Prague, 13 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today again focuses on developments in Serbia's troubled southern province of Kosovo. West European newspapers also assess yesterday's European Union summit conference in London, which brought together the leaders of the EU's 15 members and their counterparts in 11 candidate states --including 10 from Central and Eastern Europe.
In the Kosovar capital Pristina yesterday, talks between the Yugoslav Government and leaders of the province's ethnic Albanian majority were postponed because the Albanian side failed to show up in the meeting room. At the same time, U.S. officials raised the possibility that the Clinton Administration would consider a military attack on Serbian forces if diplomatic efforts failed to end their human-rights abuses in the province. And in London, the 26 nations taking part in the EU's so-called European Conference collectively condemned Belgrade's use of force in Kosovo and called for a peaceful solution to the crisis. Western newspaper comments today touch on all three events.
NEW YORK TIMES: Most ethnic Albanians have responded to Serbian repression with non-violent resistance
In an editorial, the New York Times praises what it calls "Kosovo's Peaceful Activists." The paper writes: "Although it is violence that makes headlines in Kosovo, the remarkable thing about this province of Serbia is that for years most of its ethnic Albanians have responded to Serbian repression with non-violent resistance. As the world follows the bombings and killings of a new Albanian guerrilla movement and Serbia's disproportionate response, the peaceful efforts of students and independent journalists deserve attention and support." The editorial continued: "Kosovo's students, who have met with Serbian students from Belgrade, are among the leaders of the province's civil society. So are Kosovo's independent journalists, who recently formed a joint news service with Belgrade's independent B-92 radio and Beta news service. Such contacts are rare and should be expanded."
The New York Times concluded: "The Kosovar leader, Ibrahim Rugova, opposes all protests, including the student demonstrations. The other extreme, the new and still small guerrilla army, tempts Kosovars into a violent, doomed struggle against a much stronger Serbia. Seventy percent of Kosovars are under 30, and virtually all these younger people are jobless. Serbia's bombardment and massacres will draw more of them -- especially those impatient with Rugova -- into replying with arms. Active nonviolence is more important than ever."
INDEPENDENT: President Milosevic has three options
In a news analysis in Britain's Independent newspaper, Andrew Gumbel says that "Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is racing against time to solve the Kosovo crisis..." Writing from Belgrade, Gumbel says: "Essentially, President Milosevic has three options: he could resume (Serbia) police attacks and escalate the conflict; he could use the threat of war as an excuse to give Kosovo away; or he could keep sowing confusion and milk the crisis for all it is worth." Gumbel goes on to say that the first two options involve too many disadvantages for Milosevic which, he argues, "leaves option three, fudging (i.e., sowing confusion)." He explains: "This is certainly the game Mr. Milosevic has played so far: Yesterday, he sent a negotiating team to Pristina...to hold talks with the Albanians. Only the day before, however, the (Serbian) police had forced (Albanian) villagers to bury their dead without forensic scientific analysis of the bodies. The Albanians, in turn, turned down the offer to talk, calling it a Serbian exercise in 'play-acting.'"
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Each has his reasons for slyly keeping a distance
Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung explores the difficulties of mounting an international action against Serbia. In an editorial, the paper writes: "NATO General Secretary Javier Solana should give up his weak thoughts of a NATO military action in Kosovo as premature. NATO had plenty of time in the Serbian war against Croatia and Bosnia; it did nothing until it was too late. Russia and China do not want to hear about military measures; one is thinking of Chechnya, the other of Tibet. Bulgaria supports an economic embargo against Serbia, although this will hurt its industry. Macedonia is afraid of refugees. Greece has been in league with Serbia the whole time. Croatia and Turkey are approaching the Kosovo question with pointed fingers, Zagreb with an eye on its Serbian minority and Ankara thinking of its Kurds." The FAZ continues: "Also, the territorial integrity of European states would be threatened. So each has his reasons for slyly keeping a distance. Dialogue between Serbs and the Kosovo Albanians, prompted by Washington, would be the best. Why not? says Milosevic, and sends his deputies to Kosovo, where Albanians were preparing to bury their dead, to wrap them in endless sterile talk - while the West undertakes only to do nothing."
ECHOS: Europeans and Americans left Milosevic too much freedom to act as he wanted
The French daily Les Echos also says that "Serbia doesn't need an international mediator." In its editorial, the paper writes: "The Milosevic regime could not have been more clear (earlier this week) in refusing implicitly a mission by Felipe Gonzalez, representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Belgrade does not seem ready to hear the international community, which has multiplied its warnings over the last several days." Like the FAZ, Les Echos criticizes Western reaction to the crisis, arguing: "Europeans and Americans left Milosevic, the person most responsible for the Yugoslavian tragedy, too much freedom to act as he wanted. They affirmed (yesterday) that they will try to prevent the writing of a bloody new page in the history of the Balkans...The U.S. and the (EU) 15 should guarantee that the proposals of (Yugoslavian vice-prime minister] Zoran Lilic (to re-establish autonomy in Kosovo) are not new sparks added to the fire in Belgrade."
REPPUBLICA: The guns have fallen silent in Pristina, but diplomacy is making no progress
The Italian daily La Reppublica writes in an editorial today: "The guns have fallen silent in Pristina, but diplomacy is making no progress. Negotiations with the Albanian majority have not yet begun. And in Kosovo student demonstrators are now saying that a wide section of society supports them. They seem to be part of a greater effort to return again to the moderate line of Albanian political leader Ibrahim Rugova. The Albanians are strengthening their demands for the Kosovo province to become a U.N.-guaranteed protectorate and are now asking for international observation of the negotiations with the Serbs proposed by the (six-nation) Contact Group (on Monday, Mar. 9)."
GUARDIAN: We should acknowledge the potential appeal of an expanded Europe
Turning to yesterday's European Union summit in London, Britain's Guardian newspaper writes in an editorial about perennial EU aspirant Turkey's refusal to accept an invitation to attend: "The European Conference ... was not about Turkey. Our italics reflect the emphasis placed on the point by the British hosts --to an extent where unkind minds might suspect them of pleading too much." But the Left-of-Center paper also says: "The insistence of (Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair) that this is an historic event may be more than compensatory rhetoric...We should acknowledge the potential appeal of an expanded Europe which, in very embryonic form, the conference symbolizes." The Guardian continues: "The reality of Kosovo today may seem to mock these early efforts, but some form of pan-European association, which might even eventually cover all of the southern Balkans, is one way to make more Kosovos less likely."
FINANCIAL TIMES: It looks like getting worse before it gets better
In a news analysis entitled "Turkey's Dismay" in the Financial Times, Quentin Peel and John Barham write: "All the political parties in Ankara, the military establishment, and the business community in Istanbul, believe they have been rudely shut out of the European Union's latest round of negotiations for new members. And they are convinced that Germany, their traditional ally and the home more than two million Turkish 'Gastarbeiter' (guest workers), was most to blame for that decision, taken at last December's EU summit in Luxembourg." Their analysis concludes: "The upshot is that until Europe finds a way of co-existing with Turkey more comfortably, and until Turkey becomes more stable, the whole (EU) enlargement process could be held hostage. As a top Western diplomat said: 'It looks like getting worse before it gets better.'"
DAILY TELEGRAPH: The conference did not attempt to negotiate any of the serious stumbling blocks
A news analysis by Toby Holm and George Jones in the conservative Daily Telegraph called the conference "largely symbolic," explaining: "It did not attempt to negotiate any of the serious stumbling blocks to admitting the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, notably reforming the (EU's) finances, including the costly Common Agricultural Policy." The Telegraph's analysis also spoke of the Turkish problem as a possible impediment to a smooth EU expansion: "The upbeat rhetoric of Mr. Blair and (EU Executive Commission President Jacques) Santer could not disguise the failure to resolve the dispute with the Turkish Government over its relations with the EU, which could yet threaten the whole enlargement process."
LIBERATION: Ankara's exclusion signals a new division between the Islamic and Christian worlds
The French daily Liberation says the London conference showed "the extent of the problems facing the 15 (EU members)" In an editorial, the paper wrote: "The 26 heads of state and government had nothing better to do than deliver prepared speeches to each other...They have brought themselves to the point where the EU looks likely to suffocate (because of its recent decision to expand membership). For (French President Jacques) Chirac, it has reached the point where it seems that the (EU) is no longer one organization." The editorial goes on to say: "But (Chirac also) is of the opinion that not only can Europe function with 26, it must do so. (Yet) Turkey's boycott of the European Conference, the result of Ankara's exclusion from the 'expansion process,' signals a new (Yalta-like division) between the Islamic and Christian worlds."