Prague, 3 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentators continue to focus their attention on the Balkans and China, with some papers giving space to national and local issues.
Three commentaries in widely disparate publications do examine facets of reality in today's Balkan states. In the Wall Street Journal Europe, George Melloan comments on what he calls the "pariah status" into which Slobodan Milosevic has led the Serbs. Melloan says: "You would think that the Serbs would be filled with remorse for what Milosevic has done to their national reputation."
They appear otherwise, however, the writer says. He observes that the leading Belgrade newspapers retain a tone of defiance. In fact, the commentator concludes, the press and broadcasters in Serbia bear much of the responsibility for Serbian ostracism. Melloan notes wryly: "Serbia is not the first nation to be led into war by propaganda." He concludes, expressing hope that the Serb public will come to see, in his phrase, "the costly error of following the false gods of rabid nationalism."
German commentator Boris Kalnoky, writing from Budapest in Die Welt, says that despite the mandate of KFOR troops and UN administrators to govern Kosovo, KLA commanders emerge as the actual rulers. The writer says: "At the United Nations, officials are beginning to grasp the reality, which is that Kosovo cannot be administered counter to the KLA's wishes." That means. in part, that Kosovo has become, as Kalnoky puts it, "an ethnic Albanian state." KFOR, Kalnoky comments, "is way out of its depth."
In the U.S. regional newspaper, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, columnist Bill Thompson finds U.S. President Bill Clinton naive, arrogant and misguided about the Balkans. Clinton, Thompson writes, "went to Sarajevo the other day and patted himself on the back for bringing peace -- or what passes for peace in that part of the world -- to Bosnia and Kosovo." The writer scolds the U.S. president for failing to concede that Bosnia remains occupied by international peacekeepers who began a "one-year mission" four years ago. He says that Clinton similarly ignored the fact that the new mission in Kosovo likewise is, in the writer's word, "open-ended."
Thompson writes: "American intrusion in the Balkans can never succeed because it is exactly that -- an intrusion into a situation that is none of America's business." President Clinton, says the columnist, "has raised presidential arrogance from a mere annoyance to a veritable art form."
Britain's Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune and the Los Angeles Times focus on aspects of China's international role. The Financial Times warns that rumblings from Taiwan, a troubled economy, failures of U.S. policy, and the U.S. bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade have, as an editorial puts it, "strengthened the hands of the [Chinese] conservatives." A result is bellicosity towards Taiwan, crackdowns on independent thought, and inhibiting of economic reform and international involvement.
The editorial calls on President Jiang Zemin to turn from seeking domestic consensus toward seizing leadership. It says: "China has much to lose if he allows his colleagues to get it wrong."
Richard L. Garwin and Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky write in the International Herald Tribune that one major example of the failure of the U.S.'s China policy is what they call the American "rush to judgment against China." Panofsky is director of the Stanford (University) Linear Accelerator Center. Garwin is a senior fellow for science and technology at the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Policy.
People have the right to form their own opinions, the scientist-commentators write, but not to form their own facts. Yet, the commentary says, "That seems to be happening on the [issue of] of the nuclear threat from China." They say that one example of "fact-forming" is a recent U.S. congressional report that Chinese espionage against the United States has enabled China to pull abreast of U.S. nuclear capability."
The writers contend, first, that no significant Chinese espionage has been proved; and, second, that no evidence exists that China even approaches U.S. nuclear capability. They write: "The numerous errors of fact in the Cox report, and the evident intent of many to increase tensions with China, do not serve the U.S. national security interest."
Taipei isn't helping the situation, either, U.S. diplomat Brent Scowcraft writes in the Los Angeles Times. Scowcraft, now president of the (U.S.) Forum for International Policy, was national security adviser under Republican presidents Gerald Ford and George Bush. The current president, Bill Clinton, is a Democrat.
Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui said publicly last month that Taiwan and China should conduct negotiations on an equal basis "state-to-state." This veiled claim to Taiwanese independence violates a general international recognition of the one-China position and has roiled mainland China's leadership. Scowcroft says that Lee may have made the utterance for domestic political consumption. But, he writes: "Taiwan's security and prosperity have been nurtured by the status quo. To put these most essential features of sovereignty at risk for a domestic political ploy is not responsible."
In the United States, The New York Times comments editorially on a domestic topic that commands international interest -- U.S. attitudes toward even minimal gun control. The newspaper says: "A Congress that is not eager to do very much about gun control is rapidly approaching its last chance to do anything at all." The newspaper notes that the two houses of the U.S. Congress have passed widely different bills on gun control. The editorial urges that they resolve their differences in favor of meaningful restrictions.
The newspaper says that the U.S. populace, horrified by gunmen's massacres, school shootings, and assassinations, wants action. It says: "Every new public opinion poll is telling the Republicans that the voters are going to reward those who vote for stricter gun laws. It stands to reason that some House Republicans are beginning to get the message." But if they don't, The New York Times says, President Clinton should veto any measure that fails to make progress.
Finally, commentator Edith Heller, writing from Warsaw in the Frankfurter Rundschau, has some fun with Poland's new "Language Act." She asks: "Will Margaret Astor cosmetics now have to be called Malgorzata Astor in Poland, and Old Spice after-shave whatever Old Spice is in Polish? Will Poles flock to the cinema to see the latest Jakub Bond film and then call the hot-dog they eat afterwards by a yet-to-be-conceived Polish name?" Polish conservatives have shepherded through the Polish Parliament a law that commands foreign-language expressions -- including names, if they have Polish equivalents -- to yield to idiosyncratic Polish spelling, declensions and conjugations." Writers who violate the rules are subject to fines.
Heller writes: "Polish legislators ought surely to know that fighting foreign words in Polish is like fighting windmills. For centuries Polish has borrowed words from other languages, including German words such as szlafrok (from Schlafrock, a now disused term meaning pajamas), kacenjamer (hangover) and wihajster (what's his name?). Under communism, the Polish authorities tried in vain to fight this trend, even holding competitions to find new, Polish words for szlafrok and bonjourka (dressing gown, borrowed -- needless to say -- from the French). As part of one such competition the (German) word slip, meaning a pair of men's underpants, is said to have ended up as the male triangle in Polish, while the cravat, or necktie, ended up being the male appendage."