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Western Press Review: Macedonia Flare-Up, Mir Come-Down, Robinson Walk-Out

  • Don Hill

Prague, 20 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- An "almost war" is growling and snapping in the "oasis of peace" -- Macedonia. So says a "New York Times" commentary written by Iso Rusi, editor of the Macadonian Albanian-language weekly "Lobi." The travails of Macedonia evoke several commentaries today in the Western press.


Rusi's commentary blames the initial fighting in Macedonia on Kosovar Albanians, but he says there is evidence that continuation of the fighting is fomenting inter-ethnic hostility. He writes from Skopje: "I am not the only one to notice the broken flower pots decorating the balcony of a pizzeria owned by an Albanian in Porta Vlae. Going through today's papers, I recognize the language of hatred entering the media. Also I have again this horrid feeling that began a week or so ago, a feeling that grows beneath the looks of my Slavic Macedonian colleagues and acquaintances, who can see in me now an Albanian, though I am part Slav. They see in me a terrorist, and I see them struggling to refrain from saying something unpleasant."


"Sueddeutsche Zeitung" commentator Bernhard Kueppers says in a commentary, also written in Skopje, that the "Albanian irregulars in Macedonia -- who are nothing other than an extension of the officially disarmed KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK] -- are clearly making little effort to disguise their plan for a territorial division of [Macedonia], along ethnic lines."

Kueppers asks: "And NATO? Will the alliance be content with acting as a mere adviser in helping Macedonia defend itself and providing a strengthened KFOR presence to protect the border with Kosovo? Macedonia's government already has announced it will seek foreign military assistance if it needs to. When it does, NATO will have to make a decision."


The "Washington Post" carries a commentary by the former supreme allied commander in Europe, U.S. General Wesley Clark. He writes that today, the second anniversary of the day that Slobodan Milosevic began "a rampage of ethnic cleansing and murder" in Kosovo, "we are seeing ominous signs of a new wave of Balkan conflict. The time for Western hesitancy and ambiguity in Kosovo is past," Clark says.

Under the headline, "Don't Delay in Macedonia," Clark writes further: "Ultimately, the international community must recognize that the nub of the problem is the continuing delay in moving the province [Kosovo] toward democratic self-rule and the resolution of its final status. Troubles across the region are unlikely to ebb until Kosovars are fully engaged in building up their own institutions. Stabilizing Kosovo means following through on our promises and holding elections for a legislative body with real powers, moving forward on the transition to self-government, and committing to a clear timetable for final status negotiations."

He concludes: "Kosovo's people deserve self-rule. Albanians elsewhere -- Macedonia, southern Serbia -- deserve fair and lawful treatment. It is in the profound interest of the United States and our allies to see that they get it quickly. But Kosovo's leaders and its people must show understanding that Albanians have nothing to gain -- and everything to lose -- by exporting or inflaming conflict in the Balkans."


The "Chicago Tribune" memorializes the Mir space station in an editorial. The newspaper says: "To most Russians, [the impending descent] of Mir is a tragedy, one more sad sign their glory days of space and world dominance are waning. To the West, it's a relief -- first because Mir is a dangerous, dilapidated bucket-of-bolts, but more importantly, because its demise means Russia can afford to remain a partner in the International Space Station. That said," the paper goes on, "the world should pause a moment to commend Moscow for Mir's contribution to expanding the frontiers of science, space travel, and longevity in space. The plucky little craft -- plagued with problems, mishaps and fender-benders -- stayed aloft more than 15 years and contributed to a level of U.S.-Russian cooperation in space that has outlived the Cold War. It blazed a pioneering path for human endurance and ingenuity in space."

The editorial adds: "Mir, which means 'peace' in Russian, helped teach Americans and Russians to live and work together in space. This is vital not just for the new multinational space station, but because the cost of space exploration will have to be shared for missions of the future. With recent NASA cuts in promised U.S. elements for the space station, Russia is keeping more commitments than the United States."


In its editorial on Mir, the "New York Times" says in a similar vein: "As its years in orbit passed, Mir seemed less and less futuristic and more and more decrepit. It broke down and caught fire and collided with a cargo transport. The tang of protracted human occupancy filled its interior, and it sprouted external modules of every kind. One American astronaut has said that Mir looks like a cosmic tumbleweed. Others liken it to a dragonfly."

The newspaper concludes: "The space-faring nations of the world have moved on and are now building an even larger international space station in low Earth orbit. But Mir is a sign that humans have already been at the business of working and conducting experiments in space for some time now, long enough to feel that Mir embodies a significant chunk of orbital history."


Commentator Pierre Simonitsch, writing in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," reviews the career of outgoing UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson. He says: "Robinson is the first UN human rights commissioner ever invited to visit mainland China. The memorandum of agreement signed during her visit to Beijing in February led to the Chinese endorsement -- with reservations -- of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Moscow authorities have promised to grant her request to visit Chechnya, too, but so far the necessary authorizations have yet to be granted. In November, Robinson visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories but didn't succeed in ending the violence there."

He notes one of the frustrations that led to her resignation: "'The amount of work keeps increasing with no increase in the budget,' Robinson said Monday, adding that her office has a huge mandate but funding of just about $20 million."


The "Irish Times" says of Ireland's former president: "We have not heard the last of Mary Robinson." The newspaper writes in an editorial: "She will certainly go out on a high note since she is a prime mover behind the world conference on racism scheduled for Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September. She has laid considerable emphasis during her term of office on the need to acknowledge that human rights are not confined to the civil and political spheres but apply also to economic and social life."

The editorial asks: "Can tyrants and despots, bullies and fanatical ideologues sleep easier at night now that she is giving up her UN role? The answer, both from herself and those who know her, is decidedly in the negative: you don't get rid of Mary Robinson that easily. She named Cuba, Libya and Iraq as countries which were 'very hostile' to human rights."


Writing from Moscow in "Die Welt," commentator Manfred Quiring likens Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's recent maneuvering to escape the consequences of a widening scandal to the moves of a chess-master. Quiring writes: "Another pawn has been sacrificed in Ukraine as its embattled president, Leonid Kuchma, attempts to ease the growing pressure on his rule. Following Kuchma's dismissal of the intelligence chief, Leonid Derkach, and the commander of the National Guard, Vladimir Shepel, Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko has now been forced to vacate his post."


The "New York Times" says in an editorial on "Ukraine's Tribulations:" "When the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine seemed like a candidate for success, with a well-educated work force and a border with Eastern Europe. The country made an enlightened decision to destroy its stocks of nuclear weapons. While Ukraine has cultural and historic ties to Russia, many Ukrainians are more oriented toward their European neighbors to the West. But Ukraine's progress has been crippled by the kind of political manipulation [Kuchma seems to be employing]. Until very recently, the economy was contracting by more than 10 percent a year. Corruption blocked investment and economic reform. Power and money rule the courts."