Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Yugoslavia, Mideast Still Attracting Commentary

  • Don Hill

Prague, 12 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The eyes of the West continue to focus on Yugoslavia and the Middle East.


A Los Angeles Times editorial captures the consensus on Yusoslavia in a line: "Now Kostunica's problems begin."

That's a reference to news reports that Yugoslavia's new President Vojislav Kostunica's has collided with roadblocks to governance constructed by diehard allies of ousted Slobodan Milosevic.

The editorial praises Kostunica's first moves: "For a novice in politics, Kostunica has moved quickly and deftly since his inauguration Saturday, forcing the resignation of Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic and Serbia's top cop, Interior Minister Vlako Stojilkovic who, along with Milosevic, has been indicted for warm crimes."

The editorial continues, "But the process of dismantling Milosevic's power base is far from over. He still controls Serbia's infamous secret service. And his allies, who continue to ignite Serbian nationalism, walked out of talks to form a transitional government when their demands were not met." The newspaper concludes: "The Yugoslavs themselves have the ultimate task, to bring Milosevic to book and dismantle his power base. That job is far from done."


In the French daily Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace, editorial writer Jean-Claude Kiefer concurs. He writes: "We are not yet out of the Balkan scrape." The writer says: "We seem to have forgotten that the real power in Yugoslavia is not retained by the federation, but by Serbia. And this republic is still in hand of Milosevic's trusty friends."

Kiefer says that Milosevic and company appear to control the police, the secret services and other reins of power. And then, he notes, there are also the core issues of Kosovar sovereignty and the wants of Montenegro -- the republic that, with Serbia, comprises the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.


Other writers today also seek to temper any premature leanings toward triumphalism. Britain's Financial Times gives more than 50 column-centimeters of space to the West's high representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Wolfgang Petritsch, for an extensive commentary.

Petritsch says: "It is time to deflate the champagne atmosphere in Belgrade. As the West's senior envoy to Bosnia, I have some hard questions for Vojislav Kostunica, Yugoslav president, whom I plan to meet soon."

The writer says: "Mr. Kostunica's most obvious quarrel with the international community is his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague."


Petritsch gets support for that view today in Canada's Globe and Mail daily. Foreign-affairs analyst Erna Paris writes: "The most serious decision facing Yugoslavia's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, is what to do with Serbia's erstwhile strong man." She adds: "Western countries need to insist that economic sanctions will be lifted completely only when Serbia ends Slobodan Milosevic to stand trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity, Anything less means that Serbia and the Europe it aspires to join will remain incompatible."


In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, commentator Bernard Kueppers writes this about Milosevic: "The prisoner is not really imprisoned. The new power does not really possess power over him." He adds: "Kostunica has, of course, been legitimized and internationally recognized. But in the Yugoslavian parliament, the DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia) only possesses a majority if it wins to its side the Socialist Peoples Party of Montenegro."

The German commentator says: "The biggest obstacle to the coming of a democratic Serbia is the danger of chaos that Milosevic threatened in his last speech."


A New York Times editorial today adopts a realistic rather than idealistic stance on what is best for Kostunica and his well-wishers in the West. The newspaper says: "Forcing Slobodan Milosevic to acknowledge defeat and resign Yugoslavia's presidency was only the first step in what will be a long and difficult process of undoing the damage of 13 years of war and dictatorship."

The editorial goes on: "Kostunica will have to dismantle still dangerous elements of the Milosevic political machine and security apparatus even as he vies with more radical elements of his own coalition impatient with his commitment to constitutional change."

The New York Times argues for support and breathing room for Kostunica before his well-meaning potential allies try to force high principles on him. It says: "The United States can help Mr. Kostunica by following Europe's lead and lifting most of the economic sanctions imposed during the Milosevic years, a step President Clinton plans to take today. Substantial emergency assistance also will be needed this winter. Washington should be generous."


Spain's El Pais draws a lesson for Yugoslavia from Germany's early democratization efforts. The lesson is, don't slow down now.

El Pais says in an editorial: "Germany become a democratic country through two parallel processes, the political-constitutional and the cognitive." It adds: "The clear rejection of the Milosevic regime and the coming to power of a new democratic government proves that the political-constitutional process has begun."

The Spanish newspaper continues: "Congresses organized by independent intellectuals on the theme of reconciliation and guilt, as those that took place in April and May of this year in the Montenegrin town of Ulcinj and in Belgrade, as well as published anthologies such as 'Guilt and Responsibility' and 'The Serbian Side of the War,' are proof that the most difficult process, the process of building a civil conscience, has begun. Let us hope that the Serbs will be quicker than the Germans were. Europe is waiting."


In commentaries on the Mideast today, The Washington Post's Stephen Rosenfeld identifies what he says are the individual responsibilities of some named national leaders. And the Chicago Tribune faults both Israel's Ehud Barak and the Palestinians' Yasser Arafat.

Rosenfeld writes: "Yasser Arafat was on the verge of a great diplomatic success -- the winning of a state under conditions more responsive to Palestinians' requirements than most of them had ever contemplated. He then mindlessly chose to exploit by the inflammatory if legalistically defensible visit to a holy place by the Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon. He did so by setting the terrible precedent of destroying a holy place under his sovereignty."

Rosenfeld concludes: "Mr. Sharon is a wrecker, not a builder. He has a plan for the status quo but not for the future. In Mr. Barak's initiatives for the West Bank and Jerusalem still lie the outlines of a negotiation that could resume in some form if the fighting fades. Mr. Arafat will be judged on how promptly and genuinely he responds too the rescue of diplomacy in his region."


The Chicago Tribune says this: "Arafat -- who encouraged the violence at the outset -- has yet to call in any meaningful way for a halt." The editorial says also: "Israel has insisted on giving Palestinians only half a loaf, a limited state without a strong military, a series of autonomous islands that are hemmed in by the Israeli arm, a peace without dignity."


For Denmark's Berlingske Tidende, "Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is the one to blame for the current situation. He has failed," says the paper, "to enforce order among his own supporters during the past two weeks, he was too slow in withdrawing his paramilitary militias from the [Palestinian refugee] camps, and he has not opposed the more extremists elements in Palestinian society, who have called for full-scale war with Israel.

The paper says further: "Despite the provocations, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has resisted the temptation of granting more authority to the Israeli security forces to suppress the rebels. His level-headed course of action should continue both militarily and politically -- in the political sphere, especially toward the conservative Likud party, whose leader Ariel Sharon wants to enter a grand coalition government with Barak." The paper concludes: "Such a development would only pour more oil on the fire."

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