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Western Press Review: The Balkans -- A Tangle Tied in Knots

By Don Hill/Dora Slaba/Lisa Kammerud

Prague, 2 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Balkan states are a maze, a knot, and a tangle again as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic suffers an apparent setback in Montenegro and flexes his strongman muscles in Kosovo. Western press commentary focuses as much on Milosevic' likely counter moves as it does on the reformers' political victory.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Montenegro's reformists set the stage for the next political battle

The Financial Times, London, offers a succinct analysis by Guy Dinmore, writing from the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica: "Montenegro's reformist Democratic Party of Socialists yesterday celebrated its re-election in the parliamentary poll on Sunday and set the stage for the next political battle with Slobodan Milosevic, the president of federal Yugoslavia. The DPS warned that Milo Djukanovic, president and DPS leader, would call a referendum on independence for Montenegro if Mr Milosevic continued to fuel Yugoslavia's constitutional crisis."

NEW YORK TIMES: The victory is considered certain to widen the schism between Djukanovic and Milosevic

Chris Hedges, writing from Belgrade, in a New York Times analysis, said: "President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro celebrated his governing coalition's sweeping victory in crucial parliamentary elections on Monday, ensuring his domination of a government that will defy integration with Serbia. The victory is considered certain to widen the schism between Djukanovic and the government in Belgrade led by President Slobodan Milosevic."

The writer said: "The defeat of Momir Bulatovic's Socialist People's Party, financed and backed by Milosevic, means that Belgrade will now have to use other means, perhaps a state of emergency, to keep Montenegro from drifting toward secession, Western diplomats said." Hedges added: "Bulatovic, in a move that Montenegrin lawmakers dismissed as illegal, was chosen by Milosevic last month to be the federal prime minister. He is expected to use his office to continue to stymie efforts by Djukanovic to sever links with Belgrade and attract badly needed foreign investment."

GUARDIAN: Milosevic has suffered a blow from voters in Montenegro

The Guardian, London, carries this analysis by Jonathan Steele in Podgorica: "Milosevic has suffered a blow from voters in Montenegro that could destroy what remains of the Yugoslav Federation and prevents his reelection as its president.

"They gave the reformist parties an outright majority in Sunday's parliamentary elections that will allow them to block constitutional change and undercut Mr. Milosevic' power.

Fears that he might refuse to accept the result and use the army to impose a state of emergency waned when his ally, Momir Bulatovic, the head of the losing Socialist National Party, acknowledged defeat."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Milosevic's radius for action is shrinking

Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Bernhard Kueppers writes that the Montenegro outcome has Milosevic beset on all sides: "(His) radius for action is shrinking. First he strove to dominate the disintegration of former Yugoslavia into national states, and then he led his bellicose all-Serb state project into a catastrophe. Now the rump state of Yugoslavia has become too cramped for him. His rival in Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, only four and half months after being elected President, has won the parliamentary elections in this part of the republic. Milosovic can at best preserve the south Serb province of Kosovo with its Albanian majority by offering an international guarantee of a special status. "In the case of Milosovic, the notorious crises manipulator, we can, however, expect him to thrash around. The man obsessed with power and instigator of chaos can still incite a massacre of large dimensions in Kosovo and try to provoke unrest in Montenegro."

Kueppers goes on to say that Djukonovic shouldn't be idealized. The writer says: "(His) democratic convictions are not unalloyed as a model for the Montenegrins. Over the years, just as did Milosovic's compatriot Bulatovic, he maintained the Montenegrin police firmly in hand for his own use. The state media of Montenegro are at his service, to which are added subtle transit smuggling and a gray economy which provided a base for this part of the republic. It will not be easy to establish a legitimate economy. It will require international prudence, if the achievements of the opposition in Montenegro can be put to good use against Milosovic."

LIBERATION: The election results are a denial of Milosevic's nationalist politics

In the French daily Liberation, Helene Despic-Popovic writes that the election results are "a subtle mockery of the strongman of Yugoslavia, Milosevic," and that they represent a "tidal wave" of sentiment against Milosevic and Serbia. She says the elections represent "a denial of Milosevic' nationalist politics."

DIE WELT: The reform-minded forces around Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic have strengthened their power

Boris Kalnoky comments in Die Welt, Hamburg: "The reform-minded forces around Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic have strengthened their power in parliamentary elections." He says: "Many observers had feared in the run-up to the elections that Bulatovic's supporters could reject the result if they lost and even provoke violent disturbances. Before voting started, Bulatovic announced that he suspected Djukanovic wanted to rig the election and would not accept the result. Thankfully, it turned out differently. Bulatovic declared soon after the polls had closed Sunday that voting had been free and fair -- and that he had lost."

Kalnoky writes: :"Bulatovic's acceptance of defeat and the disastrous showing of the right-wing radicals who co-govern Serbia led many Montenegrins to hope that Yugoslavia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, will recognize Djukanovic's victory."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: There is much to gain from putting a top Bosnian war criminal in the dock now

The Wall Street Journal Europe editorializes today that the changing atmosphere in Yugoslavia suggests that NATO was wise in postponing for two-plus years any concerted hunt for the top Bosnian war criminals. But now the time is ripe, the newspaper says. The editorial contends: "When NATO commanders first set foot in Bosnia in December 1995, they made perfectly clear that Radovan Karadzic was in no danger of running afoul of IFOR troopers. Although none doubted that the Bosnian Serb leader had presided over the extermination of tens of thousands of Muslim and Croat civilians, Western governments feared that hunting him down would incite his followers to further violence. In hindsight, military and political leaders can now claim that the policy of non-confrontation helped keep a fragile peace stitched together long enough for a Bosnian Serb rival to gain power and for Mr. Karadzic to be weakened sufficiently (in both political and military terms) to make his arrest less of a gamble."

The editorial says: "Whatever the truth, it is said that French forces, who control eastern Bosnia and whose cooperation is therefore essential to capturing Mr. Karadzic, have not lent a helpful hand." It says: "That is a shame, because there is much to gain from putting a top Bosnian war criminal in the dock." And concludes: "Mr. Karadzic is now said to be protected by a skeletal crew of around a dozen bodyguards. Surely that's not enough of a force to keep NATO at bay, assuming that the leaders of the West really want leading war criminals behind bars."