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Western Press Review: Gingrich Is Re-Elected, And Serbia's Turmoil Continues

  • Jeremy Bransten

Prague, 8 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- While today's Western newspapers continue to track developments in Serbia, yesterday's re-election of U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich figures prominently in many commentaries and analyses.

NEW YORK TIMES: Gingrich and the Republicans create an indelible suspicion of wrongdoing

In an editorial entitled "Mr. Gingrich's Tainted Victory," the paper writes: "Mr. Gingrich crowed yesterday that he was the first Republican Speaker to win re-election in almost 70 years, but the high ground of principle that he once occupied as House reformer is only a dim memory for him now. This is not a day that will be well remembered in the annals of his party or the House."

The paper accuses Gingrich and his allies of trying to subvert the efforts of the subcommittee investigating the legality of his tax dealings. It says the Republicans have "mimicked the kind of devious behavior for which they have criticized the Clinton White House in the Whitewater and fund-raising scandals. By resisting fair inquiry, Mr. Gingrich and the Republican leadership are creating an indelible suspicion of wrongdoing."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Gingrich's power and authority have been irreversibly undermined

In her analysis, Janet Hawk notes that Gingrich's re-election hardly marks the end of his troubles. She reminds readers that "The ethics committee is scheduled to begin deliberations on Wednesday (today) on the punishment to impose on Gingrich, who has admitted to violating House rules in connection with a college course he taught that improperly used financing from a tax-exempt foundation." Hawk adds that "Even if the ethics investigation ends with a relatively mild reprimand, as widely expected, some political observers -- and even some Republicans -- believe that Gingrich's political power and institutional authority have been irreversibly undermined."

In the words of University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, "He was on thin ice before. Now there is no ice."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: There are few indispensable people in Washington

But Michael Tackett, in an analysis, takes a different focus. He notes that for all the fuss the Gingrich controversy has been causing, and for all the human drama it provides, there is much less here than meets the eye. "One truth about Washington remains clear with Gingrich's re-election: There are few indispensable people," writes Tackett. That is to say, Gingrich or no Gingrich, the course of American politics will not be greatly affected. He notes that "As a practical matter...the institution that Gingrich leads likely would have continued to function with much the same agenda regardless of his fate."

Tackett recalls that "Only two years ago, Gingrich was portrayed as the person the nation could not live without. He was to lead a 'revolution' in government and alter the course of history. That lasted about a year." He adds that "Neither Gingrich nor Clinton enters the new year with the partisan advantage or the national mandate to do anything too ambitious. Gingrich's Republican majority shrank in November, and Clinton won less than 50 percent of the popular vote. And while Clinton clearly has embraced much of the Republican agenda as his own, the Republicans, too, have read the November returns and concluded that smaller, tangible proposals will win them more favor than grand plans with thin support."


Regarding the ongoing Serbian developments, German and British commentators today sound a distinctly cautionary note.

DIE WELT: The police, sworn to Milosevic, decide everything

Carl Gustaf Stroehm, in an analysis in the German paper, writes: "The anti-Milosevic happening continues to revolve like a carousel: after blocking traffic with slowly moving vehicles and following deafening banging on pots and pans, the Serbian opposition has now called for massive phoning to block the lines of the government and ministries. Hundreds of thousands heard the Serbian (orthodox) Christmas message from Patriach Pavle, who sharply criticized the regime. Even a part of the military leadership has demonstrated its sympathy (or at least well-meaning indifference) for the opposition.

Oddly enough all of this certainly offers a very impressive picture of the moment, but it does not provide a coherent view of the whole situation. In a "normal" country, a head of state or government would have been finished after six weeks of such demonstrations. But is Serbia a "normal" country? and is Milosevic to be rated as a politician by normal standards? Perhaps Western statesmen and diplomats should take a look into old Byzantine chronicles and Serbian history to learn how power struggles in this region were carried out before they break out in rapture over the awakening democracy in Serbia. Just how vulnerable Milosevic is will not be shown on the streets where the same big city inhabitants keep on demonstrating, but rather within his own ranks. The regular army, though splattered with blood from the war of aggression and not crowned with glory, is only playing a secondary role. The mobile police, sworn to Milosevic, decide everything. His time will have come when they begin to waver. If they stand fast, Milosevic will stay on.

If things fall apart, then it will not be because of the totalitarian regime he installed or continued, but rather because he failed in the "historic mission" of Serbdom and concluded a rotten peace with the Americans. Today, only great optimists dare claim that what follows him will really be better."

INDEPENDENT: The sanest of the opposition leaders has the least popular support

In a similar vein, Britain's paper notes in an editorial: "Even now, there is no brave new Serbian world around the corner. The alarm clocks in Belgrade were a conscious throwback to the little bells that Czechs rang in Wenceslas Square in November 1989, as a get-out-of-here message to the regime. But Serbia is not Czechoslovakia, not by a long way. Above all, it has no Vaclav Havel to lead it into a democratic future. The sanest of Serbia's three main opposition leaders, Vesna Pesic, is the one with the least popular support. The other two, Vuk Draskovic and Zoran Djindjic, are still tainted by the nationalism of recent years."

The paper argues that the Milosevic regime may indeed fall apart, but this will be more because of internal cracks within the government and the military than due to any kind of broad-based popular awakening. That will take time. The editorial continues: "After 1945, it took years for most ordinary Germans to accept the monstrosity of what their country and countrymen had done. Equally, it will take years for Serbia -- which still see itself as almost guilt-free -- to come to terms with what Serbs have done in Srebrenica and elsewhere."

Nevertheless, the paper concludes, this is a necessary step: "By acknowledging the horror of the past, Serbia would not diminish itself. On the contrary, as the German example as shown, such admissions could provide the foundation for a self-confident and honest Serbia: one that would no longer be a menace to its neighbors."