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Western Press Review: Balkan Watch Continues

  • Don Hill

Prague, 1 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentators continue today to try to follow the twists and turns of current developments in the Balkans. Some papers also comment on other issues of concern to Eastern and Central Europe.


Writing in Die Welt, German commentator Katja Ridderbusch describes Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova, whose party won Kosovo's local elections over the weekend, as "the man with the paisley scarf, the Ghandhi of the Balkans." Ridderbusch basically sees Rugova as a man of peace, who has been altered by the violence of the Kosovo war.

She writes: "Now, he's back, appearing from out of nowhere." She says: "Rugova is doubtless one of the Balkan region's most underestimated politicians. This expert on literature hails from a well-to-do family, his father a successful businessman. But Rugova's image as a nutty, peacenik professor fooled his opponents in Belgrade as well as his well-wishers in the West. As it turns out, the image was an elegant and politically astute slight of hand."

Die Welt's writer says that Rugova has triumphed in Kosovo through his low-key approach and because former rebel commander Hashim Thaci displayed a warrior image to Kosovars, most of whom are tired of war. She writes: "Thaci has no real power base [beyond his dispersed] underground army [He] is a man of war. Now that the war is over, his time is up."

Texas Governor and presidential candidate George W. Bush has stirred up the current U.S. presidential race with a proposal for easing U.S. ground troops out of Bosnia and Kosovo. The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune carry contrasting commentaries on that idea.


Brookings Institution senior fellow Ivo Daalder writes in a Los Angeles Times commentary that Bush's complaint that the U.S. military is overextended is, in Daalder's phrase, "without much merit." He says: "Bush's chief foreign policy adviser called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Balkans as part of a 'new division of labor.'"

The commentator goes on: "If implemented, the idea of new division of labor within NATO would be disastrous. It would undermine the unique U.S. role in the Balkans, weaken our most successful alliance to the point of irrelevance and shift the burden of maintaining global stability almost completely onto the United States."

The commentary concludes: "The United States does not need a new division of labor with Europe. It needs a strong and self-confident partner willing to share in the risks and burdens of promoting our joint security. Withdrawing our troops from the Balkans is unlikely to get us there."


By contrast, the Chicago Tribune writes in an editorial today: "The Republican presidential contender's ideas on the Balkans are well worth considering." The paper asks: "Risky? Dangerous? Not at all," it says. "Bush hasn't demanded that troops be pulled out on Inauguration Day [that is, Jan 21, the day that a new U.S. president takes office]. He is setting out the scenario for turning the long-term task of restoring a civil structure in Kosovo over to Europe."

The editorial concludes: "The United States is committed to [protecting Europe] and would remain so under either Al Gore or George Bush. This is not a debate about abandoning Europe. It is a debate about the proper deployment of the U.S. military's most precious asset, its people."


Another contribution to the Los Angeles Times today condemns the idea, propounded elsewhere, that a low priority be assigned to bringing former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity. Foreign affairs analysts Charles Kupchan and Diane Orentlicher say that the Balkans -- and the whole idea of international justice -- would, in their words, "pay a heavy price should [Milosevic] be allowed to settle into quiet retirement."

The commentators write: "When the UN Security Council established [the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague] in 1993, its intent was not merely to ensure punishment for past crimes but to prevent them from occurring in the future. If Milosevic soon finds himself in the custody of the tribunal, other autocrats contemplating ethnic slaughter will think twice before following through. If the international community instead gives de facto immunity to the tribunal's leading suspect, the deterrent power of the tribunal will be irredeemably compromised."


The Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung and the Wall Street Journal Europe are carrying commentaries on Russia. In the German newspaper, Werner Adam says that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a study in self-contradiction. The paper titles Adam's brief critique, "Two-Faced." Here are excerpts:

"Vladimir Putin can take pleasure in inflationary offers of strategic partnerships with the West. Even France, hitherto skeptical, now feels it has reason to make good with Russia and has sought to tempt the Russian president by observing marked restraint in further criticism of the war in Chechnya. That goes for French officials. French intellectuals, in contrast, leave you in no doubt that they continue to be Europe's most acute and untiring observers of political developments."

"Yet Moscow itself repeatedly is calling into question understandable endeavors to integrate Russia in Europe. The latest instance in connection with the much-vaunted community of values is that Russia has expressed outrage at the first free elections held in Kosovo because the results were not in keeping with what the province's former Serbian oppressors would have wanted."


The Wall Street Journal Europe calls its editorial, "Russia's Glass House" [a play on the English-language adage, "people in glass houses shouldn't thrown stones."] The editorial says: "There was a 'here we go again' (the phrase echoes a popular line of the late U.S. president Ronald Reagan) quality about the proposal by a group of hard-line Russian parliamentary deputies last week to send observers to the United States to monitor whether the presidential elections would be indeed free and fair. They suspected irregularities especially in California, Texas and in other territories forcibly annexed to the United States, the deputies announced."

The paper comments: "Come to think of it, we wish the [State] Duma had taken up the deputies' offer to send observers to the United States on election day. Wars and all [that is, showing imperfections as well as positive qualities], there's still a lot Russia can learn from a look at the inner workings of a country with a serious claim to being democratic."


In the Los Angeles Times, former British diplomat Jonathan Clarke takes the U.S. government to task for failing to label the 1915 Ottoman empire slaying of thousands of Armenians as "genocide." A U.S. congressman with a substantial bloc of ethnic Armenians among his constituents, had proposed a non-binding resolution adopting the term to describe the Ottoman action of 85 years ago. Clarke writes: "The resolution's bipartisan sponsors regarded this as an innocuous affair, concerned with history rather than current foreign policy. In deference to Turkey's sensibilities, the resolution contained explicit language exempting the present-day Republic of Turkey from responsibility. The resolution then went to the full House [of Representatives] for a vote."

Clarke writes that Turkey's angry response surprised U.S. officialdom with threats to halt military cooperation, and the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton persuaded the Congressional leadership to kill the measure without a vote. Clarke writes: "The message for bullies and terrorism is clear: America understands your language." The writer adds: "The Clinton administration's capitulation will strengthen precisely those reactionary elements that obstruct Turkey's democratic evolution. It also will fuel the Turkish military's ingrained addiction to solving problems by force."