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Western Press Review: Moderates Win Kosovo Vote

Prague, 30 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- This weekend's elections in Kosovo and Kosovo's relationship to Serbia and Yugoslavia occupy much Western commentary today.


New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger says -- with a touch of irony -- in today's International Herald Tribune that the defeat in Yugoslavia of Slobodan Milosevic, regarded as good news by those with democratic leanings, was bad news for Kosovar Albanians with independence leanings. Erlanger writes: "The fall of Slobodan Milosevic is a disaster -- at least for Kosovo's hopes for independence. The election in Belgrade of the apparently reasonable, law-minded Serb, Vojislav Kostunica, has spoiled that dream, and consequently Kosovo has become a more explosive place."

Erlanger quotes a Kosovar Albanian as saying that the Albanians would demand independence if Mother Theresa were running Serbia. The New York Times writer quotes a diplomat as saying something similar with Thomas Jefferson as Serbia's governor.

Erlanger writes: "Kostunica is neither [Jefferson or Mother Theresa] but he will insist on Belgrade's rights under [UN] Resolution 1244 [guaranteeing Yugoslav territorial integrity]. Ultimately the future of Kosovo must be resolved between Belgrade and Pristina, the Kosovo capital. This doubtless will prove difficult."


Spain's El Mundo concurs. The newspaper says in an editorial: "The allies, after bringing help to Kosovo can see that the Kosovars are now asking for a more independent life and see these elections not as a step toward democracy, but as a step toward independence. New headaches for those who thought that events in the Balkans had come under control."


Columnist Jean-Claude Kiefer writes similarly in France's Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace: "In these democratic elections, the Kosovars have clearly demonstrated their will for the only future they consider viable -- one outside the Yugoslav federation. Even if self-government were not the issue addressed by the ballot, all the parties conducted their campaigns on this theme. But, Kosovo, which is under international rule, formally is still part of Yugoslavia. With the help of the Kremlin, the new president, Vojislav Kostunica claims Belgrade's rights in Kosovo."


Britain's Financial Times agrees with The New York Times' Erlanger that the otherwise good news of Milosevic's defeat is a negative for Kosovo's Albanian majority. The newspaper says: "The precise outcome is not as important as the overall message that only the ethnic Albanian population voted, not the Serbian minority. And every important participant was dedicated to independence. For those voters, the people for whom NATO went to war last year, the continued rule of Mr. Milosevic was the best possible guarantee of their ultimate freedom. The advent of a new democratic regime in Belgrade is regarded with grave misgiving, because it might give the Western world good reason to delay, or even oppose, independence."

The newspaper says that U.S. impatience to turn the Kosovo problem entirely over to the Europeans is making those problems worse. The editorial says, "The Kosovar Albanian demand for independence exposes the unresolved contradiction at the heart of Western policy."

It says: "A provocative contribution to the debate on a final status for Kosovo was published last week by an independent international commission set up by Goran Persson, the Swedish prime minister. It dismisses outright independence, along with partition, protectorate status and autonomy within a federal and democratic Yugoslavia, proposing instead something called conditional independence. [The commission defines conditional independence] as a form of independence likely to fall well short of Kosovar Albanian expectations. Equally, it fails to take into account the new dynamic of democratic progress in Serbia. What is really needed in the Balkans is a concept that gets away from 19th century notions of independence -- of the nation state, rigid borders, armies, independent currencies and hostile sovereignties. Of course, such a concept already exists. It is called the European Union."


The Independent of London, of all the Western press surveyed, stands alone in arguing that the time now is ripe for Kosovar independence. The newspaper says: "Independence has been the Great Unmentionable for most of the alliance of democratic nations which rescued the Albanian majority in the province from Slobodan Milosevic in the war last year. That taboo should be broken, even if this may not be the most diplomatic moment to do so from the point of view of providing succor to Vojislav Kostunica."

The editorial concludes: "An independent Kosovo, landlocked, tiny and poor, has not been possible in the history of the Balkans to date. Nor was it a war aim of the NATO alliance in last year's bombing campaign. But it is possible and indeed desirable now, provided the values for which that war was fought are respected, namely those of defending the human rights of a minority against its more numerous neighbors."


At least, writes French commentator Jacques Amalric in Liberation, both Kostunica and Ibrahim Rugova, the winners respectively in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, stand for nonviolence. Amalric says: "The message of the [Kosovo] election is quite encouraging for it means that the big majority of the Albanians of Kosovo in choosing Rugova chose nonviolence to get what they want. A kind of symmetric choice that was made by the Serbs in favor of Kostunica. But this double choice does not solve anything in depth. Kostunica did refuse yesterday (Sunday) to recognize the Kosovo election."


The Kosovo outcome is a test for Kostunica, writes German commentator Guenther Nonnenmacher in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Nonnenmacher says: "[Kostunica's] stance on Kosovo is that little will change the UN administration for some time to come. That was and is meant descriptively and is certainly not to be seen as approval of the Kosovo war or its consequences. Anything that shifts the status quo in Kosovo toward greater autonomy for its ethnic Albanian citizens -- and that is precisely what these elections do -- puts Mr. Kostunica under domestic political pressure."

"However, the new president has to overcome this hurdle. The West cannot and must not help him over it. Attitudes toward Kosovo (and Montenegro) are the acid test of whether the Serbs have simply elected different politicians or whether they want different policies, too."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego contributed to this press review.)