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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Conflict Makes for Strange Bedfellows in Europe Politics

Ideology: Pacifists who would see Milosevic as a brutal dictator find themselves on the same side as hawks who view him as an old Communist posing as a nationalist.

April 16, 1999|MARJORIE MILLER RICHARD BOUDREAUX and CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LONDON — The conflict in Yugoslavia that British Prime Minister Tony Blair calls a progressives' war--the first run by post-World War II baby boomers--has blurred traditional lines between leftists and rightists in Europe and created some odd political bedfellows.

Many European leaders came of age in 1960s protest movements against the conservative establishment and global military-industrial complex. Now they are taking their dovish political parties and center-left governments into battle under the umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

They have defined NATO's military strikes against Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic as a moral war against dictatorship and for human rights, muting criticism from many of their own constituents who might normally be demonstrating against American imperialism and the use of force.

"We are fighting for a world where dictators are no longer able to visit horrific punishments on their own peoples in order to stay in power," Blair wrote in Newsweek magazine this week. " . . . In this conflict we are fighting not for territory but for values."

Along with Blair's Labor administration, the French Socialists, traditionally cool to NATO, are launching aircraft on NATO missions. The German Social Democrats, in government with the environmentalist Greens, have sent the Luftwaffe on airstrikes for the first time since World War II. And Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, a former Communist, has fought dissenters in his own center-left coalition government to keep Italy on board and provide NATO with airstrips.

Pacifists who would see Milosevic as a brutal dictator in the mold of Chile's former strongman, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, find themselves on the same side as hawks who view the Yugoslav leader as an old Communist posing as a nationalist. The conservative pro-war camp wants to fight, not for the moral high ground but because they believe NATO must win in order to save face and salvage the world order.

"There is in my mind no alternative but to demonstrate very firmly the credibility of NATO," said Tom King, a former Tory defense secretary.

Thus Blair is backed by former Tory Prime Minister John Major, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has found support from his conservative opposition in the Christian Democratic Union, as well as from leftist novelist Gunter Grass, who has advocated the use of ground troops from the beginning.

In France, the alliances sometimes seem even more unlikely, with Greens Party campaigner Daniel Cohn-Bendit--formerly known as student leader "Dani the Red"--on the same side as President Jacques Chirac's Rally for the Republic party and Gaullist chairman Philippe Seguin.

Opponents of the war on the left and the right also have made unusual de facto partnerships. In France, Communist leader Robert Hue finds himself on the same side as National Front Chairman Jean-Marie Le Pen, although for different reasons.

Opponents from the left tend toward pacifism and anti-Americanism. Right-wing opponents, meanwhile, tend toward isolationism, believing that their countries should not go to battle for anything other than their own vital interests.

Italy's Communists and Greens oppose the war and have threatened to withdraw from the center-left government because of it. They are in the antiwar camp with Umberto Bossi's rightist Northern League, which seeks self-rule for northern Italy and believes that the country should stay out of other people's armed conflicts.

Bossi and Armando Cossuta, leader of the Party of Italian Communists, have both sent peace missions to Serbia. Cossuta, who calls the bombing an "illegal intervention," headed the Communist delegation that held "peace talks" with Milosevic and embarrassed the rest of the Italian government.

Prime Minister D'Alema subsequently reaffirmed Italy's backing for the NATO mission in a speech to parliament, insisting that it be accompanied by diplomacy and aid for refugees. This combination, he said, "is the Italian policy."

Commentators on the right praised his speech.

"D'Alema came across as the effective leader of a country involved in a war effort," wrote Giuliano Ferrara, the rightist editor of the newspaper Il Foglio. "Italy lived for 50 years in a state of peace, in a game of irresponsibility, fully guaranteed and paid by the American ally. Who would have thought that the post-Communist left would try to put Italy in line with its effective geopolitical role?"

One factor making it difficult for the Communists and the Greens to walk away from the government is that public opinion is shifting against them. Polls taken a week apart for L'Unita, a leftist (formerly Communist) newspaper, show support for the NATO bombing among Italians rose from 37% of those questioned in early April to 49% of those questioned by the middle of the month.

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