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Western Press Review: Kosovo's Troubles, U.S. Primaries, Women's Day

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 8 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- With continuing ethnic violence in Kosovo's divided northern town of Mitrovica, Western press commentators are focusing on both the province's troubles and international peacekeepers' problems in dealing with them. There is some comment, too, on women's status in the world today on the occasion of International Women's Day. And in the U.S., there are some early assessments of yesterday's important presidential primary elections, which have left Democrat Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush as the two likely candidates for the November election.

DIE WELT: There remains only one way for NATO and the UN to exert pressure -- a timely withdrawal

A commentary in Germany's daily Die Welt by Edith Kohn is very critical of the international community's efforts in Kosovo. She writes: "With every day that NATO and United Nations peacekeepers spend in Kosovo, it becomes more apparent that their intervention a year ago was a mistake."

Kohn is especially critical of the UN's civil administrator in the region, Bernard Kouchner, whose recent proposal to hold elections in Kosovo she finds unrealistic. She argues: "Without the participation of the Serbian Kosovars, who have been driven from the area, it will be an ethnically pure election ... also a first step for the resigned withdrawal of the international community from the crisis zone. NATO," the commentator adds, "is not facing a dilemma here, it is sitting in a trap. Whichever way it moves, it risks pushing one side towards ethnic nationalism -- either the Albanians or the Serbs."

Kohn allows that, in her words: "NATO now seems to understand the problems of ethnic nationalism in the former Yugoslav Federation cannot be solved simply with a call to respect public law and order." But she concludes: "The local elections Kouchner announced are seen by the Albanians as the first step toward their complete autonomy. There remains only one way for NATO and the UN to exert pressure -- a calculated and timely withdrawal, just when the Albanians do not want to accept the seriousness of their own situation."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The situation looks unpromising

Writing from Mitrovica itself today, commentator Stephen Schwartz says in the Wall Street Journal Europe: "In Mitrovica, the Serbs are getting support from none other than Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. The Albanians in southern Yugoslavia, meanwhile, expect to get the NATO embroiled in their fight." He continues: "The international forces administering Mitrovica were caught by surprise a month ago when thousands of Serbs started attacking the last neighborhoods sheltering Albanian families in northern Mitrovica. The crisis was then allowed to boil on. [Yesterday], some 20, including French peacekeepers, were wounded."

Schwartz then analyzes Milosevic's role in the recent turmoil both in Kosovo and in the smaller Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. He writes: "Observers throughout the region have argued since the beginning of the year that Milosevic is bent on a new war. He has undertaken feeble but persistent attempts to intimidate the Montenegrin government of Milo Djukanovic, who has established de facto independence from Serbia while officially remaining within the ever-more rump-looking Yugoslav federation."

But the commentator warns not to expect too much now from NATO. He says this: "Expectations of NATO backing for a scrap with Milosevic are absurd, as NATO General Klaus Reinhardt and others have made clear." So, he concludes, "with occasional outbreaks of fighting and waves of refugees crossing the border from southern Serbia, the situation looks unpromising."

DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: French soldiers are risking their lives for an already lost cause

In the French provincial daily Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace, a signed editorial by Jean-Claude Kiefer asks why French peacekeepers in Kosovo -- who are in charge of the region that includes Mitrovica -- have been more bloodied in recent incidents than their U.S. or German colleagues. One reason, he suggests, is that both in the U.S. and Germany, the death of one of its peacekeepers would lead to what he calls "a political scandal." So U.S. and German troops, Kiefer argues, simply don't react to provocations the way French soldiers do.

He then says that, in his words, "everyone knows that as long as Milosevic and his henchmen remain in power in Belgrade, no compromise is possible in Kosovo. Everyone knows, too," he adds, "that it's illusory to guarantee the security of the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo today."

So, Kiefer concludes, "in such conditions one can only admire the courage of our French soldiers -- and ask why they have been placed in such a dangerous and insoluble situation. ... That French soldiers are risking their lives for an already lost cause -- the response must be, 'No.'"

TIMES: The judicial system is flawed

The Times of Britain carries an editorial today warning the UN not to permit ethnic bias in Kosovo's courts. The paper says: "The judicial system operating under the UN's [current civil administration] is flawed. In its present form, it is likelier to perpetuate ethnic injustice than to eradicate it."

The paper explains: "Before NATO's intervention, most local judges were Serbs, not least because Slobodan Milosevic purged ethnic Albanians from most government and professional positions. Now, with much of a terrified Serb population on the run, most judges are Albanian with little recent judicial experience. They live with their own vivid recollections of the war; they cannot be expected to judge war crimes cases that pit the evidence of Serbs against that of Albanians without an entirely human, but judicially unacceptable, degree of bias."

The Times calls on UN administrator Kouchner "to ensure that those charged with war crimes get an impartial hearing. The best option," the paper believes, "would be for international, not local, judges to hear war crimes cases. Yet this is a solution that Kouchner's administration refuses to countenance, [insisting] instead that the local judiciary be included." It says that Kouchner "would be both foolish and stubborn to persist with this plan, especially given that Kosovar judges themselves favor leaving war crimes cases to international judges so that reconciliation can eventually become possible."

NEW YORK TIMES: Gore scored one of the most impressive recoveries in many years

Comments in two U.S. national dailies -- both usually pro-Democrat in their editorial stance -- provide early analyses of yesterday's primary balloting in 16 states. The New York Times says that "Vice President Al Gore won a sweeping nationwide victory in the 'Super Tuesday' primaries, sealing his capture of the Democratic presidential nomination. Governor George W. Bush," it adds, "also [captured] most of the [Republican] delegates at stake. ... Recent polls show him even with Gore, instead of leading the vice president as he was a few months ago."

The paper praises Gore for having, in its words, "scored one of the most impressive recoveries in many years. He started out only six months ago struggling to overcome his image as an awkward figure running a costly, uninspired campaign. ... [But] when Democrats started moving toward [former senator] Bill Bradley as a fresher candidate, Gore junked his campaign plan, threw off the smothering cloak of supposed inevitability and starting fighting for the nomination."

NEW YORK TIMES: Bush was forced to embrace the agenda of the party's cultural conservatives

As for Bush, the editorial argues, "during the primary campaigns he endured unexpected questions about his knowledge, experience and debating skills. But the most ominous sign for the Republicans, if Bush gets the nomination, may be the ideological repositioning forced upon him by [his chief rival for the nomination, Senator John] McCain." It explains: "After stepping onto the national political stage as a new-style Republican moderate, Bush was forced to embrace the agenda of the party's cultural conservatives in order to counter McCain's reform candidacy."

WASHINGTON POST: Unease with the existing primary system is pervasive

The Washington Post finds the present U.S. primary election system unfair. The paper writes in its editorial: "You would be forgiven for not knowing this, but the primaries are a long way from being done. ... [There are] 14 more contests in the coming week and 20 more after that, culminating with five states on June 6. Yet," the paper complains, "now that the nominations in both parties are seemingly decided, these votes will slip by almost unnoticed. Particularly in a year when the early contests have been marked by high excitement and high turnout, the irrelevance of later contests seems unfair and wrong."

The editorial cites a plan for addressing this inequity, saying: "The time to push for it is now." It explains: "State election officials from around the country have a scheme to create four regional primaries, to be held at the rate of one per month between March and June. The order of these contests would rotate each cycle, giving all states a fair crack at going early."

The paper sums up: "Unease with the existing primary system is pervasive. Its unfairness to late states causes a mad scramble for early slots in the calendar. ... One of the results of this front-loading is to give an advantage to incumbent presidents. ... This bias against challengers is another reason why reform is worthwhile."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Prospects for the advancement of women in Western Europe have clearly fallen behind those in the U.S.

Two West European dailies comment on today's celebration of International Women's Day. Denmark's Berlingske Tidende finds "something old-fashioned in the very term 'International Women's Day.' ... Today," it explains, "Western women, especially among the younger generation, are fed up with images of overalls-wearing, fighting mothers. That's because many of them were born at a time when equal opportunity between the sexes had been already come to be taken for granted. [Now, in the West,] men can work as midwives, and women can become bank directors."

But the paper also says that available statistics show another side of the supposed equality of the sexes in Western Europe. It writes: "Scandinavia has long prided itself on its tradition of equal opportunity. But let's look at the facts: Five out of 100 Danish companies have women on their boards of directors, while in the U.S. there are only five out of 100 companies that do not have women on their boards." The editorial concludes: "Don't believe it is merely a question of time for new female talent to emerge [in Western Europe]. Prospects for the advancement of women in Western Europe have clearly fallen behind those in the U.S."

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: The list of exactions and discriminations that women continue to suffer remains long

In the Swiss daily Tribune de Geneve, a signed editorial by Laurence Bezaguet says that women around the world still have much to hope for. He writes: "The list of exactions and discriminations that women continue to suffer ... remains long. In Pakistan [and other countries] a woman can be beaten to death because she is suspected of having an 'illicit' relationship."

"Switzerland," the editorial adds, "is not exempt from discrimination against women. In the current economic crisis, too many women in our country live on the edge of deprivation. More generally," it adds, "they still don't have the right to abortion, nor to maternity leave [as in many other Western countries]. ... So," Bezaguet urges women in conclusion, "continue to storm the barricades against injustice!"

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)