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Western Press Review: How To Handle Post-Kosovo Serbia?


By Anthony Georgieff and Joel Blocker



Prague, 22 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Post-Kosovo war developments in the Balkans preoccupy Western press commentators today. Much of their comments center on the question of whether or not Serbia should be one of the recipients of Western assistance now being promised to the nations of southeastern Europe.

THE WASHINGTON POST: SERBIA MUST COME TO TERMS WITH WAR

The Washington Post asks in an editorial whether future Western reconstruction aid to Balkan nations should include a Serbia still ruled by President Slobodan Milosevic. The paper says that there is "[a fuzzy] line between humanitarian aid [destined for Yugoslavia] and reconstruction [assistance precluded by U.S. President Bill Clinton as long as Milosevic remains in power]."

It first states the arguments for aid to Serbia: "No Balkan reconstruction ignoring Serbia is likely to succeed," the paper says. "Key trade routes run to or through Serbia; and an embittered, isolated, impoverished Serbian population will destabilize the entire region. ... [Also,] innocent people shouldn't be left to suffer on account of Milosevic's ills. 'You must not penalize 10 million Serbs for the conduct of one man,' Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin [said over the weekend at the Cologne G-7 summit]."

But the editorial points outs, "The war in Kosovo wasn't really the work of one man. Saying that Serbia needs to unseat Mr. Milosevic is shorthand for saying that Serbs need at least to begin to come to terms with the terrible things their armed forces and paramilitaries have done in this decade, to the approval or silence of most of them."

So it concludes: "Even now, after NATO's successful air campaign, hundreds and perhaps thousands of Kosovar men are imprisoned inside Serbia. ... It would be unimaginable for the World Bank or European Union to begin cheerfully rebuilding bridges across the Danube while they remain captive."

THE GUARDIAN: SELECTIVE AID BEST THREAT TO MILOSEVIC

Britain's Guardian newspaper says"selective aid [is] the best threat to Milosevic." It welcomes "the decision of the leaders of the G-7 industrial countries [at Cologne] to press ahead with a stability pact to rebuild the Balkans."

But, the paper adds, "Aid to Serbia cannot simply be made contingent on [Milosevic's] prior removal. It is not in ... Europe's interest that Serbs starve or freeze to death this winter."

Instead, the paper argues for "carefully channeled humanitarian, financial and economic aid, a constructive dialogue bypassing Mr. Milosevic." That, it concludes, "is a better policy than sanctions and threats, and a better guarantee of his eventual downfall."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: HOW TO REHABILITATE SERBIA?

The Wall Street Journal Europe sees the matter differently. It writes: "The ostensible purpose of the mass aid effort that got under way at the [G-7] summit ... isn't simply to repair the infrastructure of Kosovo damaged during the NATO air offensive or to aid impoverished neighboring countries that have been sheltering [ethnic] Albanian refugees. The idea is far more ambitious -- the rehabilitation of civic society in the entire region through economic regeneration and institution building. [It is argued this] cannot succeed unless Serbia itself joins the Western community of nations."

"True enough," the paper's editorial notes, but then asks: "How do you rehabilitate Serbia? The answer," it says, "isn't reconstruction but deconstruction of a civil society that has long since broken down. ... The Serbian people," it believes, "share some of [Milosevic's] culpability, if indirectly. ... Milosevic's removal would be no guarantee of national healing [in Serbia]."

The WSJ sums up: "In defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity, wrote [Winston] Churchill. Milosevic has certainly been defiant in defeat. The best gift NATO could bestow on the people of Serbia is to help them to recognize the lies that have governed their lives so that real reconstruction can begin."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: ATTACKING YUGOSLAVIA WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO

In Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende says in an editorial: "Because the atrocities in Kosovo have been so terrible and went on for so long, it seems unlikely that the province can return to Serb control in the foreseeable future, if ever. ... The scope of the Serb-committed crimes is much larger than was thought prior to the peace agreement. Torture and killings of civilians happened in every village, not only during the bombings but also when the Serb forces started retreating."

The editorial goes on: "In the West, the facts of what really happened in Kosovo should prove to be good food for thought for some political organizations that opposed NATO's operation. ... If [NATO] had continued to negotiate with Serbia in March [instead of beginning its air campaign], the proportions of the human catastrophe would have been much greater."

The paper concludes that "attacking Yugoslavia turned out to be the right thing to do. It was even more effective than originally planned. [And] tyrants who are thinking of unleashing ethnic violence [elsewhere] have gotten a good message: There are limits to what the international community will tolerate."

HEILBRONNER STIMME: CEASEFIRE REIGNS, BUT PEACE DOES NOT

In Germany, two newspapers today comment on post-war Kosovo. The Heilbronner Stimme says that U.S. President Bill Clinton made two important remarks on the subject at his press conference in Bonn yesterday: "First, that the rebuilding of the Kosovo region will cost more than anyone had thought, and second, that peace is still cheaper than the cheapest war."

The paper's editorial continues: "Barely three months after the beginning of the conflict in the Balkans, a ceasefire reigns, but peace does not. The Serb minority in the region has fled, the returning Albanian Kosovars plunder and burn. ... There is hate everywhere."

It adds: "These [ethnic Albanian] Kosovars brag about a greater Albania [to come]. But there's no indication that Milosevic will allow democracy a foothold in his country. And the West has come up with a figure of almost 60,000 million dollars for the rebuilding. Still," the paper says, "Clinton is right: Peace surely costs less than war."

SCHWARZWAELDER BOTE: MILITARY ACTION VERSUS ECONOMIC STIMULUS

"Military actions are one side of the coin, economic stimulus can be the other," writes the Schwarzwaelder Bote, published in Oberndorf. Its editorial goes on: "The West has finally realized that the stability of the Balkans depends above all on an economic and social rebound. And any economic help is dependent on Milosevic's exit from the political stage."

The paper concludes: "The goal of helping the Yugoslav communities that are ruled by the opposition [to Milosevic] also sounds promising. All this should make clear to the Serbs the course of action they've needed to take for a long time now."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: THOUSANDS OF SERBS INVOLVED IN WAR CRIMES

Under the title "The Question of Evil," New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis writes: "There can be no doubt, now, about the scale of Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. Western reporters and war-crimes investigators have begun to confirm what Kosovar Albanian refugees described. NATO officers estimate that at least 10,000 ethnic Albanians were murdered; the figure could be much higher. Families were burned alive in their homes, children killed in front of their mothers."

Lewis' commentary goes on: "Slobodan Milosevic is not the only author of the war crimes in Kosovo. Thousands of Serbs were involved. And hundreds of thousands more back in Serbia proper were fixed in the belief that the Serbs had done no wrong. ... Even when told of the atrocities in Kosovo, they argued that the Serbs were only replying -- they were the real victims."

He adds: "A sense of victimization is said by specialists to be a central feature of the Serbian national character. It is the belief that Serbs have been treated unjustly again and again in history. Mr. Milosevic's genius has been the ability to manipulate those feelings. ... The question of evil and leadership is not going to go away in Yugoslavia. Mr. Milosevic is still there. The country is not likely, soon, to go through the process of reformation that made Germany a trusted nation again."
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