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Western Press Review: Balkans, Extraditing Milosevic, Gongadze Murder

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 25 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Balkans dominate commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend, with different pieces looking at Albania's parliamentary elections Sunday, new clashes in Macedonia, and the impending extradition of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Other pieces look at the murder of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, NATO enlargement, and Europe's troubling economic forecast.


An editorial in The Times calls Saturday's decision by Belgrade authorities to permit Slobodan Milosevic to stand trial in The Hague an "extraordinary breakthrough." It adds: "The courage of President [Vojislav] Kostunica and his colleagues must be matched by political dynamism from the European Union and the United States. [If] Mr. Milosevic does indeed turn up in The Hague, then the Serbian government has a right to expect the assistance which has been pledged to follow swiftly afterwards."

The editorial goes on to address the situation in Macedonia. It says that the breakdown in last week's peace talks were due to "Albanian demands for levels of control that Macedonian leaders fear would amount to partitioning their country into two ethnic statelets." Part of the problem, the editorial says, is the widespread perception that the West is on the Albanians' side -- a notion based on NATO's intervention to protect them from Yugoslav forces in Kosovo two years ago. This perception, it says, "encourages Albanians to inflate their demands and makes Slavs suspicious of external mediation."

The paper concludes: "The key to avoiding a serious war remains to impress on extremist ethnic Albanians that the West will not protect them if they are bent on pulling apart a vulnerable, ethnically mixed country in pursuit of a radical Greater Albania. [NATO leaders] need now to focus on Macedonia with the same intensity once devoted to Kosovo."


A commentary by Georg Paul Hefty in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung looks at the election in Albania, as well as the broader situation of Albanians throughout the Balkans. Hefty writes: "As long as [Albania's] Socialist Party and the Democratic Party are unable to improve social conditions outside the flourishing town centers and in the countryside, many Albanians [will] fall for those tempters who say that armed force is the more successful method of insuring a better life for oneself [and one's] children." He goes on to note that Albanians live in a number of countries throughout the region, each with differing circumstances. "Nevertheless," he writes, "they seem to have discovered a single purpose: their independence."

He adds that "a population that has always suffered intimidation is an excellent breeding ground for terrorists," and notes that such insurgents often recruit support through coercion or by proclaiming grand national goals and demanding obedience in the service of this shared cause. Hefty writes: "This is now -- as earlier in Kosovo -- the situation in Macedonia. The terrorists will not back down in spite of promised truces. Neither will the government give in."


An editorial in the Irish Times says that the "impending handover" of Slobodan Milosevic to the UN war crimes tribunal "marks a very important step in Yugoslavia's reintegration to the international community." It adds, however, that "while all those who oppose the racist and self-serving policies he pursued while in power will welcome Mr. Milosevic's appearance in The Hague, it is important that justice be done openly and with greater efficiency than heretofore." The editorial notes that in its eight years of operation, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia "has sentenced only four war criminals. Only 10 suspects are currently before the court while others wait inordinately long periods to be tried." The recent appointment of 27 new temporary judges to the ICTY, it says, "could not have come at a more appropriate time."


A Washington Post editorial looks at the murder of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, and considers the implications that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was linked to his disappearance. The editorial quotes presidential aide Vladimir Litvin as saying that although the case has never been solved, "the appropriate conclusions have already been made [and] this does not have to influence in any way the strategic dimensions of [the United States' and Ukraine's] partnership." The paper, however, disagrees, writing: "That should not be the case. [Ukraine] is wavering between the West and [as] a satellite of Russia. [It] has enormous influence on the unsettled and unstable region around it, [and] its continued independence and stability are important to the West." It adds that "for those very reasons, the United States cannot let Mr. Kuchma forget about Mr. Gongadze." Neither Ukraine nor Russia, it adds, can "ever be a worthwhile partner of the United States or part of a united Europe unless it fully embraces democracy and human rights. [The Bush administration] can make that clear to Ukrainians, and maybe advance the cause a little, by continuing to press for answers about Heorhiy Gongadze."


Michael Huether in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes that hopes have faded of Europe becoming an economic rival of the United States. He asks why Europe has not managed to develop what he calls an "autonomous economic dynamic" -- separate from, and one day potentially leading -- the U.S. economy. In spite of myriad adjustments, he writes, the euro zone has not been "immunized [against] external attacks." He continues: "The causes of European weakness are more profound. Even if one acknowledges the current dismal situation in the United States, the fundamental characteristics of the U.S. economy explain its lead. Economic parameters in the United States strengthen innovative potential and allow for its entrepreneurial use, with an accordingly positive impact on employment. [In] the short term, the lack of entrepreneurial activity in Europe cannot be remedied by improved investment conditions. [But] in the end, such efforts will pay off." In such an environment, Huether continues, "monetary policy best performs its tasks if it fulfills its mission of ensuring price stability." Demands for interest-rate cuts, he concludes, "must therefore be rejected."


In the Financial Times, columnist Quentin Peel writes that "the whole strategy of NATO enlargement has been ill-thought-out." The best path now, Peel writes, "is to extend the invitation [of NATO membership] to Russia itself" and begin a "fundamental reassessment" of the alliance's political and military goals. He continues: "Such a rethink is overdue. Should it be an organization to act as global sheriff -- in another Gulf War? Or should it be primarily devoted to muscular peacekeeping, including peacemaking, as in the Balkans?" Such questions, Peel writes, have never been properly answered, with the result that "the Europeans are worried about U.S. commitment, the U.S. is worried about Europe's own defense plans and Russia is convinced the whole thing is still above all an anti-Russian alliance." Russia itself must join NATO, Peel concludes, "and NATO must become a truly pan-European security alliance, from Vancouver to Vladivostock."


A news analysis by Henri Tincq in the French daily Le Monde says that the Pope's current visit to Ukraine is reviving sentiments of an "unfinished religious war." He writes: "After more than four centuries of violence, Ukraine [is] the most sensitive area in Europe of [strained] relations between Catholics and Orthodox." To the Orthodox, he says, the notion of solidarity between the Vatican and Kyiv, first officially ratified in 1596, "remains a symbol of all the attempts of Catholic reconquest in the Orthodox lands of Eastern Europe and the Balkans." Tincq writes that the first official "unity" between the churches was followed by account regulations and a deep suspicion that lasts to this day. Today's Ukrainian "Uniates" -- who consider the pope to be the head of the Greek Catholic church -- are the main point of contention between the Vatican and Orthodoxy. Thus, he adds, "while the Pope tries to reassure the Greek Catholic Churches of Ukraine and Romania, requested to be the voice of the East for the Latin sector and to act as a 'bridge' between Latins and Slavs," many do not consider the accounts of the past settled. "In the opinion of the Orthodox," he says, the Pope's journey is "premature."