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Western Press Review: Balkans, France, Russia And The Internet

Prague, 13 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today touches on a wide range of topics. They include concern over the ethnic Albanian insurgency in the Balkans, the Socialists' underwhelming performance in French municipal elections, and the future of e-business in Central and Eastern Europe.


A commentary in today's "International Herald Tribune" says fears of a new Balkan war may be premature. Bodo Hombach, special coordinator of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, cites cooperation between the international community and the Yugoslav government in reducing tensions in southern Serbia. He writes: "Regional solidarity against terrorism has been unprecedented," and adds: "All those who have any influence on the [Albanian] extremists must also now take effective practical action to prevent violent activities. Otherwise there is a real danger of a backlash against international reconstruction efforts in Kosovo, and of increasing donor fatigue."


A "New York Times" editorial echoes that view. The paper says it is the West's duty to make clear to the militant Albanian fringe responsible for recent violence in and near Macedonia that it will not be allowed to set off a new Balkan war. It writes: "Washington was right last week to let American forces based in Kosovo coordinate their actions with Macedonian troops on the other side of the border to repel an incursion by Albanian guerrillas. Macedonia itself must summon the political and military strength needed to blunt this challenge." The editorial adds: "Responsible Albanian political leaders in Kosovo must now be equally forthright in isolating the armed militants and urging their fellow citizens to do the same. If they cannot do so effectively, NATO may have to increase its military pressure on the guerrillas."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says that Sunday's (11 March) first round of voting in France's municipal elections -- which failed to produce the anticipated landslide victory for the left -- may still prove a boon for Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the mayoral contest in Paris. It says: "The real prospect of taking control of the city [offers] Mr. Jospin what would be a powerful symbolic victory over President Jacques Chirac." A win by Socialist candidate Bertrand Delanoe in the second round on Sunday (18 March), the paper adds, "could bring the right to its senses [and] mark the beginning of the end of the Chirac era."


Another commentary in the "Financial Times" looks at the daunting task of economic reform in Russia. Robert Cottrell writes that President Vladimir Putin -- who focused his first year in office on securing his political power -- wasted a prime opportunity for reform offered by last year's budget surplus and economic growth. Still, Cottrell says, Putin has time to push through reforms on corporate taxation, customs regulations, and land reform before he runs for re-election in 2004. He writes: "It is a heavy schedule but at least the big arguments over [the reforms] have been largely settled. The rest is a matter of political process -- which may mean delay if Mr. Putin reshuffles his government or his Kremlin administration in March or April, as many commentators think he will do."


The "Wall Street Journal Europe" carries a commentary that says an "explosion" of Internet business is expected in Central and Eastern Europe over the next few years. Frederik Haentjens, an e-business consultant, writes that as competition eats into the rates of return offered by the U.S. and Western Europe, it will be "barely tapped developing markets like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary that will appear more attractive to global investors." Haentjens says: "Until now, the main barrier to the Internet and e-commerce in [the region] has been the high cost of telecommunications." But, he adds, accession to the European Union will prove a quick fix: "All [candidate countries] will have to update their [information technology] infrastructure to meet EU standards."


A commentary in the "Washington Post" says the International Monetary Fund has in large part won the war against hyperinflation in the world's major economies. Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria writes that with the exception of Turkey, which plunged back into a financial crisis last month, all of the world's developing countries -- from Argentina, Brazil, and Peru to Poland and Bulgaria -- have made significant steps towards achieving free-market economies and monetary and fiscal discipline. Zakaria writes: "There are few places today that participate seriously in the world economy with inflation rates over 20 percent." He adds: "An important, even central institution in the move toward free markets around the world has been the much-maligned IMF. [Whether] in India, Brazil, Egypt, or Turkey, the IMF has forced countries to make the unpleasant, unpopular reforms that will put them on the path of sustainable growth."


Also in the "Washington Post," columnist Richard Cohen looks at the now dormant Mideast peace process against the backdrop of what he describes as the "ugly" Arab press. He writes: "Throughout the Arab world, the most ugly and ridiculous anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic diatribes are routinely published in the press or aired on radio and television -- and always with either the acquiescence or the prompting of the government." If the peace process has stalled, he writes, "[it] is not because the most recent Israeli government failed to compromise. [It is because] the Arab world is totally unprepared for the accommodations it must make."


A comment by Karl Grobe in Germany's "Frankfurter Rundschau" says of this week's historic visit by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to Russia: "When two people quarrel the third person laughs. The opposite also holds. The new cordial feelings between Moscow and Teheran annoys the United States. The U.S. sees its own [oil and national security] interests jeopardized." Grobe adds: "The Iranian president, who wants to make yet another attempt to put forward his version of democratizing the presidency, is also in need of Russian support for inner political reasons. Unity in the face of the big American Satan is very helpful in this matter. And there is hardly a danger that Putin could talk to his guest about human rights."


An editorial in Britain's "Times" looks at Japan and what it calls "the lunatic antics of its politicians over the past week." That includes, the paper says, Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa's attempt to sabotage "terminally unpopular" Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori with a false-alarm announcement that the national economy was in a state of collapse. The editorial calls the move -- which caused markets to plunge and rumors of Mori's de facto resignation to swirl -- "dangerously irresponsible after a year when, even by Japan's unenviable recent standards, the country has been horribly governed. It concludes that the "state of the Japanese economy [could] make all the difference between depression and a manageable economic dip worldwide."