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Western Press Review: 'Deja Vu' in Macedonia; Ukraine, Russia, Europe

  • Don Hill

Prague, 21 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- German commentator Stefan Cornelius, writing today in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," confesses to a sad sense of "dj vu" aroused by the sound of gunfire in Macedonia. Several other commentaries in today's review of Western press opinion also turn their spotlights on Macedonia.


"In the Balkans," Cornelius writes, "the same old film seems to run in an endless loop as separatist guerillas dig in up in the mountains, start a skirmish, stoke the already blazing flames of hatred and ignore political solutions, while the international community stands by and watches the fuse burning down to the powder keg."

The commentator prescribes: "KFOR has to stake out its turf in Kosovo and make it clear that its troops -- and only its troops -- are in charge of maintaining stability and quiet there. That means taking some Albanian gangs prisoner and making a high-profile, symbolic point of destroying a few major weapons caches."


The "Wall Street Journal Europe" worries in a lengthy editorial that Western leaders "are tempted to remark, as former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once did about academia, that the fighting is so vicious because the stakes are so small." Not true, however, says the newspaper, "What happens to Macedonia does matter -- to NATO, the United States, and to the European Union most of all."

One reason it matters is its significance to the credibility of NATO, the editorial says, adding: "Without decisive action now, the Atlantic alliance could suffer a Somalia-like humiliation (referring to the embarrassing failure of a 1993 U.S. armed intervention in Somalia), erasing the gains thus far achieved in the Balkans and sending a message of weakness around the world."


A "Washington Post" editorial agrees that Macedonia matters. The newspaper says the United States should behave more resolutely this time than it has toward Balkan confrontations of the recent past. It writes: "In 1991 the first Bush administration ducked out of the disintegrating situation in then-Yugoslavia. In 1993 the Clinton administration deemed Bosnia a problem that could be handled by the Europeans. In 1998 the administration avoided reacting to the outbreak of the bloody Serb campaign against Albanians in Kosovo. In each case," the paper says, "U.S. inaction helped fuel a war that eventually, after months or years of bloodshed, forced American intervention on a far greater scale than might have been necessary to halt the crisis at the beginning. Now the Bush administration appears at risk of making the same mistake once again in Macedonia."


Britain's "Independent" daily carries a news analysis from Tetovo in Macedonia by correspondent John Sweeney. He likens Macedonia to a tough saloon where two ill-tempered madmen are seated at the bar. He writes: "The Macedonians are Orthodox, the Albanians Muslim. The intermarriage rate between Macedonians and Albanians is less than 1 percent. They live in the same country, but don't get on. Macedonia is schizophrenia with a seat at the United Nations. Imagine two armed men, both suffering from splitting migraines, in the same bar, both spoiling for fight, and you get some idea of the picture."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung"'s Thomas Urban, in a commentary from Warsaw, says that Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma is in deep but not necessarily fatal muck. Urban writes: "Things once again are getting uncomfortable for Leonid Kuchma, president of Ukraine. Most of parliament has turned against him and the Communists, not too long ago his most fervent supporters, are joining the calls for his resignation. As things stand, he faces no threat as yet. [He] is a wily tactician who has so far managed to play off his political rivals against each other."

The writer says: "Yet trickery alone will not help Kuchma for long. His standing at home and abroad is nearing the zero-point following the publication of cassette tapes recorded in his official residence. Although the recordings are far from proving that he ordered the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze -- a man Kuchma plainly detested -- it has managed to reveal to the world the sort of vulgar thieves' cant Kuchma slips into when in the company of his closest workers and stooges."


Analyst Frederick Kempe writes in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" that Russian President Vladimir Putin is shoring up his weakest point -- his political sense. Kempe says: "The critics say Mr. Putin's lack of political instinct will be his undoing. Just look at his insensitive response from his Crimean holiday resort when he wasn't even willing to forego his jet skiing to respond to the Kursk disaster, the sinking of the Russian nuclear submarine. The president's backers say he's learned: Last week he returned home from his winter vacation in Siberia -- a tough-guy tourist destination to befit his well-crafted image -- to respond more deftly to a Russian airliner hijacking."


Thomas Avenarius in Moscow comments in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that the man shoring up Putin's savvy is a public relations expert named Sergei Yastrzhembsky. Avenarius says: "This is a man who finds it easy to fence dodgy political wares, regardless of who the potential buyer might be. Sergei Yastrzhembsky was once President Boris Yeltsin's press spokesman before shifting camps to his opponent. Only to pop up later with a career under Yeltsin's anointed successor Vladimir Putin."

The commentator writes: "As Russia's top spin doctor, Yastrzhembsky is concerned that President Putin's image should glitter like gold. Putin is upset that the shine has been taken off his policies by a series of upsets. Meanwhile, the ministries cannot agree on anything, politicians and civil servants say conflicting things, and everyone ducks responsibility. [But] as the chief of a new Kremlin information department, Yastrzhembsky is now poised to combine all the fortress's press teams."


Two commentaries today speak to the issue of European xenophobia. Martin Winter writes in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" that European intolerance of minorities may be diminishing: "According to the Euro-barometer of 2000 Survey conducted on behalf of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, published yesterday, 14 percent of Europeans are actively xenophobic." The good news, Winter says, is that the percentage that believes minorities enrich a country's cultural life has risen from 33 to 48 percent since the last such poll.


The "Sueddeutche Zeitung" carries a commentary by Thomas Urban about a pogrom in 1941 in which Christian inhabitants of the Polish village of Jedwabne, 100 km northwest of Warsaw, are said to have burned alive much of the village's majority Jewish population. He writes: "In 1941, [Roman] Catholic Poles there allegedly herded hundreds of their Jewish neighbors into a barn and set it alight." Urban notes further: "The crime was long thought to be the work of the German occupiers, but the Warsaw-born U.S. historian Jan Thomas Gross, who himself lost many relatives in the Holocaust, now claims to have uncovered the precise events surrounding the atrocity. The book containing his description of the pogrom has unleashed a debate on anti-Semitism in Poland never before seen on this scale."