Prague, 22 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators touch on several subjects today. Several assess the difficulties of international peacekeepers in restraining tensions in the divided northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, as tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians demonstrated yesterday. Other commentators discuss the UN's continuing problems in Iraq and the European Union's coming expansion to Central and Eastern Europe.
DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: The French are quite alone in Mitrovica
An editorial in the French provincial daily Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace says the televised images of conflict in Mitrovica yesterday were revealing. The editorial, signed by the paper's foreign editor Jean-Claude Kiefer, notes that French peacekeepers were in the front line against the protesting Serbs who, he says, came from Kosovo's capital Pristina "to shout their hatred in Mitrovica."
Kiefer found some of the images disturbing. He says: "We saw Serbs applauding the French [peacekeepers] who were charging the Albanians, we saw U.S. soldiers ... withdrawing with the first volley of stones thrown, and we saw the British [peacekeepers] seeking a haven on the pretext that that the 'northern sector' was not their responsibility. In short," Kiefer sums up, "the French ... are quite alone in Mitrovica."
For Kiefer, "the French solitude ... symbolizes Europe's impotence. Europe still doesn't know what it wants in Kosovo. In the name of Balkan stability, it refuses to grant Kosovo independence, just as it refuses to recognize Serbian sovereignty." He concludes: "You have to be blind not to see that the [ethnic] Albanians have already made their choice. Reconciliation with Belgrade is an impossible fantasy, as is the peaceful presence in Kosovo of an ethnic Serb minority accused of having helped (Yugoslavia's murder and torture of ethnic Albanians) last spring. Recognizing the reality on the ground has become an absolute necessity."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Mitrovica is Milosevic's only remaining foothold in Kosovo
In the U.S. daily Los Angeles Times, analyst Susan Blaustein says that events in Mitrovica show that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is again "having his way with the peacekeepers." She writes in a commentary: "Mitrovica has long been regarded as the flash point most likely to sink the international peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Yet," she adds, "Kosovo's top international officials have allowed the long smoldering violence there to explode, underscoring again how their failure of will promotes the agenda of the man whose downfall NATO sought to bring about: indicted war criminal ... Slobodan Milosevic."
The commentary goes on: "Mitrovica is not just another Balkan caldron of centuries-old hatreds. [It] is a linchpin in Belgrade's 'Greater Serbia' strategy of expelling all non-Serbs from the region ... Mitrovica is Milosevic's only remaining foothold in Kosovo, and it is there that he has decided to call the bluff of the international community, in flagrant violation of the peace accord."
Blaustein is not as uncritical of French peacekeepers as is Kiefer. She writes: "With the apparent acquiescence of the French KFOR command, which has been loath to risk casualties, and the local UN administrators, Milosevic continues to send Serbian police and paramilitary forces across the Serbia-Kosovo border and into the Mitrovica area.... For months, French commanders have denied that there were Serbian police or paramilitary troops in the area ... despite regular and reliable reports to the contrary." She argues: "The standoff in Mitrovica must be brought to an end, with the help of a resolute and robust KFOR presence, international mediation and perhaps, as is being contemplated at UN headquarters, a carefully chosen international administration for the city."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: There is no clear responsibility for organizing police work
In a news analysis for the International Herald Tribune, correspondent Joseph Fitchett says that EU members are in no small part responsible for the lack of sufficient international police in Kosovo today. He writes: "Progress [in creating a Kosovo police force] has fallen behind initial schedules because of local obstinacy and the reluctance of some European countries to live up to their commitments. ... Furthermore," Fitchett writes, "there is no clear bureaucratic responsibility for organizing police work as a part of peacekeeping operations under international authority."
His analysis continues: "Of the nearly 5,000 police officers that were supposed to constitute an international force in Kosovo by now, barely 2,000 have arrived .... EU countries will have supplied only about 20 percent of the total police contingent even though European leaders, notably President Jacques Chirac of France, demanded a leading role for Europe in postwar Kosovo. ... France," he notes, "has sent no police officers to Kosovo ... the finance minister, Christian Sauter has characterized Kosovo as 'spending down a drain' ... and the interior minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement was opposed to NATO intervention in Kosovo and therefore does not want to post his men there."
Fitchett adds: "The biggest immediate challenge in Kosovo ... is crowd control. ... Street unrest is best handled by specialized forces of the 'gendarmerie' sort, meaning units trained and armed to handle riots ... and patrol borders. Such forces," he says, "do not exist in the U.S., but they are well developed in France, Italy and Spain. To date, not one unit of this kind has been sent to Kosovo."
WASHINGTON POST: The sanctions are counterproductive and should be abandoned
Two U.S. newspapers comment on the latest developments in the UN's checkered relations with Iraq. In an editorial, the Washington Post notes that, in its words, "Hans von Sponeck, the coordinator of the UN's oil-for-food program inside Iraq, has resigned to protest economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein's country [and] Jutta Burghardt, the [UN] World Food Program's Iraq director, followed suit. ... The resignations," says the paper, "lend force to an argument that has been gaining ground: The sanctions are counterproductive and should be abandoned."
The editorial goes on: "It's true: The sanctions have not brought Saddam down. While his people scrape by, he and his cronies live well despite the economic embargo. It's also true that delivery of needed supplies to Iraq's people is inefficient. ... That said," the paper quickly adds, "the critics are basically wrong. To accept their argument, you have to believe that a normal, impartial humanitarian relief operation could be carried out under a profoundly inhumane dictatorship even if there were no sanctions -- that Iraq could be both a tightly guarded prison and a comfortable one."
The Washington Post argues further: "The sanctions would disappear if Saddam accounted for all his weapons of mass destruction, as promised. Instead, he refuses to permit even a weaker UN weapons inspection team to replace the one he earlier kicked out." It concludes: "The Iraqi people are suffering. But the author of their misery is the man who uses them as pawns in a game of military and political aggrandizement, a game he would play even more aggressively -- and at who knows what cost in human lives -- if sanctions were lifted prematurely."
BALTIMORE SUN: Resignations underscore the failure of sanctions
In the Baltimore Sun, analyst Phyllis Bennis says: "The resignations [of the two UN officials] should be a wake-up call for Washington." Her commentary goes on: "[They] underscore the failure of the sanctions, a [U.N.] Security Council policy imposed largely through U.S. pressure."
According to Bennis, "The sanctions, in place for almost a decade, have been responsible not only for the deaths of about one million Iraqis -- 500,000 of them children, according to UNICEF -- but also for the absolute shredding of the cultural, economic, political, family and intellectual fabric of Iraqi society. ... World Food Program inspectors ... have documented the fact that many Iraqis -- especially children -- are malnourished. It is understandable that UN humanitarian and development workers, trained to end, not maintain, humanitarian disasters, would find implementing the sanctions unacceptable."
"What is less understandable," the commentator concludes, is what she calls the U.S. government's refusal "to hear or take seriously the concerns of [the two] UN officials. ... Maybe," she suggests ironically, "the State Department's long-standing demonization campaign has taken root within its staff. Maybe [spokesman James] Rubin and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright believe that Iraq is populated by almost 23 million Saddam Husseins."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: All objective factors speak against eastern Europe's rapid entry into EMU
Turning to the EU's planned expansion to the east, a commentary by Andreas Oldag in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung warns the 10 Central and East European candidate nations not to consider joining the EU economic and monetary union, known as EMU, and its single currency the euro, too quickly. Writing from Brussels, he argues: "The national economies of eastern Europe are a long way off from fulfilling the [EMU] criteria. ... Inflation, particularly, is too high, at 8.5 percent. An established system of independent central banks is absent in many countries of eastern Europe. All objective factors speak against a rapid entry into EMU."
In addition, Oldag says, eastern Europe's yearning to join the euro could further serve to devalue the new currency. He writes: "EU entry negotiations [with the eastern nations] are already producing negative effects on the euro's image. The unit's weakness against the U.S. dollar is not only a consequence of the sparse economic growth in the EU. It also depends on the expectations for Europe's further economic and political development. The EU's enlargement presents high risks here."
Oldag concludes: "Surely, there is no political alternative to the eastward enlargement of the EU. Only in this way can peace and stability in Europe be secured long-term. But EMU entry presupposes a careful examination. Who can benefit from a union with 25 or 27 member states whose economic foundation is crumbling?"
WASHINGTON POST: Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic should understand that their future lies with Brussels
In a commentary for the Washington Post, Charles Gati, a U.S. specialist on Eastern Europe, discusses Central Europe's reaction to the EU's diplomatic boycott of member-state Austria for including the far right in a new coalition government. Gati writes: "Prospective EU members Poland and Hungary are as least as critical of the EU as they are of Joerg Haider and his xenophobic Freedom Party. ... In the Czech Republic," he adds, "Prime Minister Milos Zeman has finally made up his mind, saying that Prague would reduce official contact with Vienna [although Czech conservative leader Vaclav Klaus, on whom the government depends for support,] thinks Mr. Haider is 'a lesser evil than the attempt by the EU to speak out against the sovereign decision-making of one of its members.'"
"A 'lesser evil?'" Gati asks. "Clearly, Mr. Haider's demagogic outcry against integration and immigrants falls on fertile soil in Central and Eastern Europe because it is easy to blame 'foreigners' for the meager results of the decade-old post-communist transition. ... Like Austria, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are ambivalent about integration. While the elites are generally in favor of joining the EU, the people are not so sure. ... Many in the region expect the EU to adjust to their needs and habits rather than the other way around."
Gati sums up: "Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, [all] admitted to NATO last year ... should understand that their future lies with Brussels and not with this government in Vienna. Like it or not, they will enter the EU in 2003 or so only if they subscribe to same 'European values' that Brussels favors. ... These include respect for minorities, decent treatment of immigrants, as well as full cooperation with the EU and thus acceptance of something less than 'full' sovereignty."