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Western Press Review: The Many Faces Of Freedom's Struggles

  • Don Hill

Prague, 29 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Struggles for democracy, freedom, and market economics wear many faces in Eastern Europe in recent days. The Western press comments.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: State television has ignored the demonstrations in Serbia

Tracy Wilkinson writes from Belgrade today in an analysis: "(Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic was once an international pariah because of his role in financing and inspiring brutal ethnic warfare in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. But more recently, his influence over the Bosnian Serbs made Milosevic the key to the West's efforts to end that war with the U.S.-brokered Dayton, Ohio, peace accords. Now Washington and European capitals are faced with the dilemma of having to condemn his tinkering with the democratic process without jeopardizing the regional stability that Milosevic is seen to guarantee, analysts said."

She writes: "State television virtually has ignored the demonstrations and the international outcry over Milosevic's cancellation of opposition victories. On Wednesday night, after protests turned violent, state television's nightly broadcast reported 'street vandalism' but focused on what it said was Yugoslavia's successful pursuit to 'rejoin' Europe. In fact, the European Union and Washington have told Milosevic that his efforts to bring Yugoslavia back into the lucrative Western fold are frozen for now."

WASHINGTON POST: Serbs are dissatisfied with a corrupt and inept system

In a news analysis today, John Pomfret writes: "Poverty, hopelessness and a fatally wounded sense of pride have propelled tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Yugoslavia's capital and several other cities across Serbia, the country's dominant republic, for more than a week. The largely peaceful protests mark the biggest and most sustained challenge to Milosevic's rule since the Balkan strongman took power in 1987 and set this region on a course to war."

Pomfret says: "But the marches symbolize more than discontent with democracy Serbian-style. Many Serbs are deeply dissatisfied with the corrupt and inept system that has ruled their lives for the past nine years. Many protesters expressed belief that their country is unfixable as long as Milosevic and those around him maintain control of Yugoslavia."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Mladic was the force behind the slaughter of thousands of unarmed Muslims

Tony Barber writes in a commentary today: "General Ratko Mladic, the mastermind of the Serb war effort in Croatia and Bosnia from 1991 to 1995, reluctantly succumbed to political pressure yesterday and stepped down as commander of the Bosnian Serb army."

Under a headline "Bloody butcher of Srebenica steps down," Barber comments: "As in the case of another indicted war criminal, the former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, the dismissal of General Mladic does not necessarily presage his transfer to the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Mr. Karadzic's replacement, Biljana Plavsic, made a point yesterday of thanking the general for his services during the Bosnian war.

"Bosnia's Muslim population will long remember him for other, more dreadful reasons. For them, as for UN prosecutors, he was the driving force behind the Bosnian Serb assault on the enclave of Srebenica in July 1995 which resulted in the methodical slaughter of thousands of unarmed Muslims."

LONDON TIMES: The West should be encouraging the forces of political reform

The paper says today in an editorial: "Before, during and since the negotiations that produced the Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia, Western governments have been ready to do business with the disreputable presidents of Croatia and Serbia, Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic. (The West has) chosen to disregard the ruthlessly undemocratic nature of their regimes, not to mention their responsibility for igniting the Bosnian war in the first place, because (Western leaders) were convinced that the key to peace lay in their hands."

The Times says: "If the West is serious about lasting peace in the Balkans, it should be encouraging the forces of political reform in Croatia and Serbia rather than pampering dictators with more power to do harm than good." The editorial concludes: "There is no gain in continuing the policy of blindly courting the Croatian and Serbian strongmen who are manipulating the peace process, just as they did the war, to maintain their dictatorial grip."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Strong social discontent has been building in Croatia

From Zagreb, Patrick Moore comments in today's edition:"Some 100,000 people turned out in Zagreb's central Ban Jelacic Square on November 21 in one of the biggest demonstrations in modern Croatian history. Given the size and the events surrounding the protest, it appears to have been a milestone in Croatia's ongoing passage from communist dictatorship to full-fledged European democracy.

"That something has been changing in Croatian society has been evident for some time. Opinion polls have shown for several years that strong social discontent has been building in a country where one-fifth of the population officially lives below the poverty line -- and where it is obvious that the majority of the inhabitants have to struggle to get by."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Western governments must get tough on crime

From Sarajevo, James A. Goldston -- until recently director general for human rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- comments in the same newspaper: "If Western governments are serious about making Dayton a reality, they must get tough on crime." He says: "End the impunity with which Bosnia's nationalist crooks have defied the world," and adds: "Make clear that those who violate Dayton will be punished."

Goldston writes: "The North Atlantic Council must change the rules of engagement to permit IFOR, or its successor force, to become more actively engaged in civilian implementation. This means abandoning the 'monitor-don't touch' approach for a 'seek and detain' policy toward war criminals."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Economic and political power is an addictive cocktail

The British newspaper says today in an editorial: "Boris Yeltsin's reelection as president was hailed as a victory for Russian market reform against the forces of reaction. And so it was. But the struggle to determine the kind of market economy it will become still is being fought. The signs are that it may not produce the outcome foreign investors, or most Russians, would have wanted."

The editorial concludes: "Defenders of the government say that the leadership of a few 19th century-style robber barons will turn out to be exactly the spur Russian industry needed. Judge not by how they got their power, the apologists argue, but by how they use it. But it is questionable whether these dominant groups will turn out to be such a positive long-term force.

"Foreign investors hoping eventually to see competition thrive in Russia should remember that economic and political power is an addictive cocktail. Few cede it voluntarily."