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Western Press Review: Serbia Votes, Globalization's Prospects

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 22 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Our selection of Western press commentary today focuses on two quite different subjects. One is tomorrow's parliamentary elections in Serbia, which several commentators see as a key part of Yugoslavia's continuing democratization. The other subject -- appropriate as the year 2000 comes to an end -- is the prospects for economic, and spiritual, globalization.


An editorial in Britain's Daily Telegraph says that tomorrow's Serbian elections "mark the end of the transition that followed the fall of Slobodan Milosevic. The result - - victory for the 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or DOS, defeat for Milosevic's Socialists - is not in doubt. The interest lies in what flows from it."

The editorial goes on: "Vojislav Kostunica's accession to the Yugoslav presidency was a watershed in the decade-long disintegration of the old Titoist federation. Yet, since the revolution of October 5, he has chosen to proceed with caution. The former dictator, an indicted war criminal, has not been charged." It adds: "[The] main ministries are run by an awkward coalition of the DOS, the Socialists and the Serbian Renewal Movement."

"Victory for the [DOS]." the editorial argues, "will allow the new government to tackle in earnest the rescue of the republic from the slough of economic collapse and lawlessness into which it sank under Milosevic. However," it points out, "despite Mr. Kostunica's exceptional popularity, his rule will not be unchallenged. The 18-party grouping is certain to splinter."

The paper writes further: "Zoran Djindjic, the brains behind it, is no friend of the president and, enjoying the executive authority that comes with the prime ministership of Serbia, will be an alternative source of power. The president will have to ensure that his own men within the next ruling coalition keep Mr. Djindjic in check. There is even a danger," it says, "that Mr. Kostunica, like Mikhail Gorbachev when the Soviet Union disappeared, will find himself without a job."

The editorial sums up: "Tomorrow's elections will give the winners the authority to do away with several post-revolutionary anomalies. Those tainted by close association with the previous regime should be sacked. And their fountain-head, Milosevic, if not delivered to The Hague for what he ordered in Kosovo, should be charged with crimes within Serbia itself. In that way, Mr. Kostunica will be able to reinforce his moral stature as the man who plucked the republic from the abyss. Given the rocky road ahead, he will need every inch of it."


The British weekly Economist says that, "barring some extraordinary upset, Serbia's general election [should] represent another milestone in one of this year's happier developments on the international scene -- the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic, and with it the defeat of the thuggish and sleazy authoritarianism he personified. Mr. Milosevic's Socialist Party, a machine for power-brokering and money-making over the past decade, will see a plunge in its support," the magazine believes, "though it may continue to play some role as a trouble-maker and spoiler. Almost certainly, a broad, ramshackle coalition of anti-Milosevic parties will be left in control of the main institutions in Serbia."

The editorial goes on to point out some likely post-election problems in Serbia: "At present, "it says, "whoever may hold the trappings of political office in Belgrade, much power is wielded, in practice, by criminals of one stripe or another. A change of guard at the top -- whether of the Serbian government or of the Yugoslav federation -- will not change that situation automatically."

The weekly adds: "Apart from politicians tainted with crime, Serbia is awash with criminals pure and simple. [In] Serbia a decade of international sanctions offered especially favorable ground for smugglers and racketeers. In an unreformed, ill-regulated state, where legitimate economic activity is crushed or distorted, criminals with political connections are often the only sort of 'private sector' that flourishes. In this respect," the editorial says, "Serbia may yet mimic post-communist Russia, where democratic euphoria soon gave way to a belief that criminals rich enough to buy and sell any politician or party were the real powers in the land."

"What can Serbia's new rulers do about this? " the editorial asks in conclusion. "Although their task is huge," it says, "they also have a huge opportunity to ride the crest of a wave of popular demand for cleaner, decent government. The scale on which the Milosevic gang stole money and siphoned it off to distant places is still relatively little known to most Serbs. [With] steady nerves," it sums up, "Serbia's new rulers should be able to use that indignation to win backing for their efforts to hold the miscreants to account in a proper, legal way. It should even be possible to send those wanted for war crimes to The Hague."


In a commentary for the French daily Liberation, Balkan-affairs analyst Yves Tomic says that the old image of "bloodthirsty" Serbs now no longer carries much weight. The country, he says, has begun its own democratization.

Tomic writes: "The [historic] question of the Serb nation does not figure in the DOS' [electoral] program. [Even] the question of Kosovo is not among the principal preoccupations of Serb citizens, who aspire now above all to a normal and peaceful life. Recent polls taken by the Belgrade Institute for Social Studies show," he notes, "that nationalism and xenophobia are losing their appeal to Serbs."

Since Kostunica became president two months ago, Tomic goes on to say, "the DOS has only partially controlled [Yugoslav] federal institutions and still does have majorities in key political bodies. But that won't be the case," he continues, "after this weekend's parliamentary elections. Only after the DOS takes control of all the critical political gears of power in Serbia will it be able to implement its reforms -- and," the commentator adds, "only then will we be able to criticize it seriously."


Peter Finn says in the Washington Post that "the democratic coalition [DOS] that toppled Milosevic in the fall is widely expected to sweep the vote." But, in a news analysis from Belgrade, he adds: "The presumptive rulers-to-be of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, are so far ahead in the polls, in fact, that they're worried a sense of inevitability could lead some supporters to stay home."

Finn calls Milosevic's Socialist Party supporters "demoralized" and says they "have had little visibility during the campaign, limiting themselves to door-to-door campaigning and one television appearance by Milosevic. Scattered around Belgrade," he notes, "are Socialist posters with the plaintive slogan, 'It's Not Too Late.'"

But Finn, too, speaks of post-election problems in Serbia: "Once the opposition secures a majority in the parliament and ends an interim power-sharing arrangement with the Socialists there," he writes, "it will face a laundry list of deep problems. Not the least of them is how to hold the coalition together as it attempts to rebuild a shattered economy, reform corrupt state institutions and depoliticize the brutal security system that was at the foundation of Milosevic's rule. Milosevic's associates continue to head the secret police and the army, and the coalition has been divided over whether and when they should be purged."


In two comments today, the New York Times explores globalization's prospects and some of its problems. The paper's editorial examines what it calls "a dark side of globalization [ -- ] global money launderers," and warns of the "the spread of international crime cartels." It cites what it calls "a valuable new White House report [that] documents how the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lowering of trade barriers and advances in telecommunications have increased the reach of crime syndicates, from Russia and Eastern Europe to Asia, Latin America and the diamond-rich war zones of Africa."

The editorial recalls: "In the wake of the Asian and Russian financial crises and last year's Bank of New York scandal, in which Russian oligarchs moved thousands of millions [of dollars] through accounts at the bank, the Group of Eight industrialized countries started a campaign to 'name and shame' countries that were lax about laundering. The list," the paper adds, "included familiar targets like Panama and offshore havens in the Caribbean and the Pacific. It also included Israel, where banks have been suspected of laundering huge sums looted from Russia by Russian mobsters."

"The effort," the paper goes on, "has had results. Seven of the listed countries, including Israel, have enacted laws to criminalize money laundering and allow closer scrutiny of suspect bank accounts. But," it says, "America's own house is hardly in order. A recent [official] General Accounting Office report found it 'relatively easy' for foreigners to launder money through American banks. Such laundering is defined as a crime if the money comes from drug trafficking, terrorism or bank fraud. But profits from prostitution, extortion, smuggled immigrants and arms trafficking can still be laundered through an American bank with no consequence to either the bank or the depositor. Corrupt dictators and their business partners can still legally deposit their loot in American financial institutions."

The editorial concludes: "The Bush administration and Congress will need to plug the loopholes in America's own money-laundering statutes if there is to be real progress in combating global crime."


Also in the New York Times, foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman -- a long-time advocate of a globalized economy -- says that the United States' "overriding national interest today is 'sustainable globalization' -- sustaining this system from which America has benefited enormously and which has undergirded our political and economic interests around the world."

"How do we sustain it?" Friedman asks. "One way is by providing the security for all this global integration to continue -- beating back the bad guys in Serbia, Iraq and North Korea. Another way is with generous economic assistance programs, and support for the global development banks, to help others build the institutions they need to be successful at globalization and to cushion its negative social and ecological side effects. Still another way you sustain it," he adds, "is by supporting reasonable bailouts of key countries if they collapse in crisis, such as Mexico, Korea, Thailand and Argentina."

The commentary continues: "But the most important way to sustain this system is to keep the American economy healthy. With Japan faltering and with Europe growing slowly, America has been the buyer of last resort for much of the world. It is America's appetite for imports that has enabled countries like Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, South Korea and China to export their way into the globalization system, and to recover quickly from economic crises."

So, Friedman concludes, "the real stress test comes when, and if, America goes into recession. If that happens, America will be telling people to get with the program and downsize, streamline, marketize and democratize -- but we can't buy your stuff anymore. That would be [Washington's] nightmare," he says. "Not only will the global trend toward democratization and regional integration be stalled if the U.S. engine of global growth stalls, but you could see some serious instability, both within and between countries, from Latin America to Asia to the Middle East."


Finally, in a commentary for the Wall Street Journal Europe, chief editorial writer William McGurn sees both "a gospel of freedom" and another form of globalization in Pope John Paul's vision of the Third Millennium. Writing from Rome, McGurn says: "How felicitous it sounds in Italian: globalizzazione. And why not?" he asks. "For much of history, this was globalization. The outlines remain visible still [in Rome], in the marble of Bernini and Michelangelo, in the Latin ringing the nave of St. Peter's, in the broken imperial columns that have not held a roof for 2,000 years. Respectively." he says, "they evoke what was once the world order: a common faith, a common language, a common law. The pilgrims who have filled the Eternal City this jubilee year remind us that it is also an order whose better angels retain a power to inspire."

"Clearly," McGurn argues, "Pope John Paul believes so. For when he looks out at the Third Millennium that begins this Christmas, he sees opportunity: the chance to restore man to his proper footing, in solidarity with his neighbor and obedience to the truth." McGurn adds: "Understandably, this has been read as -- at best -- an exercise in sentimentality or -- at worst -- a call for some Roman restoration. In fact, this 'civilization of solidarity' emanates from the human heart out rather than [from] some central authority down. And a recent Vatican conference suggest[ed] that a truly free and truly global economy may be one of its crucial ingredients."

McGurn acknowledges that the Pope -- like some anti-globalization protestors -- "insists that the [key] social question is the question of the market. Yet," the commentator concludes, "he understands that what keeps people poor and marginalized is not the advance of a free and open world market but their exclusion from it. [And] the Pope seems to see a truly open and global economy as a necessary if insufficient condition of any [civilization of solidarity]."