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Western Press Review: Balkans, U.S., EU

By R. Khatya Chhor/Dora Slaba

Prague, 28 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Today the Western press analyzes the conflict in Chechnya and the Balkans. Other topics addressed include France and the EU, U.S.-China relations, and the crisis in the Middle East.


An editorial in the "International Herald Tribune" notes that the conflict in Chechnya has been "studiously ignored by all but a handful of human rights groups and low-ranking diplomats." The paper writes: "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has succeeded remarkably well in stifling domestic and international resistance to a war that has been at least as brutal and costly as those of the Balkans."

Independent coverage of the war is infrequent in the Russian media, while efforts by international institutions, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations, to send observers or human rights officials to Chechnya have been frustrated. The paper adds that "by now, Western governments have thoroughly habituated themselves to discounting Chechnya. [No] government, including the (U.S. President George W.) Bush administration, seems to think that Chechnya should seriously affect relations with Mr. Putin."

The "Tribune" asks: "Why should a government that wages such a war, suppresses information about it, and rejects legitimate international efforts to monitor its human rights violations be welcomed at the annual summit meeting of the rich democracies?" And concludes: "The leaders of the Group of Seven ought to answer that question before they meet in Italy this summer."


In a commentary in "The Washington Post," David Ignatius criticizes the recent nominations to diplomatic posts in Europe made by U.S. President George W. Bush's administration. According to Ignatius, the administration's emphasis on personal friends and campaign contributors suggests "a new level of disdain [and] seems almost like a calculated insult to the Europeans."

Ignatius adds that the nomination of individuals lacking in "area expertise" or "diplomatic experience" is especially unfortunate "at a time when the political and economic boundaries of Europe are being redrawn." He writes: "[Much] of the European polite elite feels that the United States is out of touch and increasingly irrelevant to Europe's future, [while] the diplomatic gap between Europe and the United States keeps widening." Ignatius suggests that "Careful Senate scrutiny of the Bush administration's ambassadorial nominees will help focus on the larger issue: How can the United States connect better with the world?"


A commentary by Jackson Diehl in "The Washington Post" addresses the issue of U.S. involvement in the Balkans and looks at how the U.S. might avoid past mistakes when dealing with the resurgence of Albanian nationalism in the region. Diehl suggests that American reluctance to get involved in Kosovo allowed the conflict to get out of control, resulting in much greater bloodshed and making the solution to the crisis much more difficult. He quotes U.S. General Wesley Clark as saying: "If you delay until the threat to U.S. interests is so clear-cut it's undeniable, the costs and risks are going to be far higher."

Diehl writes that the U.S. President George W. Bush administration "has watched the trouble once again brewing in Macedonia, Kosovo, southern Serbia and Bosnia -- and, spurred on by the Pentagon, has decided once again to leave its management to the Europeans." Diehl urges "a major investment of U.S. energy. [European] ministers are quietly telling the Bush administration that it must lead an effort to come up with political solutions for the Albanians, with timetables and conditions -- and do it before the guerillas of the region ignite a new conflict that defies political solution."


A brief commentary by Burkhard Bischof in the Austrian newspaper "Die Presse" notes the apology offered by the Catholic Church in Poland for the murder of Jews by Poles during World War II. It has come to light that Poles rather than Germans or Russians were responsible for the killing of 1,600 Jewish inhabitants in the town of Jedwabne. Bischof writes: "The Primate of Poland Cardinal Jozef Glemp has joined in the nationwide discussion with an apology 'on behalf of all Polish citizens who have perpetrated evil against followers of Moses.'" The commentary concludes that Glemp's apology is important, "for Catholic circles in Poland are finding it difficult to come to terms with historical truths."


An editorial today in the French daily "Liberation" looks at the proposals of French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin for the future of European integration. After years of holding back on the issue of integration and insisting that "the nation is the framework of democracy," Jospin has emerged as a "europhile," and has proposed numerous solutions for the next phase of integration.

The paper writes: "The Prime Minister [is seeking] credibility in advancing several concrete solutions for the future of the EU: the creation of a permanent council of general affairs, a firmer political base for the [European] Commission, expansion of the powers of the European Parliament, 'renewed co-operation' to ensure that an [expanded] Europe does not get mired in paralysis, and the development of a constitution that will synthesize existing agreements." The paper adds that with this address Jospin, who has been under increasing pressure to unveil his vision of the future of European institutions, has shown his intention of joining the ranks of the true "Makers of Europe."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at the links between the media and the state. After the recent electoral victory of Italy's new prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, his opponents have expressed concern about Berlusconi's stranglehold on the media -- that which he owns as well as that which his government will control. The paper notes that with these complaints the Italian left "has been forced to make explicit what has long been alleged, which is that the state's three networks are effectively under the editorial control of the ruling government."

The editorial writes: "Free peoples deserve media that are free from state interference and control. The media and the state do their jobs best when they exist in a state of dynamic tension with each other. That tension is impossible when the one owns or exercises effective control over the other."


In a piece in the "Los Angeles Times," analysts William Hawkins and Alan Tonelson analyze the trade relationship between the U.S. and China. They suggest that the U.S. would do better to expand trade with the struggling economies of the other Asian states rather than increase commerce with a nation that "is competing with the United States for dominance in the [Pacific] region."

They write that "the focus of Beijing's military modernization is clear; it is to project power outward toward the Pacific Rim directly at American interests and allies." According to the analysts, the administration's approach to China -- in which China is the chief concern of U.S. defense planning but also enjoys significant trade privileges with the U.S. -- is "grounded [in] incoherence."

They add that "current U.S.-China trade patterns are also weakening the regional allies, that America needs to wage a successful strategic competition in Asia with the People's Republic of China. [An] administration committed to competing strategically in East Asia would be trying to check this Chinese economic momentum, not boost it. It would be trying to deny China precious resources, not shower the People's Republic with cash and technology."


In another commentary in the "Los Angeles Times," Middle East-affairs analyst Shibley Telhami warns against transforming the Middle East conflict from a primarily "nationalist conflict, which is resolvable, into an ethnic-religious one, which is nearly impossible to resolve."

Telhami urges diplomatic intervention, since "any delay in restarting the peace talks is far more dangerous than any risk of diplomatic failure." Telhami notes: "the transformation of the character of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rapidly taking place, but it is still at the beginning. Stopping it requires bolstering, not eroding, the nationalist framework that enables compromise."

"In concrete terms," he adds, " the Palestinian authority must be preserved. [Palestinians] must come to grips with the reality of Jewish nationalism, and Israelis must not make territorial claims on the West Bank based on religious narrative." "Otherwise," he concludes, "the ugliness of religious and ethnic conflict will eliminate any hope for peace."