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Western Press Review: Chechnya And Elections In Ukraine And Macedonia

By Don Hill, Anthony Georgieff, and Dora Slaba

Prague, 16 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Civilian deaths in Chechnya and presidential elections in Eastern Europe draw some of the commentary published by the Western press today.

WASHINGTON POST: There must be some behaviors so repugnant that they override all sensible arguments

The Washington Post says in an editorial that the United States should avoid funding what it calls "Moscow's war in Chechnya." In the newspaper's words: "No U.S. politician would propose helping pay for Russia's war in Chechnya, yet that is what U.S. taxpayers indirectly are doing. The International Monetary Fund, which gets about one-quarter of its money from the United States, lends billions of dollars to keep Russia's government afloat. Now that Russia is spending money to destroy villages and create refugees in Chechnya, it seems fair to ask, as the presidential candidate and Republican senator John McCain did last week, whether such assistance should continue."

Washington Post editorials sometimes reflect the views of Democratic administrations in the United States. Not this time. U.S. President Bill Clinton says the United States considers Russia's Chechnya campaign, in his word, "unwise" but that it will not seek to block IMF loans.

The editorial acknowledges that there are strong arguments for supporting Russia's economy, but opines that they are not strong enough. As the editorial puts it: "In Russia's case, there are especially compelling reasons not to cut off aid. The United States will not be well served if the Russian economy spirals downward." The editorial adds this: "Yet there must be some behaviors so repugnant that they override all such sensible arguments, and it is hard to view Russia's brutality against the people of Chechnya in any other light."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The hardship that refugees face is a humanitarian catastrophe

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Tomas Avenarius, in a commentary from the village of Stanitsa Troitska near Ingushetia's border with Chechnya, concentrates on the plight of Chechen refugees. Here's his description: "Going the only way they can, westward into Ingushetia, around 200,000 refugees have so far made their way out of besieged Chechnya, desperate to escape the missile attacks and the prospect of an imminent battle for Grozny. Most of them have ended up in and around the village of Sleptsovskaya just over the border. They live in tents, railway wagons and animal stalls and sheds."

Based on his eyewitness observations, Avenarius disputes Russian officials' claims that no humanitarian disaster is impending. As he puts it: "Not only are resources meager and subject to hitches of one kind or another, the Kremlin has also refused the offer of ground support from international aid agencies. They gladly accept the material help being flown in, though, but prefer to distribute it themselves."

This is a war, Avenarius observes, that officially, where Moscow is concerned, is strictly a domestic affair. He writes: "The hardship that refugees face is seen as being no business of the outside world. The fate of people whose homes have been bombed flat is a private affair of those who are responsible for the war."

The writer concludes: "And if what is going on in the refugee camps is not a humanitarian catastrophe, if the lamentable fate that has befallen [these] people is not taken as a yardstick, what then?"

DER STANDARD: The Russians are doing the same in Chechnya as the Serbs in Kosovo

From Vienna, Der Standard declares the Chechen conflict and the West's mild response to it "A European Tragedy." It says in an editorial: "The Russians are doing the same in Chechnya as the Serbs in Kosovo: they are waging war against the people of their own state."

But, says the editorial, NATO and its secretary-general, George Robertson, have, in Der Standard's phrase, "ascertained prematurely" that the matter is not NATO's business." It says the difference between NATO's attitude on Kosovo and its perspective on Chechnya amount to a declaration of bankruptcy. The editorial puts it this way: "Javier Solana -- who as NATO secretary-general declared moral justification for the Yugoslav intervention and presented it as a responsibility -- [now], as the new foreign and security representative of the EU, describes as a success that Moscow is permitting an OSCE delegation to enter."

AFTENPOSTEN: In Ukraine and Macedonia the voters chose the lesser of two evils

Turning to elections in Eastern Europe, Norway's Aftenposten says communist-leaning candidates were the losers in two presidential elections but that the policies of the non-communist winners hardly received any endorsement.

Aftenposten says of Ukraine, in its editorial's words: "Ukraine has become a tragedy -- a country which has Europe's most fertile soil and a wealth of natural resources, yet a place where the citizens live in terrible poverty. Against all odds, Ukraine's leader Leonid Kuchma secured a re-election for himself."

Kuchma's opponent promised reunification with Russia, Aftenposten says, and adds this: "The way the Ukrainians voted manifested their conviction that such a scenario would be even worse than their current predicament. But they may well change their minds if their plight continues unchanged."

Aftenposten then turns to Macedonia. In the editorial's words: "In Macedonia, the presidential election took place against the backdrop of the [recent] Kosovo war and the Balkan tensions and animosities. Macedonian nationalists were able to cash in on the votes of the country's large Albanian minority, which would normally oppose them. Last Sunday, the Albanians voted as one for Boris Trajkovski because they considered him the lesser of two evils. From their standpoint, his opponent Tito Petkovski was a diminutive version of Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: It appears to have been a behind-the-scenes deal

The Frankfurter Rundschau's commentator Stephan Israel writes from Vienna that Macedonia's president-elect may have won through a backroom deal. Israel puts it this way: "With the support of the small Balkan nation's Albanian minority, Boris Trajkovski, deputy foreign minister in the current government, was able to beat narrowly the favorite Tito Petkovski in the second round of voting on Sunday. Petkovski's supporters have been quick to cry foul, alleging huge irregularities in the voting. This is a claim backed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which directly oversaw the polling in a number of polling offices."

The writer says this: "The fact is that after the Albanian parties withdrew from the running after the first round, Trajkovski owes his stunning victory to ethnic Albanian support. Former Communist Party apparatchik Petkovski played the nationalist card and lost. He said under no circumstances would he support an independent Kosovo, thereby making it clear that he was after Slavic voters who see an independent Kosovo as a threat to the stability and integrity of the small nation."

As Israel describes the political maneuvering: "It appears to have been a behind-the-scenes deal with Prime Minister Ljubco Georgijevski and Albanian leader Arben Xhaferi which cleared the way for Trajkovski's victory; both men wield extraordinary influence in Macedonia."