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Western Press Review: Serbian Elections, EU Enlargement, And A Nobel Prize

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 9 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and opinion in the Western press today looks at the Middle East conflict, the second round of Serbian elections scheduled for 13 October, this year's Nobel Prize award for unlocking the secrets of cells, the European Union's eastward enlargement, and the continuing debate over a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Peter Hansen of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency says one of the unintended consequences of the Mideast conflict is that Palestinian children are being deprived of an education. "The main causes of this educational crisis are the curfews and closures imposed by the Israeli authorities in their attempt to deal with Palestinian militants. These have crippled the education program of the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations."

But school closures are only part of the story, says Hansen. Military operations by Israel, and also at times by Palestinian factions, have used schools as detention centers or sprayed them with gunfire. "It is not uncommon for children to be searched and abused by Israeli troops on their way to and from school or to be subject to tear gas and warning shots near checkpoints." He cites an Amnesty International report as saying 250 Palestinian schoolchildren have been killed since September 2000.

Hansen says these children have already "paid with the loss of their security, innocence, and education. But they will also pay with their futures. They will pay with the loss of opportunity, development, and hope that a sound education brings."


An analysis by "Jane's Foreign Report" discusses the upcoming second round in Serbian elections 13 on October, in which Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica faces Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus.

"Jane's" says Kostunica is becoming "a liability" for Serbia. Although he has pledged to tackle organized crime, his campaign "has been dominated by nationalism." Kostunica created tensions in Bosnia "by suggesting that Republika Srpska -- the predominantly ethnic Serb entity in Bosnia -- is only 'temporarily separated' from the Serbian homeland." Such rhetoric may be aimed at attracting those who supported third-runner-up ultranationalist candidate Vojislav Seselj in the first round of voting. But if Kostunica wins on this platform, it may end up undermining his attempts to integrate Serbia into Europe -- and make him beholden to some of the right-wing elements in Serbian politics.

Labus, on the other hand, is viewed as a man with integrity, although "Jane's" says much of what his government has achieved is not readily apparent to voters. "His best chance is to stress his competence and good relations with the international community, both of which are key to Serbia's economic future."

"Jane's" predicts that Kostunica will likely emerge victorious. But his victory is not assured, as ultranationalist Seselj has called for a boycott of the second round. If less than 50 percent of the constituency turns out, the election will be deemed invalid.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" today says that the idea that "death is a natural part of life" is more correct, biologically speaking, than we ever knew. Cells carry genetic components "that, when working properly, contribute to the proper functioning of organisms, from the tiny transparent worm C. elegans, to human beings. The malfunctioning of such genes is central to many diseases, from AIDS to cancer."

"For his work discovering and studying the functions of genes that control programmed cell death, or apoptosis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist H. Robert Horvitz has won this year's Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology. He will share it with two British scientists, Sydney Brenner and John E. Sulston. "

Now, researchers will try to apply these insights to the treatment of disease. The preprogrammed death of healthy cells "is important in the development of tissues and organs.... [When] the system works properly, monitoring genes instruct cells with flaws to kill themselves rather than replicate. When the system breaks down, the proliferation of flawed cells creates tumors. On the other hand, excess cell deaths occur in patients with AIDS, neurodegenerative diseases, strokes, and heart attacks."


A editorial in "The New York Times" entitled "Ode to a Worm" lauds the sacrifice made by innumerable 1-millimeter-long soil worms known as Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans. Other life forms were too complicated for this year's Nobel Prize-winning study, but the tiny C. elegans "turned out to be perfect. It was transparent, so one could watch under a microscope how its cells divide, again and again, all the way from a fertilized egg to a mature adult."

C. elegans is the first animal "to have its genome deciphered, and there is a surprising amount of overlap with the human genome." The editorial concludes, that humans "are a lot more like worms, genetically, than anyone imagined."


In Britain's "Financial Times," Stefan Wagstyl and Judy Dempsey discuss some of the difficulties of the European Union's eastward enlargement. No EU nation "would want to be held responsible" for delaying enlargement, they say. Yet governments throughout Europe are concerned about public opinion.

"Within the EU, people are fearful about labor migration and the costs of admitting the 10 new [states]. In candidate countries, voters are chiefly concerned that the terms of entry could leave them second-class citizens of the enlarged union."

Two major issues that remain are agriculture policy and the EU budget's effect on new members. Candidate states have rejected European Commission proposals to grant them only 25 percent of the farm subsidies now available to current members, the level to reach parity gradually by 2013. The EU is also "determined to restrict regional aid to much lower levels than paid in poor regions of the existing union."

Candidate nations "are worried that at these levels of farm and regional aid, some wealthier candidate states such as Slovenia may be net contributors to the union budget, [and] there is a growing consensus in the EU that no new member should be a net contributor."

Some Eastern European leaders "warn that their voters could not support accession on this basis." But the authors say candidates "are likely to accept these terms, albeit reluctantly."


Today is a milestone in the efforts of former communist countries to join the EU. The European Commission is expected to announce later today that up to 10 mostly former communist countries -- the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- are ready to conclude accession talks in December and are likely to join the European Union in 2004.

Some German papers express their apprehension and skepticism of this eastward enlargement.

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says there is little cause for jubilation as it sees accession as a "bureaucratic process" rather than as "a historic moral act to redress the ills of former communist regimes." It says the "machinery of compromise" that is being introduced corresponds to the complexities of the economic, legal, and political issues that must be addressed before accession.

But one thing is clear, writes the "FAZ": Candidate nations "will likely become more stubborn negotiating partners within the formerly Western European union."


Christian Wernicke, in a contribution to the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," looks at Western reaction to EU expansion. He says the West regards expansion with suspicion and anxiety. "To this day, no one has given a credible explanation regarding the advantages of expansion, such as a more stable situation and more wealth for everyone." On the contrary, nearly every fifth person in Germany expects to be worse off.

Wernicke attributes this attitude to ignorance, which he says can only be remedied by more information. "Knowledge is power, and only knowledge of the sense and usefulness of a greater Europe will enable people to overcome their anxieties. Each individual country must contend with providing this edification," he says.

Wernicke advises that now is the time for both members and candidates to take a deep interest in Europe as a whole.


In France's daily "Le Monde," Corine Lesnes says the UN Security Council is proceeding with its debate on Iraq in such a way that negotiations remain indecisive amid hints of agreement. Some observers are citing encouraging signs, such as America's shift to more flexible rhetoric.

The French continue to support the idea of two resolutions -- one providing guidelines for weapons inspectors and, if necessary, another outlining the military consequences of noncompliance. A number of countries support this idea, while the United States continues to push for the authorization of all necessary means to ensure Iraq's disarmament.

Other elements at issue on the Security Council include Iraq's declaration of armaments, according to Resolution 687 of 3 April 1991, laying out the conditions of the cease-fire, and the possible interrogation of Iraqi scientists. Ensuring unlimited access to sites is an aim that enjoys almost universal support from all countries, and how to ensure it comprises a key aspect of the debate over resumed inspections.

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix has already dismissed the idea of military escorts for the inspections team as useless, perhaps even dangerous.


In "The Independent," columnist Robert Fisk says that in order to support a U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq, one must conveniently ignore several aspects of Iraqi-U.S. relations.

First, we must forget that former U.S. President Ronald Reagan "dispatched a special envoy to meet Saddam Hussein in December 1983." Saddam at that time "was already using gas against the Iranians -- which is one of the reasons we are now supposed to go to war with him."

In addition, the envoy -- Donald Rumsfeld, now the U.S. defense secretary -- was sent to Baghdad to arrange the reopening of the U.S. Embassy "in order to secure better trade and economic relations" with Saddam Hussein.

Fisk also notes that in 1988, "as Saddam destroyed the people of Halabja with gas, along with tens of thousands of other Kurds," former President George Bush -- the current president's father -- provided Saddam with $500 million "in U.S. government subsidies.... [The] following year, [Bush] senior doubled this subsidy to $1 billion, along with germ seed for anthrax [and] helicopters."

Fisk remarks that in a recent speech by President Bush, there was not "a single reference to the fact [that] American oil companies stand to gain billions of dollars in the event of a U.S. invasion, [or] that, once out of power, Bush and his friends could become multibillionaires on the spoils of this war."

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