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Western Press Review: IMF And World Bank, Yugoslav Elections

  • Charles Recknagel

Prague, 25 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- With the IMF and World Bank set to begin the formal part of their annual meetings this week in Prague, newspapers devote considerable commentary today to the two institutions. The press also gives much attention to yesterday's presidential vote in Yugoslavia.


The Guardian writes today that the street protests in Seattle last year led everyone to expect the worst for the World Bank and IMF meetings in Prague. But so far there have been no violent confrontations in the Czech capital, where the anti-Globalization forces have yet to make their presence felt. Instead, the Guardian, says, the activism so far has been on the part of representatives of the world's seven strongest economies (G-7) who met in Prague on Saturday. The paper writes that "suddenly 'intervention' is no longer a dirty word. The G-7 action to prop up the euro and bring down the oil prices ... underlined a welcome return to a more activist approach." It concludes: "The importance of the actions is that they legitimize intervention in other spheres, from trade to environment ... there is a far greater willingness for action -- both individually and collectively -- to tackle market imperfections and market failures."


Italy's La Stampa today also salutes the G-7 finance ministers' activist approach. The paper called the ministers' support for the euro and their labeling high oil prices a danger to economic stability "appropriate economic intervention which gives direction to the global market and diminishes the serious risks which would accompany an economic recession in Europe and Asia." But the paper says the finance ministers of the G-7 and other countries who will meet together in IMF and World Bank forums this week will face another key challenge: how to reform the international monetary system to make it more stable and efficient. La Stampa concludes that this requires a better system for preventing economic crises or at least "managing them to better share their burden."


A commentary in today's Washington Post says that the IMF and the World Bank are being forced to rethink their approach to global lending as they are "driven by critics from left and right, as well as by their own uneven track records." The paper says that many in the institutions feel they have had little success in convincing recipient countries to accept macroeconomic advice along with money, and now feel they may have overreached in attaching conditions to loans. But the paper warns the bankers not to abandon what it calls "focused lending." It suggests that the "best way to get results from aid, and so to build support for it in the West, is to seek enlightened governments and then back them generously." The commentary concludes: "That means sticking to tough macroeconomic conditions that good governments should want to meet and keeping development objectives simple."


Meanwhile, Czech commentary today focuses on tensions in Prague as security tightens ahead of large street protests expected during the next three days. The Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes writes that "thanks to the sharpshooters on the roof of the Congress center, the shop windows hastily covered with plywood ... and a general feeling of fear, the whole sense of this gathering of the representatives of the world's most powerful countries is beginning to escape us." The editorial says that for most people in Prague, the only welcome things the meetings brings is the prestige of hosting a global forum plus direct income for the city's hospitality industry. But, it continues, the Czech Republic should also take comfort from the fact that the meeting is a sign the country is moving from being a recipient of loans from global institutions to becoming a country which provides money to lend others. The paper says: "soon we will receive the official stamp that the Czech Republic is one of those countries whose responsibility it is to help others, and that we should drop off the list of those waiting for help."

Turning to yesterday's elections in Yugoslavia, many papers question whether incumbent president Slobodan Milosevic will allow a fair counting of the ballots. Both government and opposition supporters are already claiming a majority of the vote.


British daily the London Times writes in a commentary that "Milosevic could well provoke war to keep himself in power." It says even before the first vote was cast, Yugoslavia's election was deeply flawed because "the opposition was denied broadcasting time, its rallies disrupted, supporters beaten and potential voters disenfranchised." The paper continues: "faced with the unforeseen revolt against his dictatorship and the quiet, unifying bravery of [opposition candidate] Vojislav Kostunica, President Milosevic cast aside any pretence of holding a fair contest and ended his campaign with taunts, threats and military maneuvers intended to intimidate all those who would block his return to power." The Times concludes that if those pre-election strategies do not pay off, Milosevic has still another card to play. The paper warns: he could stir up conflict in Montenegro "as a pretext ... to impose a state of emergency, override the election results and maintain himself in power."


Britain's Independent sees another sign of Milosevic intending to steal the election in Belgrade's expulsion of a large group of foreign journalists just a day ahead of the poll. The paper says in a news analysis that "the country has never been so polarized between pro- and anti-Milosevic groups, and the presidential rivals have both described the polls as a referendum." It continues: "all the major opinion polls gave Mr. Kostunica a six to ten percent[age point] advantage, but almost all observers are expecting the government to rig the vote if it is not favorable."


France's daily Liberation congratulates opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica on what it says was a good and convincing campaign showing Yugoslavia has an alternative to Milosevic. The paper says: "This 56-year-old lawyer has already won the challenge [because] in the eyes of a good part of his countrymen and of the international community he already embodies a legitimate authority, the authority of 'the other Serbia.'" The paper continues that Kostunica has found a "quiet nationalism" in which he successfully appeals to a population sill hurt by the NATO bombings by keeping a clear distance between himself and the United States. The paper concludes that the strategy has assured him a good share of the Serbian nationalist vote. And, it says, "at the same time, non-nationalists have voted for Kostunica without illusions ... first and foremost in the hope of finally getting rid of Milosevic."


In a news analysis today, the Wall Street Journal says the expected strong showing of Vojislav Kostunica yesterday "raised as many hopes among Serbia's long-frustrated democratic opposition of an end to Mr. Milosevic's rule as it did fears of electoral fraud, street protests and violence." It says that expectations and concerns are running high as Yugoslavs now await the next turn in the political drama. The paper notes that "Milosevic's government controls the police, claims the loyalty -- if not unquestioned or tested -- of the army, and dominates the media." But the opposition counts on a growing popular following in the large cities. The Wall Street Journal concludes that as both sides expect victory from the polls, "the key may not be how police and soldiers react in the event of a confrontation but how the people respond."

(NCA's Aurora Gallego contributed to this report)