|VIEWS FROM ABROAD|
April 8, 1999
Four foreign editors discuss how their countries are responding to NATO strikes against Yugoslavia.
JIM LEHRER: Now, some European views on the war in Kosovo. Elizabeth Farnsworth in San Francisco taped that discussion earlier this evening.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We get the views from journalists in three NATO member countries in Europe. Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for The Guardian in Britain. Josef Joffe is an editorial page editor and commentator for the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Munich; he also writes frequently for American publications. And Marcello Foa is foreign editor of Italian newspaper Il Giornale. Thank you, gentlemen, for being with us.
Jonathan Freedland, what is your interpretation of current Milosevic moves, for example, turning off the exodus of refugees, but also meeting with the acting president of Cyprus perhaps to get a release or to release these -- the American soldiers and, also, the declared unilateral cease-fire -- I don't know if they really have stopped firing-- but the cease-fire for the Orthodox Easter?
|Is Milosevic beginning to crack?|
JONATHAN FREEDLAND, The Guardian: The way all of those moves are being read here are as the beginnings of the first moves by Milosevic to sue for peace, just to put out some feelers there to see what kind of deal he could get -- he could make. He is beginning to feel some pain from the NATO offensive, and these are, I think, just the very first tentative moves, not really serious, to begin to say, "All right, were I to come to the table, these are the kinds of gestures I would make; can we do a deal?" It was showing once again really that he is the figure he was always regarded as in the West, which is as a man you can do business with. Often people have forgotten that Slobodan Milosevic was, in a way, the West's partner in the former Yugoslavia. The Americans and Europeans brought him to Dayton to do a deal. And part of that is that there's a lot of give and take, back and forth, and in a way he's just showing that side of himself again, to say -- these are really in the old-fashioned language of diplomacy, confidence-building measures, CBM's, and he's saying, "Look, I can do deals, I can give you your service people back, I can stop these horrible pictures on your nightly news of refugees, and even actually stop the offensive just for a few days, but who knows, I could do it for more if you want to do a deal, too." But that's not really being taken very seriously in London, and I suspect not very much more seriously elsewhere.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But Mr. Freedland, you do see it as a sign that he's hurting from the bombing?
JONATHAN FREEDLAND: I think just, you know, beginning to, and he doesn't want to make too much of that. He doesn't want people to think that he's, you know, on the ropes or anything. But no, I think the timing of it, and the fact that it's coupled with these reports, military reports, which I think you do have to take with a fairly large grain of salt, the NATO reports that say, yes, they're beginning to bite, that they're beginning to get to some of this close attack work on the ground, they're beginning to affect his armored presence on the ground, rather than this more sort of lofty arm's-length approach, which was phase one from the air; taking those two things together, yes, I think you begin to think he's anxious now about what this is doing to his military firepower. Serbia's position within the Yugoslav federation and Slobodan Milosevic's own position within Serbia, in my view, were always premised on the disproportionate strength of the JNA, of the Yugoslav National Army. And if some of that kit, that hardware begins to be taken out, then that reduces Serbia's own authority and his own with the military.
He hasn't yet faced a serious internal threat. He's got rid of the handful of challenges they were to him internally in the military. But you know, he's a very canny politician, he's been in the job 10 years, and if he begins to feel that the military would get twitchy at losing some of their best equipment, he will feel that pretty quickly and say, "All right, well, maybe there's some back-and-forth negotiating, some bargaining I can do." So I wouldn't overplay it because I'm trying to stress its the early days, it's the inklings of that, but these are the signs I think we're seeing.
|A future peace offer?|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Josef Joffe, do you agree with this? I noticed that the German deputy foreign minister said that he was "confident" that Milosevic would soon make an improved peace offer to NATO. Is that what you think he's doing, too?
JOSEF JOFFE, Suddeutsche Zeitung: Well, I hope that both the deputy German prime minister and my British colleague is right. But of course, the downside of this can be read very differently. If you seal the borders against people trying to get out, that means you're also sealing the border to Macedonia against people who might be coming in, i.e., NATO ground troops. Secondly, by bringing -- by penning the Albanians in, you also turn them into kind of human shields, human targets, in case there is a stepped-up NATO attack on the ground or in the air. So this would be the Saddam strategy of using hostages as human shields. The third point: I wish that he were hurting, but you know, NATO is being very stingy with news and information. And so far, I have no evidence that we actually did start hitting and destroying armored vehicles of the Yugoslav army. So as we contemplate the upside of the news, let's keep in mind the downside, as I've just laid it out.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Marcello Foa, where do you come down on this? What's your interpretation of the Milosevic strategy up to this point?
MARCELLO FOA, Il Giornale: Well, here people in Italy have a very strong feeling against Milosevic. We don't think -- we think that he's a very -- despite what he's doing, that he's a very smart guy. And we think that at the end will try to have a very long war so that in the end, the American and the European people will be fed up with this war and they will accept any kind of agreement after one, two, three months, to stop this war.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Marcello Foa, Italy is perhaps affected as much as any NATO country by this. It's from your country that most of the air war is being launched, and also, you might receive the most refugees. What is Italian public opinion right now about the NATO action?
MARCELLO FOA: Well, the public -- Italian people is very strong for the NATO intervention, but people are very scared. You know, until just a few weeks ago, hundreds of people, of Albanian people, Kosovar people, were crossing the Adriatic Sea and coming in Italy. So people are scared to see hundreds of thousands of people coming from Albania, where they are right now, into Italy. So in one way, Italy wants to fight against Milosevic. In the other way, the other public opinion wants to have some guarantees that these people will not come all to our country. That's a very important point.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But Mr. Foa, have the pictures of the refugees made a big difference in Italy in public opinion?
MARCELLO FOA: Oh, of course, very much. You know, here the public opinion is very emotional. People, in a way, they're like Americans. When they see these horrible images on TV, they think that this is a new Holocaust, and they are really emotional. They are really -- they really want to help them. And this is -- Tony Blair said, "This is the darkest hour in Europe." And in Italy, everybody thinks Mr. Blair is right.
|Echoes of the Holocaust?|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Josef Joffe, what about German public opinion?
JOSEF JOFFE: Well, let me say something about the pictures. Of course, we have seen these pictures before in the Cambodian case, most recently with those slaughtered in Africa, and of course we didn't react that way. So I think it's important to keep in mind two different factors that distinguishes this reaction from the reaction of the European peace movement and European left in the Gulf War, when they used to hang white sheets in the windows. The crucial factor is this, that there is no longer a fear in Western Europe of anything turning into a global war with the Russians. The Russians are out of the equation. They are weak. They don't have an army, and Yeltsin keeps saying, "We shall not be entangled in this war." So the great fear of a great war is out, and it makes it easy to actually support this war. And the second interesting thing is that, compared to the Gulf War at the beginning of the decade, everybody in power now is -- we have left-wing governments in power, meaning that it's the left that has to take care of business. Whereas ten years ago, the right was in power, and so the left had a very easy time to demonstrate and to yell for peace. Today, from Tony Blair to Gerhard Schroeder to D'Alema to Jospin, it's the left, and so the left cannot protest against itself, and that, too, explains why we are acting in such enormous -- with such enormous unanimity in NATO, which, in my remembrance, I can't recall.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Freedland, Tony Blair certainly has been out in front on this. Is British public opinion with him?
JONATHAN FREEDLAND: It wasn't at first, I don't think, but it has definitely become so. And this last week, the images which have now obviously been beamed around the world have had a huge effect in all our countries, certainly had a resonance here. And I think that works in -- I would very much agree with what Josef Joffe was saying, and I think there's a third layer to this about why did this crisis or is this crisis having this great effect, where perhaps Cambodia or Rwanda or even the Gulf didn't, and that is the notion and the sense in which this is our backyard, and that we just cannot stand by and watch this sort of thing happen just-- and this is one of the things that's often said-- two hours' flight from London Heathrow, you know, from -
JOSEF JOFFE: And one hour from Munich.
JONATHAN FREEDLAND: -- this is really very, very near to us. And one hour from Munich, et cetera, and even nearer to our Italian colleague. It's right in our backyard, and so there's a sense of burden about this that we, the Europeans, have to do this; even embarrassment that it took some American prompting. Whereas I think perhaps there's other areas, yes, that people, viewers at home, watching those TV pictures, were happy to think that this is somebody else's problem. And the extent to which -- and this is, again, just to reinforce, I think, what my German colleague was saying-- I very strongly agree with him-- that the prism through which this is being viewed is very much the wartime experience which was obviously, in essence, a European experience at the Second World War and the echoes of that play very strongly.
So, in other words, these TV pictures of refugees are not just moving in way that victims of Hurricane Mitch were moving to people on television, but specifically because they seem to echo what people have seen in the movies this year with "Life is Beautiful," "La Vita e Bella," the Italian film, or "Saving Private Ryan" or "Schindler's List." The Holocaust and its echoes are playing very directly, and the rhetoric of British politicians, Tony Blair among them, is very deliberately trying to say to people, "this is a rerun of the darkest period of European history, and those who did nothing were shamed, and we, this generation, cannot make the same mistake. And so, for example, my own newspaper, "The Guardian," made huge play of reports that the Serbs were using trains to transport Albanian refugees specifically because that had that very obvious Nazi echo. And I think the extent to which that is playing on public opinion here in Europe shouldn't be underestimated.
|The French perspective.|
FARNSWORTH: Pierre Rousselin, who is the foreign editor of the French
newspaper, Le Figaro, has just joined us. Mr. Rousselin, thanks
for being with us. What is French public opinion now saying about this
PIERRE ROUSSELIN, Le Figaro: Well, I think French public opinion is much more in favor of could have thought in the beginning. Now, as far as what you were saying before, the message here is less strong and less -- less strong about stories of trains and talk of genocide and -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And all the refugee pictures?
PIERRE ROUSSELIN: -- extermination camps and all this. Right, these pictures have been shown, of course; they have had a tremendous impact on the people, and they explain partly why public opinion is in favor of the military operation, as far as we can tell-- not overwhelmingly in favor, but more than one could have thought before. But what I was trying to say is that, in comparison to what our English colleague was saying, the rhetoric is less strong in France than it can be in other places in Europe, I guess.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But -- yes, go ahead.
JOSEF JOFFE: Is there some memories of the Franco-Serbian alliance in World War I?
PIERRE ROUSSELIN: Yes. Absolutely. That's the main reason. There's a big -- there's a strong feeling of friendship between France and Serbia. It's taught for historical` reasons, and there's a shift in policy that has come in the last few years from Mitterrand to Chirac has had to take into account this traditional friendship. And to talk about -- of course nobody is saying there is not -- no ethnic cleansing. But people are very careful with words, and are not -- we are trying not to be critical, to be not saying there is a genocide, for instance. Maybe this sounds a little too nitty, but words have a very particular sense, and people would be shocked if we went overboard, I guess, in France.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right, gentlemen, that's all the time we have for now, for tonight, but thank you very much for being with us.