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Western Press Review: Milosevic's Press Crackdown, Other Topics

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 19 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on independent media in Serbia evokes more commentary today in the Western press. There are also comments on Armenia, the European Union and Iran.

WASHINGTON POST: The outlook for democracy in Yugoslavia darkened considerably this week

The Washington Post says this in an editorial: "The already gloomy outlook for democracy in Yugoslavia darkened considerably this week when [President Milosevic] shut Belgrade's two main opposition-run broadcasting operations along with the popular newspaper, 'Blic.' These actions," the paper says, "were accompanied by a wave of arrests aimed principally at members of Otpor, a new and fast-growing student-based protest group that Mr. Milosevic's regime accuses of plotting his violent overthrow."

The editorial continues: "Elections are supposed to take place this year in Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia. This latest crackdown suggests that the vote will be anything but free and fair. Indeed, the regime may be planning an outright dictatorship in place of the superficially legalistic system it has employed to date." The paper adds that Milosevic may have "felt fortified by recent international events." It cites the U.S. Congress' adoption of a measure that could force U.S. peacekeepers out of Kosovo within two months and, particularly, Russian President Vladimir Putin's extension of what it calls "moral and material support to Belgrade."

Putin, the editorial notes, welcomed the Yugoslav defense minister, an indicted war criminal, to Moscow, and extended Yugoslavia a $102-million loan. "Now," says the paper, "the isolated Mr. Milosevic has what he needs most: a foreign patron. Thus," it adds, "did Mr. Putin demonstrate that his conception of restoring Russia's great power status includes violating his country's legal responsibility to enforce a valid international arrest warrant against a wanted war criminal."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Few sectors are under as much political pressure as the media

Britain's Financial Times carries a news analysis by Irena Guzelova that says: "This week's media clampdown [in Serbia] follows months of suppression of any words of dissent. In the past few days," the analyst recounts, "police have detained and released 27 journalists, and blocked access to Belgrade's biggest-selling daily newspaper ["Blic"]. In the southern town of Kraljevo, Miroslav Filipovic, a journalist for a local paper and stringer for AFP -- the French news agency -- was arrested and charged with espionage. Beta's correspondent in President Milosevic's home town of Pozarevac was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Three prominent newspapers were fined for reporting the attack."

The analysis continues: "Today the law is seen as a stick with which the government can beat Serbia's independent media -- nearly all the country's non-state media have been sued during the past two years. In a country where even judges are dismissed for attending opposition protests, few sectors are under as much political pressure as the media."

Only through support from foreign donors, Guzelova adds, are independent media able to survive in Serbia. She says: "International bodies including the European Union, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Norwegian People's Aid and Press Now, a Dutch non-governmental organization, have provided a cash lifeline to some media operators." She adds: "Few media outlets could survive without donor money, [and] foreign aid has helped multiply the number of newspapers and TV stations."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Yugoslavia is beset by a deadly disease

In a commentary for Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Peter Muench calls Yugoslavia "a nation under quarantine. The West," he says, "is looking on helplessly as Serbia destroys itself." Muench writes: "The sad fact for the rest of Europe is that events in Belgrade -- painted by some querulous voices there as the possible beginning of a civil war -- are completely out of Western hands. The old ties have been severed: since the war over Kosovo, diplomatic relations are non-existent." And, he adds, "as far as the opposition there is concerned, links are seen as no more than tenuous."

The commentary goes on: "In addition, there are well-founded doubts as to whether the opposition can ever be the motor that can bring lasting change to Serbia. [Opposition members] can call all they like for daily protests, to be carried [in their words] 'with all force' nationwide. But fresh in Western minds is their last gambit in autumn, which clearly showed that this only numbs the masses at home."

Muench then argues: "But there will be a change in Belgrade, sooner or later, because one is needed. The poverty and disintegration is too crass, and the regime's symptoms of internal collapse are too clear, finding their expression in the murder of the ruling elite's closest accomplices. Everyone knows," he says, "that Serbia is heading towards its final decline, but not everyone wants to go down with the ship. So if the opposition fails to bring about Milosevic's downfall, then the deepening rifts in the center of power there will topple the despot." He concludes: "The unsettling question in this scenario is what the price will be. Yugoslavia is beset by a deadly disease, but the state is in quarantine and unreachable for outside help."

GUARDIAN: Turkey's denial of a crime is also a denial of the multi-ethnic nature of the Anatolia

In other comments today, columnist Martin Woollacott of Britain's Guardian newspaper writes of the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks 85 years ago that Armenians consider to be an attempted genocide. He says in a commentary: "Armenians see themselves as a people who were almost destroyed, but whose plight was never fully acknowledged. They thus look on the horrors of the 20th century in a way both tearful and ironic, for the worst of those horrors may be said to have begun with them -- but sometimes it seems as if only they are aware of that fact."

Woollacott continues: "On the 85th anniversary of the massacres, change may finally be in prospect. That change," he says, "springs above all from an extraordinary effort among Armenians to rescue and deepen their own national memory of these events, in which the Armenian communities of eastern Turkey vanished, most of them killed, the rest expelled." He adds: "The remnant which escaped to other lands or survived under Soviet rule was too insecure to campaign in a systematic way for justice. [A] second generation, in Europe and especially the U.S., was above all concerned to be accepted and to achieve some degree of prosperity. The third generation [has] rediscovered the Armenian past and wants other peoples to rediscover it as well."

The commentary concludes: "There was a time, 20 years ago, when Armenian militants killed Turkish diplomats and bombed Turkish targets. The objective today is not to take revenge on Turks, but rather to turn them toward a fundamental revision of their idea of their own past." He sums up: "[Turkey's] denial of a crime [is] also a denial of the multi-ethnic nature of the Anatolia which was modern Turkey's inheritance from the Ottoman Empire. That denial has been equally evident in Turkey's refusal to give the Kurds any serious form of autonomy."

ECONOMIST: The commission is an institution on trial as never before

Britain's weekly Economist carries an editorial titled "The Void at the Heart of Europe" in its current issue (dated May 10-26). It writes: "Even the founding fathers of the European Union, France and Germany, seem unsure now what they want from it. The old imperative of post-war reconciliation has faded, and nothing comparable has taken its place." The magazine argues that "the hesitancy of the two big powers at the heart of Europe is bad news for the EU's central institution, the European Commission, which is both the civil service and the policymaker of the union. Once, France and Germany would defend the commission almost unconditionally, as their instrument. Now they too question its methods, its aims, its popularity, its value for money."

The editorial continues: "The commission, these days, looks a bit punch-drunk. It forfeited much of its authority and reputation last year," the Economist says, "when a previous team of commissioners resigned amid allegations of nepotism and petty corruption. The new team, under Romano Prodi -- a former prime minister of Italy -- took office last September. But, so far, the verdict is that the new commission is not pulling itself together as quickly and as surely as was hoped."

The magazine sees French and German notions of further EU integration eventually conflicting with the commission's interests. It writes: "[Most EU governments would prefer that] any further steps toward European integration should involve a transfer of powers to governments acting in concert, not to the commission." That means, the Economist says, that it is questionable whether the commission has any sort of future in its present form. "The EU needs a civil service of its own," it concludes. "But it does not obviously need forever a team of commissioners trying to make policy across the board in competition with ministers. Admit that, and the commission is an institution on trial as never before."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Iran is preparing, in cold blood, a crime against the Jews



Finally, a comment in the International Herald Tribune by Henri Hajdenberg -- president of the European Jewish Congress -- warns that in its current trial of 13 Iranian Jews for treason, Iran -- in his words -- "is preparing, in cold blood, a crime against the Jews." Hajdenberg says "the so-called 'justice system' of the ayatollahs is paving the way for an outrage not seen anywhere in the world since Stalinist times."

"The Iranian judicial authorities," the commentator goes on, "are doing even better than their Soviet counterparts did in the past: a trial behind closed doors, before a revolutionary court in which the only magistrate is both prosecutor and judge, and above all, the ultimate weapon: the televised 'confessions' broadcast to the Iranian population and relayed around the world." Hajdenberg adds: "This entire production bodes very ill indeed. Thrown as prey to the Iranian public's resentment, how could these Jews have the slightest chance of escaping alive from this loathsome trial? The gallows have already been raised."

He concludes: "In light of the looming tragedy, Iran must be formally warned that if this outrage is taken to its violent end, there will be consequences. The duty of humanitarian and democratic intervention must prevail."

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