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Western Press Review: Balkans Crises Continue

Prague, 17 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Press commentary today focuses on the continuing political crises in Belgrade and Sofia. Some commentators also look at the signficance of the approaching next millenium, which begins with the year 2001.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Milosevic's smoke and mirrors

The Chicago Tribune today analyzes the long-term intentions of Serbian President Solbodan Milosevic, who appeared earlier this week to be softening his stand on opposition wins in Serbia's local elections. Correspondent Tom Hundley writes: "on Tuesday it looked like a major concession by ... Milosevic: local electoral commissions in Serbia's two largest cities - Belgrade and Nis - backed down and declared that the opposition coalition had won in the Nov. 17 elections after all. But two days later, it (looks) more like smoke and mirrors from (the) regime."

Hundley observes that "yesterday was supposed to be the deadline for Milosevic's Socialist Party to appeal the electoral commission decisions. But the decisions were not put in writing until after the deadline passed, apparently giving Milosevic another 48 hours to decide."

Hundley concludes that Milosevic's strategy toward the opposition now may to buy time and sap the strength of the street protests by throwing the government-opposition dispute into the court system. He writes that with enough technicalities "court cases (can) take on eternal life in the Serbian legal system, which is probably what the Socialists are hoping for."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Belgrade crisis will drag on for months

Steve Crawshaw, correspondent for The London Independent writes today that the showdown between the opposition and the government will drag on for months. He predicts that Milosevic will propose many more vague compromises to the opposition, with the intention of exhausting the protestors while ceding as little power as possible. Having interviewed Zoran Djindic, one of three principal leaders of the opposition coalition Zajedno (Together), Crawshaw writes that Djindic believes that Mr. Milosevic, "a past master at divide-and-rule tactics" could try to sidetrack the opposition's victory in Belgrade by allowing "an interim government for the (capital), leaving the whole result in limbo." Crawshaw concludes that "like many in the opposition, Djindic seems to have resigned himself to waiting until elections this year for Mr. Milosevic's departure."

NEWSWEEK: Protesters have energy enough to preservere

This week's edition of Newsweek says Serbia's opposition protestors have the energy to continue demonstrating until Milosevic negotiates with them seriously. Rod Nordland writes: "No one expected the protests to last as long as they have ... but with every day, the protesters find a new tactic."

Nordland says one of the most effective, and longest-lasting tactics is the nightly drumming on pots and pans with which the protestors greet the nightly news on state controlled TV, which barely mentions their demonstrations. Nordland concludes: "That news-time cacophony is heard all over (Belgrade) now, a sure sign of the growing support for the demonstrators. Forty-three other towns are reporting demonstrations, too. How much longer can Milosevic continue to ignore them all before even his own police begin laughing at him?"


WALL STREET JOURNAL: Bulgaria faces difficult six months

Turning to Bulgaria, a news analysis in the Wall Street Journal today says that the crisis in that country shows few signs of letting up soon.

Correspondent Rebecca Patterson writes that "many insiders believe the small Balkan country, mired in its worst economic crisis since the fall of communism, will recover in time ... that is, before it defaults on debts, sinks into runaway inflation, and frightens off investors for years to come." But, she says, international banking officials predict that Bulgaria could face "a very difficult" next six months.

Patterson observes: "the root of (Bulgaria's) economic trouble is the lack of a credible, effective government" and "until steps are taken to set up a government willing to institute reforms, the International Monetary Fund has said it won't lend Bulgaria any more money." Meanwhile, Bulgarians ability to help themselves grows weaker, with the country's foreign reserves now down to some 518 million dollars, or about half the amount at the beginning of last year. Patterson concludes: "Bulgaria's economy -- as bad as it is -- may not have bottomed out (yet)."


LOS ANGELES TIMES: Millenium will bring crises, revolutions

As the new millenium -- which begins in the year 2001 -- approaches, commentators occasionally break away from the top stories of the day to speculate on the news events of the future.

The approaching milestone has prompted these thoughts from Kevin Phillips, commenting in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. He writes that no one should "underestimate the millennial wave that will sweep (the world during) the next years ... our coming psycho-voyage to the (next millenium) stands to be among the world's most important cultural, economic and political phenomena."

Phillips continues: "what can be predicted, with considerable precedent, is the intensifying recurrence in the next three years of the end-of-the-century pandemonium that always has been present ... in past "nineties"--from the 1490s down to the 1890s." He warns that an end-of-a-century historically brings "a mood in which crises, wars, panics and revolutions (can) all intensify." He cites as an example "the French Revolution, which began in 1789 and by 1800 had turned into the Napoleonic wars," and he observes that "the countdown to the wars and revolutions of the early 20th century, from St. Petersburg and Constantinople to Vienna and Berlin, began in the tumult and terrorism of the 1890s."

Phillips concludes: "if we were simply in the final decade of another century, the chances for the acceleration-of-change consciousness and upheaval over the next several years would be significant enough. But with the added millennial ingredient, the ticking digital clock of history is certain to bring a lot more fireworks than anybody has yet imagined."