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Western Press Review: Milosevic Strikes, EU Integration

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 18 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- "Milosevic Strikes" is the title of the Irish Times' editorial on yesterday's crackdown on independent media by Serbian police in Belgrade. Our selection of Western press opinion today includes other comments on what is perceived as increasing repression by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime. There are also comments on the European Union's difficulties in achieving greater internal integration.

IRISH TIMES: Latest events may signify the approach of a final struggle

The Irish Times cites a human-rights observer who describes Milosevic's action as "a move from covert to overt dictatorship." The paper says there were "many international voices condemning the closure of the independent broadcasting station Studio B, the victimization of an independent newspaper, and the arrest of over 20 journalists. The moves come following a significant buildup of opposition protests against the Milosevic regime, which have managed to unite previously hostile factions of his opponents."

The editorial goes on: "It is one of the paradoxes of contemporary Serbia that Milosevic's dictatorial rule has co-existed with a lively movement of opposition against him, [especially] in the capital Belgrade. In recent months a radical youth movement, Otpor [Resistance], has emerged, using flamboyant methods of protest against Milosevic's supporters. Rallies of 100,000 people have been held, and these latest moves [against the press] seem sure to fan the flames of opposition further."

"This," the paper argues, "raises the prospect that a real opposition movement could threaten Milosevic's hold on power in general elections later this year. It would be fuelled by collapsing support among a population exhausted by wars and sanctions." It sums up: "Events could [move] fast on the heels of [the] public closure of the broadcasting station by heavily armed special forces. A [government] statement justified it because the station was said to have called for the violent overthrow of legitimate authorities, which the opposition denies. [But] these events may signify the approach of a final struggle to rid Serbia of such a destructive leader."

DIE PRESSE: Milosevic is growing nervous

In a commentary for the Austrian daily Die Presse, Wieland Schneider says that "Milosevic is growing nervous." He writes: "Critics of the regime are hauled into prison, opposition radio stations are occupied, demonstrations in Milosevic's home town of Pozarevac are prohibited. The Serbian leadership is slowly becoming unnerved -- although at first glance there is no apparent reason [for its anxiety]."

Schneider cites as evidence predictions that a Belgrade opposition demonstration on Monday would bring some 100,000 into the streets, whereas only about 15,000 or 20,000 turned up. This lower turnout, he adds, was despite the appeal of the most important opposition leaders, who had called for an anti-Milosevic demonstration.

Even so, the commentary adds, the Serbian leadership "is worried about the growing student opposition group known as Otpor which -- unlike the larger opposition parties -- is not damaged by inner strife." It also says: "Another murder [on May 13] of one of Milosevic's close associates has shaken the political establishment. The murders indicate the regime itself may explode. Serbs may have a hot summer."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Milosevic clings to power

A news analysis by Richard Boudreaux in the Los Angeles Times is less optimistic about prospects for ending Milosevic's rule in Yugoslavia. Describing Milosevic as "a political master in war and peace," he writes: "Nearly a year after surviving NATO's 11-week air assault, Milosevic clings to power in defiance of peacetime pressures that many Serbs thought would finish him off." He continues: "Tightening control over an isolated, enfeebled economy, his government has repaired some of the worst damage, revived a few key enterprises and pulled Serbs through winter with just enough food and heat. Threats, harassment and arrests hamper a democratic movement that set out last summer to topple him with peaceful rallies."

Boudreaux goes on to say: "Milosevic's endurance is sobering for Western leaders. [They] had predicted that he would succumb quickly to popular dissatisfaction over NATO bomb damage, U.S. and European economic sanctions and an international [war-crimes] indictment." But so far, he adds, "those pressures have only raised the stakes for the reclusive 58-year-old strongman in a political game that he still excels at after more than 12 years in power in Serbia and the Yugoslav federation."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Even fragile visions of the EU's future are welcome

There is continuing commentary today on last week's proposal by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer for giving the European Union a functioning government on the federalist model within the next 10 years. In a news analysis for the International Herald Tribune, John Vinocur writes: "The idea of a dynamic EU, growing in confidence and respect, has taken such a battering in recent weeks that even fragile visions of its future get welcomed as relief from the EU's often spiritless trudge. This," he says, "is the context, and most of the meaning, [of Fischer's proposal]."

Vinocur continues: "The background in Brussels for [Fischer's] speech edges close to real distress. From executives of the European Commission, the community has heard this spring that its biggest member states are playing for themselves. Under present house rules, the current line goes, plans for expansion eastward are rated as close to unmanageable." He adds: "Most of all, the euro's descent -- combined with the incapacity of the [EU's] governmental and banking elite to talk or nudge the common currency upward again -- has done real damage to the EU's belief in itself as a coherent political and economic force."

Vinocur calls Fischer's speech "an indirect response" to this EU despondency, and describes it as "special in its honesty. It acknowledged," he says, "the EU's difficult times, and said enlargement to include 13 more East European [and other candidate] members could cause severe crises." He praises what he calls Fischer's "underlying frankness [in talking] of a two- or three-stage process going beyond the next decade, in which sovereignty would be shared out between the EU and its national members."

"In outlining all this," Vinocur adds, "[Fischer] could not come up with a way of avoiding the concept of a federation, the dreaded 'f-word' of sovereignists on the Continent and British anti-Europe politicians. And to set a path for accomplishing it, Fischer went back to the old idea of a group of hard-core countries, including the EU's founder members, serving as an avant-garde to move the project forward."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Fischers ideas have come at the right time

In a commentary for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Gerd Kroencke says that Fischer's idea might strengthen ties between Germany and France -- the EU's traditional bilateral motor of integration -- which have cooled in recent years. He writes: "In France, advocating ideas like Fischer's has so far been the province of veterans of the long movement toward European union, the domain of people like Jacques Delors or Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who was president 20 years ago and who still keeps pushing the idea of European unity forward. Just a few days before Fischer's Berlin speech, he once again proposed the idea of a single constitution for all of Europe."

But, Kroencke adds, neither conservative French President Jacques Chirac nor Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin have been known as what he calls "unconditionally enthusiastic Europeans. Chirac," he notes, "limited his support for the [1991] Maastricht Treaty [that created the EU] to an unenthusiastic 'yes,' while Jospin barely managed a 'well, yes, but.'"

Now, the commentator goes on, "both of them share a duty to make the French EU presidency [that begins July 1] a success. Fischer's ideas will not help them with that," he acknowledges, "but everyone now knows that the German's ideas have struck a sympathetic chord in high circles in France. "They've come at the right time," said Francois Hollande, the head of France's Socialists. The ideas are welcome, he says, because 'to create favorable conditions for a European federation, the driving force of both Germany and France will be needed.'"

FINANCIAL TIMES: Franco-German relations have fallen into disrepair

In Britain's Financial Times, an analysis by Robert Graham and Haig Simonian takes an entirely different view of Paris-Berlin relations, underlining what they see as "the weakening axis between France and Germany." In Paris, they write," the description most frequently heard is 'en panne' Franco-German relations -- the powerful motor driving postwar European integration -- have fallen into disrepair."

The analysts note that Fischer explicitly stated last week that, in his words, "no European project will succeed in the future without the closest Franco-German cooperation." The speech, they say, "was welcomed in Paris as an attempt to revitalize the debate on Europe. But the French," they add, "remain wary of Mr. Fischer's federalist aims and are conspicuously lacking in any broad new vision of Europe."

They go on to say: "French officials insist the two [governments] are at last working together better. And in some ways they are. In the short term," they continue, "that may mean a smooth French presidency of the EU. But in the longer term, they add, "France may have to accept that the postwar understanding it enjoyed with Germany has gone for good." The analysis concludes: "Inevitably, a more powerful and emancipated Germany will re-examine such a privileged partnership. Relations with Paris will not necessarily be downgraded in favor of London or Washington, but while Berlin [is changing] it is Paris that will have to make the real accommodation to avoid friction in the heart of Europe."

WASHINGTON POST: The true brilliance of Mr. Fischer's speech was to wrap some hard truths about Europe's transformation

Washington Post foreign-affairs correspondent Jim Hoagland is also concerned with Fischer's remarks and with the state of Franco-German relations. In a commentary, he praises Fischer's speech for being "so thoughtful and unconventional that [he] said he was not speaking as a foreign minister at all, but as a citizen." Fischer, Hoagland continues, "then dared utter support for a written constitution for an eventual federation of nations that could become a sort of United States of Europe."

The commentary goes on: "The true brilliance of Mr. Fischer's speech was to wrap some hard truths about Europe's transformation in shining words: Promised expansion to Eastern and Central Europe will be slow, difficult and uneven. A core of EU countries must unite in a new treaty arrangement within the EU treaty. The sagging common currency known as the euro must be better managed by a European government. These conclusions were sketched without any detail, but their outlines were clear."

Hoagland says that French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine "was quick to welcome Mr. Fischer's ideas, which will animate political debate in Europe for months to come. But," he adds, "the French diplomat [in an interview with Hoagland] also stressed they were not formal proposals that European governments will take up at their high-level review of the EU at the end of the French presidency. The French," Hoagland sums up, "do not want their hands tied in that review."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report)