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Western Press Review: Conflicts Rumble In Balkans, Russia, Iran


By Don Hill and Alexis Papasotiriou



Prague, 9 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary raises alarms about rumbling conflicts over Montenegro in the Balkans, Dagestan in the Russian Caucasus and Iran.

The Washington Post wrote in a Sunday editorial that the United States should, in The Post's phrase, "prepare for the worst in Montenegro." That's because most of the amputations that have split limb after limb from the corpus of the former Yugoslavia has been bloody. And now Montenegro, in the newspaper's words, "one of the last two republics still inside Yugoslavia, begins talking about separation and autonomy."

The editorial perceives both a hope and a worry in the situation. It concludes with these words: "The hope now is that Montenegro's pressure will be one more factor persuading Serbians that they would be better off without [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic. The worry is that a cornered Serb dictator [that is, Milosevic] will seek to save himself by lashing out once more."

In the same newspaper today, Washington lawyer Kenneth I. Juster comments that the United States, having carried most of the financial burden of the war over Kosovo, now expects Europe to bear most of the cost of Balkan recovery. Juster, a former senior official of the U.S. State Department, writes that this is, in his words, "bad policy for the United States and a bad precedent for trans-Atlantic relations." He says: "The Kosovo model constitutes a division of labor -- the Americans do the war and the Europeans do the peace." That labels America as the "warrior state," in Juster's phrase, and its European allies as the "peacemakers."

Staff writer Robert Block writes in a Wall Street Journal Europe news analysis that Borka Vucic, president of the Yugoslav government-run Beogradska Banka AD, stands as a substantial supporting bulwark for Milosevic. Block writes, "She's his banker." The news analysis says that Milosevic's power rests on three pillars, in Block's terms, "the police, the media and the industrial-financial establishment." He says the financial pillar, at least, now is problematical. Block writes that "after a decade of disastrous economic policies and four lost Balkan wars, the system virtually is broke."

Turning to Russia, The Times of London editorializes that a Chechnya-like war threatens to erupt in Chechnya's neighboring province of Dagestan. That's something that Russian President Boris Yeltsin, in The Times' phrase, "cannot afford." In words written before Yeltsin announced he had fired Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, the editorial says: "Mr. Stepashin needs to keep his nerve and his links open to the rest of the Russian political establishment." The British newspaper says that rebels who have invaded Dagestan are Wahabbi muslims who seek to set up an Islamic state like that of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It says: "Once again, Moscow risks being bogged down in a conflict in mountains that, for 200 years, have seen little but feuding."

The Wall Street Journal Europe and The New York Times carry commentary on dissidence and its suppression in Iran. Kenneth R. Timmerman wrote the piece in this weekend's (Saturday-Sunday) edition of The Wall Street Journal Europe. He says that Iran's clerics, in his words, "launched a massive crackdown on the dissidents and student leaders who organized the protests that rocked 18 Iranian cities last month." Timmerman, publisher of the newsletter The Iran Brief, said Iran's leaders, as he put it, "may discover that they have made a fatal mistake." The commentator says that Iranians, having tasted a little freedom, are unlikely to give up the feast.

The New York Times, in an editorial today, generally concurs with Timmerman. The newspaper writes: "The mullahs should remember that [Iranian President Mohammad] Khatami and his allies speak for tens of millions of Iranians impatient to see less oppressive, more accountable government." Khatami, somewhat more reform minded than Iran's more conservative ayatollahs, should support a revived economy and an expanded rule of law, the New York newspaper says. It concludes with these words: "Iran's clerical leaders must allow Iranians to choose freely and without fear in the coming elections, informed by an unshackled press."

On a variety of other topics --

The Wall Street Journal Europe says in an editorial that British Defense Minister George Robertson was assured of selection as NATO's new secretary general as soon as his name was mentioned for the job. It says his record during the Kosovo war and his support for a stronger European defense identity settled it. The editorial says that the new NATO leader will find that he has limited powers, but he will have influence. It says that his first challenge is to encourage defense rebuilding in Europe and maintenance in the United States. The Journal editorial concludes: "The main goal is not so much a European defense identity, although renewed zeal in Europe would be welcomed, but to preserve a military alliance that has served the world extremely well for over half a century."

Two Greek newspapers comment on aspects of Greek-Turkish relations, domestic and international. In yesterday's Kathimerini, commentator Costas Iordanidis wrote approvingly of the Greek government's tentative willingness to cooperate in what Iordanidis called "the sketching of Turkeys road map towards the EU." In practical terms, he said, that implied eventual acceptance of Turkey for accession too the EU. The writer said this should be conditioned, however on, "reform of Turkey's existing regime, both in domestic issues -- democratization, and harmonizing economic policy with the EU's, but also in international issues -- relations with Greece and the Cyprus issue.

In To Vima, Nikos Mouzelis, a professor at the London School of Economics, said that Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou was courageous to say aloud recently that, in Mouzelis' words, "it is not in Greece's interests to deny the Muslims of Thrace individual rights to self-determination. The Greek government, he said, has in effect forbade any Greek nationals who are culturally and ethnically Turks to call themselves Turks." Mouzelis said that the ban not only is anti-democratic, but also violates EU norms.

International economist Keith Marsden took issue in the Friday-Saturday Wall Street Journal Europe with the UN Human Development Program's latest report. Marsden opened his commentary this way: "The human condition has improved in almost all nations over the past two decades. Yet you'd have to dig deep into [the report] to find that out." The UNDP chronically emphasizes the negative and the divisive, Marsden wrote. An example of good news, the economist said, is that new drugs and medical technologies have helped to reduce infant mortality rates since 1980 and have added five years to life expectancy in the poorest countries. Marsden argues that UNDP reports would be more useful and credible if the spoke in a more balanced voice.

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