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Western Press Review: Macedonia, UN Racism Summit, Asylum Seekers, And Globalization

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 5 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press continues to observe the situation in Macedonia today. Most Western commentators firmly support NATO intervention in the conflict, and some are calling for the alliance to be prepared to remain in the region past the 30-day mission deadline. Other issues addressed include what is being called by some the "failure" of the UN's conference against racism in Durban, South Africa; the issue of asylum seekers, in light of this week's transfer of 400 Afghan refugees to Papua New Guinea; and responding openly to the critics of globalization.


The EU's former special representative to Bosnia, Carl Bildt, is critical of the West's policy in Macedonia in a contribution to the "Financial Times." Bildt calls the 30-day NATO mission to collect weapons from ethnic Albanians rebels "the weakest mandate of any international force under any flag in the [Balkan] region during the past decade," and adds that this mission is not what will bring peace to the country.

He writes: "The official line is that it will leave soon because there is no military solution to the problems of Macedonia and it is up to the politicians to make the peace they promised in Ohrid. This is naive," he says. "The fighting has profoundly changed the political psychology of all sides in Macedonia. It has demonstrated that fighting is a much faster way forward than slow negotiations and painful compromises."

Bildt concludes that there is only one possible solution. "There is no responsible alternative to a robust international security presence in Macedonia. If NATO is serious about its new role in Europe, it should lead the way. [Unless] the international community adopts a comprehensive and co-ordinated policy, there will never be an end to the crisis in the region."


David Phillips, deputy director of the Center for Preventative Action of the Council on Foreign Relations, contributes a commentary on Macedonia to "The Wall Street Journal Europe." Phillips says that -- even if the Macedonian parliament votes to approve the Western-brokered peace deal -- the West must consider keeping observers in the country past NATO's 30-day deadline. He writes that moderate leaders "must be given room and time to win the argument with [the] hotheads on both sides."

Phillips says it is normal for distrust to exist between the Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. That is exactly why, he suggests, the international community should commit to what he calls a "more rigorous long-term approach to peace building." He says such a commitment could include economic restructuring and development, including moving forward with a World Bank plan to finance construction of a highway system intersecting in Skopje. It could also include sending observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the cease-fire and political reforms.

But in the end, Phillips says, it will be the commitment of moderate local leaders that determines whether Macedonia's "multiethnic character and tradition of tolerance can be restored."


In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," in a discussion of the UN racism summit in Durban, Stefan Kornelius writes, "A world drama of hypocrisy is taking place in Durban, which should be terminated before it runs completely out of control."

"This gathering," he writes, "with the pompous title of the 'World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,' has become the victim of its own demands -- ruined by its own incapability of clearly defining concepts and hence, leading to the political manipulation of the subject."

Kornelius says a discussion about racism has been reduced to the issue of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Both sides are to blame, and there is no point in dissecting these issues at this summit.

He writes: "Durban can no longer be saved. Even if the delegations agree on a sharper resolution, in the Arab world, the departure of the U.S. and Israeli delegations is already being regarded as a victory.... There is no way out of this mess: Just break off, pack suitcases, leave. The last thing the world requires in this complicated conflict is the judgement of false moralists."


Columnist Thomas Schmid examines what he calls the failure of the UN's conference on racism in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung." He says that on the surface, the failure of the conference seems to be the fault of some of the Arab states. Schmid writes that "lacking any particular interest in the event's key theme, they used it as a forum to indulge in a well-known semantic exercise," to make Israel look like a racist state.

He says that what happened at the summit "confirms that events of this kind are not a suitable forum for discussing an important but as-yet-unresolved and nebulous issue like racism, removed from the political conflicts of the day. By presuming to act as judges of human rights, states whose rulers notoriously disregard human rights within their own borders are harming the UN's global conference machinery."

Schmid says that even the conference's official name -- the World Conference Against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance -- may have undermined its chances for success.

"This series of related yet distinct terms reflects the earnest desire of honorable people to grasp a difficult and many-sided phenomenon. But such desire for precision by no means renders the problem more tangible," he says. "It simply lends itself to an unending inflation of invective."


A "Le Monde" editorial says that the UN conference on racism should have been a moment of reflection -- on the trauma of past colonialism and slavery, as well as on the present persistence of racist attitudes. Instead, the paper says, the conference was "hijacked" by an army of NGOs, supported by Arab states, which imposed a rhetoric of exaggerated untruths conveying a message "as false as it is dangerous" -- to frame the Middle East conflict as a racial battle, with the Israelis in the role of the racists.

These events were "absurd," "Le Monde" says, because they do not at all serve the cause of the fight against racism. "To qualify this conference as pitiful is not enough," it writes.

There are issues Durban left unaddressed, such as the differing perceptions between the northern developed nations, and their southern, less-developed counterparts regarding human rights. Developed nations, "Le Monde" says, are essentially telling the less-developed world that their political regimes are not "suitable" enough to demand the north to account for their past colonialism and enslavement. And the south responds, "Your past does not authorize you to give us lessons in morality."

These incomprehensions were, regrettably, aggravated by Durban, rather than abated, writes "Le Monde."


In Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Polly Toynbee says that the recent press coverage in Britain and elsewhere describing a "flood" of refugees seeking asylum in the West is a misrepresentation, and that those seeking asylum don't account for much more than a trickle.

But Toynbee goes on to note that the methods for processing refugees are seriously flawed. She adds that there is no answer to the refugee quandary, except world peace.

"Look where refugees come from," she writes. "Afghanistan tops the list, followed by Somalia, Iraq, Sri Lanka [and] so on.... [Refugees] flee the most horrible regimes and war-torn areas, escaping war and mayhem, not the silent poverty of the world's hungriest nations."

The fear of this fictitious "flood" of asylum seekers to Western nations creates unnecessary panic and xenophobia, she says. "All over the world, the politics of immigration are poisonous. A Mori poll finds that two-thirds of the British think there are too many immigrants here. Clueless, they think non-whites are 26 percent of the British population [the proportion is 7 percent]."

Ultimately, Toynbee writes, "there is no big answer within one country, nor even within the EU. Only ending civil wars and more fairly distributing global wealth would reach root causes of mass migration. The UN wasted its scant energy this week on empty [arguments] about race and history [at the Durban conference], when the crises that force millions to flee wait for international solutions."


In the "Financial Times," regular contributor Martin Wolf suggests that the leading industrialized nations should respond candidly to critics of globalization. He writes: "Protest is valuable. Reigning orthodoxies need to be challenged. Those in charge of the world's leading market economies have a duty to respond."

Wolf goes on to suggest several priorities to be addressed. He says that the rich countries must admit they have failed to help much of the world develop methods of sustained growth; that leaders also need to recognize that some aspects of the global economic process have worked poorly. Wolf adds that countries should also be allowed to "decide their priorities and policies for themselves, even if the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank or, for that matter, Greenpeace and Oxfam, disapprove."

Advanced countries must also consistently act in accordance with their own stated principles and promises, he says. Wolf writes: "NGOs are right to complain about the excessive intrusion of narrow corporate interests into policymaking. [People] are naturally suspicious of any process in which sectional interests appear to dominate."

In addition, Wolf says, the legitimacy of decisions imposed by the high-income countries is questionable. He writes: "A global democracy does not exist. But leaders of the Group of Seven should regularly meet the leaders of the world's biggest developing countries to form a consensus on necessary reforms."

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