Prague, 25 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press explores three main topics today -- transitions in Kosovo and Serbia, the aftermath of Turkey's earthquake, and the political situation in Russia:
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The conflict was caused by economic decline
In today's International Herald Tribune, commentator Sergio Vieira de Mello writes that although achieving peace in Kosovo will be difficult, it is not impossible. De Mello, who led the UN team into Kosovo as the NATO bombing ceased, says that too often the Balkan people are dismissed as "fated to slaughter one another." He says that such sweeping ethnic judgements are a roadblock to future stability:
"In the dissolution of the state of Yugoslavia, ethnic differences are not the root cause of conflict. The conflict was caused by economic decline and the desire of a few individuals to maintain or gain power at any cost. Ethnic differences were evoked and exploited to this end."
De Mello says that while patience and the promotion of multi-ethnicity in the Balkans may seem "anachronistic," it is the only hope for breaking the cycle of violence.
DIE WELT: It was "short-sighted" to dispatch Russian soldiers to Orhovoc
In the German Die Welt, commentator Boris Klanoky writes that "the liberators have quickly become the unloved occupiers." Klanoky says that KFOR peacekeeping troops are increasingly being seen as an obstacle to Albanian independence in Kosovo. He predicts that the true test of the relationship between the Albanians and KFOR will happen in Orahovac where Russian troops are being stationed against the will of Albanians living there. Klanoky contends that it was "short-sighted" to dispatch Russian soldiers to Orhovoc as Russian mercenaries are believed to have fought alongside Serbs in one of the worst massacres of the war.
AFTENPOSTEN: The defenseless have been hit the hardest by sanctions
Turning to Serbia, political analyst Kjell Dragnes comments in the major Norwegian daily Aftenposten that economic sanctions against countries like Serbia or Iraq only "hurt the people, not the regime." Dragnes says that the weakest part of the population -- children, mothers, the sick and the old -- should be protected by the United Nations, "that superior guarantor of human rights worldwide."
He writes: "So, how can the international community, epitomized by the United Nations, approve of the economic sanctions against [a country like] Iraq where, nine years after they were introduced, the sanctions have invoked the highest rates of child mortality in a long time? How can we support the introduction of sanctions against Yugoslavia when the refugee organizations assert that the civil population [in Serbia] has had their lives [already] destroyed? Neither Saddam nor Milosevic have suffered as a result of the economic boycott. Instead, the defenseless have been hit the hardest."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: International response to the crisis was a failure as big as the disaster itself
Criticism of the international response to the earthquake in Turkey was the topic of a commentary by Uri Avnery in today's International Herald Tribune. Avnery calls the immediate response to the crisis "a failure as big as the disaster itself." He says that in the crucial first hours after the earthquake when thousands could have been saved "there was no central organization, no unified command, [and] no decision-making body able to allocate resources and heavy equipment."
Avnery, head of the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom, says the creation of an international rescue force is long overdue. He argues that a team of medical and rescue personnel structured in a military manner, could take on the spot responsibility for rescue operations in times of disasters. He says that the international community needs to be better prepared for future calamities that could happen anywhere, even in "our own happy neighborhoods."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The loss of Dagestan would be a great blow to Russia
Looking at Russia, commentator Daniel Broessler says in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, that although the uprising in the Caucasian republic of Dagestan has been compared to the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, there are serious differences between the two.
Broessler writes that Russian military tactics are different in Dagestan and he suggests that the change stems from a new Russian motto that "Learning from NATO is learning how to win." He argues that Russia -- in a move unprecedented in the country's military history -- has turned to airstrikes and artillery bombardment to impose the most serious losses possible on Dagestan rebels, while running the least possible risk to their own troops.
He points out that while Chechen separatist fighters were backed by their civilian population, Muslim rebels in Dagestan can "hardly rely on the support of the people they propose to free from the Russian yoke." And unlike Chechnya, Broessler says that Dagestan is a multi-ethnic republic comprised of some two million people from over 30 ethnic communities, most of whom do not believe that they stand to gain anything from seceding from Russia.
Finally Broessler argues that the most important difference between Chechnya and Dagestan is that the loss of Dagestan would be a greater blow to Russia. The natural resources of Dagestan are of "inestimable value" to Russia and more importantly, "if Dagestan were to secede, the old domino theory" might just fall into place.
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: China and Russia share one main concern
Also in Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Thomas Urban focuses on the "Shanghai Five" summit today between the leaders of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Urban says that although the summit has been billed as regional military and economic talks, these issues are of secondary importance to Russia and China. He predicts that there will be no talk in Bishkek of the fundamental sources of conflict between China and Russia: "namely China's effort to get an economic foothold in the Russian Far East and thereby undermine Moscow's position in the region over the long term."
Urban says that President Boris Yeltsin of Russia and his Chinese counterpart President Jiang Zemin share one main concern "to see the American role in the world reduced." He writes: "Moscow, especially, is smarting from Washington's Balkan policies, while Beijing wants to keep its back safe while it deals with Taiwan."
BOSTON GLOBE: Getting sacked by Yeltsin looks increasingly like a great career move
In today's Boston Globe, Brian Whitmore suggests that for aspiring politicians in Russia, "getting sacked by President Boris Yeltsin looks increasingly like a great career move."
Whitmore says that Sergei Stepashin, who served as premier for just 82 days before being fired by Yeltsin, is now joining forces with Russia's main liberal opposition party, Yabloko, which is headed by Grigory Yavlinsky.
The writer says Stepashin's public approval ratings skyrocketed after being fired on August 9. He observes: "According to polls released over the weekend, Stepashin is now Russia's second most trusted politician -- behind another ex-prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, who was abruptly canned (Eds: fired) by Yeltsin in May."
Whitmore says Yabloko is the only democratic party in Russia not associated in the public mind with the "rampant cronyism and corruption of the Yeltsin years." He argues that with Stepashin -- who recently told a Moscow newspaper that he was fired because he "couldn't be bought" -- Yabloko will be able to "realistically" compete in December's parliamentary elections.