- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Democratic inspiration

Czech Ambassador Peter Vondr waited until press time to write his column for the November Czech Embassy newsletter so he could congratulate the new American president.

He held off until the day after the Nov. 7 election but finally had to meet a deadline.

"I thought if I waited … until November 8, I would be in a safe position to congratulate the president-elect of the United States," he wrote. "Democracy decided otherwise."

Unlike some foreign observers who have enjoyed mocking the electoral disharmony in Florida, Mr. Vondr believes the recounts of the vote, the legal challenges and the political spin provide "an exciting lesson in the workings of American democracy."

"I do not share the glib view that American-style elections are just a meaningless circus for the masses," he wrote.

"Important issues are presented to the public and debated. Exposing personal failings of candidates is often gratuitous, but it does reveal something important about their temperament and competence.

"In short the leaders and ideas are tested in American elections; and even when the better candidate does not win, at least people know what they are getting.

"I find it preferable to the school of politics that holds that the business of government is too important to be left to the people."

Mr. Vondr, having grown up under communism, knows firsthand about government repression.

He noted that Czechoslovakia, the forerunner of the current Czech and Slovak republics, was founded in 1918 by a democratic-minded statesman, Tomas Masaryk, who was inspired by American democracy. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union later supplanted Czech democracy, which was restored in 1989.

"Our society today can only benefit from the give and take of political ideas that goes on here," Mr. Vondr wrote.

Beware in Yugoslavia

The United States may have re-established diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia, but that does not mean it is safe for Americans to travel there.

The State Department is warning U.S. citizens to be cautious when traveling to the three Yugoslav jurisdictions Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo.

Kosovo, where NATO intervened last year to stop Serbian violence against ethnic Albanians, remains "unsettled and potentially dangerous," the department said in a travel warning.

"Incidents of violence in Kosovo continue to be reported, and land mines remain in some areas," the department said.

"Road conditions can be extremely hazardous as roads are narrow, crowded and used by a variety of vehicles from [NATO] armored personnel carriers to horse-drawn carts."

The department warned that a "potential for hostility toward U.S. citizens still exists" in Serbia because of anger over the NATO air raids, although there have been "no specific threats or incidents of harassment" against Americans since President Vojislav Kostunica defeated Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Noting that Montenegro is the most stable of the three jurisdictions, the department urged Americans to apply for visas before traveling there, even though provincial authorities do not require visas for U.S. citizens.

Avoid Ivory Coast

The State Department is also advising Americans to avoid "nonessential" travel to the Ivory Coast.

The West African nation is "undergoing a transition from military rule to democracy, and political and ethnic tensions make the security situation difficult to predict," the department said.

Tension is likely to remain until after the Dec. 10 parliamentary elections, the department added.

Slovene promoted

Dimitrij Rupel, Slovenia's former ambassador to the United States, got his old job back yesterday when the Slovene parliament approved his appointment as foreign minister.

Mr. Rupel served as foreign minister before taking the position in Washington in 1997. He returned home earlier this year.

A member of Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek's centrist Liberal Democratic party, Mr. Rupel said his priorities are gaining Slovenian membership in NATO and the European Union.

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