angry -- not only because of the reports of the death of four people in the embassy. Before that the Chinese leadership had agreed to reduce anti-NATO propaganda. The regime had allowed newspapers to publish detailed reports of the misery of the [ethnic Albanian] Kosovars."

Now, writes Joffe, "The Chinese communists have to decide whether their anti-West campaign is such a good idea. But NATO should at last recognize now that it is not a good idea, however precisely, to bomb cities."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: NATO would be ill-advised to stop its air strikes

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says in an editorial that the attack was "not only an embarrassing mistake" but also "a medium-sized political and diplomatic catastrophe." The newspaper says: "The consequences can neither be mitigated by an admission of a tragic mistake nor by the immediate apology. The [worst result] is that NATO air strikes against ethno-nationalist mad Milosevic and his criminal policy against the Kosovars is moving into the twilight, and [distinguishing] cause and effect is becoming ever more difficult. But NATO would be ill-advised to stop its air strikes."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The possibility of the Russian leadership's tearing itself apart looms again

Britain's Financial Times worries in an editorial that the West is relying on Russia's good offices at a time when the government in Moscow again is at an unstable shifting point. The newspaper says: "Just when the West is counting on Russia to broker some settlement in the Kosovo war, the possibility of the Russian leadership's tearing itself apart looms again."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: A war which destroys Milosevic's Belgrade, but loses Russia, is a politically lost war

Italy's Corriere della Sera says editorially: "NATO has become aware that it has arrived at a dead end. It can win, but the victory brings some unacceptable risks: the destruction of Serbia, a dependency on the United Nations, a crisis in the (West's) relationship to Moscow. True, Russia needs the West, as the supporters of an unrestricted war claim. But it is also true that the West needs a reasonable and moderate Russia. A war which destroys Milosevic's Belgrade, but [loses Russia], is a politically lost war."

LE MONDE: Russia's diplomatic participation considerably strengthens Belgrade's political isolation

France's Le Monde finds a bright spot for NATO. It comments in an editorial: "The meeting of the G-8 foreign ministers [late last week] lived up to expectations. It was the West's concern to encourage Russia to share in drafting the principles of a future political settlement of the Kosovo conflict. Moscow agreed to some vague formulations in the final resolution. This of course does not settle all the disagreements."

Le Monde adds: "Russia has rejected ending NATO air strikes as a pre-condition for any joint initiatives with the Western states in a common effort to adopt a U.N. resolution concerning international troops in Kosovo. This is a development which considerably strengthens Belgrade's political isolation."





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