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Western Press Review: Serbia Returns To Press Spotlight

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill



Prague, 9 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- As the rebuilding of Kosovo continues and as Serbs in other parts of Serbia demonstrate against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Western commentators renew the press spotlight on the Balkans. Chechnya and Belarus attract comment also.

TIMES: Disgust has conquered fear



From London, The Times says in an editorial that Milosevic this time may be in more difficulty than he can handle and Western governments ought to help make that so. The Times says: "Slobodan Milosevic reacts to trouble like a cork in a storm; the higher the wave, the higher the [Yugoslav] President floats." It says: "Yet the latest protests are different from anything that Serbia has experienced so far. [Protests aren't being] led by, and largely limited to, Belgrade students and intellectuals. People are rebelling both in towns run by the opposition and in regions that have been the bedrock of support for the regime."

The newspaper continues: "There is thus a chance that these massed protests could overwhelm even [Milosevic's] remarkable capacity to bribe and intimidate his way out. [It appears that] disgust has conquered fear; but this is not necessarily, or not yet, a demand for democratic renewal of the kind Western governments hope for. Serbia, as pro-democracy leader Zoran Djindjic says, is a paranoid and brutalized society 'where the center is smaller than the extremes.' The question for the West is how to help Mr. Djindjic's Alliance for Change convert anti-Milosevic resentment into positive support for "an open society, integrated into Europe."

NEW YORK TIMES: A quick change in leadership is unlikely

Across the Atlantic, The New York Times, agrees. In its editorial, the U.S. newspaper says: "Even some of Slobodan Milosevic's strongholds are now the scene of large street rallies calling for him to step down, [and] while this display of clear thinking by ordinary Serbs is cheering, it is not likely to result in a quick change in leadership. He has faced widespread protests in the past and outwitted his opposition, and he holds the power to do so again."

The editorial says: "[However], he is a wanted war criminal, and NATO should be ready to arrest him if it can. The West should also be helping the independent media to resume broadcasting, perhaps from Montenegro, and encouraging a united opposition. But democracy in Serbia cannot come from outside. The opposition must learn from its mistakes."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: It would be premature to think that President Milosevic's fall is imminent

Denmarks Berlingske Tidende also concurs. It says in an editorial: "Apparently, most [Serbs] are beginning to realize the scope of the tragedy, which they have been driven into, [but still] it would be premature to think that President Milosevic's fall is imminent."

The newspaper says: "While the domestic opposition grows, NATO and the West must continue with their pressure on Serbia. This means that NATO countries must refrain from creating doubts about the good cause by, for example, lifting sanctions and sending aid to Yugoslavia even though Milosevic continues to be President. The same holds true for his indictment on war crimes. Every hint that the West might forgive will be interpreted as a sign that we may be giving up. We owe those Serbs who now see how badly they have been misled, all the help we can give them."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The butchers will never see the inside of a courtroom

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Stefan Ulrich writes from The Hague that war crimes investigators in Kosovo are passing up easier targets and concentrating on Milosevic. Ulrich writes: "The slaughter in [the Kosovar towns of] Velika Krusa and Mali Krusa is just one of the war crimes the Netherlands-based UN war crimes tribunal has to investigate in the wake of the Kosovo military action. The tribunal's working conditions there are better than they were in Bosnia, where investigators were unable to get to a crime scene for years after the actual crime, countries hesitated to part with classified information from their intelligence agencies and the UN Stabilization Force there shrank from arresting war-crimes suspects. In Kosovo, the suspects' trails are still warm and at least the Western nations are more co-operative. And the tribunal itself is better equipped -- and better funded -- than it was a few years ago."

The writer says: "The tribunal is limiting its evidence-gathering to areas relevant to the charges against Milosevic -- which means that as much as the survivors of Velika Krusa and Mali Krusa may hope their butchered relatives will get justice, the odds are that the butchers will never see the inside of a court room."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The spirit of secession has already spread

Another German newspaper, Frankfurter Rundschau, carries a commentary from staffer Stephan Israel, who visited Cetinje, Montenegro and found little hope that the Yugoslav opposition will bring Milosevic down in time to help Montenegro. If Citinje is a guide, Israel writes, many Montenegrins want their republic to get out of federal Yugoslavia while it can.

The commentator writes: "Infused with patriotic feeling, the shops and cafes here refuse to serve Milosevic's soldiers and the locals even claim to have pushed through a rule barring them from bearing arms in the town center."

He writes: "Belgrade reportedly has sent around 40,000 soldiers to problematic little Montenegro. And yet many people in Cetinje see the dream of a separate state just around the corner. The historic center of the former capital -- it joined the unified Kingdom of the Serbs, Croatians and Slovenes, as it was called, in 1918 -- is full of the traces of yesteryear. The former embassy buildings of the great powers are maintained to museum standards and its repository of civic treasures proudly displays the insignia of its long-departed sovereignty."

Israel says: "The spirit of secession has already spread to wide areas of the country." He adds: "The calculation is simple: after ten years of Milosevic and 78 days of NATO airstrikes, Serbia lies in ruins. Only by going it alone does Montenegro have the opportunity of achieving success by developing tourism and exports. [Montenegro] places little hope in the Serb opposition, which now hopes to topple the Belgrade autocrats through demonstrations. The demonstrations in Serbia are not being held because of war crimes but because Milosevic has lost too many wars. And Milosevic could let the entire Yugoslavia slide into chaos before he is deposed. Montenegrins want to maneuver themselves into a position of safety below the parapets before that happens."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Belarus has become a living memorial to the old empire

Commentator Daniel Broessler, in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, turns to another long-running topic -- attempts at forming a Russia-Belarus union. Broessler writes: "First the good news, runs a Moscow joke: Russia is bridging the gulf between itself and a western neighbor. The bad news is that the country concerned is Belarus."

Broessler continues: "It is now three years since Russia and Belarus proclaimed a union between their two countries. But their growing convergence in sovereign issues -- a common currency and single budget are apparently next on the list -- has so far brought nothing but hoots of derision from the outside world. The talk is of an alliance of have-nots, a federation in which the blind lead the lame. And rightly so."

The writer says: "Autocratically ruled by Soviet apparatchik Alyaksander Lukashenka, Belarus has become a living memorial to the old empire, replete with empty supermarket shelves, press censorship at the basest level and a suppressed opposition. Lukashenka's interest in the union is part of his declared ambition to take over as the future boss in the Kremlin. That Russian nostalgia will stretch that far though is highly unlikely."

DIE WELT: Chechnya remains Russia's soft spot

Jens Hartmann writes from Moscow in a Die Welt commentary that the embers of an old fire in Russia's Caucasus continue to glow. He writes: "A small area in the Caucasus remains Russia's soft spot. Nearly three years since the end of the war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, fighting has broken out again between Russian and Chechen units." Hartmann says: "While the Russian press is already referring to a new war and an opinion poll shows 55 per cent of Russians to be opposed to fighting in the Caucasus, Interior Minister Vladimir Ruskhailo seems to have committed himself. He plans pre-emptive strikes to forestall attacks on border posts by Chechen irregulars."

The German commentator says: "Russia has long lost control over the course of events in the breakaway republic. Anarchy reigns in Chechnya, a state with an Islamic constitution. [And] while Chechnya sees itself as an independent state, Moscow still considers it -- despite the border fence -- to be part of the Russian Federation."

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