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Western Press Review: No Peace In Sight For Beleaguered Serbia

  • Don Hill

Prague, 13 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary surveying continuing popular protests in Serbia against the government of President Slobodan Milosevic finds cause for pessimism in Milosevic' tactical skill and cause for criticism in the mildness of Western official reaction.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Armed riot police turned demonstrators away today

Associated Press writer Julijana Mujsilovic writes from Belgrade in an analysis published today: "Heavily armed riot police turned away a huge student-led demonstration as it tried to march on the home of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic."

She says: "Mr. Milosevic, who has stayed mostly out of sight during the more than three weeks of protest, met (yesterday) with Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini. Mr. Dini is trying to mediate in the dispute, which began with protesters demanding that opposition election victories annulled by courts loyal to Mr. Milosevic be reinstated, and grew to demands for his resignation."

Mujsilovic writes: "Mr. Milosevic reportedly is ready to offer new elections, though he hasn't said so publicly. Whatever was being discussed privately, the opposition was showing little public sign of bending, demanding that the November 17 municipal election results annulled by the courts be recognized by Mr. Milosevic."

NEW YORK TIMES: The U.S. and its allies do not understand the menace of Milosevic

International columnist Anthony Lewis commented (yesterday): "Two snapshots of the crisis over Slobodan Milosevic's tyranny -- In Belgrade, one of the thousands of peaceful demonstrators, Dejan Bulatovic, held up an effigy of President Milosevic as a convict. Police arrested him, beat him with clubs, jammed a baton up his rectum, put a rifle in his mouth and threatened to shoot, then put him in an unheated cell with the window fixed open to serve a 25-day sentence for disorderly conduct.

"In Brussels, the North Atlantic Council said it was 'dismayed that the Serbian authorities have ignored the calls of the international community to respect... democratic principles.' Secretary of State Warren Christopher said he hoped Milosevic would be as 'pragmatic and flexible' as he was at the Dayton peace conference last year.

"Those two scenes tell us that the United States and its allies still do not understand the menace of Milosevic -- or do not want to understand. He makes clear that he has no intention of giving up a gram of his illegitimate power and we go harrumph."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: What the West does or fails to do has consequences

Josef Joffe commented yesterday: "Of course it is for the Serbs to judge Slobodan Milosevic, one of the last European despots, and now the target of mounting popular wrath. However, what the West does or fails to do has consequences. Up till now Western policy towards Belgrade has been along the classic 'better the devil you know' lines." He wrote: "Clearly nobody in Washington or Bonn was particularly enamored of the Serbian president. Indeed, they knew only too well that Milosevic was the main culprit in the war over the Yugoslavian succession which started to determine European history five and a half years ago."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Milosevic appears to be gaining the upper hand

From Belgrade, Nasa Borba (Our Struggle) newspaper columnist Branislav Milosevic (no relation to the president) says in a commentary published today in Journal: "The protests and the growing international condemnation of the regime's tactics have turned up the pressure on Mr. Milosevic and his henchmen." The writer says: "Mr. Milosevic appears to be gaining the upper hand. He is aggravating divisions within the opposition ranks, shoring up his supporters with a massive propoganda campaign, and demoralizing the protesters by simply waiting them out." The commentary continues: "The Serbian president has acted so decisively in part because he knows that there is little the West can do to interfere with his dictatorial rule."

The Nasa Borba columnist writes: "While Western leaders issue condemnations and protests continue, Mr. Milosevic quietly is working to control the situation with the same divide and conquer tactics that have worked so well for him in the past."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The country has yet to emerge from decades of communism, paranoia and apathy

Tracy Wilkinson writes in an analysis in today's edition: "Despite tough talk from some government officials who are urging an all-out crackdown, Milosevic is instead pursuing a more insidious campaign to intimidate and discredit opponents who have been marching through city streets for 25 days to demand recognition of elections they won. He has opted for selective arrests and beatings; economic pressures and incentives; a media smear campaign; and the establishment of parallel, 'loyal' organizations to detract from those in rebellion.

"The threat of force is always there, of course. (Yesterday) scores of heavily armed riot police blocked thousands of students who attempted to march to Milosevic's home. No clashes were reported. Whether the intimidation is physical, economic or psychological, a little goes a long way in a country yet to emerge from decades of communism, paranoia and apathy."

NEW YORK TIMES: A new, pro-government student movement has little credibility

Chris Hedges wrote in an analysis yesterday: "The new pro-government Independent Student Movement may not have much credibility on the campus here, but it certainly has the best-dressed students in Belgrade." Hedges said: "They wear tailored suits, gleaming patent-leather shoes, ties and dress shirts. They jangle key-rings with little plastic boxes to shut off alarm systems to new cars, and are equipped with mobile phones, beepers and business cards." He continued: "And they all support their president, Slobodan Milosevic, and denounce the protesters in the street for ruining what, by their description, must be one of the most idyllic student lifestyles on the planet." Hedges wrote: " 'These people only represent themselves,' said Miroslav Pantovic, a leader in the protest movement. 'We've never even seen some of these people in class.' "

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Workers are threatened not to join the opposition

The paper's Julius Strauss writes today from Belgrade in a news analysis: "Mr. Milosevic seems to be winning the war of nerves against the Serbian opposition coalition Zajedno (Together) and he has divided his enemies. Workers have been threatened by state union leaders with loss of what little security they still have if they join the opposition.

"There is growing evidence that one week ago the unrest nearly split the ruling Serbian Socialist Party, as some officials backed negotiation. Now, analysts say, Mr Milosevic is likely to survive, at least in the short term."