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Western Press Review: Yugoslavia, Russia, Austria

  • Askold Krushelnycky

Prague, 14 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- No single theme today dominates editorials and commentaries in Western newspapers, which deal with a variety of subjects.

Several papers, including Britain's Times, turn their attention to the Balkans and, especially, to Yugoslavia., where parliamentary and presidential elections are due to take place in 10 days (Sept 24). The country's current president, Slobodan Milosevic -- widely blamed for triggering conflicts in the Balkans since 1991 -- is seeking still another term in office.


The Times says: "The campaign, under way since September 1, is not going according to Milosevic's carefully laid plan. The Serbian strongman never intended these elections to be a democratic event. Their whole point is to prolong his own political life, which, until he tore up and rewrote the rump Federation's Constitution last July, would legally have had to end next year." The paper adds: " He changed the law to enable him to run for two more four-year terms, as Yugoslavia's first directly elected President. Until now, it never crossed his mind that he would not win by a landslide. Yet democratic is what these elections, could, improbably, turn out to be -- at least until it comes to 'counting' the ballots."

The editorial also says that the campaign has already seen a brutal crackdown on political opponents and has been boycotted by the pro-Western government of Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the Federation. But Milosevic's rival for the presidency, Vojislav Kostunica, is ahead in opinion polls and, if the vote is conducted fairly, could come out ahead. The paper warns, however, that Milosevic will not relinquish power under any circumstances and his henchmen are already talking about Western plots which could be used as a pretext to launch an attack against Montenegro.

The Times says the West should be ready to assist Montenegro militarily, summing up: "Western leaders hope for the best in Serbia. They also need actively to prepare for the worst. It will be a hot Balkan autumn -- again."


The Chicago Tribune also says that Milosevic miscalculated the support that Kostunica would garner. It writes: "Many fear he will resort to massive vote fraud, cancel the elections, create a national crisis or do something worse to take Kostunica out of the picture. Milosevic is nothing if not a survivor. He has waged and lost four disastrous wars in the last decade. He's been indicted as a war criminal for presiding over the murder and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. He has covered his dwindling Yugoslavia in infamy. And still, he clings to power."

The paper's editorial says that Kostunica has enough common ground with the West to make him a good partner. It adds: "Kostunica's strongest attribute is that he has had no previous cooperation or association with Milosevic. Nor is he seen as pro-Western. He staunchly defended Serbia's right to crack down on Albanian separatists, denounced the NATO campaign in Kosovo and rails against U.S. 'arrogance.' But," the paper argues, "he is decidedly democratic in outlook, a moderate nationalist who is anti-Communist and pro-Europe. Those traits match the U.S. and European formula for reintegrating Yugoslavia into the Western fold. And Kostunica has credibility with Yugoslavs."

The editorial sums up: "It would be a delicious victory for democracy if, after the international community failed to bomb Milosevic out of power, to flush him out as a war criminal, to squeeze him out with economic sanctions, the people of Yugoslavia calmly and methodically vote him out."


In a commentary for the Washington Post, columnist Richard Cohen focuses on another Balkan indicted war criminal, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. He says that it's not too late for outgoing U.S. President Bill Clinton to arrange to bring Karadzic to justice, in his phrase, "dead or alive." But the commentary also says the U.S. must overcome its reluctance to risk the lives of its troops, and contrasts that attitude to the audacious raid by British forces last weekend to free six British soldiers held captive by a renegade Sierra Leone militia group called the West Side Boys.

Cohen asserts Karadzic's whereabouts in Serbia are known. "But," he says, "repeatedly, the United States has shied from mounting a commando-type operation that would bring Karadzic to justice. The Pentagon fears casualties and that, apparently, has been justification enough for nothing much to happen."

Despite the risks to American soldiers' lives, the commentator believes they are worth taking to apprehend Karadzic, whom he describes as "head man of a rapacious regime, responsible for genocide in all its awful permutations -- mass rape, murders, massacres, wholesale imprisonment, the shelling of civilian centers and the use of snipers to kill innocents in and around the capital of Sarajevo." He concludes: "We need a president who has the gumption to tell the Pentagon he's the boss and to order it to sound a bugle or two. Clinton can start by demanding the capture of Radovan Karadzic. [That] would be a legacy worth talking about."


The International Herald Tribune runs a commentary by an aid worker in Kosovo, Rand Engel of Balkan Sunflowers, who sees a glimmer of hope for reconciliation in Kosovo between ethnic Albanians and the Serb minority. Engel writes of a project by his aid group that led to the rebuilding of a park in the Kosovo city of Gjilane by ethnic Albanians and Serbs, who worked side by side to plant trees and build paths in the city park.

The park opened yesterday and prompted the head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner to say: ''This is the happiest day of my life in Kosovo.'' Engel writes: "We expected the mixed work crew idea to fall apart rapidly when it bumped into reality." But he now concludes: "Small steps are being taken in Kosovo, despite the fear and hatred that continue to haunt so many."


A news analysis by David Hoffman in the Washington Post deals with a new so-called "information security" doctrine approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin that some see as another sign of the Kremlin's determination to reassert its dominance over the media. Writing from Moscow, Hoffman says that "the tone of some aspects of the [new information-security] document is redolent of Soviet-era attempts to control information and block foreign broadcasts." He also says that Putin, a former KGB officer, took a personal interest in the document which has -- Hoffman says -- as one of its aims, strengthening the state-owned media. He writes further: "As prime minister and now president, Putin has taken a series of actions that critics say were aimed at intimidating or closing news outlets that criticized the government, including charges against reporter Andrei Babitsky of U.S.-funded Radio Liberty for his coverage of the Chechen war."

Hoffman writes further: "Some of the [document's] language seems filled with paranoia about information threats to Russian security. For example, one section declares that Russia is threatened by the 'activity of foreign political, economic, military, investigative and information structures aimed against the interests of the Russian Federation.' Another calls for 'clarifying the status of foreign information agencies, news media and journalists.'" He also quotes Radio Liberty's Moscow bureau chief, Slavik Schuster, as saying that while the document is not aimed specifically at Radio Liberty, it "certainly it can be used against Radio Liberty or other foreign journalists working in Russia."


The Spanish daily El Pais also comments on the document, saying that it opens the way to a tightening of legislation affecting a free press in Russia. The paper writes in an editorial: "The doctrine approved by President Vladimir Putin already has the character of orders from the state. But because, even as such, it is insufficient to guarantee total control, it also mentions [the possibility of] a rapid revision of all the laws related to the mass media."


In Norway, the daily Aftenposten runs an editorial on yesterday's decision by Russia's Supreme Court to clear environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin of all espionage charges. The decision," it notes, "may not be appealed and ends five years of prosecution against Nikitin."

The editorial says further: "The FSB [Russia's security service] would not bow [to the previous acquittal of Nikitin]. Until the very last moment there were fears that someone might put pressure on the Supreme Court justices. Even though the Russian legal system has put a lot of effort to make itself independent of the political powers of the day, old habits die hard."

Yesterday's ruling," the paper argues, "is proof that Russia is on the way to becoming a law-and-order society where 'the dictatorship of the law,' as President Putin puts it, shall rule. The Russian authorities have many difficult tasks to handle. Persecuting environmental activists is not one of them. It is high time," it concludes, "for the FSB to realize that, too,"


The Spanish daily ABC comments on Tuesday' decision by the European Union to lift bilateral diplomatic sanctions against Austria because of the inclusion in the Austrian coalition government of the far-right Freedom Party. That party was formerly led by Joerg Haider, who has been accused of racism and, several years ago, of making excuses for the Nazis.

The paper writes that the sanctions were unpopular with many EU members because they did not want to set a precedent that could be used against their own countries in the future. "Most of them," it says, "are not enthusiastic about the idea of creating a sword of Damocles that one day could fall on their heads."


The sanctions were lifted after a report by an independent group, dubbed the three wise men, found that Austria's human rights record was exemplary despite the Freedom party's presence in government. But in a commentary for the French daily Liberation, Anton Pelinka argues that the Freedom party is not as harmless as the report makes out. He says: "The Freedom party [is] a special party. It is the only party in Europe that considers itself a direct follower of the German Nazi party. Its first president, Anton Reinthaller, was an SS general. With only one exception -- Wilfried Gredler -- all its founding members were ex-Nazis, and many of them where highly placed officials of the National Socialist regime."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego and Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report)