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Western Press Review: From Space To Macedonia, From War To Dollars

Prague, 22 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Our selection of Western press commentary today looks at the demise of Mir, the heating up of Macedonia, and the slowing of world economies, among other issues.


Analyst James Berg writes in the "Financial Times" that Russian leaders and everyday Russians took too much pride in Mir -- which provided little but pride -- and take too little satisfaction from Russia's prominence in the 18-nation International Space Station.

The writer says: "The demise of the Mir space station has led to the rebirth of a pseudo-nostalgic fantasy about the old Soviet Union space program. Like nuclear weapons, ballet companies, and chess teams, space activities were seen by people in Soviet countries as symbols of big power status."

Berg writes: "Mir spanned a historical era between useless Soviet space showmanship and commercially profitable space commercialization. If Russia learns the real lessons of its tough old space station, it can profit from it long after it is gone."


Writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Guenter Paul reaches similar conclusions. He comments: "When the remains of the Mir space station plunge into the Pacific shortly, the event will seem like the symbolic end to Russian astronautics. During the Soviet era, Moscow notched up one success after another in space -- the first earth satellite, the first cosmonaut, the first moon probe, the first landing on Venus and much more besides. Then it was overtaken by Washington, whose space probes traveled to all the planets of our solar system except Pluto, and whose manned flights landed on the moon. But the engineers in the Soviet Union did not lose heart."

The commentator writes: "Notwithstanding a few glitches, Russian launchers are among the most reliable in the world. This creates enormous potential for transporting non-Russian satellites -- by means of which the country could finance its own space travel in future. Several joint ventures with Western companies are already in place for extensive exploitation of this potential."

He says: "From the very outset, one of the principles of Soviet, and later Russian, space missions was to integrate as much tried and tested expertise as possible into new projects. This avoided many teething troubles with development. The basic structure of the Soyuz space stations and Progress transporters, for instance, which will be flying to the International Space Station in years to come, was developed back in the 1960s for manned flights to the moon."


The "Chicago Tribune," influential in much of the central United States, says in an editorial that the United States should be diplomatically active in the Balkans but should leave difficult action to others. The paper says: "A week-long uprising by ethnic Albanians in Macedonia has left NATO's peacekeeping forces in neighboring Kosovo running for cover. The U.S. and Europe must tread carefully in trying to manage this crisis. It threatens to undo years of toil, diplomacy, and military action by NATO to establish a tenuous peace in the Balkans."

The editorial continues: "No one should be surprised by the eruption of ethnic warfare in the former Yugoslav republic. Macedonia was always considered a potentially explosive place that could draw in NATO members Greece and Turkey on opposite sides and destabilize the southern flank of the alliance. That's why U.S. troops were sent in there early."

The newspaper says: "This is not yet a war of independence, but an over-reaction by NATO forces could turn it into one. The rebels don't have the full support of their people. Europe should take the lead in helping bring about negotiations. And the U.S. should stick to diplomacy."


International affairs columnist Jim Hoagland has a different view. In a "Washington Post" commentary, he praises NATO for its measured activism in Kosovo, writing: "Determined civilian and military efforts by the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union have kept the peace in Bosnia and Kosovo."

Hoagland says: "Kosovo's ordeal did not win the ethnic Albanians a free pass as good guys and victims no matter what, and the Serbs' atrocities did not consign their nation to political purgatory forever. The shifting alliances of forces that work for stability and those that work for turmoil require constant attention and sharp discernment.

"NATO," Hoagland goes on, "showed both qualities this week by refraining from direct intervention in the border conflicts. Instead," he says, "NATO successfully pressed Macedonia to use its small, weak army to blunt the Albanian guerrilla challenge. Letting Serb units back into the Presevo Valley near a three-mile-deep buffer zone the guerrillas have exploited for terror attacks is also smart.

Hoagland concludes: "These moves subtly underline that Kosovo's independence from Serbia has to be gained responsibly, if it is to be gained at all. NATO did not drive [Slobodan] Milosevic out of Kosovo to enable ethnic Albanians to destabilize their neighbors or abuse the Serbs still in Kosovo."


Balkans specialist Misha Glenny says in a commentary in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" that the United States is behaving in the Balkans as the "Chicago Tribune" suggests -- that is, unwisely.

He writes, "In the present crisis in Macedonia, the international community -- although by no means blameless for the Albanian insurgency there -- is finally speaking with one clear voice. What does this voice say, and will it prove persuasive?" he asks.

"One reason for this apparently unified approach to Macedonia is that the Bush administration doesn't care. If this is Europe's hour, Washington thinks, let them do it. In operational terms, this is a little obstructive -- the United States is reluctant to deploy its forces in Kosovo on the border with Macedonia with any passion. As a result, Albanian insurgents have had easy access to the hills around Tetovo."

Macedonia matters too much to be decided by apathy, the commentator says. He writes: "Macedonia is the apex of conflict in the region, as well as a regional philosopher's stone. Solve this one and you will have uncovered the secret of harmonious communal life here."


Britain's "Financial Times" says in an editorial that the European Union's role in the world economy is too important to be decided by inconclusive bickering. The editorial says: "For the European and world economies this week's summit of European Union leaders in Stockholm comes not a moment too soon. With the United States slowing and Japan in serious difficulty, the world economic outlook is far gloomier than during the EU's path-breaking Lisbon summit in March 2000. Because Europe's economy looks set to outperform the United States and Japan this year, the two-day Stockholm meeting, starting on Friday [23 March], is an opportunity for the EU to demonstrate global economic leadership."

The newspaper says: "But to do that, the 15 leaders will have to inject new life into their ambitious year-old project to turn Europe into the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010. They must overcome differences over policy and philosophy that have produced slippage in the targets for deregulation and liberalization set a year ago."