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Western Press Review: Spirit Of Fun In Serbia, Of Rancor At UN

  • Don Hill

Prague, 18 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Demonstrations in Belgrade are taking on a life of their own, and President Slobodan Milosevic may be wavering under the pressure. That's the substance of Western commentary on events in Serbia. The opposition coalition Zajedno ("Together"), has been protesting for the past month after it accused the government of annulling results of local elections which the government lost. Other commentary examines the start of a new United Nations secretary general and the departure of his predecessor.

Spirit of Fun in Serbia

THE LONDON GUARDIAN: Protests have become routine

Julian Borger says today that the daily walks of anti-Milosevic demonstrators have turned into a kind of group therapy for Belgrade burghers. In a commentary from Belgrade, Borger writes: "For many, the four-mile walk through Belgrade's city center has become routine. They bring their children, their in-laws, their dogs. They shout, blow whistles and honk tooters. Families living along the route drum their support on saucepans on their balconies. So if Mr. Milosevic is waiting for the protest movement to die a natural death, he may have a long wait. After war, sanctions and hyper-inflation, this is more fun that most Serbs have had in years."

Boger quotes a Belgrade psychologist as saying: "It's symbolic that people are using whistles, shouting. They are breathing freely once again."

THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Protesting is now a daily part of life

Inga Saffron writes today from Belgrade in an analysis: "Jovan Nesic's old daily grind has been replaced by an exhilarating new routine in the past month. It's still about getting up, going to work and rushing home, but now he also has to fit in a two-hour appearance every afternoon at Belgrade's pro-democracy demonstrations."

Saffron contends: "Perhaps the most notable achievement of Serbia's democracy movement has been the sheer staying power of middle-class people like Nesic. Angered by President Slobodan Milosevic's authoritarian rule, the lost war in Bosnia and the resulting plunge in living standards, tens of thousands of ordinary people have made the afternoon protests in Belgrade and other major cities a regular part of their daily routine. What started as a spontaneous outpouring to denounce the annulment of municipal election results has evolved into a full-fledged grassroots movement that poses a serious threat to Milosevic and to the last remaining Communist regime in Eastern Europe."

Milosevic chose to meet yesterday with a group of students from Nis, who walked 210 km in their own demonstration. Some commentators inferred from the action that the Serbian president is wavering.

THE WASHINGTON POST: Milosevic meets with student protesters John Pomfret writes today: "For the first time in a month of unprecedented anti-government protests, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic confronted some of his accusers (yesterday) after they arrived in Belgrade, feet blistered and exhausted." Pomfret contends, "The short meeting in a vast chamber of the Serbian presidential palace was another sign that Milosevic may be preparing to back down from his month-long standoff with the protesters and hand over several towns to the opposition coalition, known as Together."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Milosevic action was tactical

Tracy Wilkinson, writing in a news analysis today, suggests that the Milosevic action was tactical: "In a move to deflate and divide his formidable opposition, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic struck a conciliatory pose (yesterday) and met with students who walked (210 km) to protest his regime's alleged electoral fraud. Milosevic, seeming to admit for the first time that some misconduct occurred in the November 17 municipal elections, told the students from the southern city of Nis that their claims would be investigated."

Wilkinson writes: "The Serbian leader, who seemed short of temper during his meeting with the Nis students, also warned that what he called the foreign influence of the opposition movement would not be tolerated."

Of Rancor at UN

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Ghali scolds the US in his farewell speech

Commentators on the United Nations' appointment yesterday of Ghanaian Kofi Annan as UN secretary general take a generally admiring stance toward Annan. The United States comes under assault for failing to pay its UN dues. Barbara Crossette writes today in an analysis: "Minutes before the General Assembly appointed his successor, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali used a reflective farewell speech (yesterday) to scold the United States for failing in its obligations to the United Nations. In an oblique but unmistakable swipe at the country that vetoed his reappointment, faulting him for failing to reform the UN bureaucracy, Boutros-Ghali said the United Nations lacked the resources to do its job."

She says: "In conversations, Boutros-Ghali shows deep bitterness and frustration at having gone to the Security Council time and time again to ask for a tougher response to fighting in Bosnia, only to be outmaneuvered by minimalist resolutions dictated by Washington, Paris and London, whose governments and news organizations then blamed him for a failure to keep the peace and save lives."

She notes: "In a characteristic speech after his swearing-in, Annan, 58, dwelt on human themes, referring to economic development issues as affecting 'real people with basic needs: food, clothing, shelter and medical care.' "

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Ghali criticizes countries who didn't pay dues

Craig Turner also focuses on Boutros-Ghali's farewell address. Turner writes: "Departing Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali wore the American veto that forced him from office like a medal of honor (yesterday) in a farewell address that gently scolded the United States for failing to fully support the world body. The speech, alternately defensive and defiant, did not specify America. But Boutros-Ghali reflected a common complaint about the United States among member states by criticizing governments that would impose reforms on the United Nations while failing to meet their financial obligations to it. America, which has clamored for a less expensive, restructured United Nations, is the member most behind in its dues, owing $1,300 billion."

Turner says: "Annan, in contrast to Boutros-Ghali, stressed cooperation, change and 'healing' in his acceptance, saying the 185-member United Nations, 'along with the rest of the world, must change.' "

THE WASHINGTON POST: Annan is well liked and very different from Ghali

In a profile recently in The Washington Post, John M. Goshko wrote: "The U.S.-educated Annan, 58, is well-liked by colleagues with whom he has labored for three decades in the UN system in such little-noticed areas as budget analysis and personnel management. His style represents a big change from that of the current secretary general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an imperious, high-profile Egyptian diplomat who could go months without talking to his key subordinates and who frequently treated the ambassadors of major powers condescendingly."