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Western Press Review: Commentaries Ponder Yugoslav Freedom, Mideast Crisis

  • Don Hill

Prague, 10 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The triumph of the Yugoslav opposition is barely a few days old and already Western commentary is turning from celebrating victory to pondering problems. On the Middle Eastern crisis, commentators debate where to place the blame and where to seek the solution.


Harvard University human rights professor Michael Ignatieff, writing in today's New York Times, expresses the kernel of the question commentators are almost unanimous in addressing. He writes: "What is to be done with Slobodan Milosevic? And who is to do it?"

Ignatieff says that trying Milosevic in a Belgrade court certainly would be unwise for international law and, probably, wouldn't be good for Milosevic himself.

The writer says this: "In [UN tribunal at] The Hague, Mr. Milosevic would be on trial for what he did in Kosovo, and if appropriate indictments followed, for what he did in Bosnia. In Belgrade, he would be on trial for what he did to Serbia: ruining the economy, terrorizing opponents and stealing elections. He should be tried for both."

Ignatieff writes further: "If Mr. Milosevic fears victor's justice in The Hague, he has even more reason to fear victor's justice in Belgrade. Thus for Slobodan Milosevic and his co-conspirators, all roads lead to The Hague. Western governments should not let their concern to ease [new Yugoslav President Vojislav] Kostunica's task allow them to forget the demands of justice."


Spain's El Mundo agrees on what the problem is, but not necessarily on the solution. El Mundo says in an editorial: "The fact that President Kostunica refuses to hand his case over to be prosecuted by the international court for ex-Yugoslavia will chill the enthusiasm with which he [Kostunica] was welcomed by the EU. The West seems to have chosen the policy of the carrot and the stick, lifting some sanctions but still continuing to put pressure on Kostunica on this matter."


Today's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung goes to the point in a succinct editorial. It says: "The Belgrade revolution must be a revolution of values, not just personnel. That is why it would be wrong to abandon attempts to bring Mr. Milosevic before the UN war crime tribunal in the Hague in the name of stabilizing Serbian democracy. Letting go of that resolve would only serve to legitimize Mr. Kostunica's argument that the court is not a legal but a political construct."


Denmark's Jyllande Posten says that allowing what it calls the "Balkanization" of international justice would be a costly way of supporting Kostunica's developing government. The newspaper's editorial says: "To put it another way, the West probably will allow the Balkanization of its own legal system and principles in the name of political efficiency. It is a high price to pay."


The Christian Science Monitor asks today, "Was the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic a real revolution?" A Monitor editorial says: "For the Serbs to join Europe, a revolution must take place in their view of the wars many of them supported. The Serbs were not allowed to know of the atrocities their forces committed in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. And many of them blame Milosevic for failing to win the wars and bringing NATO bombs down upon them. Claiming moral responsibility for the wars will require more than just blaming one man."

The editorial continues: "The new president plans to set up a South Africa-style truth commission to bring some sort of justice and closure on the Milosevic era. And it's a good sign that television stations are finally airing scenes of Serb war crimes committed in the Balkans."

It adds: "The new president also wants Serbia, and not the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, to deal with Milosevic. For now, the United States will go along with that and not hold up economic aid, for the sake of rebuilding the nation and avoiding a nationalist Serb backlash against foreign interference. But a true revolution in Serbia would require a fair judicial forum to hold Milosevic accountable."


Madrid's ABC calls in an editorial for both the West and the peoples of Yugoslavia to provide Kostunica the help that he will need. ABC says: "The new Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica faces a Herculean task. He has to build a new political system and rebuild a new economy almost from scratch. He has to lead a society divided and ruined by years of dictatorship, war, isolation and rejection."

ABC adds: "In order to succeed, he needs help from the international community but also from the 10 million Serbian, Montenegrin, Kosovar citizens."


The Washington Times marches to its own beat in a Yugoslav commentary today by Gwynne Dyer, whom it describes as a London-based independent journalist. Dyer says that the overthrow of Milosevic must be sending anxiety tremors through the hearts of dictators everywhere, with Belgrade offering a lesson and a model for opposition forces.

Dyer writes: "In Pyongyang and Rangoon, in Havana and Beijing, even in Tehran and Algiers, the people in power watched the pictures coming out of Belgrade with a horror grown wearisome by repetition. They have seen the scenes so often that what once seemed unimaginable has become routine -- non-violent revolts overthrowing heavily armed, ruthlessly repressive regimes. And," she goes on, "they know that if it can happen to Slobodan Milosevic, it could happen to them too. It will happen to them, sooner or later. By now, everybody with access to television knows how to overthrow a dictatorship and not get too badly hurt in the process."

The writer says that absolute rulers are living on borrowed time. She writes: "Nobody knows when this wave of democratization finally will sweep the Middle East and Africa, the two regions that have been most resistant to the phenomenon so far, but elsewhere dictatorships have become a seriously endangered species."


Commentators on the Mideast today mostly agree in condemning what one labels the "blame the victim syndrome." They are split, however, on who is the victim. Daoud Kuttab, writing in the Los Angeles Times wants an independent international inquiry which, he says, will find that Israel has committed criminal outrages.

The writer says: "There are plenty of reasons that Palestinians insist on a need for an independent inquiry into the violence of the past two weeks that has resulted in the killing of more than 80 civilian Palestinians, many of them children. The United States should support this request, which will surely calm the situation on the ground." Kuttab adds: "The international community should not allow Israel once more to get away with murder."


Writing in Die Welt, German commentator Michael Stuermer finds enough blame to go around. He says: "The last days have dimmed the illusion that if there are peace negotiations there will be peace soon." He writes, "The scenes that have been seen on television all over the world showed to the involved parties what is today at stake. It is war or no war. Two nations have claimed rights to the same territory since ancient times and there is no place where this is more clear than the Wailing Wall, the holiest place for the Jews, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest places for the Muslims. The tragedy, as Goethe said to the Chancellor Von Mueller, is where there is no ground for agreement."

Stuermer writes further: "Europeans must understand that anything is better than war. Refugees from past wars need to help. The young men that throw stones need better values in their lives than hatred of the Jews. The economic potential of the region needs an infrastructure. Europe does not have only interests there. It also has responsibilities."


To the Jerusalem Post, predictably, laying blame on Israelis is tantamount to what its editorial's headline calls, "Betrayal at the UN." The newspaper says: "The United States made a grave mistake in failing to veto what Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called a 'one-sided' UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel. The U.S. abstention was a mistake, despite the three seemingly cogent arguments used to explain it: that a worse resolution was blocked, that Israel was consulted all along, and that U.S. interests 'dictated the move.'"

The editorial concludes: "A U.S. veto would have signaled to Arafat and the Arab world that this round of blaming the victim is over. Now Arafat, Hizbollah, Saddam Hussein -- who just called again for Israel's destruction -- and anyone else who wants to jump on the absurd bandwagon that Israel is threatening the al-Aqsa Mosque can see that Israel's great ally, the United States, is unwilling to come to her defense. This can only be bad for Israel, bad for the United States, and bad for peace."

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