Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Serb Demonstrators Basking In Progress

  • Don Hill

Prague, 16 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A crack, even if only a tactical one, appeared yesterday in the resistance of Serbian President Slovodan Milosevic to the demands of demonstrators led by the Zajedno (Together) coalition. Western press commentary took notice.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Milosevic attempts to neutralize the protest movement

Tracy Wilkinson writes in an analysis that "in an apparent breakthrough for opponents of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, a government court (yesterday) ordered opposition election victories to be restored in Serbia's second-largest city. It was the first victory by the opposition following 28 days of massive street demonstrations against Milosevic, and it appeared to be an attempt by the Serbian leader to neutralize the protest movement challenging his regime."

Wilkinson adds: "The court ruling, if obeyed, will give the Zajedno opposition coalition control of city government in Nis, a one-time Socialist stronghold and scene of the most blatant fraud on election day."

NEW YORK TIMES: Milosevic gives Zajedno control of Nis

Chris Hedges says in an analysis from Belgrade: "Faced with huge street protests, the government of Slobodan Milosevic appeared to try to mute anger (yesterday) over its annulment of opposition victories in local elections by handing its opponents control of Serbia's second largest city. Opposition leaders said that a district court, tightly controlled by Milosevic's governing Socialist Party, had informed them that the opposition coalition, Zajedno, had won control of the city of Nis.

He writes: "It was in Nis that the first street protests against the annulment of the vote began nearly a month ago. Since then, they have spread to some 30 other cities and towns." Hedges goes on: "There has been speculation within the opposition that Milosevic might give up control of Nis in exchange for continued control of the capital. And he has extended an invitation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to examine the election results -- an offer that has been accepted. But opposition leaders said (yesterday) they would not bargain away their election victories."

THE WASHINGTON POST: Seven years later, protests continue

In his analysis today John Pomfret writes from Belgrade: "Seven years ago this winter, the capitals of Eastern Europe were filled with people tossing out Communist rulers and rushing headlong toward the West. Thousands massed to knock down the Berlin Wall, the symbol of a divided Europe. In Prague, hundreds of thousands packed Wenceslaus Square and ousted the Communist Party. Now protesters are again jamming the streets of an East European capital. For the past four weeks, students and middle-class Serbs have marched through Belgrade's boulevards, in the most serious challenge to the last remaining Communist leader in Europe: Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic."

Pomfret says: "The Communist systems of other East European countries were imposed by Moscow, not home-grown as was Yugoslavia's." He writes: "In Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, the Catholic and Protestant churches played a critical role in pushing political change, but here the dominant Orthodox Church only bolstered Milosevic. Protests in Belgrade are further hampered by the unwillingness or failure of Together, an opposition coalition of five parties, to widen its appeal."

POLITIKEN: Protesters are not particularly privy to democracy

The Danish newspaper comments today in an editorial: "The sympathy for the tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Belgrade has overshadowed the fact that they are not a plausible or desirable alternative to Milosevic. It is not a Velvet Revolution of the Czechoslovak kind that is now happening in Serbia. Neither the protesting students nor the political opposition is particularly privy to the virtues of democracy. They are ultranationalists who have always supported the idea of a Great Serbia and thus the crimes against humanity. They were the ones who called Milosevic a traitor when he decided to leave Radovan Karadzhic to save his own skin. And they were the ones to substitute their own Marxism with Serb ultranationalism."

Politiken says: "Both NATO and the EU have urged Milosevic to respect the local election results but have done so with caution because Milosevic has been the indispensable partner in the working out of ex-Yugoslavia's shaky peace. His answer has been to invite the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to control the results. But don't be misled by this. There has been time enough to cover the tracks." The Danish newspaper contends: "The West should put further economic pressure on Milosevic. It should either request that the elections results be respected or that new elections are held. And it must support, economically and morally, the healthy democratic forces in Serbia so as to help beget a real democratic alternative to Serb nationalism."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Opposition leaders are split

Today's edition of the U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor carries a analysis from Washington by staff writer Jonathan S. Landay, who writes: "Although better organized than in earlier protests, the opposition bloc's component parties are an amalgam of competing egos and divisive philosophies. Demonstrators have marched in other cities, but the majority of protesters belong to Belgrade's educated middle class. One of their main leaders is Vuk Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement. He is an author and former communist who initially joined the vanguard of the Serbian nationalist wave that Milosevic unleashed upon taking power in 1987."

He writes: "The opposition's other senior leader is Zoran Djindjic, president of the Democratic Party. A German-educated philosopher and one-time bitter rival of Draskovic, Mr. Djindjic tried to enhance his party's standing among voters in Serbia by supporting the Bosnian Serb conquest of an ethnically pure state in Bosnia. He has since endorsed the 1995 Dayton peace accords. A third component, led by Vesna Pesic, a sociologist, is the Civic Alliance, a small party that opposes nationalism and led Serbia's tiny antiwar movement."

The Monitor's analyst writes: "Students at Belgrade University, independent of the opposition, have staged their own marches. Many are Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia who denounce Milosevic for 'betraying" the Serb revolts he fomented.' "

THE PHILADELPHIA: Media begins to break away from censorship

Inga Saffron writes today: "Three weeks after crowds of pro-democracy demonstrators began massing in Belgrade and other big cities to challenge the government of President Slobodan Milosevic, journalists at some pro-government media giants have tentatively begun to break free of their self-imposed censorship. Those networks and newspapers initially gave little or no coverage of the massive protests." Saffron says: "Most of the attention in the last three weeks has focused on Serbia's small, independent media outlets, like the nonprofit B-92 radio and the privately owned Blic newspaper, which have boldly defied the Milosevic regime with aggressive reporting of the political crisis. The government retaliated by briefly shutting down B-92 and rationing paper supplies to Blitz, but both have persevered. The success of the little guys may have emboldened journalists at the large private, pro-government media."