Prague, 4 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic is coming under intense criticism in the Western press today for annulling opposition election victories in more than a dozen municipalities three weeks ago and ignoring the demands of tens of thousands of demonstrators to reverse the decision.
As Milosevic threatens tougher action against the demonstrators and his government has silenced the few independent media outlets in the country who have been accurately reporting on the Belgrade demonstrations, calls are increasing in the West for a sterner reaction against his authoritarian policies.
LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The demonstrations are a welcome dent in the armor of a ruthless politician
In its editorial today, the paper calls on Western countries to isolate Milosevic. It says: "It is imperative that the U.S. and the European Union maintain their pressure on the Serbian government. Mr. Milosevic has stolen the local elections from the people and should return them by accepting the results. If he does not, he should be punished by the reimposition of economic sanctions, relaxed in the wake of the Dayton peace agreement...The choice for...Serbia must be either integration with a largely democratic Europe or isolation in a Balkans which (its) present policies will continue to render chronically unstable. The demonstrations in...Belgrade are a welcome dent in the armor of (a) ruthless politician. They deserve every encouragement."
WASHINGTON POST/INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Dayton did not license Serbia to resume thuggish ways at home
The Post also urges the United States to support the democratic forces in Serbia. In an editorial, reprinted in the Tribune, it says: "Mr. Milosevic may be counting on the international sponsors of the Dayton peace accords - in order to preserve what gains have been achieved in Bosnia - to accept whatever he decides to do in Serbia. But the United States owes the Milosevic group nothing. The regime made an immense contribution to the Yugoslav debacle, and has done little on the key redeeming issues of war crimes, refugee return and open information. On the contrary, the regime owes the United States and its partners for their rescue of broken Bosnia...Dayton did not license Serbia to resume thuggish ways at home."
LE FIGARO: It is impossible to ignore the verdict of polls in Europe
Renaud Girard takes a similar track today. Girard writes: "In November of 1995, Mr. Milosevic signed the Dayton peace accord in order to have international sanctions against his country lifted. Today, he risks having them reimposed for having forgotten that it is not possible to impudently ignore the verdict of the polls in Europe."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Belgrade protestors burned an American flag in front of the U.S. embassy
Anthony Lewis takes the United States to task for not acting forcefully enough against Milosevic in a commentary, published today. Lewis says: "The United States has bowed to this man (Milosevic), who ruined his country and brutalized others, because Washington thinks he is needed to make the Dayton peace plan work. But Dayton is not working. And he has not helped to carry out its essential provisions for freedom of movement in Bosnia, return of refugees to their homes and arrest of those indicted for war crimes. We cannot be sure that a post-Milosevic regime would be better. But America has its own values to mind. When the people of East European countries rebelled against their rulers, they waved American flags as a symbol of their ideals. In Belgrade last week, protesters burned an American flag in front of the U.S. embassy."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The Balkans are not a lost cause
In a commentary titled The Tide may be Turning in the Balkans, Jonathan Eyal writes that despite Milosevic's crackdown on the media and the annulment of local election results, "the Balkans are not a lost cause. In nearby Romania, the opposition peacefully trounced the local Communist leadership at the ballot boxes, and starts governing this week in an atmosphere of national optimism hardly witnessed before in that country. And even in Bulgaria, which is still under the grip of former Communists, an opposition candidate won the recent presidential elections. If Western governments can help sustain local democratic forces, the Balkans can emerge from its current status as Europe's 'wild east.' All that is required is attention to details and a serious determination to remain engaged in the region."
The German press today focused on the wrap-up to the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which ended in Lisbon yesterday.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Summit is a stage in the development of a peaceful European order
The paper reports that German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel described the summit as "a stage in the development of a peaceful European order." This new "security architecture," the paper quotes Kinkel as saying, "will leave no single country marginalized or isolated."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The OSCE only draws the attention of government experts and research institutes
But Kurst Kister says the OSCE provides little more than a forum for discussion and nearly no protection for its members. He writes in today's paper: "In the public mind the OSCE is not perceived as a very active entity -- everyone has heard of it - vaguely, but it is considered that its activities draw attention of only experts in governments and research institutes."
Algerian Civil War
The civil war in Algeria is once again also getting attention from the Western press, as a result of last week's referendum which gave the president new powers and outlawed religious and regional parties.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The principle of democratic legitimacy in a multiparty system seems irreversible
In a commentary titled "Algeria Stumbles Toward Democracy," writer Roger Kaplan says: "Faced with widespread violence, the government's response may be characterized as fight and vote. While it is true that the amended constitution weakens Parliament, in relation to the president, the principle of democratic legitimacy in a multiparty system seems irreversible...The next few months should give some indication of whether Algeria will ever be democratic, multicultural and secular at the same time. The government has promised legislative elections in the first half of 1997. If they're held fairly -- a big if -- Algeria may yet offer the world cause for optimism."
LONDON INDEPENDENT: Terrible stories are emerging from villages
But Robert Fisk had a different view of the situation from inside Algeria. One of the very few Western reporters in the country, Fisk describes a bloody and confusing civil war where little factual information is available and rumors fuel the battle which has so far claimed 50,000 lives. He writes: "From the villages beyond Sidi Moussa...terrible stories are emerging, more frightful than any that have yet come out of Algeria's secret war. The Islamic Armed Group (GIA), one rumor says, moved into the villages on the Col de Deux Bassins...and cut the throats of up to a hundred men, women and children at the weekend. 'The government doesn't want the news out yet because it will cast a bad reflection on last week's referendum,' an Algerian businessman had told us two hours earlier. When we asked the commandant about reports of the...massacre, he raised his eyebrows. 'We received information that four men from Sonagaz had their throats cut around there. Nothing more.'"