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Western Press Review: 'Victory' In Serbia; Backpedaling In Albania

Prague, 12 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- An apparent victory of the opposition Zajedno (Together) forces in Serbia and rising outrage in Albania over failed investment schemes capture the attention of Western commentators.

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Opposition faces major hurdles

On yesterday's vote in the Serbian parliament restoring opposition election victories in Belgrade and 13 other cities, commentary generally sounds cautious notes. Fawn Vrzo writes today in an analysis in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Though the vote was viewed in Belgrade as clear evidence that the nine-year rule of Milosevic and his Serbian Socialist Party was finally crumbling under popular pressure, the reaction among opposition protesters was markedly non-celebratory. Rallying as usual (last) night in Belgrade's main square, tens of thousands of protesters were told by opposition leaders that the return of local council seats was only a small step toward the ultimate victory --Milosevic's removal."

Vrzo says: "Serbia's pro-democracy opposition faces major hurdles in the coming months if it hopes to topple Milosevic's government. The opposition coalition will have to avoid an internal split while at the same time rallying enough votes to give it a majority in parliamentary elections to be held by December. Although Milosevic is expected to leave office then because he is by law restricted to serving two terms, many believe he may try to remain in power by postponing presidential elections."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Milosevic has been weakend

Guy Dinmore writes in a news analysis in today's edition of the British newspaper Financial Times: "Political sources said Mr. Milosevic, Serbia's strongman for nearly 10 years, has been weakened over the past three months." (Marko Nicovic), a senior official in the Yugoslva United Left (YUL), part of the ruling coalition, said he expected a faction in the center of the Socialist Party to break away and said he intended to quit YUL."

WASHINGTON POST: A concession from the opposition

In today's Washington Post, Jonathan C. Randal writes in a news analysis: "In an apparent concession from the opposition, (Zajedno leader Vuk) Draskovic hinted to reporters that Together may drop demands that the government recognize coalition claims to having won a plurality in two Belgrade suburbs, Mladenovac and New Belgrade. The two important municipal councils were not specifically mentioned in the report by the OSCE mission, which was headed by Spain's former prime minister, Felipe Gonzalez. The parliament also approved the creation of a new ministry of local government, which raised the suggestion that powers hitherto held by municipalities would somehow now fall under Milosevic's direct control. This act seemed to justify Together's fears that Milosevic intends to reduce local governments' already limited sources of revenue. The new ministry was the centerpiece of a long promised government reshuffle in which Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic and other key ministers retained their posts."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Milosevic's embarrassing capitulation

An analysis in today's Los Angeles Times by Dean E. Murphy says: "The scene for Milosevic's embarrassing capitulation was carefully chosen: (Yesterday's) special meeting of parliament was intended as a showy display of Serbian democracy for a world skeptical of Milosevic's every move. Even foreign journalists, rarely permitted in the austere legislative building, were free to roam the corridors, film the proceedings and watch the debate on closed-circuit television. In introducing the elections law, Socialist Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic characterized the decision to allow the opposition victories as an act of patriotism, not a desperate gasp for political survival, as Milosevic's opponents have portrayed it."


Commentary on reaction in Albania to failed investment schemes universally sees the private financial disasters as only part of a broader and deeper economic crisis. Analysts say the crisis threatens not only the government, and economic and social fabric, of Albania, but also its Balkan neighbors --and thus, to a degree, the West as well.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: A new Balkan crisis?

The Los Angeles Times editorialized yesterday: "A series of pyramid investment schemes that inevitably collapsed and cost tens of thousands of Albanians their life savings has produced an explosion of outrage that threatens the government of President Sali Berisha. Albania's neighbors are nervously wondering if they might soon be facing a new Balkan crisis."

The US newspaper says: "The United States has been among those countries pressuring Berisha toward greater democratization and cleaner government. The concern of Washington and the European democracies is that a descent into chaos by Albania would have repercussions well beyond its borders, if only through the flight of refugees. The Balkans have a long and tragically deserved reputation as a political tinderbox. Events in Albania offer a reminder why."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: A symptom of deeper troubles

In an analysis relying in part on reporting by the French News Agency (AFP), Robert Fox writes in today's London Daily Telegraph: "Albania is the poorest country in Europe and, starved of foreign funds since the end of communism in 1991, it is on the edge of bankruptcy."

Fox says: "Though the collapse of the pyramid funds triggered the new wave of disturbances, it is seen by most as a symptom of deeper troubles. Albania still is suffering the aftermath of the brutal dictatorship of the communist resistance leader, Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Chaos in Albania could easily spread

In a commentary in today's Suddeutsche Zeitung, Bernd Kuppers writes: "Albanian President Sali Berisha appears to be preparing to sacrifice his Democratic Party government. Coverage of the continuing unrest by the official Radio Tirana no longer bothers to conceal the loud calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Alexander Meksi."

Kuppers says: "For Berisha, it would be easier to dismiss the government than to placate the angry public mood with compensation from the state treasury or by sending in the troops. A simple change of faces would not help him, however."

The commentary concludes: "Now, events are avenging themselves on a Western world which has failed to insist over the past year that (Albania's) manipulated parliamentary elections be repeated. As a result, the only opposition in Albania is outside parliament. To stop the country from sinking into chaos, Albania needs lessons from the outside and it is in the outside world's interest to give them. For chaos in Albania could easily spread to the ethnic Albanian enclaves in western Macedonia and Kosovo province in Serbia, and threaten the peace of the entire southern Balkans."

NEW YORK TIMES: Albanian opposition's comeback

The New York Times' Celestine Bohlen wrote yesterday from Tirana in an analysis: "Shut out of state-controlled television and radio, denied the right to demonstrate in the capital's main square, and disfranchised by national elections last May that were widely held to be flawed, Albania's fragmented opposition now is trying to present itself as a credible alternative to Berisha's ruling Democratic Party."