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Western Press Review: From Macedonia To The Middle East And Central Asia

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 30 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend focuses largely on Macedonia, as EU and U.S. negotiators continue to urge ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political leaders to reach an agreement to end the fighting. Other issues addressed include biological warfare, immigration in Germany, the future of the South and Central Asian nations of Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, the Mideast, and Sino-U.S. relations in light of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's weekend visit to China.


In the "Los Angeles Times," political analysts Charles Kupchan and Denko Maleski examine the persistent tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians. They write:

"For reasons of both history and political culture, multiethnic society has a [chance] of surviving in Macedonia. [But] the continuing violence is gradually poisoning intercommunal relations. Support for the [Albanian National Liberation Army, or UCK] is growing within the Albanian community, and attitudes are hardening among Macedonians. [The] only viable solution is the compromise toward which both parties seem to be edging: a political system that is civic in name, but provides communal protections in practice. That means a constitution revised to make Macedonia a nation-state of its citizens, not its different ethnic groups. But it also means implementing an ambitious program of political affirmative action for ethnic Albanians, one that will succeed in raising their voice, social status and prosperity. [In] return for measures that will encourage ethnic Albanians to become political Macedonians, the Albanian community needs to acknowledge the Macedonian character of the country."

The writers conclude: "If Macedonians and Albanians are to reclaim and strengthen the multiethnic tolerance that is now slipping away, they have no choice but to head down this path of compromise."


In "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Thomas Schmid writes that critics of Western commitment in the Balkans "hit a nerve when -- though grossly exaggerated -- they accuse NATO of having taken sides with the Albanian rebels and now being confronted with the results of this error. And the critics are not completely wrong when they accuse the West's Balkan policy of being somewhat haphazard."

Schmid continues: "The peace negotiations in Macedonia have as their goal something that is almost impossible: to bring the two parties, the Slavic and Albanian Macedonians, to live together henceforth under the roof of the one Republic of Macedonia -- although [this] seems to be what they want less and less with each passing day. The flickering violence promotes a self-driven segregation on both sides and makes the idea of a shared republic ever less credible.

"[Western] mediators put on such a delightful show of civilian resolve when they, with unchanged, friendly expressions, call for round after round of negotiation poker. Their persistence rests on a carefully weighed mixture of reason and corruptibility. But those who counsel patience will look a bit naive or irresponsible if they have no backup when the patience runs out. In Macedonia, the West is not mediating a labor dispute, it is trying to prevent a civil war. Since leaving the parties alone is no longer conceivable, the West's attempt to mediate will only be credible if it has plans for the eventuality that no one else wants to negotiate anymore."


In the French daily "Le Monde," Macedonia correspondent Remy Ourdan writes from Tetovo that the [Albanian National Liberation Army, or] UCK appears to have definitively won the battle in this city, and that the victory has renewed nationalistic sentiments on both sides. Ourdan writes that Albanian inhabitants know another armed struggle for control of the city would mean more bombardments, because the Macedonian army has neither the inclination nor the means to carry out urban guerrilla warfare.

He goes on to quote an ethnic Albanian fighter named Belsim as saying: "Our last chance to avoid war would be if NATO convinces Macedonia to give up power. In the case of a political victory, I believe the UCK will withdraw without posing problems. The officers are already heroes. As [they did] in Kosovo, they can go into business or start political parties. They will be the rulers of the region."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" entitled "The Right to a Language" addresses the Albanian minority's contentious demand for official status for the Albanian language. The paper writes that Ohrid, a picturesque town by the sea on the border between Albania and Macedonia, seems an ideal location for the peace talks. Located some distance from the capital Skopje and also from Tetovo, which has seen some of the worst fighting, the local environment offers "hope for a compromise."

Macedonian opposition to the suggestion that Albanian be recognized as an official language in areas where ethnic Albanians account for more than 20 percent of the population, the paper adds, is misguided. It argues that the country of 2 million can only survive if it gives all its inhabitants equal rights -- including the right of Macedonia's 600,000 Albanians to their language. Those who want to prevent minority participation in the state, the paper says, will ultimately promote the opposite result -- denying language rights will strengthen secession.


In the "Chicago Tribune," editorial board member Steve Chapman says that the draft of an international treaty intended to help monitor and enforce the ban on germ warfare agents was seriously flawed. Chapman writes that the draft, which was rejected last week by the Bush administration, "is not intrusive enough to prevent determined cheating by rogue states, but it's intrusive enough to harass and punish the law-abiding. And neither defect can be addressed without worsening the other."

He points out that halting the development of biological weapons borders on the impossible because many of the processes involved in the manufacture of germ agents are virtually identical to the processes in a host of other activities -- even, Chapman says, "such innocuous ones as brewing beer and making yogurt."

He adds that verifying compliance with the accord would also prove unworkable, saying: "Given the current state of verification technology, it would be futile and self-destructive to adopt the protocol. The best defense against a germ warfare attack by an outlaw nation is the same defense we've employed against nuclear attack for half a century: the assurance that we will destroy them."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says that Germany will have to overcome its "traditional discomfort" with immigration if the nation is going to remain an economic power in the next half-century. The editorial cites a recent report released by a bipartisan German commission which called for allowing more immigration to offset the nation's aging population and declining birth rate. However, the paper writes that "with polls showing two-thirds of Germans opposed to immigration and with current unemployment a more pressing concern than long-term demographic projections, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder wants to proceed cautiously."

The paper urges German society to become "more welcoming to outsiders," and adds: "German political leaders of all leanings must preach a more tolerant view. [This] is not only a moral imperative given Germany's past. It is also essential to the nation's future well-being."


A contribution by Peter Bell in "The Christian Science Monitor" looks at the West's stance toward Afghanistan, and says that its policy of isolating the ruling Taliban militia is hurting, rather than helping, the civilian population and that sanctions are making life more and more difficult for ordinary Afghans.

He adds that this strategy has strengthened the hard-liners within the regime and weakened more moderate political elements. Bell suggests that "principled engagement -- through increasing humanitarian assistance and strengthening local communities -- would be more effective. [We] should seek to replace the one-sided UN arms sanctions on the Taliban with an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict. If rigorously enforced, this would eventually stem the firepower of warring parties and send a signal of solidarity to the Afghan people."

Isolating Afghanistan, he concludes, "only adds to the suffering of ordinary Afghans. We must strengthen them and prepare them for a better day."


In "The Washington Times," former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson writes that of all the former Soviet Union states, "few offer the promise of Kazakhstan. In terms of both economic potential and political stability, Kazakhstan is critical to the long-term success of the Central Asian nations."

Richardson says that as a result, the West should try to ensure that it continues to adopt political and market reforms. He notes that since its independence in 1991, Kazakh leaders have made the difficult decisions necessary to move their country forward. He writes: "Kazakhstan has begun to prosper by working to build a modern economy, developing its vast natural resources and providing a base of stability in a very uncertain part of the world. With the discovery of the massive Kashagan oil field in the Kazakh portion of the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan is poised to become a major supplier of petroleum to the Western world and a competitor to Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)."

Richardson says that while many more challenges lie ahead for this emerging nation, there are enormous opportunities for its future political and economic success.


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" analyzes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's role in the continuing Mideast conflict. While he is at the helm, the paper says, there is no hope for a renewal of peace negotiations. Although Sharon wants to prove to the world that he "doesn't eat Arabs for breakfast," his hard-line stance is obvious. A certain degree of reticence is only guided by a fear of destroying his image in the West, the paper says, adding that Sharon knows full well that he cannot afford a second Kosovo in Gaza and West Jordan.

Secondly, he has to continuously bear in mind the opposition at home. The paper says: "As long as Israel is threatened by an intifada the people and the government maintain unity, otherwise his position is precarious." Sharon is trapped; he speaks of peace and compromise, but at the same time he demands the impossible. He is the creator of many of the Jewish settlements, and he describes Arafat as a murderer and he will never shake his hand. The only cause for optimism, the paper says, is Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, but he lacks influence.

The "vacuum in Israeli policy appears almost tragic," the paper writes, because there seems to be no alternative. Arafat cannot permit the existence of the Jewish settlements, and Sharon does not have the will to evacuate the settlers. Arafat and Sharon are creating mutual road blocks and "are helping each other to stay in power."


In the "International Herald Tribune," China analyst David Shambaugh says that in U.S.-China relations, the biggest struggle may not be between the two governments but within them. In the U.S., he writes, hard-liners in the Republican establishment see China from a military-strategic standpoint as a nation that is modernizing its military and increasingly challenging U.S. interests. These hawks have dominated the U.S.'s China policy under the administration of George W. Bush, with more moderate views taking a back seat.

Shambaugh adds: "Recent discussions in China indicate that a similar cleavage exists in the Chinese government and strategic circles. For six months, more moderate Chinese leaders and Foreign Ministry officials have watched nervously the actions of the U.S. hawks. The new China-Russia alliance is one response, but generally speaking the government has shown restraint in the face of a number of perceived provocations from Washington."

Shambaugh says that moderates on both sides are counting on Bush's October visit to China to establish a personal relationship between Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, stabilize ties, and move the two nations forward on issues of mutual concern, including Taiwan.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)