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Western Press Review: Milosevic And The New 'Sick Man Of Europe'

Prague, 10 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The situation in Serbia is one of the major preoccupations of commentators in today's Western press.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Serbia needs help finding its way out of crisis

International diplomat and mediator Carl Bildt writes that Serbia is the prime candidate for the title "the sick man of Europe" -- a term often used late last century to describe the declining Ottoman empire.

Bildt says "hardly any other country in Europe faces such a massive and explosive combination of problems as Serbia," and events on the streets of Belgrade reflect a crisis which could have far-reaching consequences for stability in the Balkans. He says "the demonstrations, ostensibly about the results of the November 17 local elections, are a manifestation about the deep unease which is becoming stronger throughout Serbian society."

"Serbia needs help in finding its way out of its acute crisis and on to the path of sustained and serious reform. The alternative could be conflicts in the Balkans even bloodier and more brutal than in Bosnia," says Bildt, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The church will use its network to spread anti-Milosevic sentiment

A commentary by Ivo Gabara notes that the influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church is increasing -- as it always does in times of crisis -- and that this has serious implications for embattled President Slobodan Milosevic.

Gabara says the recent condemnation of the Milosevic government by the church's Holy Synod, and the army's refusal to become involved as an arbiter in the current crisis, have weakened Milosevic, indicating that his authority is probably eroding irreversibly.

Milosevic and the church "preach to the same flock," Gabara says, namely rural, "inner" Serbia. "Now it looks as if the church will finally use its network to spread anti-Milosevic sentiment throughout Serbia," he writes, "bypassing the iron hold that Mr Milosevic has on television."

"In fact the Holy Synod's condemnation of Belgrade's regime was driven by the lower clergy," he says, with Orthodox priests and nuns increasingly to be seen among the demonstrators in the street.

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Opposition access to the media will provide a safeguard against electoral cheating

Andrew Gumbel writes that according to sources in Belgrade, Milosevic appears on the verge of a major climbdown. Gumbel also believes that the last eight weeks of protests have badly eroded the President's authority, even within the ranks of his party, where members have spoken out against him.

"If Mr Milosevic does climb down," writes Gumbel, "it is by no means clear that he will be able to restore his tattered authority to survive the Serbian parliamentary and presidential elections due by the end of this year."

"Opposition control of the country's biggest municipalities will vastly extend their access to the media, and will provide an important safeguard against electoral cheating," he writes.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: A non-violent way out of the civil confrontation is important for the Balkans

Flora Lewis comments that it's too much to expect that the impasse in Belgrade will remain peaceful indefinitely. She says that it is still possible to organize a constitutional, non-violent way out of Serbia's civil confrontation.

"That would be of the greatest importance for the future development not only of Serbia but of the rest of ex-Yugoslavia and other troubled parts of the Balkans." She says the five-nation "contact group" which helped bring about the Dayton peace accords for Bosnia should be re-activated and put to work to defuse the situation in Serbia.


The Western press continues today to see omens in the renewed illness of Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

LONDON TIMES: Moscow's Central Clinic Hospital has become Yeltsin's second home

Richard Beeston and Robin Lodge note that "only two weeks after the Russian leader, describing himself as 'fighting fit,' promised to start 1997 with vigorous leadership, his new year's resolution is in tatters as he fights off pneumonia in the Central Clinical Hospital, which has become his second home."

HANDELSBLATT: The relative political calm of recent months has probably passed

Markus Ziener comments that the President's public relations strategists had previously been able to relax in the knowledge that Yeltsin's heart trouble had been cleverly dealt with earlier in the year. "The public's latent annoyance over being fed disinformation on the seriousness of the President's condition had been skillfully turned into sympathy for Yeltsin," Ziener writes.

But with Yeltsin's new health complications the public mood could be reversed, as the full extent of the drama in Russia's top leadership becomes evident. "If the President's heart bypass operation had held out hope that Yeltsin could again take the reins as an energetic president, that hope is now finally passed," he says. "And because of that, the relative calm of recent months in the country's political stage is also probably passed."

FINANCIAL TIMES: It is unwise to write off Yeltsin

A different note is struck by John Thornhill in a commentary. He says: "It is unwise to write off Boris Yeltsin, no matter what challenges may stand in his way. The Russian President has built his career confounding those who have consigned him to the margins."

"No one should discount the possibility that Mr Yeltsin will battle through his present illness to complete his four-year term."

But even Thornhill strikes a cautious note, when he writes: "Then again, only cats have nine lives. Every successful challenge Mr Yeltsin surmounts makes it less likely he will endure the next -- statistically, at least."

"More and more Russians now appear to be reconciling themselves to life after Boris. There is again a palpable twitching of nostrils as potential candidates scent the possibilities of a succession race."

LONDON TIMES: Patients remain at great risk for at least a year

A medical doctor, Thomas Stuttaford, writes that "political expediency rather than a reasoned medical approach may explain the optimism of Yeltsin's doctors and colleagues about his lung complications." Stuttaford says that although Yeltsin has made a good recovery from his heart surgery, "statistics show that patients remain at great risk for at least a year after a coronary thrombosis."