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Western Press Review: The Bali Bombing And Terrorism, Serbian Elections, Iraq

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 15 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the commentary in major Western dailies today continues to discuss the 12-13 October bomb attack in Bali, which killed over 180 people and injured scores of others. While no group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, suspicions are rife both within Indonesia and abroad that a militant Islamic group may have been involved. Other analysis looks at the 13 October runoff elections in Serbia, which was declared invalid due to low voter turnout following a call for a boycott by ultranationalist candidate Vojislav Seselj, among other issues.


An editorial in "The Times" of London daily says the weekend (12-13 October) bomb attack in a Bali nightclub district popular with young Western tourists shows that some terrorist groups are now going after indiscriminate targets. "The Times" alleges that a radical Muslim group may have been involved, and says that in Bali, Westerners were killed "not for any political reason but simply because they are part of a civilization that militant Islam now sees as the enemy." Thus, striking at any Western target is justified "as part of the struggle against a [way] of life that it sees enveloping the world, suffocating Islam and [changing] the face and attitudes of the Muslim world." In their own paranoia, these terrorists are playing on fears in an attempt to throw Islam into war with the West.

"The Times" says militants have played on the widespread frustrations of the Muslim world: "the burning sense of injustice, the corruption, lack of democracy [and] the huge generation gap" between the youth of the Internet era and those "struggling to preserve the old ways." Some militants have focused these frustrations "against the West: authoritarian pro-Western rulers are identified as American puppets [and] every economic and political setback is attributed to Western exploitation and manipulation."

Good government in Muslim nations "needs reinforcing," the paper urges. "Extremist groups flourish amid political and intellectual cowardice. [Only] if the West is ready to denounce abuses, even by friendly [governments], can the militants' appeal be undercut."


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army officer and author of a book on the strategic shifts prompted by the threat of terrorism, says the weekend bomb attack in Bali will ultimately undermine the terrorists' cause. Recent strikes by Islamic militants in Asia "illuminate their weakness and rage, not an intelligent global strategy. Far from striking major governmental or military targets, the terrorists have been reduced to sloven assassinations and, now, the calculated mass murder of young people."

Peters says the terrorists' alleged target, Australian tourists, was "delayed retaliation for Canberra's role in stopping the killings in East Timor and supporting that state's independence -- thereby separating East Timor from the great Muslim state-to-be," in the militants' view. But the Bali bombings "were so ferocious that they cannot [be] explained away," says Peters. And they "will probably mark the turning of the tide against terrorism in Indonesia."

The government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri has been "reluctant to antagonize" domestic Islamic militants such as the Jemaah Islamiyah. But now, says Peters, "the government will have the motivation, the evidence, and the anger necessary to take action at last. Jakarta needed a good excuse to crack down hard. The terrorists themselves just provided it."


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" analyzes the political scene in Yugoslavia following the 13 October presidential runoff election. The election is expected to be declared officially invalid today because voter turnout did not reach the required 50 percent.

In the paper's view, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has still won some clout thanks to gaining two-thirds of the votes. Nevertheless, given ongoing political rivalries, the paper says, "Yugoslavia is heading into ever deeper confusion."

Kostunica's victory over his opposing candidate, economist Miroljub Labus, has been gained at too high a price, says the commentary. "Now the question arises whether rivals Kostunica and Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic are going to destroy each other, or if they will come to an understanding."

Time is running out, the paper says, and it is essential to clarify the position of the smaller entity in the dual state, Montenegro. Elections are to take place there on 20 October. Yugoslavia's future EU entry is dependent on the development of its relationship with its Montenegrin neighbor.

Unfortunately, says the paper, Djindjic "underestimates the importance of institutions in the reform process." And Kostunica strengthens "Serbian national resentments." The paper says the conflict between the two can only be productive if the rivals develop genuine political parties as an alternative to the "vacillating" mini-parties of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition.


A contribution to the "International Herald Tribune" by Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group's Indonesia office looks at the political implications of the Bali bombing. Jones urges Indonesia to continue with political reform, and to react to the violence in a "tough, but not counterproductive" way. Specifically, Jones says Indonesia must avoid three possible pitfalls.

First, the weekend attack should not lead to a bigger role for the army: "Just as some civil liberties were seriously curtailed in the wake of 11 September, the impact of 12 October in Indonesia could be to set back reformists' efforts to assert civilian control over the military." Second, the government should not pass any new antiterrorism law that could be misused. Finally, says Jones, the government must not react in a way that will radicalize domestic Islamic organizations. Although there is still no such evidence, if a Muslim organization were to be found responsible for the bombings, the event "could take on a religious tinge." Most Balinese are Hindu, and "retaliatory attacks on Muslims would be disastrous and must be prevented."

Jones concludes that the Megawati government must "ensure that it manages the difficult balance between security and [the] basic freedoms of association and expression, and does not inadvertently encourage more extreme behavior."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Simon Chesterman and David Malone of the New York-based International Peace Academy write, "The lessons of Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo point to the overwhelming power of the U.S. military, but also to the unwillingness and incapacity of the United States to rebuild shattered countries on its own."

There is evidence, says the authors, that the United States "is not well-suited to nation building." Washington, they explain, "has a short attention span on most international crises." As the U.S. now turns its sights to the Persian Gulf, the prospect of Iraq "descending into violent civil war" seems to be discounted by some in Washington. "Of course, Kurdish leaders stress that they have no intention of seceding from Iraq -- anything to ensure U.S. support against the hated Saddam Hussein."

Chesterman and Malone say that, should new UN weapons inspections fail, U.S. President George W. Bush "should be held to his promise of multinational rather than purely U.S. military action, and sustained rather than fleeting engagement in the reconstruction effort."


Boris Kalnoky in "Die Welt" discusses unsuccessful presidential elections in Yugoslavia, and says the first democratic elections since the fall of former leader Slobodan Milosevic have failed due to voter apathy. Vojislav Kostunica, the man who only two years ago was hailed as the "Serbian Messiah" is now boring the people, fewer than 50 percent of whom turned out to vote in the second round. They are equally bored by the economic reforms that have changed little and benefited few.

Kalnoky says, "So much indifference may cause Serbia to miss the train in the direction of Europe." A close look gives grounds for apprehension: extreme rightist Vojisav Seselj gained 23 percent of the vote and might be a serious rival in the final round. President Vojislav Kostunica, the front-runner, speaks often of the dangers of hasty market reforms. These and other political developments have led to general apathy and little incentive to vote.

Kalnoky says Serbia does not know what it wants, and describes this as a reversion to the apathy that allowed Milosevic to stay in power for over 10 years. The past has been banished, but no new goal has replaced it. Kalnoky advises that Serbia must realize "that political decisions must be made even when it is not a choice between life and death, between a dictator and freedom. Democracy is often more boring than a battle against tyranny."


In France's "Liberation," staff writer Marc Semo says the invalidation of the second round of Serbian elections on 13 October due to low voter turnout highlights the difficulties of Serbia's transition, scarcely two years after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic. International anxiety over the country's stability is "tangible," he says, and the European Commission quickly urged Serbian authorities to organize a new ballot.

Moderate nationalist and incumbent Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica won 66.7 percent of the now-invalid vote, while liberal economist and advocate of "shock-therapy" reform Miroljub Labus won 31.2 percent.

But columnist Semo says the real winner in the runoff was ultranationalist candidate Vojislav Seselj, who won almost a quarter of the votes in the first poll and whose call for a boycott of the second round was heeded by an already apathetic electorate, rendering the poll invalid.

Only 45.5 percent turned out on 13 October, compared to the 55 percent that took part in the first round. Semo says the Serbian electorate thus made clear its dissatisfaction with the political infighting that divides the reformist camps of Kostunica and Labus.


A contribution to the "International Herald Tribune" by Stanley Weiss of the Business Executives for National Security group says Iraq could become "a source of hope to frustrated Muslims across the Middle East -- a free, democratic, and economically modern nation, an attractive alternative to radical Islam." But this can occur "only if the United States has a clear vision" of what will follow Saddam Hussein's regime.

Washington "must reach an understanding on Iraq's territorial integrity with Turkey and Iran, two neighbors that can make or break a post-Saddam Iraq. Both oppose an independent Kurdistan that would incite restive Kurds in their countries." Moreover, the U.S. must "pressure the fractious Iraqi opposition to form a provisional government in exile ready to assume power."

Weiss suggests Iraq's opposition leaders should hold a conference similar to last year's conference in Bonn, Germany, at which Afghans chose an interim government that "averted a power vacuum in Kabul after the Taliban's downfall." He says a "leading choice to head an Iraqi provisional government is Ahmed Chalabi," head of Iraq's umbrella opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress.

Weiss warns that the task of creating "a stable, free and prosperous Iraq will be neither narrow, nor short."

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