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Western Press Review: Kosovo, Russia, Iran

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 24 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Our selection of Western press commentary today focuses on three areas: Kosovo, Russia, and Iran. Analysts are concerned with the international community's continuing failure to bring order to Kosovo eight months after the end of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia. A few are also troubled by the West's -- and particularly the U.S.'s -- support of Russian acting President Vladimir Putin, whose democratic credentials they find questionable. And there is further commentary on Iran's overwhelming vote for change late last week.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: It is now time for a show of Western determination

Britain's Daily Telegraph writes in an editorial of what it calls a "pattern of outside involvement in the Balkans over the past nine years [that] has been of alternating procrastination and decisiveness. With Kosovo," the paper says, "the West hesitated about military intervention, then launched its air campaign against Yugoslavia and deployed troops in the province, then allowed [the northern town of] Mitrovica, like Mostar in Bosnia before it, to be divided into ethnic ghettos. The Kosovar town is the latest test of allied resolve."

For the paper, the ongoing attempt by KFOR, the NATO-led force in Kosovo, to desegregate Mitrovica is "long overdue." It says: "The goal of allied intervention in the province was to establish a polity where neither [Albanian] Kosovar nor Serb suffered ethnic discrimination. That this has proved so elusive was no excuse for allowing Mitrovica to become divided between the two communities at the Ibar River. There was always a danger that the Serbs would try to achieve a de facto partition of Kosovo."

The editorial concludes: "Freedom of movement across the Ibar must be restored and Belgrade's plan to retain a foothold in the province thwarted. With reports that Serbian troops are concentrating on the northern border, it is now time for a show of Western determination, both in opening the bridges across the Ibar and in supplying Kosovo with the policemen and funds necessary to restore law and order and rebuild what [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's henchmen destroyed."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The leaders of NATO and the West would do well to consider that they are now responsible for Kosovo's fate

The Wall Street Journal Europe also believes the international community has a moral obligation to restore order in Kosovo. Its editorial says: "When the leaders of NATO and the West consider what must now be done with Kosovo, they would do well to consider that it is they who have incurred a debt by saving Kosovo, and that they are now responsible for its fate."

The paper goes on: "When NATO first took military action in Kosovo, the stated aim was to establish a multiethnic democracy, and the underlying premise was that the peoples of Kosovo would get along, if only ... Milosevic would let them. If it wasn't clear that this was hopelessly naive back then, it should be by now." It adds: "Neither the ethnic Albanians nor the Serbs have shown any interest in living side-by-side. The recent degeneration of conditions in Mitrovica ... has forced NATO's troops to abandon any pretense of facilitating peaceful coexistence."

The editorial argues: "Although as a practical matter the ideal of a multi-ethnic democracy in Kosovo must be considered dead, the West has been unwilling to entertain publicly either partition or mass relocation as alternatives. Clearly, neither of these alternatives is very palatable or very easy to implement, but ... allowing the Serbs and Albanians to slaughter each other under the noses of NATO troops is no choice at all."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Whatever choice is made it should be made soon

Also in the Wall Street Journal Europe today, Balkan specialist Misha Glenny urges Western politicians to make Kosovo's political future a top priority. He writes: "If NATO politicians do not [do this,] the consequences are clear. First, KFOR will be there for a long time without actually improving matters. ... Second, the entire region will remain unstable and unable to begin the urgent process of reconstruction. Finally, one man above all will benefit from uncertainty and instability: Slobodan Milosevic."

Glenny acknowledges that the choices NATO faces in Kosovo are not easy: "'Living together' is part of the UN mantra and a nice idea," he writes. "'Partition' is difficult because of intense Albanian hostility to the project. ... 'Population exchange' occasions considerable misery, though it tends to solve the problem in the long run."

"Whatever choice is made," Glenny sums up, "it should be made soon and then implemented. Otherwise, Mitrovica will prove to be Round One in an interminable, bloody and futile example of intervention in the Balkans."

WASHINGTON POST: In Russia the weight of Clinton's words is slowing down the democrats

Two commentators discuss Russian acting President Putin's political profile and how the West should deal with him. Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland lambastes what he calls U.S. President Bill Clinton's "buttery words" last week in describing Putin as a man the U.S. "can do business with." Hoagland says that Clinton's "casual choice of words ... ignore what Mr. Putin has done in his short time in office, the means by which he has come to power, and the threat to Russian democracy he may still represent."

The commentary cites Sergei Kovalyov, "a champion of human rights and democracy in Russia," as one person who does see Putin clearly. In Hoagland's words: "Kovalyov's scathing denunciations of the brutality of both Russian campaigns to subdue Chechnya are far more courageous than anything the Clintonites have said on the subject, even though he risks punishment and they do not."

Kovalyov, the columnist says, "dismisses Putin as 'an ex-KGB colonel who is busy restoring monuments' to Yuri Andropov rather than helping reformers. Putin ordered the return of a bust and plaque honoring the former KGB and Politburo head to a place of honor in Moscow on December 20, nine years after they had been removed." Hoagland sums up: "Abroad, an American president's words still carry weight. In Russia, that weight is slowing down the democrats who are trying to out-race Vladimir Putin and his uncertain intentions."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Russia needs to recover its national pride as a decent, law-abiding state

In Britain's Financial Times, correspondent Quentin Peel says that most Russians he has met in recent weeks seem to be relieved by the prospect of a Putin victory in next month's presidential election. In a commentary from Moscow, Peel writes: "Although Mr. Putin looks like a classic creation of KGB casting, with a smile that never reaches his eyes, they fiercely defend him as a man of conviction and independence. "

He offers two explanations for Mr. Putin's remarkable popularity in Russia that, he says, "go beyond the cynical conclusion that [Putin] has simply exploited a terrorist threat in distant Chechnya." In Peel's words: "One relates to the state of democracy in the country, less than a decade after the end of one-party rule. The other relates to perceptions of national pride -- and not necessarily just of the vengeful, knee-jerk variety."

Russian democracy, for Peel, "has not gone very far." For most Russians, he says, "politics is about power -- 'vlast' in Russian. ... Mr. Putin represents 'vlast.' The party he created last Autumn, Yedinstvo, is already referred to as the 'party of power.'" As for national pride, Peel adds, "Few can say what sort of nationalism Mr. Putin will come to represent, nor whether he will prove a decent democrat, in spite of his antecedents. The war in Chechnya represents an aggressive, bullying nationalism. ... Yet Russia needs to recover its national pride as a decent, law-abiding state with which people are delighted to do business."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Iran may be standing on the edge of a second revolution

The Los Angeles Times carries an editorial stating that the reformists' victory in last Friday's Iranian parliamentary elections show that a "new revolution is possible for Iran." The paper writes: "Iran's reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami now has the chance to make good on the promises that swept him into office three years ago. ... Iran," it says, "may be standing on the edge of a second revolution, this one based on popular mandate and the rule of law." The paper acknowledges that Iran's reformers, in its words, "say they have no intention of doing away with Islamic law or showing disrespect to the clergy. Their aim is to achieve a civil order based on democratic principles. But," the editorial adds, "the incompatibility of those principles with theocratic rule is apparent to all. Authoritarianism, religious or secular, can't exist side by side with a free press, a pluralistic political system and guaranteed civil liberties. One or the other must give way."

The editorial sums up: "The people of Iran have made clear they aspire to a life that is freer socially, intellectually and politically. Change might come more slowly than many want, but the mechanism for fostering change is now in place."