Prague, 17 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today considers the war in Chechnya in relation to this weekend's parliamentary elections in Russia. Commentators also look at integration in the European Union, the peace talks between Israel and Syria, and the presence of Serb paramilitaries in northern Kosovo.
ECONOMIST: The placid electoral campaign reflects the moral and political vacuum
This week's Economist harshly criticizes the Russian electoral process, condemning both voters and candidates for failing to discuss the war in Chechnya in the run-up to this weekend's elections. for the Duma. In an editorial, the magazines asks: "What kind of country can hold a general election without discussing a civil war whose needless brutality horrifies most decent outsiders?"
The Economist goes on to say that only a "strange" country could participate in a major election process with such a marked absence of protests to what the Economist calls "the indiscriminate and disproportionate" response of the Russian army to the Chechen challenge. The editorial says that during an election campaign, there should be debate on how to end the war.
The editorial uses the lack of war debate among Russians as proof of the country's "most uncertain progress" towards democracy and the standards of behavior that go with it. Worse still, the magazine says, the war in Chechnya is just one example of the absence of any debates in Russia. This placid electoral campaign, the magazine concludes, reflects Russia's "moral and political vacuum."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: There's nothing like a patriotic war to rally voters
The International Herald Tribune carries a commentary which goes a step further in its criticism of the upcoming Russian elections, accusing Russians of blindly supporting the war as they are swept up in a "fever of nationalist emotions."
Columnist William Pfaff suggests that the intense assault on Chechnya was designed to stir up patriotism among Russian voters. "There's nothing like a patriotic war to rally voters," Pfaff writes. He says that the Russian public played its anti-Chechen role with enthusiasm, lifting the new Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from relative obscurity to the role of the Russian national "avenger against the Chechen 'savages.' "
Pfaff suggests that the growth of nationalist ambitions must be curtailed in Russia before their effect has too heavy an influence over the electoral process. He says that this Sunday's parliamentary elections may provide an indication of what is to come in next year's presidential campaign, when Putin is expected to run as President Boris Yeltin's chosen successor.
Pfaff concludes that "entangled Russian and Caucasian nationalist ambitions, corrupt Russian national policies, and great-power economic interests make an explosive cocktail."
AFTENPOSTEN: OSCE Chairman's visit was a failure
Norway's Aftenposten says in an editorial today that the recent visit of the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to Chechnya was a failure.
The OSCE has been lobbying Russia to allow a visit the region for weeks. Upon arrival home, OSCE Chairman Knut Vollebaek said that there is no will by the Russians to draw an end to the conflict. Aftenposten says Vollebaek has made appeals for a cease-fire, but that the war in Chechnya continues with unabated violence.
The editorial concludes that Vollebaek's suggestions for political (instead of military solutions to the war have "fallen on deaf ears" and that the OSCE will be unable to mediate between the Chechens and the Russians.
NEW YORK TIMES: The age of multi-civilizational empires is over
In a New York Times editorial, author Samuel Huntington contextualizes the war in Chechnya as another example of the increasing challenges facing what he calls "multi-civilizational states."
Huntington, a government professor at the U.S.'s Harvard University, says that the promise of a unified cultural homeland has fueled many of this century's wars, including the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. He writes that a sense of cultural community crosses state lines and borders, fostering a transnational fraternity among the diaspora. Diasporas, he says, are taking on a new importance which "provide money, arms, fighters and leader to their ancestral groups struggling for freedom."
Huntington concludes that the age of "multi-civilizational empires is over." He says Russia's next leader would do well to espouse a Russian-only Russia and forego the "obsolete dream of a multi-ethnic, multi-civilization empire."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: EU candidates can't be put off forever
In today's International Herald Tribune, columnist Flora Lewis writes that the goal of an integrated Europe is much stronger among European Union candidate countries than among existing members of the EU.
She writes that the recent EU summit in Helsinki showed aspiring EU states "impatient" to join and build a more integrated body. EU countries by contrast, Lewis says, are less willing to "revise and adjust institutions to accommodate them without diluting the EU's cohesive strength."
At the heart of this resistance, Lewis writes, is a new movement among EU member states to preserve their "national particularities." She says part of the problem resides in the fact that the EU was designed initially for six members and now must readjust for more than two dozen. She describes complications such as giving an official status to every country, which includes the expensive and time-consuming process of translation in every represented national language.
Lewis says that the EU candidates favor enlargement for the obvious payoffs: "acceptance in the club of the successful mainstream, a better chance for prosperity, an important re-enforcement for democracy and a guarantee against backsliding into a terrible past." They can't be put off forever, she writes, except at the risk of "losing what they have achieved and creating dangerous zones of instability across the east."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The U.S. must be ready to assume a decisive and assertive role
In today's Los Angeles Times, Edward P. Djerejian writes about the history of Israeli-Syrian peace talks and suggests resolutions to speeding the process today.
A former U.S. Ambassador to Syria and Israel, Djerejian says that previous negotiations between the two countries ultimately failed but outlined the contour of an agreement on the key issues of land, peace and security.
He says that there were key differences in how each party perceived the negotiations process. On the one hand, Syria said that former Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin made concrete promises to withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for Syria's accepting Israel's requirement for security in the region. But in the Israeli view, Djerejian writes, Rabin's concession for Israeli withdrawal was not an absolute and unconditional commitment.
Djerejian recommends that the talks should now concentrate on increased communication between the two sides. The first stage of the negotiations, he writes, should focus on security arrangements through "sustained talks between teams of military and security experts."
Djerejian also says that the U.S. must be ready to "assume a decisive and assertive role" in the peace talks. The history of the Arab-Israeli peace process, he says, has demonstrated that when the U.S. President and his Secretary of State step in with the political will to act as negotiation leaders, "there has been progress."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Violence will continue to brew in Mitrovica
Today's Wall Street Journal carries an editorial by two analysts for the International Crisis Group, an independent monitoring organization that has conducted studies of the Kosovo crisis. Susan Blaustein and John Fawcett write that despite NATO's early success in establishing security in the province, they have failed to "make Kosovars of any ethnicity feel secure."
The focal point of Blaustein and Fawcett's research is the divided town of Mitrovica, where Serbs and Albanians live in separate ethnic enclaves on either side of a river. The two authors say the continued partition of Mitrovica is tied to the legendary Trepca mining complex there. They say the mine remains for the most part dormant, as international peacekeepers have stalled on deciding who should own the complex, once a major money-maker for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The mine complex is spread throughout Mitrovica and several surrounding towns, and local Serbs and Albanians have blocked one another from returning to work outside their respective enclaves. The writers say that Serb security forces and paramilitary units have been reported in and around Zvecan, a town just a few kilometers north of Mitrovica and home to Trepca's smelter.
The two authors warn that the city's future -- and perhaps that of all of Kosovo -- is "in grave jeopardy" unless ownership of the mine is determined soon, including the return of workers no matter what their ethnicity. As long as Mitrovica remains divided and the issue of Trepca unresolved, they say, there will be "no room for moderation on either side." They conclude that violence will continue to brew in Mitrovica, with "increasing fatalities" threatening Kosovo's fragile peace.