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Western Press Review: States Of Former Yugolavia Study Their Own Identities

  • Don Hill



Prague, 21 October 1997 (RFE/RL)--The continuing TV wars in Bosnia and the continuing political slide of Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic grip the attention of Western press commentators.

NEW YORK TIMES: Western governments demonstrate new cohesion and assertiveness

In a news analysis today Mike O'Connor examines the status and recent background of international efforts to silence TV 'hate' broadcasts by Bosnian Serbs. He says that Western governments are demonstrating a new resolve.

O'Connor writes: "After two days of being humiliated by clandestine broadcasts from hard-line Bosnian Serb nationalists, whose broadcasts NATO thought it had shut down, NATO soldiers located and took over a key transmitter on Saturday. The action demonstrated a new cohesion and assertiveness by Western governments in confronting the most recalcitrant Bosnian Serb officials."

He says: "However, some international officials acknowledged, apart from the apparent irony of silencing broadcasts in order to encourage free speech, there is a risk of ordering foreign soldiers to turn off a network that many ordinary Serbs see as their only voice." The writer adds: "Television dominates mass communication in Bosnia, far more so than in the United States because newspapers here are extremely expensive and difficult to distribute. Nationalist broadcasters, in service to ethnically based political parties, helped create the hysterical fears that led to war."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: NATO silence what international officials said was poisonous propaganda

Continued Bosnian Serb intransigence in the face of an international broadcast ban has embarrassed diplomats trying to implement the Dayton accords, Tracy Wilkinson wrote in a news analysis: "The Serbs' signal fell silent just after noon, in the middle of a showing of the Disney cartoon, 101 Dalmatians. At the same time, U.S. troops, accompanied by cooperative Bosnian Serb technicians, occupied the site of a transmission tower about 50 miles north of Sarajevo that was the suspected origin of the renegade broadcasts. "Saturday's actions ended, at least temporarily, pirate transmissions that have embarrassed officials in charge of enforcing the December 1995 treaty that stopped Bosnia-Herzegovina's 3.5-year war. Serbs loyal to indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic were banished from the airwaves October 1, when the NATO soldiers seized key Bosnian Serb transmitting towers in order to silence what international officials said was poisonous propaganda that incited violence against peacekeepers."

NEW YORK TIMES: Elections are a critical part of a struggle to wrest power from Serb hard-liners

The TV wars are part of a larger struggle that includes control of police stations and preparations for repeat parliamentary elections in the Bosnian Serb Republic. Raymond Bonner wrote yesterday in a news analysis that elections are critical but risky. He said: "With a combination of deft diplomacy and superpower might, the Clinton administration has vanquished Russia's attempt to block parliamentary elections in the Serbian region of Bosnia."

He wrote: "A parliamentary election is a critical part of a struggle by relative moderates in the part of Bosnia controlled by Serbs, led by President Biljana Plavsic, to wrest power from Serb hard-liners, led by Radovan Karadzic, the war-time leader who has been indicted on war-crimes charges.

The war between the political factions has included battles over control of the airwaves and police stations, with NATO forces frequently intervening in recent days on Ms. Plavsic's behalf. "But diplomats said on Sunday that anxieties remain about whether the elections can be carried out without undue violence. And the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which will oversee the process, feels that it is being pushed into an election that will cost at least ten-million dollars without adequate thought being given to the risks. The organization's major concern is whether the hard-line Bosnian Serbs will cooperate."

INDEPENDENT: Britain has stepped in to help broadcasters sidestep the problems

A news analysis today by Steve Crawshaw writes about a different battle in the TV wars. In Bosnia, peacemakers are trying to keep anti-Dayton Bosnian Serbs off the air. In Serbia proper, the British, at least, are working to keep independent broadcasters on the air, Crawshaw says.

He writes: "The Serbian government has often sought to make it difficult for independent broadcasters to reach their audience. (What are termed) technical failures tend to be more political than technical Stations critical of the government find it difficult to get a license.

"Britain has stepped in to help broadcasters sidestep the problems caused by the Belgrade regime. A respected independent radio station, B92) has begun to receive crucial help -- via the BBC with the active support of the British government."

NEW YORK TIMES: Djukanovic' s victory spells political trouble for Milosevic

Across the way in rump Yugoslvia (Serbia and Montenegro) former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic seems to be taking political setbacks. Lee Hockstader says the president-elect of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, comprises a serious setback. He writes: "Montenegro is the smaller of the two republics that make up what remains of federal Yugoslavia, and the victory there of (Djukanovic), a flashy young businessman who defeated a Milosevic ally, spelled political trouble for Milosevic and his Socialist Party.

"The result is the third major recent setback for Milosevic, whose authoritarian style and decade-long grip on power have made him an awkward but indispensable interlocutor for Washington in the Balkans. In the past month, Milosevic's party lost its parliamentary majority in Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, and his handpicked protege failed to win the Serbian presidency. The victory of Djukanovic in Montenegro further weakens Milosevic's standing and leaves him in a vulnerable position in Yugoslavia's federal parliament, which elected Milosevic to his current post and has the power to dismiss him."

DIE WELT: Milo the Knife has been in many battles and has won the lot

Boris Kalnoky writes today that Djukanovic considers Milosevic yesterday's man. He says: "Almost no one in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica refers to the new president as the president. Even his family name is hardly used when he is talked about in the cafes or at the market place. Milo Djukanovic, 35, is simply Milo -- or the Knife. Milo the Knife has been in many battles and has won the lot. The latest was the battle for the presidency of Montenegro. The path to it was lined with pitfalls but pitfalls are something he knows how to get around."

Kalnoky says: "Djukanovic intends holding early parliamentary elections next spring. If he emerges from these as a winner, he will be able to use the upper house to block the work of the entire federal parliament -- the body Milosevic depends on now that his Socialists were unable to secure a majority in the Serbian parliamentary elections a month ago. For all the dryness of the possible parliamentary permutations, they must sound to Milosevic ominously like a political death knell. The real power in Yugoslavia comes from Serbia, but the Socialists no longer have a parliamentary majority there; neither have they a reliable coalition partner."
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