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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Horrors Alter Europe's Sentiment




LONDON -- The television images of refugees staggering out of Kosovo are having a powerful effect on public opinion across Europe, turning pacifists and anti-NATO activists of decades ago and NATO critics of just a week ago into supporters of sustained bombing.


In Madrid, Spain, construction company office worker Francisco Sanchez, 25, has watched the coverage and felt a national kinship with the refugees' suffering. "Spaniards also have emigrated when we were in need," he said as he waited at a bus stop outside the Prado on Monday. "And we should accept them here."


In Italy, the images of Kosovars packed into exile trains have brought the war home with chilling reminders of moments from "Life Is Beautiful," the Holocaust tale by the Academy Award-winning actor Roberto Benigni.


In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that for him the pictures were "scenes that belong to Europe's darkest hour."


Newscasts and front pages are filled daily with accounts of brutality and suffering, complete with deeply moving pictures of people stranded in border fields, streaming across frontiers in forced marches, and crowding around relief workers for food.


Roy Hattersley, a former British Labour Party deputy leader and government minister, wrote in Monday's Guardian: "My own doubts about the bombing f expressed in this column last week f have been completely removed by seven days of pictures. A NATO victory is the only real hope of permanent relief and decent resettlement for the refugees.


"A NATO defeat would convince political psychopaths all over the world that they, like [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic, could tyrannize a whole people and get away with it. Whether or not we should have started the war, we clearly have to finish it. That must be obvious to everyone who owns a television set."


Earlier horror about seeing aerial combat return to Europe for the first time in 50 years, anxiety about attacking a sovereign nation without the sanction of the United Nations, and dismay at appearances of bad planning and miscalculation in staging the attacks are being overwhelmed by concern over the refugees and revulsion at the way they have been coerced from their homeland.


Across Europe there are now daily announcements of government and private appeals to speed aid to the refugees f even countries like Britain and France culturally reluctant to admit foreigners have had to respond to public pressure to provide temporary shelter for the refugees.Germany has offered to take 40,000 Kosovars; the United States and Turkey, 20,000 each; Canada and Greece, 5,000 each; and Norway, 6,000. Initially, Britain and France both said they worried that airlifting refugees out of the Balkans, even with the understanding that they would one day return to Kosovo, would risk abetting Milosevic's own desire to rid the province of its ethnic Albanians.


Blair conceded Monday that his government would accept an unspecified number of refugees "if necessary," adding that the "ultimate objective" must remain repatriating them to Kosovo. French Defense Minister Alain Richard said Paris didn't want to be seen taking a position apart from its allies.


But Blair and Richard twinned these moves with aggressive statements about the need for NATO to persevere in the bombing. Richard announced "even more intense attacks" by France's Mirage 2000-D fighter bombers against the Milosevic regime, and Blair conceded, "People have to be prepared to go on, have to be prepared for the longer haul in order to make sure that our objectives are secured and successful."


Though there has been acknowledgement of the historic menace of Balkan instability on other countries of Europe, the coming together of a joint political will on the continent has not been based on a perceived threat to national political and economic interests, the traditional threshold issues.


What is driving the growing support for NATO is the sense of responsibility for forestalling human rights abuses and punishing those who commit them. A Guardian editorial said approvingly that European policy was increasingly in the hands of "humanitarian hawks."


In Germany, Prime Minister Gerhard Schr?der, Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who were stern critics of both U.S. policy in Vietnam and the installation of nuclear weapons in Germany in the 1980s, are now taking their country into its first war in 50 years.


Not all members of Fischer's Green Party are content with the government's unflinching support of NATO's airstrikes. Roland Appel, a party leader in D?sseldorf, called them the party's "most difficult test" and pleaded with members to avoid reflexive pacifism that could split the Greens and force them out of the country's ruling coalition.