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Western Press Review: Serbia Votes, Evidently Without Effect

  • Don Hill

Prague, 6 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Serbia's evidently abortive elections over the weekend once again attracted widespread Western press attention to the tangled politics of the states of former Yugoslavia.

TIMES: Serbia is heading for constitutional chaos

In Serbia, a desultory election-day turnout Sunday threatens political chaos, an analysis by Tom Walker says today. Walker writes from Belgrade: "Serbia was headed for constitutional chaos last night, as less than 50 percent of the electorate took part in a presidential run-off poll, rendering it invalid. New parliamentary and presidential elections will have to be called, leaving Serbs in a confusing power vacuum, and the nation's immediate destiny once more in the hands of the Yugoslav Federal President, Slobodan Milosevic, who is running out of options but hopes to profit from the stalemate.

"The turnout was lowest in Belgrade, where many polling stations were seeing only a few voters an hour on a golden autumn day. Large numbers boycotted voting in the presidential run-off, dismayed at having to choose between Zoran Lilic, a Socialist puppet of Mr. Milosevic, and Vojislav Seselj, an extreme nationalist. The turnout was more regular in the provinces, but not enough to reach the required 50 per cent threshold. The widespread apathy reflected not just the disillusion of Serbia's impoverished middle class but also the wish of Mr. Milosevic, whose faithful state Serbia Radio and Television had been downbeat in the build-up to voting."

NEW YORK TIMES: There are brush fires that could soon turn into conflagrations

Chris Hedges, also writing from Belgrade, agrees in an analysis today with a view of Milosevic as a wily manipulator. But Hedges adds that Milosevic's tactics may be building for new violence. Hedges writes: "President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, in the second and final round of presidential elections Sunday, is hoping to consolidate his hold on power into the next century despite profound fissures in his authoritarian edifice.

"Milosevic, in his decade in power, instigated and lost a war that dismembered Yugoslavia, plunged the rump state he still controls into economic crisis and international isolation and stomped out all attempts at democratic reform. But he has a catlike ability to land on his feet, as illustrated by his remarkable comeback after huge street demonstrations last winter."

Hedges goes on: "Behind the iron facade there are signs that Milosevic's authoritarianism is breeding an opposition that is increasingly radical, disinterested in democratic procedure and prone to violence -- an opposition that, in short, will begin to play politics at his level.

"Already there are brush fires in Yugoslavia that could soon turn into conflagrations. The two million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, which lost its status as an autonomous province seven years ago under Milosevic's government, have tired of watching their peaceful protests forcefully crushed by police and their boycott of state institutions disregarded. In Montenegro, the main candidate for the presidency, Milo Djukanovic, is a bitter opponent of Milosevic. He has led the effort to end Belgrade's rule over the 600,000 Montenegrans and - in or out of office -- could eventually organize Montenegro's secession from Yugoslavia, Western diplomats say. But it is in Serbia, where the average salary is less than 100 dollars a month, that the resulting desperation, frustration and anger have boiled over into support for extremists."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Milosevic is now under attack on several fronts

Tracy Wilkinson says today: "Failing to draw voters to the polls would be humiliating for Milosevic, but Lilic's losing to Seselj would be worse, and possibly disastrous for the country."

She says that Seselj is "a xenophobic former paramilitary commander," who "has vowed to take back land lost to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and to expel 'disloyal' minorities."

The analysis says: "Twin elections in Yugoslavia's last two republics -- Serbia and Montenegro -- are testing Milosevic's rarely challenged ability to control events throughout the region he has dominated for more than a decade. The Yugoslav president, a consummate political survivor, now finds himself under attack on several fronts."

WASHINGTON POST: Post-communist politics have turned into rivers of blood

An author who specializes in Central and Eastern European events, Timothy Garton Ash, wrote in a commentary that the Balkan nations started in post-communist life abreast of, or even ahead of, some of the other transition countries. They now have fallen behind, he said, mainly because of the predatory politics of their leaders.

Ash commented: "Ethnicity, the West and politics are all vital, but the most important of them all is politics. Without those manipulative, post-communist politics, the ethnic divisions would not have turned into open sores or, in the case of Yugoslavia, to rivers of blood. Precisely because the West was, alas, more reacting than acting, what made the crucial difference to these former communist countries was the quality of the domestic politics."

DIE WELT: Nationalist Vojislav Sesejl wants to run for the Serbian presidency

In a profile Friday Katja Ridderbusch described Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj in unflattering terms. She wrote: "Since November 1996, since Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), became mayor of Zemun, old-established Croatian families have been driven from their homes and members of the business community have been forced to join the SRS and pay a high membership sub. Elsewhere, this is called protection money. Not only does Seselj's private militia beat up political opponents, but now he wants to run for the Serbian presidency."

She said: "After the war he founded the SRS and since then has worked with the socialists. But the alliance between Seselj, whose aim is a Greater Serbia, and the opportunist Milosevic largely benefits the latter. Seselj plays a number of roles for Milosevic: henchman and bogeyman, political clown or coalition partner. State television provides generous coverage of Seselj and his racist tirades. The diabolical outbursts from this beefy giant against the opposition are rather convenient for the socialists."