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Western Press Review: From The Macedonian Conflict To Bulgaria's New Premier And The Global Economy

Prague, 31 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today continues to discuss the situation in Macedonia, as the issue of elevating Albanian to official-language status remains a contentious issue in negotiations. Other issues addressed include Bulgaria's new prime minister, NATO and the Baltic states, the rise of a Central Asian drug route, potential problems that may arise with the introduction of the euro on 1 January, and the Middle East.


An analysis by defense expert Tim Ripley in "Jane's Intelligence Review" looks at Macedonian nationalist paramilitary groups and their role in the ongoing conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and Macedonian forces. Ripley says that paramilitary activity seemed to increase at the height of June fighting in the village of Aracinovo, a few miles from the capital Skopje. Ripley says activity by the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) this close to the capital may have galvanized Macedonian resistance, as police and army reservists, as well as armed civilians, also mobilized.

He writes: "Government ministers used the mobilization as an opportunity to distribute arms to their own political supporters. Apparent links between the government, the police and army, and paramilitary groups are cause for concern. [Far] from being a unified group, Macedonian ultranationalists are fractured along party political lines."

He concludes: "Recent events are a harsh warning to the Macedonian government. [As] peace negotiations entered a critical phase in early July, [the] Macedonian Paramilitary 2000 [nationalist group] faxed a statement to local media warning the government not to make constitutional concessions to Albanians. The following day gunmen, believed to be Macedonians, opened fire on a German NATO convoy outside Skopje, damaging three vehicles. The constitutional concessions to the country's Albanian minority that might end the conflict are clearly unacceptable to Macedonian nationalist extremists."


Herbert Kremp in "Die Welt" considers the traps of multiethnic communities in the Balkans in general, and in Macedonia in particular. He says the balance of power has disappeared since the loss of Russia's position in Serbia. And now it seems Macedonia, and possibly the Balkans as a whole, have become victims of a Western obsession. The idea of good neighborliness among peoples of differing religious, historic, national, and cultural backgrounds -- in terms of a political strategy -- leads to disaster and turmoil.

The Macedonians and the Albanians categorically reject the Eastern idea of an internal balance like the Kosovars, Serbs, and Muslims in Bosnia. The tragedy lies in the alternative -- civil war or a permanent protectorate. The paper says: "In the West a spiritual bridge for a political settlement is lacking, as is a readiness for an amicable cohabitation among the [Macedonians]."

The editorial concludes: "Anybody who does anything is bound to make a mistake. The Russians have been eliminated from the game, [and] the Americans regard Albanians as a geopolitical foothold. Its option is a pragmatic power stance. The Europeans lack a sense of internal satisfaction. It is a difficult fate. The West is finding the word 'unity' hard to pronounce."


Also in "Jane's Intelligence Review," correspondent Zoran Kusovac looks at the pattern of Western involvement in the Balkans, and says that the West has consistently repeated the same mistakes. He writes: "The West's response to the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo suggest a clear pattern of involvement. It starts with initial confusion, then a chaotic search for consolidation of Western policy and an attempt to find appropriate tools to implement whatever policy is finally agreed."

Kusovac says that in each Balkan crisis, the West ignores early warnings from experts of impending trouble. Further slowing down the Western response is the lack of a trans-Atlantic policy in the region. The EU reacts first, followed by the U.S., with different strategic considerations. He writes: "It is during this time lag that the bloodiest fighting occurs, creating realities on the ground which prove most difficult to overcome."

Western involvement in the Balkans is absolutely necessary to stabilize the region, he says, adding: "The Macedonian crisis has confirmed the lessons learned in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo: the vital ingredient to any Balkans peace plan is the involvement of the U.S., both symbolically and practically. [In] a repetition of a pattern familiar from previous crises, it took direct U.S. involvement to make a genuine step towards possible resolution."


The question of the Baltics joining NATO is a sensitive issue between East and West. Following the recent official visit to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by French President Jacques Chirac, the possibility has again surfaced. An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" raises the sensitive issue of Russia's reaction to having former Soviet states transform into NATO countries at its doorstep. It questions the efficacy of Article 5 of the NATO agreement, briefly termed a security guarantee, with regard to the Baltic states. It is the opinion of the editorial that the Baltics should not rely too much on Chirac's words, as he does not have very much influence. "The decision," it concludes, "will be made in Washington."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," author Elizabeth Pond examines the rise of Bulgaria's new prime minister and former king, Simeon Saxecoburggotski, and calls Bulgaria "a bright spot in the Balkans." She says that Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski and his party are making three major changes in the country's socio-political landscape that bode well for Bulgaria's future: pursuing vigorous economic reform, including the Turkish minority party in the nation's political life, and creating economic opportunities that will motivate the young to remain in Bulgaria instead of moving abroad.

Pond writes: "The new government has made it clear that it will continue and intensify the critical economic reforms, [and] will accelerate the harmonization of Bulgaria's laws and institutions to EU standards." In addition, by including the Turkish minority in his cabinet, Pond says, "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha is helping Bulgaria escape the danger of virulent populist nationalism that has been the Balkan scourge. [But] in the end, perhaps the greatest boon the Simeon the Second movement will bring to Bulgaria will be mobilization of the educated young. Throughout the Balkans, the chief causes of brain drain are stagnant economies, unemployment, and fatalism. [Now] the new leaders intend to stimulate the kind of economic dynamism that can provide jobs for bright young Bulgarians at home."


Central Asia analyst Tamara Makarenko writes in "Jane's Intelligence Review" that the Central Asian republics are increasingly being used to smuggle drugs -- as well as humans -- to the West. She says that this new northern route is replacing the traditional Balkan route as a pathway for illicit trade. Efforts in Iran to crack down on illegal drug-smuggling have forced traffickers to find alternative routes, she says, adding that the steadily rising production of opium in Afghanistan -- in spite of a Taliban-imposed ban on growing poppies -- has underscored the need for new routes.

Makarenko notes that Central Asian republics are attractive to smugglers for several reasons, including their porous borders and predominantly poor socio-economic conditions. Involvement in the drug trade can alleviate the financial difficulties faced by many inhabitants, while border officials may also be more willing to accept bribes from traffickers.

Makarenko concludes: "It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore evidence suggesting that northern routes are beginning to play a major role in the international narcotics trade, and a potentially expanding role in the smuggling and trafficking of humans. [And] it is becoming extremely important for the international community [to] help the Central Asian republics strengthen their border control. [The] success or failure of Central Asian law enforcement efforts will eventually have an impact on the amount of narcotics and illegal migrants entering the European market."


An analysis in the French daily "Le Monde" says that yesterday (30 July) was one of those days when "the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians reaches peaks," with many killed or wounded in hostilities. The circumstances of an explosion that claimed the lives of six Palestinians remain a source of controversy between the two sides. The Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of pursuing a policy of "targeted murder," as the victims were included on a list of suspects sought by the Jewish state; Israel correspondingly denies any involvement. The burials of the six men gave rise to angry demonstrations, Le Monde writes, adding that the Brigade of the Martyrs of Al-Aqsa -- the Fatah branch to which the men belonged -- has promised a "painful and swift response" to avenge them.


In the "Financial Times," Amon Cohen considers the upcoming introduction of the euro single currency, scheduled for 1 January. Travelers will be some of the main beneficiaries of the switch, Cohen says, as changing money will no longer be necessary within most countries of Europe. But problems such as fraud are expected to emerge, as those not used to the new currency may be easily taken in by counterfeit bills at first.

Cohen writes: "The hoped-for advantage that will probably not materialize is a fall in prices. The expectation in some quarters is that consumers will be able to make transparent comparisons that will force down fares and hotel rates in the most expensive markets." But prices may rise instead, particularly if companies take advantage of the currency switch. Cohen notes that "consumption is expected to fall in the euro-zone while citizens familiarize themselves with the new currency, and it seems reasonable to assume that some travel -- especially for leisure -- will be postponed. [But] medium-term, the introduction of the euro is expected to lead to higher prices and more crowded aircraft," he says.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," columnist George Melloan writes: "There is only one economy, and it is global." He says that the U.S. and EU economies give the global economy the growth and stability on which it depends, and remarks that with common purpose they can extend this stability and growth to other regions. He notes that British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has suggested that the U.S. and EU abolish all industrial tariffs in order to jump-start the global economy.

Melloan writes: "With several currency collapses and little impetus for further trade liberalization, the world economy has lately developed serious distortions. [The] best antidote for the world-wide economic slump is freer trade. [It's] as simple as that. While market analysts have been searching vainly for some magic elixir in interest-rate cuts, [the] key to economic recovery has been lying on the table in plain sight. Trade liberalization works wonders in generating economic growth."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)