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Western Press Review: Triumph For Serbia's Grassroots--Maybe

Prague, 5 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- After 11 weeks of street demonstrations in Belgrade and other cities, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is moving to accept opposition victories in municipal elections that for months he had been attempting to annul. Or so an announcement yesterday from his administration to Parliament made it seem. Western commentary on the Serbian crisis emphasizes skepticism along with discussions of the apparent people's victory.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Opposition politicians have reacted cautiously to Milosevic's concession

In an analysis today, Tracy Wilkinson writes from Belgrade: "The move is the most significant step yet toward defusing a crisis that has besieged the government and threatened to destroy Serbia's fragile economy. It comes only after the dynamics of Serbian politics, and the image of Milosevic in the West's eye, have been irreversibly altered. Aware, however, that Milosevic often takes with one hand what he gives with the other, opposition politicians who have been leading the daily protests reacted cautiously."

She says: "The concession followed the most violent police repression of the anti-government demonstrations on Sunday and Monday, which left scores of people wounded and more than 70 arrested. Those actions came amid other signs that Milosevic intended to get tough, rather than back down. Contradictory signals from the government have become the norm."

NEW YORK TIMES: Serbia's authoritarian ruler has feigned compromise in the past

Chris Hedges reaches a similar conclusion in an analysis today. Hedges writes: "Milosevic's statement, delivered in a letter to Serbia's Parliament, was greeted cautiously by opposition leaders and foreign diplomats who have watched the remote, authoritarian ruler feign compromise in the past and then refuse to give up his iron grip on power." Hedges writes: "The tightly closed circle of power in this country makes it difficult to determine what prompted the president to make the statement. Although the crisis had reached a stalemate, Milosevic's hold on power diminished with defections from his ruling circle, a refusal by state institutions to heed his orders, and mounting international isolation."

NEW YORK TIMES: The church's involvement has alarmed those who would like to see moves toward democracy

In an analysis earlier this week, Hedges examined critically one facet of the Serbian opposition. He wrote then: "The church has emerged as a major force in the protests." The Times writer said: "The church involvement has deeply alarmed those who would like to see the country move toward democracy. They see the church as the main repository of Serbian nationalism and as deeply hostile to secular, Western political systems and ideas. Critics fear that the church will prove a powerful force in blunting reforms that would usher in a democratic, open society."

Hedges wrote: "The Serbian Orthodox Church, during five centuries of Ottoman occupation and during the last 50 years of Communist government, was the guardian of Serbian national identity. It was the blunt ideological instrument that President Slobodan Milosevic wielded in his drive to wrest power from the Communist bosses 10 years ago."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Peace and quiet are by no means inevitable

In a signed editorial yesterday, Bernd Kueppers wrote: "After all manner of tricks and a zigzag policy of partial concessions and the use of force, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic now at long last seems to be giving way on last November's election results. He would have done better to do so in November, or at least at the end of last year after publication of the findings of an OSCE delegation which he himself invited to investigate the situation. Milosevic now evidently appears to be acknowledging in full the victory of the Zajedno opposition at the polls in several Serbian cities in November."

The editorial concluded: "All's well that ends well? No. It remains to be seen how much stamina the democracy movement will retain after this success and how soon Milosevic's runs out. Peace and quiet are by no means inevitable."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Milosevic's government is a kleptocracy

An editorial in today's issue of the British newspaper looks ahead to Milosevic's chances of remaining in power. The newspaper says: "If the opposition can sustain the drive for reform which it has evinced over the past 11 weeks, it will thoroughly undermine Mr. Milosevic's power as his term draws to a close." The editorial says: "The ruthless architect of Greater Serbia would be swept away along with his revanchist dreams."

The editorial says: "Obvious targets for the opposition are the stranglehold which Mr. Milosevic exercises over the media; the dire state of the economy; abuses of human rights; the free rein given to paramilitary groups; and widespread criminality in what has become a kleptocracy."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The army and church back the pro-democracy movement

In an analysis in the same newspaper today, Julius Strauss writes from Belgrade: "Anti-government demonstrators have been encouraged by increasing signs of splits within the secretive ruling power structures. The army and the Orthodox Church, traditionally mainstays of the regime. both have backed the pro-democracy movement." Strauss says: "Many are fed up with the disproportionate influence wielded by Mr. Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The West made a poor choice in using Milosevic as a peace partner

Referring to last year's Bosnian war settlement agreement negotiated in the U.S. city of Dayton, Ohio, the paper headlines an editorial today "Dayton's Feet of Clay." The editorial says: "The Dayton peace accord for Bosnia elevated Mr. Milosevic from pariah to peacemaker, brushing aside his criminal responsibility for the war in Bosnia out of a belief that only he was capable of holding the Bosnian Serbs to their side of an agreed border line. The year since that agreement was signed has made this deal look increasingly ludicrous." The editorial says: "His domestic troubles not only have revealed what a poor choice for peace partner the West made, but (also) have rendered that choice virtually useless now. In other words, the clay feet of Dayton have crumbled."

FINANCIAL TIMES: In Bulgaria, anti-government demonstrations have reached a high pitch

In neighboring Bulgaria, events similar to those in Serbia have attracted only small attention in the Western press. Bulgaria's ruling Socialist Party yesterday wavered in the face of unrelenting popular demonstrations and opened the way for a general election in two months. Of this development, writers in the British newspaper noted today: "A month of antigovernment demonstrations had reached such a pitch that officials warned endorsement by parliament of (a) proposed new Socialist cabinet could rip the country into chaos."