Prague, 28 July 1999 (RFE/RL/) -- "Who will pay for Kosovo?" asks Brussels correspondent Andras Oldag today in a commentary for Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
The question is the subject of two international conferences this week: One is a donors' meeting, organized by the European Union and the World Bank, that begins today in the Belgian capital. The other, a summit conference on Balkan reconstruction, starts Friday in Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo. It is expected to be attended by many world leaders, including U.S. President Bill Clinton, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and senior politicians from Balkan and southeast European states.
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: EU member-states are already standing by for lucrative contracts in the Balkans
Oldag's commentary says that Germany's new EU budget commissioner-designate Michaele Schreyer will have to deal with the problem of the union's financing of Kosovo reconstruction when she begins her new job in September. He writes: "A conflict over the EU's budget for the year 2000 is already smoldering between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. At its heart is the question of who is to finance the rebuilding of Kosovo. Schreyer, a [member of the German] Green [Party], will have to decide which side to take."
Oldag goes on to say: "The Council of Ministers wants to raise 500 million euros ($531 million) for the Balkans by making lump-sum cuts under various budget heads. This is a flawed plan -- for example, it envisages making savings by cutting important aid programs for Russia. [And] the European Parliament has rightly criticized the Council of Ministers, arguing that a short-sighted policy of cuts could once again cause a lot of damage. The ministers' motto seems to be: 'What do we care about yesterday's promises when new challenges present themselves today?' "
He concludes: "Germany is still the EU's [biggest] paymaster. The latest Bundesbank calculations show that in 1998, Germany's net contribution increased yet again, to $13 billion from $12.3 billion in the previous year. ...The debate about financing reconstruction in Kosovo will inevitably also be a discussion on the sense of Germany's exorbitantly high net payments. While Germany bears the main burden, other EU member-states are already standing by for lucrative contracts in the Balkans -- and not just for their construction industries."
DERNIERES NOUVELLES DALSACE: The problem is the distribution system
The influential French provincial newspaper Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace notes in a news analysis of today's Brussels donors' conference that, while "730,000 [ethnic Albanian] refugees have returned to Kosovo [in the past two months], the cost of reconstructing many of their houses will be well over $1 billion."
The DNA's analysis continues: "[Kosovo's capital] Pristina has no running water or electricity for at least two days a week. The problem," the paper adds, "is not the electricity supply itself but its distribution system, severely disrupted [during the war] by destroyed cables and mined pylons."
It adds: "Municipal services in Kosovo also suffer from dysfunction. Most [of the province's] Serbs have left and the Kosovars who remained in or have returned to the province are unable to pay for repairs. The United Nations Mission to Kosovo, headed by [former French Health Minister] Bernard Kouchner has created an emergency fund to pay municipal and other salaries. France, Britain, the Netherlands, Italy and Norway have already made contributions. The U.S. is also expected to participate. This fund alone is likely to total over $50 million."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: We have a long way to go
In another commentary on Balkan reconstruction, the U.N. Secretary-General's special envoy to the area, Carl Bildt, writes today in the International Herald Tribune: "[The U.N.'s work] in the region is entering a new phase. ...We must now be ready to bring the regional focus even more clearly to all our diverse efforts. With a Serbia where the state is much too strong," he adds, "an Albania where the state is much too weak and a Macedonia where the state is much too fragile, we have a long way to go."
Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister, continues: "What all these states need is far more reform than reconstruction. Destroyed infrastructure has to be rebuilt, but this will in the end bring little change if there is not a wind of sustained political and economic reforms that will pave the way for reconstruction aid and reintegration [of the Balkans] in Europe."
He concludes that "Serbia, the new 'sick man of Europe,' is the key. We must be prepared to help it back into Europe. But it is the Serbs' commitment to reforms that will pave the way for reconstruction and reintegration into Europe. We need years...to repair the effects of war -- but above all we need a decade of political and economic reforms."
Russia and China are also subjects of commentary in the Western press today.
WASHINGTON POST: Charity from the West does not solve a single problem
In a comment for the Washington Post, former Russian finance minister Boris Fyordov warns against the dangers of further loans to Moscow by the international community. Writing from Moscow, he says: "For the past six years, [Russian] governments have been living from one International Monetary Fund infusion to the next. In the first stage we are short of money and hold hasty talks with the IMF. Next, after considerable difficulty, we receive the money. Then we forget our promises, get into a crisis and ask for money again."
The commentary continues: "Russian authorities have learned the craft of pulling the wool over the eyes of the West, and the West has learned to pretend not to notice it. ...It should be recognized honestly that we have lost six years, increased our debt by $20 billion to international financial organizations alone, and have completely failed to conduct reforms. And now we are asking to write off part of the debts. We want to get new credits, but in fact we plan to reform nothing." He concludes: "Yet another gift of charity from the West does not solve a single problem, apart from producing the overall image of something positive going on. Is this," Fyordov asks, "worth increasing our debt?"
NEW YORK TIMES: Beijing's repression may only deepen public disenchantment
The New York Times today carries an editorial on what it calls "China's Repressive Reflex" in persecuting members of a widespread Buddhist sect in the country. The paper says: "In a step recalling Maoist political re-education campaigns, Beijing has sent 1,200 officials belonging to the Falun Gong spiritual movement to special schools to study Communist literature and recant their allegiance to the group. That is disturbing behavior from a Chinese leadership that proclaims its commitment to economic reform and modernization ..."
The editorial goes on: "The Falun Gong says it has no political agenda, but it has a popular exiled leader, tens of millions of followers and a remarkable ability to organize protests...Special factors may explain the vehemence of Beijing's moves against the Falun Gong. Rapidly growing religious cults are particularly frightening to Chinese governments because of their historical role in sparking unrest. New religious groups have grown in recent years as the discrediting of Communist ideology and the suppression of democracy movements have left a spiritual void. The Falun Gong's emergence also coincides with economic strains."
The NYT concludes: "None of this justifies the persecutions now under way. For most of its followers, the Falun Gong is not about protest but traditional Chinese techniques of exercise, breathing and meditation believed to channel the body's spiritual energy. ...Beijing's repression may only deepen public disenchantment with the authorities, and could divert energies from carrying out needed economic reforms. China cannot arrive at the modern future it wants by returning to the ideological monitoring and indoctrination methods of the past."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The two sides must reach a clear understanding of their long-term interests and goals
The Los Angeles Times also alludes to the suppression of the Falun Gong in its editorial on U.S.-China relations. The paper argues that "the Clinton administration has been far too slow to speak out against China's crackdown on religious sects."
According to the LAT, "the White House was right in removing human rights issues from [its] annual trade talks [with Beijing]. Hectoring and threatening China with trade sanctions have been counterproductive, at best. But neither should America stand by silently when Beijing jails religious leaders."
The editorial adds: "The spate of recent crises in Sino-U.S. relations does not discredit Washington's 'engagement' policy. That policy has helped lead to Beijing's acceptance of market principles and a degree of democratization, at least at the local level. The policy clearly underscores the need for building a relationship based on long-term strategic interests. ...In handling the thorny regional security issues -- including peace on the Korean peninsula and Taiwan's status -- the two sides must reach a clear understanding of their long-term interests and goals. This will not end disagreements, but it will help remove the suspicion, an important early step."