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Western Press Review: Kosovo Elections, Russian-Chechen Talks, Central Asian Economies

Prague, 19 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis both today and over the weekend looks at elections on Saturday, 17 November in Kosovo and the victory of moderate Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosovo party. Other discussion focuses on globalization and interdependence during an economic downturn; the return to Kabul of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani; and the economic prospects for Central Asia. Topics also include yesterday's Russian-Chechen negotiations and examining the prospects for bringing stability to Afghanistan.


An editorial in "The Times" of Britain says that the elections held in Kosovo on 17 November mark a turning point in the endeavor to promote moderation, political stability, and ethnic reconciliation in the Balkans. The paper says the significance of the vote lies as much in the way it was conducted as in its outcome. The elections took place without intimidation or violence and were conducted fairly and democratically by all parties. The paper writes: "The Serb minority, which until recently was preparing to boycott the vote, took a last-minute decision to participate, encouraged by the sensible advice from Belgrade that they should seize this chance to make their voice heard. [In] defiance of some hardline leaders, around 46 percent [of Serbs] voted, giving credibility to the system of proportional representation that reserves 10 percent of the seats for them and a further 10 for other minorities."

But the paper adds that Ibrahim Rugova's victory in the elections does not lessen the pressure from the Albanian majority for full independence for Kosovo. The paper suggests that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica should prepare for face-to-face talks with Rugova on Kosovo's future. Tensions remain, says "The Times," but it calls this "Balkan turnaround" a sudden and welcome development.


A commentary by Claus Tigges in Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the weekend meeting of Europe's central bank governors and finance ministers in Ottawa, Canada. Tigges says that the signs coming from the meeting are not promising and that the 11 September attacks in the U.S. "dealt a severe blow" to economies around the world. But in these days of economic uncertainty, Tigges says economic forecasts should not be taken too seriously. There is also an important insight to be remembered: Globalization does not only connect economies in good times. Tigges writes: "The network of financial markets, companies, and consumers spanning the globe makes the economic weakness of one country more quickly felt in others than was the case one or two decades ago. [But] whether tighter coordination of economic and financial policy could change this is doubtful. The best thing for the global economy would be for every country to create its own conditions for more growth and higher employment."

He continues: "In this context, the International Monetary Fund has rightly reminded the Europeans that there is still much left to do when it comes to the reform of their labor and commodities markets."


An item by Frederick Bauer in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" considers the return to Kabul of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Rabbani was head of the last internationally recognized government in Afghanistan and was ousted by the Taliban when they came to power in 1996. Bauer questions whether Rabbani has entered the capital with the intention of sharing power with the broad-based, multi-ethnic government sought by the international community or if he is merely seeking his own return to power. Bauer writes: "[Rabbani] says he wants to begin forming a new, multi-ethnic government as soon as possible. Whether he will actually do so or is merely using conciliatory rhetoric as a smokescreen for his own claim to power is hard to say. It is clear that the international community is now under more pressure than ever: To stand any chance of success, a political solution must be found and implemented far faster than was originally planned -- and secured by a multinational intervention force."


In "Eurasia View," regular contributor Antoine Blua examines a recent report by the Asian Development Bank on the prospects for Central Asian economies. The report specifically examines the economic effects of the 11 September attacks. According to the ADB report, the economies of the Central Asian republics and Azerbaijan will register a stronger-than-expected performance this year, but will most likely slow down in 2002. Blua quotes the report as saying, "The September 11 attacks are likely to adversely impact fourth-quarter economic performance in the sub-region; their effects are likely to be more pronounced in the short to medium term. [This] is on account of a probable slowdown in export earnings as oil, cotton, and other commodity prices remain depressed as a consequence of slower global economic activity."

Blua goes on to say the Asian Development Bank highlighted areas for Central Asia's economic improvement. "[The report] said causes for concern in the subregion included the lack of private sector development in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan outside of the oil and gas sector, and the existence of multiple exchange rates in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The report also called for greater subregional cooperation."


A "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" editorial examines the first direct negotiations yesterday between the Kremlin and Chechen separatists since the beginning of the second Chechen war two years ago. The two-hour talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin's representative, Viktor Kazantsev, and Akhmed Zakayev on behalf of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov were described by Kazantsev as "the beginning of a serious dialogue."

Unlike after the first war in Chechnya, when the Russians withdrew their troops, the Kremlin now refuses to negotiate on the status of Chechnya. Russia is calling for the disarmament of the Chechen rebels and their integration into the civilian population. But the spiraling violence and loss of life has prompted the Russians to attempt to put an end to hostilities. The editorial says that Maskhadov is considered a "relatively moderate politician." The Kremlin, however, has in the past regarded him in the same light as fanatic Islamist Shamil Basayev, who it says was responsible for "cold-blooded hostage-taking, murder, and terrorist attacks." The editorial concludes that it is "unlikely that this Chechen field commander would be prepared to negotiate with Moscow."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," security analyst Brahma Chellaney of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi says that the international community's plan to institute a broad-based, multi-ethnic government to Afghanistan is "a pipe dream" which could slow or even derail the antiterror campaign. "Forming a representative and stable government in Afghanistan would prove a never-ending, costly and ultimately doomed exercise," writes Chellaney. "Afghanistan has been politically and ethnically fragmented for many years. Reunifying the country is neither feasible in the near term nor necessary for the success of anti-terror operations."

Chellaney continues: "The central political goal of ensuring that Afghanistan and Pakistan do not promote, shelter or condone terrorists demands long-term U.S. strategic engagement in the region. Given that terrorism springs from religious extremism shielded by political autocracy, the main task is to inculcate a secular and democratic ethos in societies steeped in bigotry."

Ultimately, Chellaney says, "the success of the counter-terror offensive will be determined [by] the political results in reforming and reconstructing societies. [At] this stage, the task of rooting out terrorist cells needs far greater international attention than the slow mission of nation-building in splintered Afghanistan."


In France's daily "Liberation," staff writer Marc Semo writes from Pristina on Kosovo's weekend elections. He says that Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo party "won, but did not triumph" in the election, having garnered only 45 percent of the vote -- not the 70 percent they expected to win. Rugova's party has not achieved an absolute majority, says Semo, notably because of the Serbian voters that turned out.

Semo notes that Rugova and his DLK party obtained control over 21 of 26 Kosovar municipalities last year. But he says that the party executives, "mostly old and formed during socialist times, showed themselves to be mediocre administrators." The competence of Kosovo's new institutions remains very limited, Semo adds, writing: "The high representative of the UN, Hans Haekkerup, retains all the kingly powers, notably regarding security, defense, currency, foreign policy and, partially, justice. He has, in addition, a veto right and a carte blanche as custodian of the rights of Kosovo's minorities -- Serbs, as well as Roma, Turks, Islamic Slavs, et cetera -- to whom 20 parliamentary seats were awarded." For the first time since 1999, Serbs have been asked to participate in Kosovo's new institutions; they will have an opportunity to influence the future of Kosovo. But, Semo adds, Serbs -- along with most of the minorities in Kosovo -- do not support Kosovo independence.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan has left a power vacuum in the country that is quickly being filled by Afghan warlords. As the editorial puts it: "Afghanistan is fragmenting into fiefs ruled by self-proclaimed leaders who command local military or ethnic bases. The long-term solution is a democratically accountable government that fairly represents all ethnic groups. The immediate problem is preventing local warlords from further consolidating power in regions across Afghanistan."

The editorial continues: "In the ethnic minority regions of the north and west, Northern Alliance victories have returned to power some of the commanders who ruled in the early 1990s. Their rivalries and brutality in that period helped fracture the country and pave the way for Taliban rule. Those mistakes must not be repeated." It adds that in the Pashtun-dominated east and south, Pashtun warlords are filling the void and setting up independent enclaves.

The editorial goes on to advise that "an international force, including Western troops and those from Muslim nations, should quickly be assembled and moved into newly liberated areas like Kabul and possibly Kandahar." The defeat of the Taliban, the editorial concludes, "must bring physical security and accountable government to Afghanistan's people."


In a contribution to Britain's "Financial Times," Dominique Moisi of the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations says that since the 11 September attacks, the nation-state has re-emerged as a strong global player while the roles of supra-national bodies such as NATO, the UN, and the EU have been diminished. Moisi writes: "In the post-Cold War global age, the state's legitimacy and competence appeared to be waning. [Now,] with security a priority, it is back with a vengeance." Russia and America have both emerged stronger, with Russia in particular taking a strategic step which was a decisive turning-point. "Russia," Moisi writes, "is now part of the West."

NATO, however, looks "increasingly like an unlikely casualty of September 11," Moisi writes. In his words, "[NATO] risks being transformed into an upgraded type of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with Russian participation." After the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, the EU now stands ready to "play the humanitarian role of policeman." But, Moisi asks, "shouldn't this have been the UN's role?"

"The UN," he says, "has opted out of a peacekeeping mission that sounded too close to a peace-enforcement mission. Time was too short also for the UN to have gathered such a force, even though there would probably have gained universal support from the permanent members of the Security Council." Moisi concludes: "[Was this a] prudent abstention or lost opportunity? Only history will tell."

(Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)