Prague, 10 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and over the weekend looks at Sunday's (9 September) presidential election in Belarus. The Western press is united in its condemnation of incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime, with many calling it Europe's last dictatorship. Commentators also address the ongoing NATO-led disarmament of ethnic Albanian insurgents in Macedonia, the debate over globalization, Tajikistan's efforts to stem global warming, and the tense situation in the Middle East in the wake of more violence over the weekend as another suicide bombing brings swift Israeli retaliation against five Palestinian targets.
An editorial in Britain's "The Times" calls Sunday's election in Belarus "a tainted election that could taint Europe's future." A victory for incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka would give him another chance to perpetuate what the paper calls Belarus's "bizarre climate of fear, fierce media censorship, silencing of potential political rivals, and an economy which is still run on old Soviet command principles, keeping the people of Belarus in poverty."
The paper adds that internationally, another term in office would give Lukashenka "a mandate to pursue his long-publicized foreign policy goal -- merging his state with Russia. [This] is an outcome that should ring alarm bells in Europe." Nations such as Belarus face a difficult choice, says "The Times." "One option is to align themselves with the West. [The] other is to turn away from the European Union as it expands eastward, and back to the Russian bloc that existed for much of the 20th century. [This] wish for closer Slav union is one welcomed by nationalist elements in Russia, anxious about further EU encroachment." "The Times" concludes by saying that Belarusians "are making a fundamental contribution to the future shape of Europe in election conditions so unnatural that the official results are unlikely to reflect the genuine wishes of the electorate."
A "Financial Times" editorial considers the situation in Macedonia and reiterates the convictions of several Western commentators: that deploying a "relatively modest force" to the region now could avoid a much larger deployment later. The paper goes on to suggest how Western organizations should handle such a deployment. It writes: "The immediate need is for several hundred civilian monitors to observe the return of refugees and the re-establishment of the authority of the Macedonian security forces in guerrilla-controlled areas. [These] monitors should operate mainly under the control of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. With its broad membership, including Russia, it is more likely to win acceptance from ethnic Macedonians than other more Western-orientated bodies."
The paper adds that these monitors will require some sort of military protection "for months to come, if not for years." The paper writes: "Safeguarding the monitors is, in principle, a job for the Macedonian forces. But in practice, it will be impossible for Macedonian police and troops to play such a neutral role. [Given] the need for efficiency, the deployment will be best organized through NATO. But taking account of ethnic Macedonians' suspicions, the force should operate under a non-NATO banner. Perhaps the EU flag would be a suitable alternative," the "Financial Times" suggests.
The paper concludes that, "Western nations are rightly concerned about another expensive open-ended engagement in the Balkans, following Bosnia and Kosovo. But the alternative is to allow Macedonia to slide into civil war."
European policy in Macedonia is appearing ever more as an example to be followed in dealing with Balkan affairs. The present NATO mission to collect weapons is at least an attempt to prevent civil war, but the planned continuation of NATO's presence could be "a crucial test for the sovereignty of the now-independent state," the paper says. The attempts of EU foreign ministers to gain a UN mandate would preserve sovereignty only "for appearances' sake. Skopje would have to host observers on its territory for a long time." The paper says that herein lies the danger that the NATO units -- with or without a UN mandate -- in the final analysis, would become a kind of ground troop facing the UCK. "While they are not fighting, they undermine the [negotiations] of the official Macedonian security forces. In such circumstances, the UCK could also practice civilian rule in the villages they occupy -- in the same way that NATO acted as a protectorate in Kosovo for a time. This, by the way, is not without explosive effect for a German policy, also now demanding a UN mandate."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
An editorial looks at the situation in Macedonia in light of the allegations of rights abuses levied against Macedonian forces for their offensive in the ethnic Albanian town of Ljuboten on 10-12 August. The paper says that Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski was present during the events in question. It writes: "National television spun the entire attack as part of a military effort to rid the town of 'terrorists,' and said [Boskovski] was present during the entire offensive. An investigation by Human Rights Watch found a different story: Grave abuses by government troops were actually aimed at civilians, and Mr. Boskovski was present during the worst of it. The actions outlined in the detailed report, released by the human rights group on Wednesday (5 September), highlight once again the mixed message that the Macedonian government is giving regarding its commitment to the peace process."
How ethnic Albanians in the region will be treated in the future is a major concern, the editorial says, and is "something that cannot be decided by the Macedonian parliament alone. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia could help by looking into the allegations of the offensive by Macedonian forces in Ljuboten," the paper suggests. "Macedonians must now prove they are serious about peace.... [They] should be assured, however, that the international judicial institutions will be prepared to investigate government abuses long after NATO leaves."
Michael Stuermer in "Die Welt" sees two alternatives in Macedonia: Civil War or a Protectorate. He says, "Macedonia is a disaster waiting for its hour to strike. If civil war breaks out, which the militants on both sides presume, then everything in the Balkans will be questionable once more. If the republic is divided on blood ethnical lines, then [violence] will break out everywhere." The only solution, says Stuermer, is "the choice between war within or a protectorate from without."
Stuermer says that NATO experts were never under the illusion that the mandate to collect weapons was sufficient, but, he writes that "no more was to be had in Skopje and Brussels." Now the militaries are apprehensive about the vacuum which will follow when the mandate expires.
"Something will have to happen. But good advice is expensive. The British do not want to take on the leadership for a second time. If the French do not jump in, then all eyes will turn to Germany." Both NATO and the Bundestag have been reluctant to admit the truth. At the latest within three weeks time will have run out. Then only the two alternatives remain.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Robert Weissman of the Washington-based organization Essential Action suggests ways that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank could improve their policies concerning developing nations. Weissman writes: "For more than 20 years, people from Argentina to Zambia have conducted mass protests against the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Because those demonstrations have occurred in developing countries, to which the IMF and World Bank are not accountable, the institutions have largely ignored them. [In] fundamental ways, the IMF and the World Bank undermine democracy."
Weissman suggests four main reforms. First, the IMF and World Bank should operate transparently, opening their meetings to media and the public; poor countries should be relieved from the straitjacket of debt; the institutions should not impose user fees for health care or institute policies hindering people's access to food, clean water, shelter or education; and they should cease supporting socially and environmentally destructive projects.
Weissman writes: "Each of these demands could be implemented if advocated by the U.S. government. Some version of each of the demands is under consideration in the U.S. Congress." If implemented," he says, "countries would be much freer to pursue different economic strategies in accordance with the democratic determinations of their people."
In "Eurasia View," Tajikistan-based writer Konstantin Parshin says that "Hit hard by drought during the past five years, Tajik authorities are anxious to address global warming and other sources of climate change. The government, working in conjunction with UN agencies, seeks to curb [chlorofluorocarbon, or] CFC emissions, which are a major source of ozone depletion." He adds that, "Implementing environmental safeguards poses significant civil society challenges for Tajikistan, as the country struggles to recover from a devastating civil war."
Parshin continues: "For Tajikistan, CFCs are just the beginning. The implications of global warming are considerable. The country is the source of roughly 50 percent of Central Asia's water supplies. In addition, most Tajiks depend on agriculture as the chief source of their livelihood. A drastic change in weather conditions stands to have a severe impact on the socioeconomic situation in Tajikistan." The draught is causing problems in several economic spheres, Parshin notes. Hydroelectric energy production is one of Tajikistan's major industries, but water levels in reservoirs have been declining. Power outages have become a common occurrence.
He notes that Tajikistan is a signatory to many international environmental agreements, and says that some progress has been made internationally. "Still," he writes, "at the current rate, a full ozone recovery would not occur until 2050 or later." Parshin adds that, "Tajikistan's ability to meet targets on CFC and [ozone-depleting substance, or ODS] reduction can serve as a significant gauge of the country's integration into the international community."
Jacques Amalric addresses the situation in the Middle East in the French daily. Amalric writes that superior military power is not equal to a guarantee of political victory and that, "every day that passes, every new terrorist attack confirms the legitimacy of this observation, [even] if it continues to be refuted by [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon. The policy of force in the territories, the 'targeted' elimination of supposed terrorists, do not succeed in checking the Palestinian revolt, which is nourished mainly by the Israeli refusal to end the occupation." Amalric remarks that, "The impasse is as bloody as it is absurd: The majority of Israelis, no doubt beginning with Sharon, know well that some day a Palestinian state will exist and that security will return [only] when a border separates the two peoples..."
Amalric goes on to criticize the lack of involvement on the part of the administration of President George W. Bush and the U.S. He writes: "By contenting itself with the role of a dejected spectator, [the] American president shows evidence of a pointed near-sightedness and lets a fire develop." The apparent American detachment "is not only cowardice," he remarks, "it is also stupidity" -- which does not help bring about a meeting between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a meeting that Amalric says constitutes "the only light of hope."
(Dora Slaba contributed to this press review)