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Western Press Review: Mesic's Testimony In The Hague, Latvian Trials, And NATO Reform

Prague, 2 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the Western media today are the necessary economic reforms for Poland and other candidates ahead of European Union accession, seeking justice in Latvia for the crimes of the past, Croatian President Stipe Mesic's ongoing testimony in The Hague against former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, and the recent U.S. proposal for reforming the NATO alliance.


Britain's "Financial Times" says the Polish economy is now showing some welcome signs of recovery ahead of its accession to the European Union. But economic growth is likely to be slow, says the paper, and the Polish government must help accelerate it by bolstering several structural reforms. While the government has reformed the management of some state-owned enterprises, it remains "cautious about privatization," the daily says. This hesitancy has undermined business confidence by fostering "unnecessary doubts" over the politicians' intentions.

The government should also restructure public finances and use the money saved to create jobs, as Polish unemployment stands at 17 percent. The "Financial Times" suggests tax cuts, especially on payroll taxes, should be made a priority. But Poland must also invest in its infrastructure, especially "motorways, water pipes and sewers." Without radical reforms, the paper warns that the country could "sink into prolonged stagnation and stagger into the EU, with a crippled economy and an embittered population."

The EU can contribute to such projects and should help "by contributing generously to economic development in all new member states, [as] peace and prosperity in Central and Eastern Europe will reinforce the peace and the prosperity of the continent as a whole."


A "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial remarks that the disagreement between Europe and the United States over the International Criminal Court was supposed to show "a unified Europe" taking a common policy stance. The U.S. does not recognize the court's authority, which came into existence on 1 July. The United States has sought to codify its objections by signing bilateral agreements with several European countries that exempt U.S. peacekeepers and officials from prosecution.

On 30 September, the EU announced that it had reached a common position on the court, allowing the 15 member states to sign agreements with the United States that conform to certain guidelines laid out by the EU. But the paper says: "As common positions go, this one pretty much says member states can do whatever they want. Britain, Italy, Spain and others will likely sign bilateral agreements with the U.S. that may or may not go beyond the 'guiding principles.'" France and Belgium are undecided, while the paper says Germany, "True to recent form of alienating its allies, [ruled] out any agreement with the U.S."

The paper says while EU members "do have legitimate common interests, from eastward enlargement to stability in the Balkans," the European Commission and Brussels "pushed hard to claim 'European' jurisdiction over this trans-Atlantic dispute, and got burned for their efforts."


In "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," columnist Peter Muench discusses Croatian President Stipe Mesic's role in the former Yugoslavia, in light of his testimony at the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Mesic opened his testimony at the trial yesterday, becoming the first head of state to give evidence against Milosevic. Today, Milosevic, who is acting in his own defense, is cross-examining the Croatian president.

Muench remarks that the two statesmen have known each other for a long time. "Their paths were hardly parallel, but time and again they crossed, which was fateful for them and even more so for their nations. The concern then was war, murder and expulsions. And now it is a question of guilt and atonement."

Muench says Milosevic brought destruction by forcefully pursuing the delusional goal of a Greater Serbia. On the other hand, Croatia's Mesic adhered firmly to diplomacy. It was Mesic who, in the face of Serbian revolt, had to deal with unraveling the legacy of Marshal Tito, whose personality and iron rule had formerly held Yugoslavia together.

The new multinational state was disintegrating when the 67-year-old Croat, in accordance with the old rotation system, took over as chairman of the State Presidium. And it was Mesic who sought to prevent the war that began while he was in office.


"Jane's Foreign Report" discusses recent U.S. suggestions for reforming NATO. Washington wants to establish a new rapid-reaction force that, in practice, would also involve "a fundamental reorganization" of the way NATO makes decisions.

NATO is in "deep trouble," says the publication. The alliance today still operates on the principle of unanimity, which made sense during the Cold War "when the myth of equality between its members did not matter" in the face of an overarching threat. But today, since NATO operations don't affect the security of the continent wholesale, states "can and do have different opinions" regarding potential threats. "[The] chances of paralyzing alliance decision-making are therefore real."

Second, the U.S. stake in Europe "is much smaller," while some U.S. security concerns are "equally diminished" for Europe. The result, says the publication is that "the United States openly resents bankrolling Europe's defenses, and the Europeans resent being taken for granted in the Pentagon's military plans."

"The current U.S. proposal is intended to cut through all these problems," the report says. Instead of attempting an overhaul of NATO's bureaucratic reforms, the Americans "suggest creating a small, highly mobile force, from countries which both wish and are able to contribute." This avoids attempts at changing NATO council voting procedures, or "hopeless efforts to boost the military capabilities of members across the board."


In "Frankfurter Rundschau," Rolf Paasch says a unilateral U.S. solution on Iraq has, for now, been halted. He says U.S. President George W. Bush, who likes simply to divide the world into good and evil, would have preferred the easy way. "But slowly, his rigid morals are getting entangled in a host of resolutions."

And so, Paasch predicts that the United States will have to come to terms with the Security Council by tabling two resolutions: one for those at home who want a speedy war and one conforming to the "laborious" demands of international affairs. Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue exploiting his price for cooperation, the Chinese will waver before finally abstaining, and France is playing for time with the idea of proposing a double-tiered plan.

The outcome of the wrangling, says Paasch, is that the debate over a theoretical containment of Iraq, the self-appointed intention to change the regime, and the actual character of the threat has turned into a dispute over international politics in the age of a new empire.


An item by "The Washington Post Foreign Service" discusses the trial of Nikolai Larionov in Latvia for alleged genocide carried out in 1949. Larionov, an officer in the State Security Ministry at the time, is accused of helping orchestrate the deportation of more than 500 Latvians to Siberia, more than 60 of whom died there.

The report says 42,133 people who were accused of being wealthy peasants were deported from Latvia. Altogether, 94,799 people from the Baltics were similarly deported to Siberian labor camps.

The paper says the Latvian government insists it is not prosecuting the Soviet system but going after the individuals responsible. "But for Russia, and the more than 700,000 ethnic Russians still living [in Latvia,] it's pure revenge." The Russian Foreign Ministry denounces Latvia almost weekly for cases such an Larionov's, the paper says. Yet Latvian officials dismiss such statements as an effort to pester "a former colony the Russians can no longer subjugate."

In Latvia and in the other Baltic states, "the arguments over history continue." In the Larionov case, Latvian prosecutors "are litigating anew one of the most painful episodes of their Soviet past: the mass deportations, starting on March 25, 1941, that took place as part of Stalin's order to forcibly impose collectivization of agriculture on the Baltics."

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