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Western Press Review: Editorials Troubled By Aftermath Of War And Disaster

  • Don Hill

Prague, 24 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in the Western press analyze troubling aftermaths -- of the war over Kosovo, of the earthquake in Turkey, of the political and economic crisis in Russia.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: KFOR and the West should move decisively to end the stand off

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Peter Burghardt says that of all the places in Kosovo that Russian peacekeepers might have been sent, Orahovac wasn't the best. As he puts it: "A year ago the town north of Prizren was the scene of one of the worst massacres of Kosovo-Albanians. And there are indications that Russian mercenaries aided the Serbian murder squads. Some of the butchers are believed still to be at the scene of the crime, which is why the Albanian majority there are worried about reinforcements for their deadly enemy."

Even so, Burghardt questions whether Kosovar Albanians should be allowed to keep blocking Russian troops. He asks: "But should the dominant ethnic group be allowed to decide which NATO peace troops from KFOR are stationed where?" His conclusion is that they should not. KFOR and the West should move swiftly and decisively to end the stand off, he writes.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Local people will respond best when a clear path to independence has been mapped

From London, The Daily Telegraph pleads in an editorial: "Don't Split Kosovo." The newspaper says that NATO set out in Bosnia and Kosovo to reestablish multiethnic communities. That they haven't succeeded yet, the newspaper says, is due more to lack of will than to any fault with the idea. The peacekeepers will be in Kosovo for a long time, the editorial says, but the West should quickly involve local representatives in governing the province. In the words of the editorial: "It would be folly not to supplement (the foreign presence) by engaging local people in putting the province together again. They will respond best when a clear path to independence has been mapped."

WASHINGTON POST: Serbians will determine their own future, but they could use help

The Washington Post observes that the 100,000-plus Serbian opposition who turned out for last week's demonstration defied expectations. Toppling the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is only a first step, the newspaper says in an editorial, but, in The Post's words: "First steps are not to be sneezed at." The editorial says that fragmentation of the Serbian opposition is to be expected and accepted. It worries, however, over the extreme nationalism of some of the opposition.

The West should help Yugoslav opposition leaders by moving aggressively to arrest war criminals and by assisting independent news organizations, the editorial says. It concludes this way: "Serbians will determine their own future, but they could use help."

DIE WELT: The state will not be able to cope with a body of opposition in the long term

German commentator Thomas Delekat, writing in the German newspaper Die Welt, says that Turkish national and local governments exposed their character to the Turkish people after last week's earthquake. It was ugly, he says. Delekat described one example this way: "One the first crippling shock had been overcome in the concrete ruins of Golcuk, Adabazari and Yolova and state representatives rendered incapable and inactive by vanity, arrogant airs and graces and the pompous conceit of office strutted into the heaps of ruins. The victims did not react angrily -- but not submissively either."

Delekat writes: "It was simply a dispassionate encounter between two mentalities, two contradictory views of statehood and citizenship." The outcome, says the writer, appears to include the appearance of what he calls: "a body of opposition (which the state) does not exactly welcome and which in the long term it will not be able to cope with."

TIMES: Turkey must not be crushed by disaster

"Turkey must not be crushed by disaster," says The Times, London, in an editorial. The newspaper says that Turkey's political fault line is as marked as its seismic fault line. Turkey is pro-West, The Times observes, adding this: "It remains the fragile democracy of an unstable polity, yearning to be European but sometimes close to military or Islamist extremism." The newspaper calls for rapprochement between Turkey's government and its people, and between the Turkish nation and its neighbors.

In the editorial's phrasing: "The eagerness of many individual Turks to help the stricken gives hope that this disaster may instead unite the nation in fellow-feeling and other states in sympathy, helping Turkey rebuild on more flexibly earthquake-proof foundations. [And] the willingness of Greeks to help with rescue work should help dispel an old enmity; Turkey and Greece must now pursue rapprochement full-tilt. [Last week's] earthquake has been a tragedy for millions; but with such steps it could one day be seen as some sort of blessing too."

WASHINGTON POST: The earthquake has brought to the surface the glaring problems in the government

From across the Atlantic, a commentary in The Washington Post sees the disaster through darker lenses. Bulent Aliriza, senior associate and director of Turkish Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S.-based policy and research organization, writes this: "It is likely that once the grim and massive task of trying to find survivors and victims is over and the long and painful process of recovery begins, the traditionally stoic Turks will want answers from their government. [A history of] negligence and corruption, combined with the inadequate emergency response, resulted in higher casualties than might otherwise have been the case. The government is clearly on the defensive."

As Aliriza puts it: "The earthquake has brought to the surface in the most painful way the glaring problems in the government of Turkey. The political system has long been creaking." The commentary concludes with this: "It is far from clear whether public anger will be sustained and what the ultimate political impact of the earthquake will be. What is certain is that unless Turkey faces up to the inadequacies of its political system, no amount of outside assistance will suffice."

AFTENPOSTEN: Russia seems to be at war on three fronts

Aftenposten, the Norwegian daily, says in an editorial that Russia seems to be at war on three fronts. Aftenposten: "First and foremost, there is the military war [in Dagestan]. The second front is economic. [And] the third -- and most important -- front concerns domestic policies." Aftenposten says: [President Boris] Yeltsin and his family, both biological and political, are out to fight to preserve their hold on power. Pitched against them is a large, left-of-center group led by Moscow's Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, and by politicians such as the popular Yevgeny Primakov. This group seems likely to win the December elections for the Duma, and will probably continue with putting forward an alternative candidate for the presidential elections next year."

The newspaper notes that a former Russian justice minister recently was dismissed with the words, "Your main problem is that you think too much about the law all the time." The paper writes that this doesn't bode well for Russia.