After much previous controversy, there was surprising unanimity in the western European press Wednesday over the necessity of a NATO air war against Serbia. There were a few dissenting voices. In the Times of London, one of its former editors, Simon Jenkins, wrote in his op-ed column that Western meddling in Kosovo’s separatist struggle “has now brought Nato possibly and Kosovo certainly to a catastrophe.” He asked, “Why does a bloodstained shroud only have to wave over a Balkan village for otherwise intelligent people to take leave of their senses?” An op-ed article by David Buchan in the Financial Times of London stressed the threat to NATO’s relationship with Russia, which is “likely to go into the deep freeze.” He concluded, “Over the longer term, the argument with Russia may cast a pall over further enlargement of Nato–‘collateral damage’ of the operation against Serbia before it started.”
But most editorials in the papers of Britain and other NATO countries were almost unanimous in supporting the bombing of Serbia. In Britain, the conservative tabloid the Daily Mail called on NATO “to strike relentlessly and hard”; the conservative Daily Telegraph said the alliance should “be prepared to conduct an extended bombing campaign to be followed, as in Bosnia, by the introduction of ground forces”; and the London Evening Standard said it was essential for “all the states involved–including the notoriously short-sighted American administration–to recognise that they must now commit themselves to the long haul, ground troops and all.”
In the main French papers, the Kosovo crisis ranked second to the main story of the day–the enforced leave taken because of a sex-and-money scandal by Judge Roland Dumas as head of the Constitutional Council, the French equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court. Libération saw this as a welcome blow to the traditional arrogance of the French ruling class. The Paris evening paper France-Soir, on the other hand, said Dumas should have resigned properly instead of taking an “illegal” temporary leave, which logically nullified all future decisions by the Constitutional Council, “the essential guarantor of the good functioning of our democracy.”
In Germany, Die Welt said in a front-page commentary on Kosovo that Europe will overcome its history only when it is able to preserve peace across the whole continent without the help of Richard Holbrooke. The paper said that a European summit on security policy and the coordination of European diplomatic and military structures is overdue. Melancholy reflections on European weakness and division also dominated the Italian press. Vittorio Zucconi, Washington correspondent of La Repubblica of Rome, highlighted President Clinton’s remark that 20th century history is largely the history of massacres carried out in Europe by Europeans, and said that Europe is “once again forcing Americans to take up the sword and die for villages whose names they don’t even know.”
In another front-page commentary in La Repubblica, Paolo Garimberti said Clinton was “merciless” in drawing attention to the truth that even now Europe can’t curb its extremist regimes without America’s help, and he added that the NATO intervention in Kosovo “dramatically underscores the inadequacy of the political and military instruments of which the European Union disposes.” On the front page of La Stampa of Turin, commentator Gianni Riotta heralded the return of the Cold War. “The NATO alliance that won the Cold War against the Soviet Union without firing a single bullet is now mobilized against the Serbs whom the Russians often consider brothers of blood, culture, and religion,” he said, adding that Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov would certainly exploit this situation to strengthen his uncertain power at home.
In Madrid, an editorial in El Mundo Wednesday took Primakov to task for justifying Russia’s opposition to the bombing of Serbia by citing the example of Basque separatism in Spain. People aren’t bombing Spain “because the Basque problem hasn’t been resolved,” he said. This is a “very crude comparison,” the paper commented: The case of the Basque country, with its advanced political autonomy, has nothing in common with “an open war and ‘ethnic cleansing’ against 90 percent of a territory.”
An editorial in the Independent of London headlined “This war, at least, is silly and unnecessary” referred to a new trade war between the United States and Europe over the labeling of American exports of beef from cows that were fed a bovine growth hormone. The Independent supported Europe’s position on this, but an op-ed piece in the Financial Times strongly supported the United States against Europe in the “banana war,” which, it said, might “do irreparable damage” to the World Trade Organization.
The Times of London carried a report from Bonn Wednesday that the Kosovo Liberation Army is “a Marxist-led force funded by dubious sources, including drug money.” It said the police forces of three western European countries are separately investigating growing evidence that some of the KLA’s money comes from drug trafficking. “Should the West back a guerrilla army that appears to be partly financed by organised crime?” the paper asked. “Could the KLA’s need for funds be fuelling the heroin trade across Europe?”
In Albania Sunday, the pro-Democratic Party daily eAlbaniai blamed the Albanian socialist government’s alleged involvement in organized crime for Italy’s recent decision to freeze aid to the country. Despite Italian protests, trafficking in drugs, weapons, and prostitutes between Albania and southern Italy has increased rather than diminished, the paper said. “Moreover, an Italian delegation that visited Tirana two months ago said that the authorities in Rome had evidence proving that high-ranking officials in the socialist administration were involved,” the paper added.
On the same day, another Albanian paper, iKoha Jonei, published some impressive statistics about corruption in the Albanian government. Attributing its facts to a report by the country’s High Audit Commission, the paper said that 43,000 state officials had been found to have abused their positions for illegal financial gain. The guilty officials worked for the ministries of public economy and privatization, defense, justice, employment, and immigration, as well as in the courts and in regional customs and tax offices, the paper said. It added that, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs, 57,306 Albanian firms had paid no taxes at all in 1998. Meanwhile, the independent daily eGazeta Shqiptarei said Albania might become the first country in the world to be wholly privatized, because the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have concluded that its ruined economy could only be revived by the privatization of all its national assets.