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Western Press Review: Europe's Last 'Hard Cases,' Liberia And The Middle East

Prague, 4 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- We begin today's press review with a look at Eastern Europe and the Balkans, which one columnist calls Europe's last "hard cases." Treading an uneasy path toward transparency and democracy, many of these states must come to grips with a war-torn past even while choosing a future.

We also take a look at today's scheduled arrival of West African troops in Liberia; the security barrier under construction in the West Bank; and how post-Soviet Russia missed its opportunity to become an economic superpower.


"Washington Post" columnist Jackson Diehl discusses what he calls Europe's last tough cases. He says the easy part of reconstructing post-Cold War Europe was reintegrating countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland, both of which already had Western traditions and democratic histories. But Diehl asks: "What to do with Ukraine, a country [that] teeters between democracy and autocracy, as well as between alignment with Moscow and with Washington? Or Turkey, a country that forms Europe's border with the Arab Middle East and belongs to NATO but not the EU? Or, indeed, Serbia, the most frequent starting point for European wars in the past 100 years?"

Although NATO and the EU have incorporated many of the former Soviet states since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, both organizations "have yet to cope with a dozen countries and some 170 million people who consider themselves European." These range from "bits and pieces of the former Yugoslavia" to the troubled states of the Caucasus to the newly independent nations between Central Europe and Russia.

Diehl says countries such as Serbia and Ukraine "could be coaxed into becoming democracies, U.S. military allies and part of a federal Europe." Or they could fall under the influence of a resurgent Russia, or even "drift along as unstable buffer states, home to drug and arms traffickers, terrorist groups and presidents-for-life."


An analysis from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting by Natasa Kandic welcomes the recent sentencing of a group of former Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) members for committing war crimes against Albanian citizens who were suspected of collaborating with the Serbs. The so-called "Lap group" was also accused of "failing to prevent" illegal detentions in the Lap region of northern Kosovo during the 1998-99 conflict.

But Kandic says most Albanians condemned the sentences as politically motivated, since the majority generally supports UCK members. In the shadow of widespread Serbian atrocities against Albanians, many Albanians refuse to believe that Serbian civilians were also victims of the war.

But Kandic says, "Just as Serbian society must face up to the crimes committed by the Serbian police, army, paramilitary units and armed civilians, Albanian society must confront its own history. Their past was also marked by crimes, committed against Serbian and Roma civilians, as well as by murders and disappearances of Albanians accused of cooperation with the Serbs."

Kandic says that true reconciliation between nations only begins when each acknowledges its responsibility, "thus reinstating the human dignity of the victims of political and ethnic murders. That is the reason why the sentencing of the Lap group should be seen as a contribution to Kosovo Albanian society as it faces up to its own past."


Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former U.S. special Mideast coordinator Dennis Ross says while the Mideast cease-fire is "generally holding," both sides feel they cannot take further "difficult steps without greater delivery from the other side."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "wants the Palestinians to show that they will confront Hamas and Islamic Jihad both -- so as to know that Israel can afford to pull back." Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas must show "that his way works." To this end, "he has set his sights on changing Israeli behavior," specifically ending the construction of the controversial security barrier in the West Bank.

For Palestinians, the barrier "represents a unilateral Israeli move to carve up territory that should rightfully be theirs in a Palestinian state." But Israelis "see the fence in very different terms. For them, it means security. The Israeli public knows that there is a fence around Gaza and in the 32 months of the intifada, there has not been a single suicide bombing attack that came from Gaza into Israel."

Ross says, "Truth be told, those responsible for the fence are Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Their terror produced the impulse for the fence. If violence were not a threat, the fence would not be necessary."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses the West African peacekeepers due to arrive today in Monrovia with the aim of ending two months of bloody clashes in the Liberian capital.

The deployment was announced 31 July, at an emergency summit in Ghana of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS managed to increase the pressure on Liberian President Charles Taylor, apparently pushing him to accept exile.

The "FAZ" says it now remains to be seen "whether this step is sufficient to allow a turn for the better in a country that has been unstable for so long." The paper says a further difficulty will arise because Liberia's rebels "are not exemplary democrats."

The commentary goes on to say the African peacekeeping force shows the value of an African solution. "It proves that not every civil war in the Third World needs to be settled by intervention from the West." The operative word here is "self help," says the paper.

However, the "FAZ" adds that "it is to be hoped that this experiment will work." The more skeptical say U.S. President George W. Bush should also show that America would be willing to intervene in a strategically unimportant country purely for humanitarian reasons.


Writing in "The Moscow Times," Matt Bivens of the U.S. magazine "The Nation" says by unscrupulously favoring political cronies in the post-Soviet privatization process, the Kremlin missed the opportunity to make Russia an economic superpower.

In 1992, then President Boris Yeltsin announced that "everyone will have an equal opportunity" in the privatization of state-owned enterprises. The Soviet state had owned everything; now village bakeries and shops were to be sold or given to locals, while larger enterprises were to be divided among all Russian citizens, who would receive vouchers denoting their share.

But what in fact happened, says Bivens, was the government sold off the unprofitable industries via the vouchers, as promised, "while real wealth -- from oil fields to telephone companies -- [was] divvied up among friends."

This was a major betrayal of the Russian people, Bivens says. A recent audit of Russia's energy giant Gazprom valued it at $50 billion. Bivens says if Gazprom had been "divided equally among the nation's 148 million people back in the 1990s, one Gazprom share per voucher; and had the stock value risen to reflect the company's value [today]; then each voucher could have been worth $340. For a family of three, that would have been $1,020 in stock."

And this is only in one company, Bivens points out -- in a country where today, "millions of families live on less than that in a year." But instead, Bivens says, "a well-connected handful took it all."


An item in France's leading daily "Le Monde" says Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev has "propelled" his son Ilham into the post of prime minister with the aid of a "docile parliament." The parliament approved the appointment with 101 votes for and only one abstention. Twenty-three members of parliament, mostly from the opposition, boycotted the vote.

The ailing 80-year-old president is up for re-election on 15 October and many observers suspected he would seek to make his son his successor if his health continued to deteriorate. According to the Azerbaijani Constitution, if the head of state is unable to serve, he is replaced by the prime minister until such time as new elections can be held, at maximum after three months. The fate of outgoing Prime Minister Artur Rasizade was not discussed at the parliamentary session.

President Aliyev has been hospitalized with heart problems since 8 July at a facility near Ankara. It is his second hospital stay since April, when he collapsed during a live televised speech.

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