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Western Press Review: Foes Raise Stakes in Serbia

  • Don Hill



Prague, 27 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The London Times speaks today of the "Endgame in Belgrade." A Frankfurter Rundschau commentator writes of the "Collapse of the Milosevic system." The Western press looks over 39 days of protest in Belgrade. In yesterday's developments where Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic used riot police to limit the movement of demonstrators, commentators see not new government resolve but signs of fatigue.

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Milosevic moves to break the back of the opposition.

Tracy Wilkinson writes: "Thousands of riot police armed with tear gas rifles blockaded the central part of Belgrade yesterday, strangling an anti-government demonstration in a new show of force by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. The police deployment was seen as an attempt by Milosevic to break the back of the most sustained opposition ever to his nine-year regime."

Wilkinson continues: "In a significant blow to the protest movement, police enforcing an 11th-hour ban on street demonstrations prevented supporters from arriving at yesterday's rally and corralled those who did into a single downtown plaza." But she adds: "But thousands of supporters defied or evaded the police and gathered in sub-freezing temperatures in snow-covered Republic Square to blow whistles, wave flags and chant slogans."

WASHINGTON POST: Despite Milosevic's efforts rallies were still held

John Pomfret says: "The leaders, Vuk Draskovic, Zoran Djindjic and Vesna Pesic, meanwhile, succeeded in holding a smaller protest of about 15,000 people in the pedestrian Square of the Republic 200 yards away from the main police cordon. Speaking at the foot of a statue of Knez Mihaljo, a Serb king assassinated in 1860, they vowed to defy the ministry order by protesting. The square was the site of a bloody crackdown, ordered by Milosevic on anti-government protests on March 9, 1991, in which two men were killed.

"But unlike that clash, Serbian police used little violence to clear the streets. Nor did the police actually stop the opposition from holding a rally. They merely limited its scope. In that way, Milosevic's maneuver resembled other half-measures he has taken since protests erupted in Belgrade, the southern city of Nis and other towns around Serbia following municipal elections on November 17."

THE LONDON TIMES: Milosevic has made one miscalculation too many

Today's editorial says that Milosevic "has made one miscalculation too many." The paper's editorial continues: "One of the most familiar rules of politics is that when leaders long accustomed to power make a mistake, they tend not to realize it until the error has become irreparable." It goes on: "By sending in his riot police against the thousands of demonstrators who, for 38 days on end, have crowded the freezing streets of Belgrade with their peaceful, tenacious and courageous protests, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic has reached the point of political rupture."

The newspaper concludes: "If he yields, Mr. Milosevic's grip on power will never be the same. But he knows that the alternative, the forcible repression of mass dissent, is at least as risky. The system is imploding."

THE FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Milosevic's reach for more power has failed.

Commentator Karl Grobe writes of the Milosevic "system". He says: "The Serbian president has reached the end of the road he started out along in Kosovo in 1989. His conversion from late Titoist communism to Serbian nationalism has saved neither the Serbian hold on Yugoslavia nor Yugoslavia itself. His attempt to gain more and more territory for a Greater Serbia failed in the face of opposition from other --Croatian and Bosnian -- chauvinism's which challenged that of Slobodan Milosevic."

Grobe continues: "Now the collapse of the Milosevic system at home, too, is becoming more apparent day by day. Blatant electoral fraud failed to secure him a majority in the major cities. The even greater outrage of having people go on voting for as long as compliant judges and spineless electoral commissions think fit, in other words until the politically correct majority is achieved, has been thwarted by the popular movement in Belgrade."

Grobe writes: "Milosevic and his Socialist Party, his wife Mirijana Markovic and her more radical band of supporters, are failing in their struggle against the more progressive sections of Serbian society, who will form the basis of a future civilian society."

He concludes: "The Dayton Accords are based on the misuse of ethnic principles which Milosevic initiated in Kosovo. This truce can only be transformed into real peace through a genuinely democratic, tolerant, civilian political order without nationalist hangers-on of any color. And not just in Belgrade --though that is where the critical confrontation is making promising progress right now."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Milosevic can no longer ignore the protests.

An editorial in today's paper says: "The five-week standoff between President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and pro-democracy demonstrators appears headed for a dangerous and possibly bloody denouement. Mr. Milosevic has given up trying to ignore the huge daily protest marches through Belgrade and is now maneuvering to suppress them. The Clinton Administration, rightly seeing through the regime's attempts to provoke protesters to violence, has made it clear that the United States will hold the Serbian ruler accountable for any bloodshed."

WASHINGTON POST: The climax is approaching

Wednesday's editorial also suggested that a climax is approaching by saying: "Street violence now threatens to produce a tense new phase in Serbia, where, day after day, tens and hundreds of thousands of citizens have been marching in peaceful protest. It is already one of the memorable expressions of public opinion welling up from below in de-communization. These citizens have created a possibility that no one expected when they began demonstrating more than a month ago -- to loosen the grip of the autocracy run by Slobodan Milosevic and to put Serbia on a path to democracy. This could transform not only Serbia but the rest of the former Yugoslavia, too."
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