Prague, 22 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- With the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, now moving into high gear in the Czech capital Prague, there is some Western press commentary today on both institutions. Editorialists and analysts also assess the importance of Sunday's (Sept 24) elections in Yugoslavia, where opinion polls show long-time leader Slobodan Milosevic behind his chief opponent.
The British weekly Economist makes "the case for globalization" in its lead editorial. It writes: "The anti-capitalist protesters who [hope] to make a great nuisance of themselves in Prague [are] wrong about most things. However," the magazine adds, "they are right on two matters, and the importance of these points would be difficult to exaggerate. The protesters are right that the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time is Third-World poverty. And they are right that the tide of 'globalization,' powerful as the engines driving it may be, can be turned back. The fact that both these things are true," it says, "is what makes the protesters -- and, crucially, the strand of popular opinion that sympathizes with them -- so terribly dangerous."
The editorial goes on: "The mighty forces driving globalization are surely, you might think, impervious to the petty aggravation of street protesters wearing silly costumes. Certainly, one would have hoped so," it argues, "but it is proving otherwise. Street protests did in fact succeed in shutting down the Seattle trade talks last year.
More generally, governments and their international agencies, which means the IMF and the World Bank, among others, are these days and [are] not merely listening to the activists but increasingly are pandering to them, adjusting both their policies and the way these policies are presented to the public at large."
The weekly argues further: "These outbreaks of anti-capitalist sentiment are meeting next to no intellectual resistance from official quarters. Governments are apologizing for globalization and promising to civilize it. Instead, if they had any regard for the plight of the poor, they would be accelerating it, celebrating it, exulting in it -- and if all that were too much for the public, they would at least be trying to explain it."
It concludes with a question: "Is defending globalization boldly on its merits as a truly moral cause [entirely] out of the question? If it is, as it seems to be," the magazine says, "that is dismal news for the world's poor."
In Spain's El Pais daily, Javier Moreno says in an analysis of a press conference given yesterday in Prague by the World Bank's president: "James Wolfensohn's statements put him closer to the scores of non-governmental organizations present in the Czech capital than to the industrialized countries that control his institution. Wolfensohn," Moreno says, "asked the rich countries to start working immediately on poor countries' problems, including what he considers the insufficient aid Moreno they receive [and their needed debt relief]."
Javier Moreno continues: "Wolfensohn's remarks increase the pressure on the [Group of Seven leading industrialized nations,] whose finance ministers are due to meet in Prague." He says the ministers had intended "to discuss issues that affect them more directly, like oil and the [EU common currency, the] euro. Now," he adds, "on top of the street demonstrators who will insult them and demand more money for the developing world, they will have to deal with the headaches of [IMF chief Horst] Kohler and Wolfensohn, who [are accusing] them of stinginess [toward the poorer nations]."
A commentary by Robert L. Borosage in the Washington Post accuses the IMF of "peddling misery." Why, it asks, "does the IMF instill such fear and loathing? For an answer," the commentator says, "just take a look at what the fund recommends for the United States."
"Every year," the commentator goes on, "the IMF consults with each member country about its economic policies. It dispatches a team of what Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank chief economist, famously scorned as 'second-rate economists from first-rate universities' to measure performance against a remarkably reactionary economic dogma."
This year's report on the U.S. economy, the commentary adds, "commends the 'sound monetary and fiscal measures' that have contributed to [high] employment, low inflation and budget surpluses. The staff does not bother to note that this record was created by ignoring previous fund warnings that the United States was growing too fast, that unemployment was too low and that prices would spiral out of control. Had the fund's previous advice been followed, the U.S. expansion would have been cut off years ago," the commentator concludes, "and much of the world would likely be mired in a continuing recession."
Several papers today carry editorials and commentaries on Sunday's Yugoslav elections. In Britain, the Daily Telegraph writes: "The stakes in the Balkans this weekend are higher than at any time since NATO launched its air war against Serbia in March 1999." That's because, it says, in the presidential poll "Slobodan Milosevic is facing an unprecedented strong electoral challenge from a moderate nationalist lawyer, Vojislav Kostunica. [And] on top of this, relations between Serbia and Montenegro, another part of the Yugoslav rump, are on a knife edge."
The editorial goes on: "The government in Podgorica is urging its supporters to boycott the election. [It] has been gradually easing itself out of Belgrade's grasp. The question now is whether the election will provide Milosevic with a pretext for forcefully reining it in again." Another reason for concern, the paper says, is that "voting is also taking place in Kosovo, which, despite having become a NATO protectorate, still formally belongs to Yugoslavia. There, the Albanian majority is not taking part."
The editorial also says: "Mr. Kostunica is no Western stooge, despite [Milosevic's] efforts to portray him as such. [Still,] his victory would be a setback to ultra-nationalist forces in Serbia which have reduced the republic to a criminal polity consumed with self-pity." It concludes: "It is in the interest of the West, and of the Balkans as a whole, that [Kostunica's] challenge succeeds. [The] overall goal remains to break Milosevic's malign power."
WALL STREET JURNAL EUROPE:
In a news analysis for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Robert Block says that "the main question hanging over [Yugoslavia] isn't which candidate is the best. What nags people in Serbia and its smaller sister republic, Montenegro, is what will happen when all the votes are counted and victory is claimed, as analysts expect, by both Slobodan Milosevic and his main opponent, the hitherto little-known lawyer Vojislav Kostunica."
Block then asks: "Will people take to the streets or slink home and accept the results? Will Mr. Milosevic step down or call out the troops? Will there be civil war or national reconciliation?" He quotes Goran Svilanovic, leader of the Serbian Civic Alliance -- one of 18 opposition parties supporting Kostunica's candidacy, as saying: "No one knows. Monday is a blank page, and the first line will be drawn by whoever wins the elections. The second will be made by the reaction of the people."
In an editorial, the Washington Post says: "The candidate currently leading in the polls is an ardent Serb nationalist who rarely misses an opportunity to bash NATO or the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. [He is,] of course, the candidate of the democratic opposition, [Vojislav] Kostunica." The paper notes: "Given that the alternative, Milosevic, is demonstrably worse, both the disparate factions of the Serbian opposition and the United States have thrown their support behind Mr. Kostunica. Indeed, U.S. and Western European governments have poured millions of dollars into opposition political organizations and [promised] to lift economic sanctions on Yugoslavia if Mr. Milosevic is defeated."
"On balance," the paper argues, "these are the right policies. It is an on-balance judgment because the very prominence of Western support for the opposition permits Mr. Milosevic to portray himself as the savior of Serbian national independence and provides him with a ready-made excuse --foreign interference --to annul an unfavorable outcome. Still," it adds, "Mr. Milosevic, who recently labeled his opponents 'rabid rats and hyenas,' would have called them traitors even if they hadn't received a dime from abroad. And the consensus of election observers is that he'll probably resort to massive fraud rather than permit even the appearance of an opposition victory. Better to have given the opposition, flawed as it is, the means with which to make a race of it."
(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego contributed to this report)