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Western Press Review: Serbian Unrest Recalls 1989'91

  • Don Hill



Prague, 27 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press continues to monitor unrest in Serbia, where President Slobodan Milosevic seeks to ignore growing protests against his refusal to accept defeat in recent municipal elections.

WASHINGTON POST: Milosevic moved to muzzle the largest independent newspaper

John Pomfret's analysis today says: "As anti-Communist protests continued for a ninth day, the government of President Slobodan Milosevic moved quickly (yesterday) to muzzle Yugoslavia's largest independent newspaper, the only major paper to report on the biggest demonstrations to rock Yugoslavia in five years." Pomfret writes: "The move was part of a series of actions taken by the Balkan strongman that illustrate Milosevic's strategy toward the biggest protests against his hard-line regime since Serbian riot policemen and tanks crushed anti-government rallies in 1991 -- Ignore the marches and keep them out of the press and off television."

The analysis says: "Milosevic's moves against Blitz were preceded by other attempts to ensure that most of Yugoslavia's 12 million people do not know what is going on in the capital and in nine other cities where sporadic protests have continued this week."

Pomfret writes: "On Monday, a TV anchorman explained to his audience that he could not report on any election-related activities, including protests, because of an 'electoral silence' imposed by the government in preparation for the voting (today)." He says: "Local elections are critical to maintaining Milosevic's hold on power in Yugoslavia for several reasons. One is that city governments control a wide variety of local media outlets, such as television and radio stations, newspapers and magazines."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Every autocrat has a weak spot

The paper says today in an editorial: "Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic is used to getting the best of his opponents. He married mass appeal nationalism with the well-oiled machinery of the Communist Party to build a formidable power base. His bloody campaign for a Greater Serbia employed ethnic cleansing to win him the prospect of future control over Bosnian-Serb lands. He consolidated these gains, and even performed the near-miracle of rehabilitating his own image by his adroit exploitation at Dayton of the Clinton Administration's obvious desire to sweep the Bosnian problems under the nearest rug.

"But every autocrat has a weak spot, and now one of Central Europe's last remaining dictators -- a distinction he shares with Belarus (Alexander) Lukashenka -- is beginning to look vulnerable. Indeed, some analysts sense a whiff of 1989 in recent events taking place across Serbia."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Authoritarian regimes have converted support for Dayton into sustenance for themselves



The paper today carries a "Washington Post" editorial saying: "The demonstrators in Croatia and especially in Serbia signal a deep flaw at the heart of Western policy. The West has been counting on the Serbian and Croatian governments to deliver Bosnia to the federation foreseen in the Dayton peace accords. But the authoritarian regimes running those countries have converted support for Dayton into sustenance for themselves. Now large numbers of citizens are protesting the regimes' antidemocratic practices."

The editorial says: "Perceiving the West's priority to lie in a decent outcome in Bosnia -- or at least in a decent interval before a collapse into partition -- Serbia and Croatia have taken whatever political and economic comfort they could. The democratic opposition -- there is an undemocratic nationalistic opposition as well -- increasingly is offended by Western favor for its tormentors."

It concludes, "In Serbia and Croatia as well as Bosnia, it makes sense to zero in on a few salient requirements -- to deliver accused war criminals to trial, to protect the independent media -- oxygen of democratic practice -- and finally to respect the people's electoral choice."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Milosevic disregards the continuing mass demonstrations against his regime

The paper says today in an editorial: "Serbian President Milosevic long has disregarded the continuing mass demonstrations against his regime. The unrest grows in the cities and demands from the West are increasingly urgent, but Milosevic behaves as if all this had nothing to do with him. Maybe he made the following calculation about a week ago, when the (latest) unrest began -- If the Western powers decided to interfere, he would claim that his newly won power in parliament had greater legitimacy than did the local elections whose results are in dispute. Also (he could argue), it is not the Serbian president and the Serbian government that have declared invalid elections in the Serbian cities, but a Court of Justice."

The editorial says: "Milosevic has probably bet on the assumption that the rural population will stay on his side and that his personal police -- about 800 well-trained men -- will do the rest if unpleasant situations arise. This kind of calculation is a risky one. If his strategy proves wrong, Milosevic will need much luck on top of his cold-bloodedness. Soon we shall see."

POLITIKEN: Now voters want bread on the table and compensation for hardships

Jens Holsoe comments today in the Danish newspaper: "The (local) elections in Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro, including Vojvodina and Kosova) are similar to the elections in Croatia a year ago. President Franjo Tudjman had no problem then securing a victory for his HDZ party at the parliamentary elections but could not prevent the opposition from winning the important local elections in Zagreb. For over a year now, Tudjman has blocked the transfer of power in the local council, and the mayor he installed rules without a council."

Holsoe writes: "This evasion of the democratic rules of the game in the two big neighbors, Serbia and Bosnia, shows how volatile the situation in the Balkans is regardless of the cessation of armed hostilities (since the Dayton Peace Accords).

He says: "In Belgrade, the leaders of the Zajedno opposition bloc stated they will boycott today's election run-off. But it is doubtful how much this can influence the future. Milosevic sits strong and controls the media. Both radio and TV are now trying to persuade the disillusioned voters to support him."

He writes: "Behind the instability in both Croatia and Yugoslavia is the continuing economic and social crisis with massive unemployment and falling incomes. While the war went on, the crisis was excused by the struggle for national unity. But now the voters want bread on the table and compensation for the hardships of the past seven years."

WASHINGTON POST: It's time to stand with the democratic forces of Serbia and Croatia

Morton I. Abramowitz is president of the U.S.-based policy institute Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He comments in today' edition: "We have relied on the architects of war to implement the peace. The strategy has not worked for Bosnia, it is crippling Serbia, it prevents Croatia's political evolution, and it will undermine regional stability. It's time we stood with the democratic forces of Serbia and Croatia."

Abramowitz writes: "Popular dissatisfaction with the authoritarian leadership of Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic is rising. Demonstrators in Zagreb and Belgrade are protesting their leaders' latest obscenities against democracy. The side we take in the emerging struggle between the two dictators and their own peoples could determine the fate of the Dayton Agreement. Dayton will never work if Serbia's rulers remain utterly opportunistic and corrupt, its media under rigid state control and its economy a catastrophe."

He says, "We have coddled Milosevic and Tudjman, because they were seen as crucial to achieving the Dayton accords and carrying them out. That might have been justified if they delivered. But they haven't. They have largely lied to us since Dayton, frustrating the return of refugees, manipulating electoral processes and harboring indicted war criminals."
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