Shattered Illusions

Shattered Illusions

Shattered Illusions

What the foreign papers are saying.
March 31 1999 3:30 AM

Shattered Illusions

The humanitarian disaster in Kosovo and the downing of a U.S. stealth bomber in Serbia dominated world coverage of the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia Monday. The scale of "ethnic cleansing" in response to the NATO air attacks caused widespread alarm in Europe, and the loss of the U.S. Air Force F117-A attack plane was seen as further evidence that an air war is not enough to secure NATO's objectives. In Italy, the main western European destination for Albanian refugees, the newspapers gave far greater prominence to the NATO estimate that more than 500,000 Albanian Kosovars have been forced to leave their homes since the Serb repression began.

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Reports from the front were emotive. La Repubblica of Rome began its front-page report from Djankovic on the Macedonia-Yugoslav border as follows: "Mass executions, psychological and physical torture, rapes, devastation, sackings, and extermination camps. Kosovo is living through a nightmare of the greatest ethnic cleansing that has ever been attempted. Half a million people in flight, hundreds of dead, towns and villages completely cut out of the world without water, electricity, telephone, or food. A humanitarian catastrophe without precedent."

Condemnations of the air war, in which the Italian air force has now been ordered not to participate, were multiplying in the Italian press. La Stampa of Turin carried two front-page comments Monday demanding the air strikes be ended. Boris Biancheri, a former Italian ambassador to Washington, wrote that justice for the Albanian Kosovars could now only be restored "on a field of rubble." He wrote, "Let's end this war. But let's be careful in future not to promise what we are not willing to carry out, not to proclaim rights if we don't have the strength, the will, or what might be called the recklessness to punish those who have violated them."

The other comment in La Stampa, by Gianni Vattimo, said it would not be dishonorable to admit--as in other cases like Vietnam and Iraq--than an error might have been made. "Perhaps the best we can do now is to use the resources that would be wasted in war in an agreed humanitarian action of evacuation and assistance to the refugees," Vattimo said. While this would risk helping Slobodan Milosevic to achieve his objectives, it was perhaps what the Kosovar refugees now dying of hunger and cold would want us to do, he added. On the front page of Corriere della Sera, Alberto Ronchey supported the Economist's conclusion that "the West has embarked on one of its riskiest adventures since World War II."

The French press gave prominence to President Jacques Chirac's efforts to get the Russians to bring Milosevic back the negotiating table, and an editorial in Monday's Libération suggested this should be done by greatly reducing the area of Kosovo destined to become autonomous under the Rambouillet proposals. This could save the face of both Milosevic and NATO, he wrote. The air war had already had the opposite of its intended effect, he added. It revealed "a terrible impotence" against ethnic cleansing that risked becoming a sinister example not only for the Balkans but for the rest of the world.

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The question of what NATO, given the current Western resistance to the committal of ground troops, would do if 10 or even 20 days of bombing failed to bow Milosevic was raised in the Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine, and an editorial in El País of Madrid concluded that the crisis is getting ever more complicated and that we are now in a "thick fog."

The British papers continue to be generally more gung-ho than those on the Continent. The Times of London, urging "an immediate intensification of military activities aimed directly at the Yugoslav army" in Kosovo, said in an editorial Monday that it is not so evident that the "Somalia Syndrome" "really affects ordinary Americans as much as it distracts their nervous elected representatives." It said that "the ironic outcome is a set of aircraft [the stealth bombers] that are so dependent on extremely sophisticated computer equipment designed to deceive the enemy that they are extraordinarily difficult to fly."

The Financial Times (which led Monday with the news that BP Amoco, the United Kingdom's largest company, was about to take over Atlantic Richfield of the United States in an all-stock deal worth $25 billion) carried a front-page headline "America's illusions crash with downed stealth" and said that TV images of the wreckage have shattered "the illusion enjoyed by Americans for years that the US military's technologically superlative weaponry meant it could destroy unseen enemies with little or no danger to American life or property." The mass-circulation tabloid Sun said Britain was committed to this war because "the Butcher of Belgrade cannot be allowed to continue his massacre of the innocents," while the London Evening Standard said that "having come so far, and having got ourselves into this mess--and it is a terrible and bloody mess--we must see it through."

For more Kosovo coverage, click here.

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