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Western Press Review: Belarus And Serbia--A Tale Of Two Challenges To Autocracy

  • Don Hill

Prague, 26 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Challenges to ruling powers in Serbia and Belarus attract Western commentary.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The West should take into account the quality of a country's democracy

The British newspaper says today in an editorial: "While there is plenty of encouraging news about the consolidation of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, recent developments in at least two countries are a depressing reminder that this trend is not a universal one.

"In Serbia, the opponents of President Slobodan Milosevic have seen a remarkable set of municipal election victories snatched from their hands by the cynical use of court judgments." The editorial says, "In Belarus, meanwhile, President Alexander Lukashenka has taken a large step toward the establishment of a similarly authoritarian form of rule."

The newspaper says: "All this is an embarrassment to the Clinton administration, which has said that the spread of democracy will be one of the key goals of its second term." The editorial concludes: "As NATO and the European Union consider the warmth of their relations with the ex-communist nations to their east, they should take account of the quality of democracy in each country."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Milosevic is the strongman of Yugoslavia

Laura Silber writes from Belgrade in an analysis today: "Chanting 'We won't give up our victory,' and hurling eggs at government buildings, more than 100,000 protesters brought this capital to a standstill (yesterday) in the largest demonstration ever against Serbia'a hard-line president, Slobodan Milosevic."

Silber says: "Serbia is the dominant entity within the rump Yugoslavia, which also includes Montenegro following the 1991 disintegration of the former Yugoslav federation. Milosevic is president of Serbia but widely regarded as the strongman of Yugoslavia -- and one of the most powerful men in the Balkans." She writes: "It is unclear what steps the traditionally timid and fragmented opposition will take next. Opposition leaders feel isolated from the outside world, accusing the West of largely blind support for Milosevic, who is now seen as a pillar of the Bosnian peace agreement reached a year ago in Dayton, Ohio."

WASHINGTON POST: Protestors claim the West supports Milosevic

The paper carries today an analysis by John Pomfret, who writes: "While a flag-waving crowd shouted 'Red bandits' and 'Death to communism,' university students launched sit-ins at four campuses in the capital and pelted three symbols of Milosevic's regime -- state-run television, the president's office and city hall -- with eggs and insults. The protesters also directed criticism at Western powers, claiming Washington and other capitals support Milosevic and ignore calls for democracy here because the Serbian leader is a guarantor of the Dayton peace process in Bosnia."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Milosevic is ready to throw democracy to the wind rather than share power

In an analysis in the paper today, Julius Straus writes: "The call to revolt is a departure from peaceful rhetoric and has upped the stakes in an increasingly acrimonious stand-off being played out in Belgrade. It comes amid growing evidence that President Slobodan Milosevic is ready to throw democracy to the wind rather than share power with the opposition."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Lukashenka crowned himself a victor

Phil Reeves in Moscow comments today: "The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka, yesterday crowned himself the victor in his campaign to acquire autocratic powers after claiming to have won an overwhelming majority in an illegal referendum." Reeves writes: "Although his move is the death-knell for Belarus's fledgling democracy, there were few initial signs that it would meet strong resistance either at home, where the streets were quiet last night, or abroad."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Lukashenka once said he needed powers like those of Hitler

In an analysis today, Richard Boudreaux writes: "Bucking a democratic and reformist trend in what was Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, the president of Belarus claimed victory (yesterday) in a fraud-tainted referendum that proposed restarting his five-year term with sweeping new powers." He writes: "As Lukashenka moved to begin restructuring the rival branches of government, their leaders called meetings for (today) to try to impeach him. But the opposition appeared tired, demoralized and unlikely to muster the votes or the crowds to prevail."

Boudreaux says: "Unlike the urbane progressives voted into power in Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania in recent weeks, Lukashenka is a former Soviet army indoctrination officer and collective-farm chief with a populist tongue, a disdain for market economics and a liking for Soviet-style governance." He says: "Lukashenka's foes view him as scary, unpredictable and a bit unbalanced. He once called Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, one of his heroes and said he needed powers like those wielded by Adolf Hitler."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: A return to the Soviet Union is not possible

The paper says today in en editorial: "(Lukashenka) still relies on the lesson that 'learning from Stalin means learning to be victorious.' Unfortunately for him, a return of Belarus to the Soviet Union, due to a Soviet shortage, is not possible. It may be quite all right with the Moscow reformers and semi-democrats that Lukashenka's Belarus has developed into a scary example. They are cynical enough."

LONDON TIMES: Lukashenka was a virtual unknown two years ago

The paper carries an analysis today by Richard Beeston in Minsk. Beeston writes: "The victory may have been a remarkable achievement for a man who was a virtual unknown two years ago when he was swept to office vowing to stamp out corruption. But his aggressive and unpredictable nature is also likely to cause concern throughout the strategic region, which straddles the fault lines between East and West."

WASHINGTON POST: Many voters share Lukashenka's nostalgia for Soviet-style communism

Lee Hockstader in Moscow writes today in an analysis: "The vote appeared to nudge the country of 10 million people a step closer to constitutional crisis, which already has raised fears in Moscow that Russia might be forced to intervene if the showdown turns violent." He says: "Many voters in Belarus share Lukashenko's nostalgia for Soviet-style communism and support his argument that the country can surmount its problems only by giving him nearly dictatorial powers."