Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Albania's Tragedy, NATO Expansion

Prague, 14 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Anarchy in Albania has brought about a rash of commentary in today's western press, with many newspapers debating how to contain the crisis and help calm tensions.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Albania's tragedy of its own making

In an opinion piece in today's International Herald Tribune, columnist Flora Lewis says Albania is caught in a tragedy of its own making. She writes: "Layer on layer of historical obstacles and ancestral hostility to neighboring Serbia and Greece" have blocked a rational way out of the crisis. She says the "Communist dictatorship and total isolation" have left a mentality of "paranoia about foreign spies and invaders" that has kept the country centuries behind the rest of Europe.

Noting the traditional ethnic antagonism between the south and north, she says there is not much chance that the latest Western-brokered formula for compromise will restore calm. She says so many of the country's educated people died in Stalinist labor camps or were driven abroad that "there is (now) no visible alternative government" to President Sali Berisha. Further, she says, too many Albanians have looted weapons from military depots to make the dispatch of a temporary Western military force feasible.

Nevertheless, Lewis says Albania can't be ignored any longer because it is a danger for the rest of the Balkans. She calls the country "a base for drugs, crime and potential terrorism as well as regional instability." She concludes the U.S. and Europe M-U-S-T form a "concerted policy" to bring hope and encourage "the emergence of honest leaders."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The law of the jungle

An editorial in the London Daily Telegraph today says the possible consequences of anarchy in Albania are grim. The newspaper says: "The law of the jungle will stifle economic activity and drive fresh waves of refugees over the mountains to Greece and across the Adriatic to Italy." An even greater danger is that the unrest will spill into Kosovo, where "ethnic Albanians still languish under the Serbian heel," and into Macedonia. The editorial says: "The implosion of Macedonia could suck its neighbors into a general Balkan war which would pit one NATO ally, Greece, against another, Turkey... The longer the absence of order, the greater will be the risk of that happening... It is difficult to see Western governments standing by if the collapse of authority starts to drag the region into war." The newspaper concludes that Albania will ultimately need outside help to conduct fresh elections, adopt sound economic policies and build up armed forces loyal to civilian authority.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Western presence could control situation

An opinion piece by Bernhard Kuppers in Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung says that the fall of Berisha from power will not bring an end to the chaos, but a western military presence could control the situation enough to enable negotiations between separate parties of insurgents that are now "divided along potential civil war fronts." Kuppers says a western military force also could provide logistic support for humanitarian aid. He warns that anarchy in Albania could easily overflow into the ethnic-Albanian region of Kosovo and into western Macedonia -- thereby unleashing a new Balkan war. He concludes that forces of United Nations and U.S. military observers along Albania's borders should be increased to contain the situation "until Albania comes to its senses."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Europe's "black hole"

The Financial Times of London today titles an editorial on Albania: "Europe's Black Hole." The Financial Times says military involvement in yet another Balkan country is "the last thing any Western government wants." But it says: "A policy of benign neglect, leaving the country to sink into chaos until some warlord emerges on top of the heap, is not a cost free option because such chaos could not be contained within Albania's borders." The newspaper says a southern Balkan war involving Greece, Macedonia and Kosovo could "very likely" be ignited. It says such a war from the Albanian crisis is more likely than the often touted Balkan War stemming from Bosnia. With no "risk free options" in sight, the Financial Times urges a heavily armed police operation from the west.

A Financial Times article by correspondent Guy Dinmore in Tirana highlights the only positive news out of Albania in the last 24 hours. Dinmore notes that despite the anarchy, Albania's currency, the lek, has held steady in recent days against the dollar. Amongst chaos and flying bullets, Dinmore says about ten street-corner foreign currency traders continued to do business in Tirana yesterday. But another Financial Times article notes that food prices had doubled yesterday as frightened residents stocked up on essentials.

NATO Expansion

The politics surrounding the eastward expansion of NATO is another prominent subject of western press comment today.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Romania should not expect invitation

An analysis in today's Wall Street Journal Europe by Almar Latour says that Romanians should not expect an invitation to join the alliance when the issue comes up at the July NATO summit in Madrid. Latour says the summit will mark a crucial moment in post-Communist transition. He says: "For the first time since 1989, the Western powers will reach out to one group of Eastern countries while denying another... and the decisions made will immediately draw accusations of a two-sided Europe. Latour concludes that the least of Romania's problems in joining NATO is its armed forces. He notes that Romania already has worked with French military equipment, as well as participating in international peace-keeping operations. But he says this might not really matter because the reasons behind the selection process "are likely to be as political as they are logical."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Keep Romania out of first wave

Tomas Avenarius writes an opinion piece in today's Suddeutsche Zeitung noting that Romania has won important supporters inside of NATO -- France, Italy and Spain. But Avenarius warns that if Romania is accepted in the first wave of memberships, Russia would be given a "new pretext against the extension of NATO." Avenarius concludes that the resulting confrontation would create exactly the situation Romania is trying to protect itself against by joining the alliance.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Do American voters want expansion?

Meanwhile, an analysis by Michael Dobbs in today's International Herald Tribune discusses public opinion in the United States about NATO's planned expansion. Dobbs says public opinion seems more supportive of expansion "to the extent that ordinary voters care about the issue at all." He quotes a report by the Program on International Policy Attitudes that says 62 percent of those polled favor including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the alliance, compared to 29 percent who oppose the move. Dobbs writes: "In purely political terms, opponents of NATO expansion have an uphill battle to persuade a minimum of 34 senators to vote against ratification." He notes that several of the most articulate critics of expansion, including former senators Sam Nunn and Bill Bradley, have left Congress. He says "the opposition lacks an obvious leader."

LONDON TIMES: Questions about the need for a bigger NATO

Nevertheless, the London Times carries two letters today from experts on Russia and military affairs. Both letters question the need for an enlarged NATO. A British professor, Sir Michael Howard, says Russia's concerns should be considered. He writes: "To take account of Russian susceptibilities is not to accept their veto over our policies. It is simply to recognise that there can never by stability in Europe unless the Russians feel secure." Sir Howard concludes that "to ride roughshod" over Russian concerns "is not a very sensible way to guarantee the security of their neighbours to the West." Sir Frank Cooper, a renown military expert from England, says that fewer assertions should be made, and that more information about the costs of expansion should be available before a decision is made. He urges NATO leaders to "know what we might be getting into."