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Western Press Review: Focus On Iran And Yugoslavia

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 15 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Our selection of Western press commentary today centers on two geographically separated countries -- Iran and Yugoslavia. For all their differences, the two have a common problem -- instability -- and commentators assess their most recent difficulties.

BOSTON GLOBE: The attack on Hajjarian could be a premonition of violent resistance to political change

Two U.S. newspapers discuss recent acts of political violence in Iran. The Boston Globe says the attempted assassination Sunday in Tehran of Sayeed Hajjarian, a journalist and close adviser to moderate President Mohammed Khatami, "suggests that the struggle for power between hardline clerics and reformers may not be settled by peaceful, democratic means." The paper describes Hajjarian as, in its words, "one of the best-known [Iranian] figures to abjure the hardline camp and pass over to the reformist side." It adds: "Like other prominent reformist figures who changed camps, Hajjarian had received death threats."

The editorial finds the attack on Hajjarian "troubling" because, it says, "it could be a premonition of violent resistance to political change." It notes that he was "regarded by the diehards of the conservative camp as the master strategist of the reformist movement." The newspaper he ran, the paper says, "constantly attacked the hardliners and linked some of the most highly placed among them to crimes such as the killings of intellectuals." The Boston Globe concludes: "The fight for power in Iran may resemble a gang war."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Terrorism must not be permitted to negate the elections

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times says, "Terrorists in Iran now seek to undo what free choice at the ballot box aimed to achieve [in last month's parliamentary elections]." The paper cites not only the attempt on Hajjarian's life, but also Monday's mortar fire in a residential area of Tehran that is home to five members of parliament. "Murky" is what the paper calls the circumstances of that attack, which took place near a base of the hardline Revolutionary Guards.

But, the editorial goes on to say, "there is nothing ambiguous about the effort to assassinate Hajjarian, a newspaper editor and bold critic of the excesses of the conservative clerics who hold most of the power. It's highly probable that extremists within the government, determined to maintain control and prepared to use ruthless means to intimidate their opponents, were behind it."

The paper describes last month's parliamentary vote as "a stunning call for change." It says this: "Most Iranians are eager for greater freedoms and political pluralism and wish for an end to their country's international isolation." Terrorism, it sums up, "must not be permitted to negate the elections that have brought Iran to this crucial post-revolutionary turning point."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Conservative forces in the country could be seeking to create a second Algeria

In Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau daily today, Detlef Franke compares the attempted murder of Hajjarian to similar acts by Islamic militants in the north African country of Algeria, where up to 100,000 people have been killed in terrorist and police actions over the past 10 years. In a commentary, Franke writes: "In the wake of the attack on Hajjarian, political observers in Iran fear that the conservative forces in the country could be seeking to create a second Algeria in order to destabilize Iran."

The commentary also says: "The attack on Hajjarian follows a series of murders on writers and intellectuals that shook Iran and the wider world in 1998, and the storming of student dormitories in Tehran University in June of last year, which led to the worst unrest since [Iran's] 1979 Islamic revolution." Franke continues: "Hajjarian attracted the wrath of the conservative establishment around 'spiritual leader' Ali Khamenei -- the highest authority in the country -- after his paper set out to get to the bottom of the [1998] murders of artists and intellectuals."

WASHINGTON POST: Milosevic is rapidly closing what's left of the breathing space for the opposition

A Washington Post editorial discusses Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's most recent crackdown on independent media in Serbia. The paper says that in the past Milosevic allowed what it calls "a measure of breathing room for the opposition and independent media." But now, it adds, "He is rapidly closing what's left of that space, seeking to choke off what little chance his Western-supported opponents might have to oust him in the already not-terribly-free elections he is constitutionally required to hold this year."

The paper goes on to say that Milosevic himself, in the editorial's words, "announced the assault on the media in a New Year's interview in which he asserted that opposition media are under the full financial and political control of Western governments." It adds that he has since cracked down on independent radios and television stations, the last of them being Studio-B radio. And, it continues, with this: "other newspapers and radio stations are being harassed with government-inspired libel suits."

The editorial calls these actions unmistakably "thuggish". It recalls last year's still unsolved murder of independent journalist Slavko Curuvija on a Belgrade street, adding this: "The latest wave of attacks on free expression has not yet included such blatant violence. But, as Mr. Milosevic undoubtedly intends to remind his opponents, no prudent publisher or broadcaster can afford to assume it won't."

TIMES: While Western nations squabble, the Kosovars are pursuing their own criminal campaign of ethnic cleansing

In the Times of Britain, a commentary by Michael Gore laments what it finds is the West's loss of Kosovo where, in Gore's words, "NATO has never been weaker in the year since [its] victory." He says also, "The world's attention has been drawn back to Kosovo by the melancholy first anniversary of [NATO's] bombing campaign" on Monday.

Gore argues further: "The alliance's main strategic function has been the maintenance of a community of interest between Europe and America. But the Kosovo campaign has done more damage to that than it ever did to the Serb Army."

He spells out what he sees as the intra-NATO conflicts, as he puts it: "[The U.S.'] anger at Europe's unreliability has only grown since the campaign ended. The European nations, far from learning the appropriate lesson and resolving to shoulder a bigger burden of defense expenditure within a more coherent alliance, have directed their energies towards creating a new, more exclusive, European architecture for defense."

Gore finds that on the ground in Kosovo, too, in his phrasing: "Where European forces are supposed to be acting in concert, they are paralyzed by ethnic strife." The conflict there, he says, is "not just between Serbs and Albanians, but between French and British [and other nations that have provided peacekeepers]." And, he sums up: "While Western nations squabble, the Kosovars [are pursuing] their own criminal campaign of ethnic cleansing. "

WASHINGTON POST: NATO could still lose a war it claims to have won

Washington Post foreign-affairs columnist Jim Hoagland also appraises the situation is Kosovo a year after the start of NATO's air campaign. More positive than Gore, he writes: "NATO went to war a year ago to return hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians to their homes in Serbia's rebellious southern province, now administered by the United Nations. Most have resettled without incident. Their Serbian neighbors fled into the Serbian heartland ruled by Slobodan Milosevic rather than risk retaliation for the mass murders, pillaging and oppression visited on the Muslim majority."

Hoagland continues: "The UN Security Council insists that Kosovo is part of Mr. Milosevic's realm but guarantees substantial political autonomy to its protectorate. Neither Serbs nor ethnic Albanians have to renounce their conflicting goals of reconquest and full independence." That, he finds, is the, his words, "flaw in the well-intentioned effort to force multiethnic harmony in Mitrovica, the Balkans' latest tinderbox town."

The commentary also argues with this: "Dealing with the symptoms of Kosovo's ethnic strife rather than its causes condemns U.S. and European troops to a long and contentious stay in that shattered land. The basic cause continues to be Mr. Milosevic's tyrannical rule in Belgrade and his ambition to regain Kosovo if NATO wearies of its strife." Hoagland concludes: "Without a clearer joint vision on Kosovo's future and bolder steps to counter Mr. Milosevic's subversion in the Balkans, NATO could still lose a war it claims to have won."