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Western Press Review: Headlines Cover Yugoslavia And Arab Summit

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 20 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslavia continues to attract comment in the Western press today. There are also a number of editorials and analyses devoted to this weekend's summit meeting of Arab leaders in Cairo, called to discuss the recent violent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in Israel.


Britain's Daily Telegraph is concerned about former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic's continuing political role in Belgrade. Its editorial says: "[Milosevic,] one of the vilest figures to emerge since the end of the Cold War, [is] obstructing attempts by Vojislav Kostunica, his successor as Yugoslav head of state, to create a democratic polity based on the rule of law." It adds: "Milosevic's impudence has been breathtaking. Notoriously tenacious in office, he has yet to be persuaded that his political career is over." The paper then says: "Faced with the old tyrant's rear-guard action, Mr. Kostunica is having to tread with care. A key test of his authority in the coming weeks will be whether he can remove Nebojsa Pavkovic as army chief and bring the interior ministry, previously headed by Vlajko Stoljiljkovic, an indicted war criminal, to heel. Beyond that," the editorial says, "[Kostunica] will be hoping that the Socialists will drop Milosevic as their leader at their congress next month, [allowing him] to fulfil his promises to the electorate and rescue Serbia from its semi-criminal abjection."

"Ultimately," the paper says, "[Kostunica] will have to decide what to do with the man chiefly responsible for that state of affairs. Justice demands that Milosevic be held to account for more than a decade of thuggery." It adds: "If Serbia is to put the past behind it, it will have to come to terms not only with what happened inside its boundaries, but also with the devastation wreaked by its former leader on neighboring territories. Stability in the region depends on bringing to book, in a court within Yugoslavia or without, the architect of the nightmare of Greater Serbia."


In a commentary for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Peter Muench says that Kostunica may have numerous problems, but he also has what Muench calls some "newfound friends." He enumerates them: "Libya's Colonel Muammar Kaddafi [is] reported to have dispatched an emissary to Belgrade bearing a [check] for $1 million. [OSCE] chairwoman Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Austria's Foreign Minister, has sent an invitation to Kostunica to rejoin the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe." And, he adds, even "NATO now looks to break with its role as the South Slavs' bombing bogeyman. The alliance yesterday announced its desire to include the former foe in its Partnership For Peace program."

Muench suggests a NATO-Yugoslavia partnership may not be easy, at least in the short run. He writes: "For one thing, [Yugoslavia's] army does not meet Western standards either politically or militarily. And," he adds, "it is still peopled by men wanted for questioning -- at the very least -- at The Hague war crimes tribunal. NATO should tread warily with this customer."


In a new analysis in its current issue, the British weekly Economist asks: "Has Serbia, the rump of Yugoslavia, at last become a normal European country?" The magazine has some doubts, writing: "As the euphoria that followed Mr. Kostunica's triumph has died down, disappointment has grown among his supporters over the cautious way he is moving to wrest real power from the old regime. [People] who know the old guard well [are] advising the new incumbents to speed up their efforts to consolidate power."

As for Yugoslavia's army, the analysis goes on, "its staunchly pro-Milosevic commanders have grudgingly accepted that there has been a change of president, but they seem glued to their seats." In addition, it says, "the criminal nature of the Yugoslav state may present Mr. Kostunica with one of his biggest difficulties. A law professor who lives modestly, he is one of the few public figures in Belgrade untainted by association with criminals."

It ends with a final question: "Can the new president maintain his image as Serbia's 'Mr. Clean,' when so many others, including his closest allies, have compromised -- and in a country where criminals may take ruthless revenge if they are squeezed?"


Turning to the Middle East, the Los Angeles Times says that "the heat [will be] on Arab moderates" at the meeting of 22 Arab leaders that begins in Cairo tomorrow. The paper writes in an editorial: "Egypt and Jordan could come under particular pressure at the conference. They are the only two Arab states that have full diplomatic relations with Israel, and they enjoy close ties to the United States, which has provided them with thousands of millions in economic and military aid." It adds: "Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan know that their countries' future progress and security depend on stability and that among outside powers only the United States can influence all parties."

The editorial continues: "Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat wants the Cairo conference to show that he has united Arab backing. The Palestinians aren't especially popular in the Arab world," the paper says, "but their confrontation with Israel has evoked admiration and calls for support, not least in Egypt and Jordan." The editorial predicts: "Arafat will get what he wants. The challenge to Mubarak, Abdullah and other moderates is to assure that while that's being done, the opportunity for eventually moving on with the peace process doesn't get buried."


In a special report, the Economist seeks to explain "why recent events in the Middle East [have] inflamed the whole Arab world." It writes: "In a profound sense that both Israelis and Americans often fail to recognize, Arabs identify with the Palestinians. It is an empathy not only of kith and kin, but also one born from a feeling that the huge injustice inflicted on the Palestinians is in some way a reflection of wider injustices experienced by Arabs and Muslims everywhere."

The magazine goes on: "The historical experience that Arabs share is of a struggle against colonialism, followed by a period of revolutionary zeal in the 1960s that was dashed by military defeat. There followed," it says, "the corruption and suffocating control of the 'mukhabarat' [secret-police] regimes that are the unfortunate norm in the Arab world: states whose power is entrenched by secret, overlapping and often brutal intelligence services. Hardly surprising, then, that the anger of today's Arab rioters is also directed at their own repressive governments."

The Economist says that the "outpouring of [Palestinian and other Arab] hostility may not really serve practical Palestinian interests." But it also emphasizes: "Israelis would be wise to take pause. By any objective standards, Israel's use of force against this latest 'Intifada' has been excessive, and this has been generally noted. To the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, it is this apparently trigger-happy mentality, not some ancient, millennial hatred, that spurs emotions."

"This," the report concludes, "is why housewives in Cairo are now boycotting American produce: America is where the Israelis' guns come from. It is why citizens in Tunis and Sana are queuing to donate blood for Palestine. The millennial [hatred] is lying around just waiting to be dusted off by those unscrupulous enough to want to exploit it for their own ends."


New York Times foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman sees three possible conclusions to the weekend's Arab summit: "[It] will end with Egypt still leading the Arab world on a road of cold peace with Israel and integration with the West. [Or] it will end with Iraq and Syria leading the Arab world on a path against Israel and America. [Or] the summit could end in a way that will totally shock the 22 Arab leaders. That," he says, "would be with the world [wondering] why the Arab East is the only region in the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, that is still ruled entirely by dictators, autocrats and kings, without one real democracy."

Friedman then says: "If the Arab summit meeting goes back to rejecting Israel, the region will be perceived as moving back to tribalism, and separating itself from the major trends in the world today." But he is encouraged that "Arab leaders of a new generation [and] their countries -- Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco -- are desperately trying to extract themselves from this Arab summit circus where the past always buries the future."

He advises: "Pay attention to Jordan's visionary young King Abdullah. He will be at the Cairo Arab summit, but afterward he will be flying to Washington [to sign the] first free-trade agreement between America and an Arab country -- Jordan." The commentary concludes: "Maybe a few Arab journalists will have the courage to ask their leaders at the summit, 'OK, we're glad you're still trashing Israel, but hey, why has Jordan forged a free-trade accord with the U.S. and our country hasn't?' If that happens, maybe the next Arab summit will be different."