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Western Press Review: The Sarajevo Summit

Prague, 30 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Britain's Independent newspaper (F812) calls today's Sarajevo summit on Balkan stability "a strange meeting." Other Western newspapers and commentators see the summit as an important step toward the reconstruction both of Kosovo and the entire southeast European region. All agree that the gathering of more than 30 world leaders is a major international event.

The Independent finds the Sarajevo meeting odd because -- the paper writes in an editorial -- it "is all about the need for greater stability in the Balkans -- and yet the most important country [Serbia] for the future stability of the region has not been invited. ... It would seem essential," it argues, "that Serbia should be brought into the game, and for an economic helping hand to be offered to Belgrade."

The paper continues: "The Sarajevo summit can be seen as mere gesture politics. In the words of one headline from the region, this is merely 'Western Aspirin for the Balkan Cancer.' Vague phrases such as launching a stability pact is just sound bite [that is, media-directed] diplomacy. Nonetheless," the paper adds, "even the attempt to address the [area's] problems should be welcomed."

The Independent sums up: "If ... there is a commitment to link the region to the rest of Europe in the years to come, that small step would be important. And one day, a [Slobodan] Milosevic-free Serbia will be able to rejoin the Balkan family. It cannot happen too soon."

Norway's daily Aftenposten says that, "after what has happened in the Balkans over the past 10 years -- not least in and around Sarajevo itself -- it is remarkable that a conference of these proportions can take place there at all. Symbolism," the paper adds in its editorial, "plays a crucial role in politics, especially in the Balkans." It says the Sarajevo summit can contribute immensely to the creation of a stable region.

The paper goes on: "The reconstruction of Kosovo has been discussed often in the run-up to the Sarajevo meeting. Earlier this week, a conference in Brussels extracted promises of 2,500 million dollars [from various donor nations] to get the work done. But," Aftenposten says, "a much greater sum of money will be needed to rebuild Serbia's infrastructure alone. The money is unlikely to arrive as long as [Yugoslav President] Milosevic continues doing what he is best at: clinging to power."

"It is sad to note," the paper concludes, "how difficult it is to raise money for the reconstruction of Kosovo, especially when compared to the [relative] ease with which the money for NATO's [air] war was secured. For us, it was clear that force had to be used against the strongman in Belgrade. But after the air attacks, a massive reconstruction effort is now needed not only to give the [ethnic Albanian] Kosovars and the Serbs a better living standard, but also to prevent similar conflicts from breaking out in the future."

The New York Times says today that the Sarajevo summit "offers a chance to get the postwar reconstruction of southeastern Europe off to a sound start. Thousands of millions of dollars have already been pledged to help rebuild Kosovo and several neighboring countries," the editorial notes. "But a lot of this could be wasted unless Washington, the European Union and the United Nations show they have learned from their only partly successful efforts in Bosnia. This time, more must be done to build new locally based economic and political institutions so that international relief can give way to long-term recovery."

The editorial continues: "The Sarajevo meeting launches the Balkan Stability Pact, an international relief and recovery plan intended to help the Balkan region overcome its history of conflict and ethnic strife and speed its integration into democratic Europe." It says the main beneficiaries will be Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, and that help will also be available for Romania and Bulgaria.

The NYT adds: "In Kosovo, international administrators need to make sure moderates and independents get a fair chance to compete politically with the activists of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). The UCK has begun forcibly taking over political institutions and businesses while the UN administration is still getting organized. Once UN officials take charge, they should set a reasonable target date for local elections to begin the process of establishing self-government. A degree of economic self-sufficiency can be attained relatively quickly by assisting local farmers in getting back on their feet."

In a lead editorial, Britain's Economist weekly today (dated July 31) explores implications of the Kosovo war. The magazine writes that "the post-communist, post-Kosovo world now taking shape will not be an end-of-history sort of place in which all good democrats can put their feet up." Instead, the Economist says, "it will be a world of clashing interests and outrageous atrocities, in which democrats will have to get involved not merely if they wish to defend their interests, but also if they wish to sleep easy at night and look themselves in the eye in the mirror come the morning."

The editorial continues: "It is far from clear, though, that Kosovo has prepared the way for more frequent Western intervention. The Kosovo war was not fought for conventional reasons of national interest, nor yet was it quite the humanitarian venture that Western leaders proclaimed it to be. Rather, it was a war they stumbled into by miscalculation when their diplomacy failed; it then became not just a war to end Serb injustice, but also a war to preserve NATO's credibility."

"Next time," the magazine concludes, "it must be hoped [that] the West will either be less free with its threats of force, or make sure it can live up to them. But, for a while at least, an over-stretched NATO will be in no position to undertake more interventions of the Balkan kind."

For a group of seven prominent West and Central European intellectuals writing in the Irish Times today (F100), "The Kosovo war should force the European Union to rethink its future. As the new [EU Executive] Commission chaired by Romano Prodi takes over, it should seize the opportunity to move the EU from an inward-looking institution consumed with an economic agenda to an all-European political project."

Their commentary continues: "'The return to Europe' was a central motto of the peaceful revolution in Central Europe 10 years ago. ... The West, however, was ill prepared to face the revolutionary challenge and remained ambiguous. [Now] 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the vision of a reunited Europe seems to have vanished. In spite of official declarations to the contrary, EU enlargement is not considered a real priority. The member states do not seem ready to make the necessary reforms and bear the costs of enlargement."

The group also says: "The real long-term success of the Kosovo war can be assured only by the prospect of the integration of the Balkans with the developed Europe. ... The EU's direct involvement in the Balkans should lead it to rethink its enlargement strategy. It should embark now on a policy of accelerated political and security integration of the countries of Central Europe without slowing down their economic integration."

"This," their commentary concludes, "would not be seen as 'second-class' [EU] membership, but rather as ... the proper answer to the hopes of a genuinely reunited Europe that were reborn in 1989. It would also send a positive European signal for the post-war reconstruction in the Balkans."

In the Wall Street Journal Europe, the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Horst Koehler, writes that "the Balkans must be rebuilt" one business at a time." He says that in Kosovo the reconstruction "task is difficult, [but] there is reason for guarded optimism."

According to Koehler, the EBRD's "initial assessment of Kosovo is that the economy and infrastructure have emerged from war better than expected, with the small-enterprise sector remaining particularly active. Shops are well stocked, farmers are returning to the fields, and families are repairing their homes. On the other hand," he notes, "few industrial plants seem to be in workable condition, electricity and telephones are unreliable, and the financial sector -- that is, banks and the payment system -- has ceased to function."

Koehler also says his bank "will focus its role in the Balkans on these areas: the regeneration and development of private enterprise, strengthening the financial sector; encouraging foreign direct investment; some specific infrastructure projects with commercial potential; regional cross-border investments and trade flows." He concludes that the EBRD's "project-finance approach -- what I like to call 'help for self-help' -- is what can ultimately make a most effective contribution to economic recovery and regional stability."