Accessibility links

Western Press Review: EU Convention, Karadzic's Flight, Facing History, Saudi Mideast Peace Proposal

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 1 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western press today continues to focus on the EU's Convention on the Future of Europe, now underway in Brussels, as well as on the latest peace initiative for the Middle East, proposed by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Commentators also discuss NATO's failed mission to apprehend former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic on 28 February, as well as sending a peacekeeping force to ensure stability in Afghanistan.


This week's edition of "The Economist" looks at the European Union's Convention on the Future of Europe, which began yesterday in Brussels. "The Economist" says the convention has two main tasks. One is to propose mechanisms for dealing with enlargement. The second is to formulate a constitution "to express the purpose of the Union, so that the citizens whom it is meant to serve will understand its relevance to their lives..."

The weekly says the EU suffers from "a basic democratic problem in that most people simply do not know what it is for or where it is going." A constitution "is the ideal way to repair that problem," it says. But whatever document eventually comes out of the conference should make clear that it is no longer only the elites that speak for Europe, the magazine adds.

The eventual constitution should "make clear exactly who is to do what in the Union, and at what level of government.... [But] the most important consideration is that this constitution should have the support of the people of Europe, East and West, who will live under it. Better surely to recognize that at the outset than to draft a document that will be rejected by the voters when they are asked to approve it."


In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Peter Muench considers NATO's admission that it failed in its 28 February effort to capture former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic. Muench says, "For a brief moment, there was hope" as NATO's SFOR troops circled a village in eastern Bosnia. But in the end, they had to concede they had not found Karadzic.

"Either he wasn't there, or he escaped -- and the story goes on," says Muench.

The failed efforts to hunt down Karadzic are an embarrassment to NATO, he says. Ten years have passed since the beginning of the war in Bosnia; six years have elapsed since the establishment of the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague; five years have gone by since the Dayton peace accords. Throughout this, Karadzic took center stage. First, his name became synonymous with atrocities. Now, says Muench, his continuing freedom is a "symbol of international incompetence."

Yesterday's mission was not the first attempt to capture Karadzic. It is only the first time failure has been so readily admitted. Muench concludes: "Karadzic, though, has no cause to rejoice, for the latest effort shows a genuine desire to capture him. He is going to be a hunted man and, hopefully, he will soon be apprehended."


In "Die Welt," Boris Kalnoky also comments on the elusive former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, who avoided an attempt to arrest him and transfer him to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Kalnoky questions the failure of NATO's SFOR peackeeping force to capture Karadzic, and writes: "Either Karadzic was very lucky, or he has excellent information sources."

Kalnoky expresses doubt that NATO -- with all its technical and intelligence support -- could be unaware of Karadzic's whereabouts. He questions whether the former Bosnian Serb leader can really be one step ahead of the Western secret service, although he notes past instances when NATO plans were detected by the Serb side. "Hopefully this was not the reason for the miscarriage of this attempt to capture Karadzic," Kalnoky says.

Karadzic would be a valuable informant at the Hague tribunal in its trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Kalnoky says, adding that this may the motivation behind stepped-up NATO efforts to capture him. Kalnoky says that although the Western will is there, "they don't seem to be smart enough."


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," author Anne Applebaum considers the value of confronting national history, in light of the opening on 24 February of Hungary's TerraHaza, or House of Terror, in Budapest.

Both the Hungarian fascists and the communist secret police formerly used the building for interrogations and torture. Now, the museum is dedicated "to telling both phases of its history." But the museum has drawn criticism and sparked demonstrations from both politicians and the public, largely on the grounds that "it brings back aspects of the past that are better forgotten." But Applebaum says it is true that nations that forget their histories are condemned to repeat them.

She writes: "When the past is not confronted, it also creates popular cynicism about public institutions. Most people in Central and Eastern Europe now realize that the greatest [economic] beneficiaries of the last decade's transition have been leading members of the different Communist parties. In most of these countries, former victims of terror scrape by on tiny pensions, while their former tormentors have retired to their villas by the sea. Justice has not triumphed. No wonder corruption is rampant and crime is rising. Millions of people have been taught the lesson that morality doesn't pay."


In a "Washington Post" analysis reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," Jim Hoagland looks at recent events in Angola, and says that war in the Third World is usually more a matter of business than belief. Last week's assassination of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, he adds, highlights this trend. Savimbi, Hoagland writes, was "neither nation-builder nor colonial despot" -- but merely dealing in the wrong line of goods. Savimbi's guerrilla war for Angolan independence was financed by the diamond trade, a business that could not compete with the resources of Angola's Luanda government, gathered through its control of the nation's petroleum.

Hoagland writes: "Africa, Central Asia and other regions of the Third World exist today in a time of commodity wars. These hostilities are fought not for big ideological or political causes, as in the past, but over control of diamond fields, petroleum concessions, coca leaves and poppies that yield narcotics."

Throughout the Cold War, Savimbi was backed at times by Communist China and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, under the administration of former U.S. President Gerald Ford. The Soviet Union financed Savimbi's rivals in Luanda. Hoagland says by imposing their ideological conflict onto Africa's own post-independence struggles, the superpowers "made a bad situation worse. Washington and Moscow wasted resources, lives [and] time [in] distant struggles they never bothered to understand from the inside. In this respect, at least, the war on terrorism must not resemble the Cold War."


In "Eurasia View," journalist Todd Diamond looks at the prospects for an increased security force in Afghanistan. He says that despite a chorus of calls from both within and outside Afghanistan calling on the UN Security Council to expand the international peacekeeping force, the Council "appears hesitant to take preventative action. Instead, Council members appear to favor [delaying] a decision until the current peacekeeping mandate runs out in June." He adds that the international community "is approaching the issue of troop deployment in a still-volatile environment outside Kabul with extreme caution."

Diamond says diplomats "admit privately that they do not foresee the need or the desire for the Security Council to formally take up the issue of any new security arrangement for Afghanistan before the current peacekeeping mandate expires in June. Instead, Council members emphasize the training of a national army and police force that is already underway."

But Diamond says the issue must be tackled now, and that a decision on an increased force is necessary. He writes: "If the Security Council does not act before June, it faces the dilemma of having to negotiate again between Afghanistan's competing interests at a moment when the international community will be asking why preventative diplomacy failed to foresee such developments."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former correspondent Bret Stephens discusses the latest peace initiative for the Middle East, proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Stephens says that this proposal is no different from the one he proposed in November of 1981, and quotes the prince as saying then: "Our plan recognizes the right of Israel to exist only after acceptance of a Palestinian state [and] the return to the 1967 borders." Stephens says Saudi Arabia has proposed peace plans before in an attempt, he says, "to curry favor in Washington. Invariably, too, Washington returns the compliment by lavishing praise, and often assistance" on Saudi Arabia.

He writes: "If the Arab states were indeed prepared to make peace with Israel, the strategic concerns that justify Israel's possession of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights would vanish. The road would then be clear for Israeli withdrawal from the territories and the creation of a Palestinian state." He says that in January of 2001, "Israeli negotiators made a similar pitch to the Palestinians, which included compensating Palestinians with pre-1967 Israeli territory in exchange for maintaining possession over a few consolidated settlements." This, says Stephens, was rejected by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. What will follow from this latest proposal, he says, is that Arab states will reap international praise for their moderation while Israel comes under increasing pressure to respond positively.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Shai Feldman of Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies also considers the Saudi proposal. He says: "What may have been originally designed as a public relations ploy to restore Saudi Arabia's reputation may now assume strategic significance. This is because the proposal, while not providing a detailed blueprint for ending the Middle East conflict and while avoiding any reference to most aspects of the dispute, can contribute to reducing some of the confusion in Arab-Israeli discourse."

He says both Israelis and Arabs understand "normalization" as implying interactions "ranging from reciprocal tourism and trade to student and cultural exchanges. [By] proposing normalization -- not merely peace -- the Saudi initiative addresses the most basic component of Israel's threat perception." He says if the Arab summit in Beirut later this month decides to adopt the Saudi proposal, this "would send Israelis a clear message, namely: While strongly opposed to Israel's continuing occupation of the territories that it conquered in the 1967 war, the Arab states would be willing to embrace Israel once such occupation ends."

Feldman concludes that the Saudi initiative "not only holds the promise of changing Arab-Israeli discourse in a manner favoring the resumption of peace negotiations. It can also improve the odds of success once such talks are resumed."


An editorial in today's "Le Monde" discusses the European constitutional convention, now under way in Brussels. The paper says that one must remember that the EU already works "very badly," even with only 15 members. In 2004, it is set to expand to between 25 and 27 members. "Le Monde" says: "If the Union's institutions are not revamped, Europe will then be paralyzed. One of the most successful political and economic manifestations of the postwar years [will] languish." The paper says the EU will be relegated to the unhappy fate of becoming a quarrelsome little community.

"Le Monde" goes on to say that the convention participants now have the task of conceiving institutions that will ensure that the European project envisioned by six countries in the middle of the last century will also be successful with 25 members in the century now beginning. "Le Monde" suggests that the final constitutional text should be simple yet ambitious and, ultimately, flexible: It will be a question of constantly renewing the relationship between the supranational and intergovernmental, which is what constitutes the European engine and makes the EU an "unprecedented institutional construction." "Le Monde" concludes by wishing the ladies and gentlemen of the convention luck.

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