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Western Press Review: Politics and Policy in Yugoslavia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Beyond

Prague, 24 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Our review of Western press commentary and analysis covers a variety of topics today. These include power struggles and corruption in Yugoslavia after the reign of former President Slobodan Milosevic, next September's elections in Belarus and an examination of the global economy, as world markets continue to slump. Other topics include Ukraine's role on the world stage and NATO troop deployment to Macedonia.


In "The Washington Times," columnist Sarah Means looks at the politics of Yugoslavia in the post-Milosevic era. Of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's apparent efforts at reform, she writes, "As Yugoslavia struggles to catch up with its richer and more stable European neighbors, rumors of [Djindjic's] connections to cigarette smuggling, power struggles with Yugoslavia's president [Vojislav Kostunica], and an international community wary of Slobodan Milosevic's legacy have challenged his reform efforts."

Rampant corruption is also threatening to undermine the nation's stability. Means writes, "Corruption had become a way of life for government, civilians and the police under Mr. Milosevic, but his removal has not eliminated the problem." Means cites the 3 August murder of a former secret service officer, hours after conferring with members of Kostunica's cabinet on links between the government and the Serbian mafia.

She writes: "In a drastic power play, [Kostunica's] Democratic Party of Serbia announced Friday (17 August) it was pulling its ministers out of the Serbian government because of Serbia's inability to stop organized crime. If Kostunica's party didn't get more ministerial positions for itself, [parliament] would have to vote the Serbian government out."

Means concludes: "The process used by the new leaders to get to the bottom of murder and corruption will be a measuring stick for Yugoslavia's justice system. For both struggling reformers, it should never be too late to begin."


In a contribution to "The Washington Times," former U.S. officials Kenneth Adelman, Max Kampelman and Mark Palmer write that Western governments should help to ensure that Belarus's upcoming 9 September elections are fair and legitimate. The authors call Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka "Europe's last dictator."

They write: "Mr. Lukashenka's presidency took an authoritarian turn early on, and descended into outright illegitimacy when he dissolved parliament and forced constitutional changes that extended his term in 1996. Since then, potential rivals for national leadership and critics have mysteriously disappeared, died under questionable circumstances, or been imprisoned on dubious charges."

The writers say that the United States, the EU, and other democracies "have a responsibility to insist on and work toward a fairly contested election. Because the playing field is so skewed in Mr. Lukashenka's favor, democracies should take their lead from Belarusian democratic opposition and civic forces to determine how best to help them."

They add: "As in Belarus, it is also 'time to choose' in Washington and Brussels. With support and pressure, the United States and its allies can help decisively tip the balance in favor of the Belarusian people against their anachronistic regime. Belarus will be a decisive battleground against unabashed dictatorship in the long, costly struggle for a democratic Europe whole and free."


In advance of the elections in Belarus, an editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" describes the terror that Lukashenka -- whom it calls "the last dictator" -- has created, particularly in suppressing the voices of the opposition. For years Lukashenka has maintained his position by "harassing, arresting and imprisoning" outspoken critics and their families. Opposition newspapers are banned. "The state propaganda machine is intent on brainwashing, the police create a climate of fear."

For all that, says the commentary, this time around the elections may take a different turn as the Belarusian people's dissatisfaction with Lukashenka grows. "Lukashenka is afraid he will end up as Milosevic. Today, his opposition candidate is fighting for democracy -- the dictator is only fighting for his own survival."


Also in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Michael Ludwig examines Ukraine's global position, balancing between the influences of Russia to the East and Europe to the West. He notes that many foreign policy experts regard a renewed Ukrainian connection with Russia as an important precondition for Moscow's re-emergence as a global power. As a result, European and American geopolitical interest in Ukraine -- and helping to strengthen the independence of this small but pivotal nation -- is perfectly understandable.

Ludwig writes: "Ukraine's current status 'between the worlds' perfectly suits a small but powerful group in the country. At least some of the oligarchs want neither integration into the West nor more civilized conditions, nor closer ties to Russia because they are obviously afraid of being overwhelmed by either Russian or Western capital. Critics from the democratic opposition say the same is true of the state leadership."

He adds, "They do not meet European standards and skillfully evade Russia's embrace in order not to lose their power in their share of the inheritance from the demise of the Soviet Union." Ludwig concludes: "In a highly complicated fashion, the unpopular government and the oligarchs act as guarantors of Ukrainian independence. Whether they are suitable for the 'road to Europe' is another story."


In a commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Thomas Urban discusses Poland's stance on its EU entry bid. Eighty-four percent of Polish voters must favor EU membership in order for the country to pursue its bid, but Urban writes that the current mood on enlargement is cool. He writes, "The majority [of Poles are] convinced that their country is having to pay too high a price for EU membership."

Poland, he continues, "is only a desired candidate because EU members want to flood the Polish market with their products." At the same time, he adds, Western countries do not appear eager to accept Polish products in their own markets.

"The majority," Urban adds, "in no way regards the EU as a royal road to raising their general standard of living, but as a lesser evil" -- the greater evil being dependence on Belarus and closer ties with Moscow and former Soviet republics. Hence, he says, most Poles have concluded that there is "no alternative" to the EU. All that remains is to negotiate for the most advantageous conditions possible.

Urban goes on to say that this fall's parliamentary elections are unlikely to do much to change the situation. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which is largely expected to win a majority of seats, is more EU-friendly than its conservative rivals, who are finding it difficult to come to terms with a "curtailment of national sovereignty." The left-leaning party, he says, "want to prove on a daily basis that they have put their sinister past behind them and become good Europeans."


In the French daily "Liberation," Thomas Schnee writes from Berlin that the German government remains divided over sending soldiers to Macedonia. He says, "Whether out of an affinity for the pacifist ideal or out of skepticism regarding the operation's chances of success, most of the parties express hesitation, even hostility."

He says politicians on both the left and right have misgivings, citing Social Democrat (SPD) official Harald Friese as saying that if the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) genuinely wants to return its weapons, the presence of NATO is irrelevant. If, on the other hand, they don't, then a month-long deployment of 3,500 troops will not be enough.

However, Schnee says, the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder should be able to cross parliamentary hurdles without too much difficulty. But he adds that if Operation Essential Harvest lasts more than 30 days, it will be necessary to go through the same procedure again -- a process that slows down German diplomacy considerably.


In Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Martin Woollacott comments on NATO's plan to disarm ethnic Albanian insurgents. He writes: "Those who have achieved a position of political leverage through the use of arms will never divest themselves entirely, if only to demonstrate that the dominance of those they have challenged can never be fully restored. The best that can happen is that over time the arms that will undoubtedly be retained become irrelevant."

He says that the NATO troops' real mission in Macedonia is to "signal to Macedonians of all backgrounds that Europe and NATO are seriously engaged in their affairs, that they will not go away, and that they intend to manage Macedonia out of its troubles."

But Woollacott adds that "European governments are sending this signal without being certain of what they can deliver, or of what their citizens would stand for if Macedonia became a more demanding sort of emergency." He says that the only truly worthwhile objective is to "help Macedonia become the integrated society it has never been, with group and individual rights in effective balance." A real danger, Woollacott says, is that all intervention by outsiders will be able to do is to keep a temporary lid on the conflict.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," U.S. government professor Peter Rutland writes that Operation Essential Harvest is "the triumph of hope over experience. [This deployment] is not likely to result in the preservation of a stable multiethnic state. Rather it will probably lead to the creation of an Albanian enclave in the northwest of the country, into which Macedonian government officials will not dare to venture."

Rutland adds, "Experience from Quebec to Belgium shows that it is difficult -- but not impossible -- for two ethnic groups to share a sovereign political entity, provided there is mutual respect and a willingness to share power."

Unfortunately, he says, Macedonia is currently facing a stark choice: civil war or becoming an international protectorate. He writes, "The third-way option of a peaceful, power-sharing multiethnic democracy will not survive without an international military presence more substantial than Essential Harvest." Rutland calls on the United States, which is primarily supplying technological assistance, to take a more active role. Otherwise, he says, "this year's harvest in Macedonia will not consist of weapons, but of refugees and casualties."


An analysis in "The Economist" looks at the reasons behind the global economic slump. From Japan and Taiwan to Mexico and Brazil, gross domestic products are shrinking. "The Economist" writes: "The picture may soon look even worse. Early estimates suggest that gross world product, as a whole, may have contracted in the second quarter, for possibly the first time in two decades. Welcome to the first global recession of the 21st century."

It adds that the most striking aspect of the current global slowdown is that it is more widespread than the previous world slumps of 1975, 1982, or 1991 -- three years that were officially designated as periods of world recession.

"The Economist" says at least four factors are contributing to this decline. First and most important is that the global information technology (IT) boom has turned to bust, as the Nasdaq collapsed and dot-coms failed. The related collapse in stock markets around the world was another factor, as was a jump in energy prices in oil-consuming countries. The spillover from America's economic downturn -- as economies have become more closely connected to America through trade, supply chains, and multinationals -- has further contributed to the global slowdown.

Most economists, the magazine notes, "still expect both the American economy and the world economy to bounce back by the end of this year. [But] the risks of a deeper global slump remain high."

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