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Western Press Review: Milosevic Extradition, Macedonia

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 29 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Today's Western press focuses on the Balkans, as former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic is transferred to The Hague for trial on war crimes charges. Several commentators examine what this latest development means for Yugoslavia's future on the Continent, as the nation appears to yield to Western pressure and thus moves closer to the European mainstream. Others consider what effect the extradition will have on Serbian society, as a symbol of their troubled past is removed from their midst. Analyses also examine the situation in Macedonia in light of Milosevic's transfer to the war crimes tribunal, with some suggesting that his detention at The Hague should strengthen international resolve not to allow another Balkan conflict to spin out of control.


An editorial in "The Times" calls Milosevic's extradition "more than an extraordinary event in the recent history of the Balkans. [It] is proof positive that Serbia is willing to shed its past and fully embrace democratic Europe."

However, "The Times" notes that, in accord with President Vojislav Kostunica's initial conviction that Milosevic be tried in Yugoslavia, "there was also a perfectly respectable case for placing Mr. Milosevic on trial at home first on credible charges of corruption and the misuse of public office. This process would have outlined to all but the most fanatical admirers of the ex-president that he has abused his own people as well as perpetrated aggression in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo."

Instead, "The Times" says, the Yugoslav authorities "overruled a cautious president" and pressed forward with the extradition. The paper writes that this development "has been portrayed purely as a response to the conditions laid down by a number of countries and the U.S. Congress to allow for the release of resources to Serbia [at the donors' conference today in Brussels]. There is truth in this [reasoning]," the Times says, "but the notion of a trade or a ransom being placed on Milosevic's head is crude and underestimates the extent to which Serbia is in the hands of men with democratic instincts."


An editorial in "The Economist" says that the Milosevic extradition should strengthen the West's resolve not to allow Macedonia to slide into an extended civil war between its ethic Albanian and Slavic populations. It writes: "Outsiders may well wonder whether it is worth persevering with their efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the benighted Balkans when, despite their best efforts, so many people there seem determined to kill each other. This, however, is not the time to give up," it says.

Milosevic did not have a monopoly on the politics of hatred, "The Economist" notes, adding: "His departure from the scene [will] in some ways make the business of peace-making more complicated. [To] put it cynically, the Western world's intervention in the Balkans was at its most successful when it mustered local coalitions to fight Mr. Milosevic. [Because he] was so dreadful, Western officials felt no compunction about fostering coalitions against him. And they could overlook the misdeeds of his enemies, such as the brutality of the Croats who stormed through Serb-held territory in 1995."

So far, "The Economist" continues, "outsiders have failed to produce an ideal outcome [in] Macedonia, but they have at least managed to stave off the worst: Macedonia has not, as yet, suffered any horrible massacres."


An editorial in "The New York Times" calls the transfer of Milosevic to The Hague "a monumental leap." The paper writes: "A man accused of planning and instigating some of the most heinous crimes in recent years has fallen from near-absolute power to face justice for his acts. [Just] nine months ago Mr. Milosevic was an omnipotent dictator. His transfer to a jail cell [is] a historic moment and an affirmation of the importance of international justice."

The paper notes that while President Kostunica had wanted Milosevic to face charges in Yugoslavia, "more Western-oriented politicians, led by Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic of Serbia, orchestrated his transfer to The Hague." It writes: "Disagreements about Mr. Milosevic's transfer are likely to set off a political crisis in Yugoslavia. But the extradition may help calm passions in neighboring Macedonia, as it reminds government officials there that they, too, may be called to account for war crimes."


A news analysis by Claire Trean in the French daily "Le Monde" says that "if Slobodan Milosevic is at The Hague today, it is not because of the French foreign office." She writes that in contrast to the unrelenting pressure to extradite Milosevic put on Yugoslavia by the United States, France and other Western European nations took a more cautious stance. Trean adds that even after Milosevic's arrest, which proved that he no longer enjoyed popular support, "the European Union maintained its [position], which consisted of 'relying' on the Yugoslav authorities and in granting them an indefinite [period of time]" to bring him to justice.

This, she adds, was a source of great displeasure to the chief prosecutor of the UN tribunal, Carla Del Ponte. Trean writes: "The [prosecutor] notably reminded [the EU] that it had [shown] less [understanding toward] Croatia, not hesitating to make cooperation with the [international court] a condition of its economic assistance to Zagreb."


A news analysis by Michael Dobbs in "The Washington Post" looks at the reasons behind Milosevic's fall from power, saying that certain strategic miscalculations by the former Yugoslav leader led to his downfall. A year ago, Dobbs writes, "Slobodan Milosevic was still riding high as president of Serb-led Yugoslavia. [It] was at this point Mr. Milosevic [made] a fundamental tactical mistake. [Convinced] that the Serbian political opposition was too weak [to] represent a serious challenge, [he] entrusted his fate to Serbian voters, calling presidential elections a year before he was [constitutionally] required to do so. To almost everyone's surprise," Dobbs continues, "the opposition managed to [win] in the September 24 election."

Even more surprising, Dobbs says, is that the results of the election were respected, helped along by street protests in Belgrade. He writes: "It was [the] sense that Serbs could never hope to find a way out of the economic morass as long as Milosevic remained in power that was probably the single largest factor in the opposition victory. [President Vojislav] Kostunica was able to defeat Mr. Milosevic at the polls by promising Serbian voters nothing more than 'a normal life in a normal country.'"


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Matthew Kaminski writes in a news analysis that "the transfer of Mr. Milosevic marks a high point in the eight-year history of the UN war crimes court, [which is] a novel experiment in international justice."

But Kaminski adds that what he calls Milosevic's "hasty departure" from Yugoslavia "caused a political storm [within the country], pushing the governing coalition to the brink of collapse." Still, with Western support from today's donors' conference a priority, Kaminski says, "Djindjic maneuvered to hand the former president over to the UN." He writes: "The extradition of Mr. Milosevic [has] proved politically and emotionally wrenching for Serbia. [Inside] the country, public opinion turned in favor of extradition in recent months as Serbian authorities unearthed new and shocking evidence of war crimes."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Thomas Schmid writes that Belgrade at first "took its time" in deciding to extradite Milosevic, but then the transfer "was suddenly executed with tremendous speed and without much legal ceremony. Serbia," he says, "wanted as quickly as possible to get rid of the fallen hero from an era that [had] ended so miserably."

In the end, he continues, "it was the 'Slobo factor' that accelerated Mr. Milosevic's extradition: The United States had made it unmistakably clear that reconstruction aid would only be provided after Mr. Milosevic's transferal. The government in Belgrade bowed to this pressure, [and] the wanted man was delivered to The Hague a few hours before the start of the donors' conference."

Of this trade-off, Schmid writes, "The new rulers in Belgrade cannot take pride in their critical integrity toward the past, but the success for international criminal law is unsurpassed."