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Western Press Review: Governments Respond To Balkan Protests

Prague, 15 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The newspapers comment today on yesterday's news that the ruling parties are beginning to concede to key opposition demands in both Belgrade and Sofia.

Many analysts write today that Serbia's opposition Zajedno (Together) coalition scored a major victory yesterday when electoral officials declared that the coalition had won November's local polls in Serbia's two largest cities, Belgrade and Nis.

LIBERATION: Belgrade is one crisis too many for the Serbian president

Helene Despic-Popovic says in the French paper today that the street protests in Belgrade are proving to be "one crisis too many for the Serbian president." She writes that the regime of Slobodan Milosevic has finished by giving in to the opposition which has denounced electoral fraud for the last 56 days." She says Milosevic's concessions are real because Belgrade and Nis are the "key stakes in the contest." She continues: "forced to choose between cutting himself off from the world ... to keep absolute power and reintegrating Serbia into the international community at the price of sharing (his) power, the Serbian president has finally chosen the second situation." But Despic-Popovic sounds a cautious note in concluding "it remains to be seen if the man who, in so many situations, has proven his capacity to rebound, will once again succeed in turning his defeat into victory or if, on the contrary, he has reached the end of his political career."

LONDON TIMES: Serbia is a land where the people are armed

A news analysis notes that opposition leaders have received the government's recognition of their wins in Belgrade and Nis with suspicion, and have vowed to continue mass protests until "there is full acceptance of all the original election results." Correspondent Anthony Loyd writes: "Mr. Milosevic is renowned for his 'cat and mouse' skills. There is real concern among the opposition that this latest announcement is an attempt by him to dupe most protestors into leaving the streets before he smashes the remnants with force." But Loyd says that "there is no doubt that the President is being forced to feel the political wind of change." He notes that Monday's Orthodox New Year's Eve rally was attended by perhaps half a million people, and was accompanied in Belgrade's suburbs by "long, chattering bursts of 'happy fire' from heavy machine guns and assault rifles in support of the demonstrators." Loyd concludes that the fire is a warning which Milosevic cannot ignore, that "this is a land where the people are armed."

NEW YORK TIMES: Serbia could unravel in the hands of fledgling democrats

Robert Kaplan comments today that opposition progress in Belgrade does not automatically guarantee democracy is gaining ground in Serbia. He writes: "(Serbia's) opposition figures do not boast impressive (democratic) credentials. The most that can said for (Zoran Djindic and Vuk Draskovic) is that they have shown less hostility to the West and to free market values than have Slobodan Milosevic's Communists. Kaplan also warns that "if Mr. Milosevic falls, Serbia could unravel in the hands of the fledgling democrats ... (and that) a power vacuum would allow warlords to run rampant through the former Yugoslavia, creating low-intensity conflict into the next century." But Kaplan concludes: "to stick with Mr. Milosevic is not an option. The democratic process is already under way, as the protests in the streets have revealed."

LONDON TIMES: Success in Belgrade will hasten the departure of Bulgaria's Socialists

In its editorial today, the paper says: "with the greatest reluctance, Mr. Milosevic at last appears resigned to ceding opposition control over Belgrade and Nis." The editorial continues: "this is only a tactical retreat, using legal smokescreens to blur the contours of each concession and thus deny his opponents a clear-cut political triumph. But people will not be fooled. Once it is confirmed he has given way, they will see their way to prying wide open the cracked edifice of his police state."

The paper welcomes the developments and says "it is the moment to pile on external pressure." Looking also at protests in Bulgaria, the paper says: "Success in Belgrade will hasten the departure of Bulgaria's Socialists, who have forfeited their democratic mandate by their incontinent and corrupt misrule."


Many papers comment on Bulgaria today in the wake of yesterday's news that Bulgaria's ruling party has agreed to hold early parliamentary elections by the end of this year.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The crisis is an economic and financial one caused by political impotence

An editorial in the paper warns that Bulgaria cannot afford to lose any more time if it is to rescue its ruined economy. The paper says "time is running out for Bulgaria, which risks a second default on its foreign debt in seven years unless it forms a government able to impose fiscal and monetary discipline." The paper continues: "the Bulgarian crisis is an economic and financial one caused by political incompetence ... the result of seven years of inept and sometimes corrupt government by politicians of both major parties." The paper concludes: "at this late stage Bulgaria cannot afford further delay while its rival politicians bicker over the terms of sharing power. A caretaker government is required urgently if default is to be averted." (An International Monetary Fund-recommended currency board to impose economic discipline) is a sensible measure. It must be introduced and made to work. Elections can then follow."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The fortunes of former Communists are declining

The paper says that recent events in the Balkans signal a tilting of the balance against ex-Communists in Central and Eastern Europe. An editorial today says: "the fortunes of former Communists in Eastern Europe since the revolutions of 1989 have waned and waxed and are again declining." It continues: "in recent months the balance in the ex-Soviet satellites has tilted against the former Communists thanks to changes in the Balkans, long regarded by the West as the poor relations of the reforming pioneers in Central Europe."

The paper concludes: "it is still too early to hail an anti-Communist triumph in the Balkans. Nevertheless it is possible to conclude that electorates in the former Soviet satellites, while nervous about rapid economic reform, are not prepared to tolerate the gross inefficiency that atavistic economic policies inevitably produce. That should give heart to the reformers and their supporters in the West."