Prague, 19 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The attempts of the Serbian political opposition to oust Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic capture much press attention today, as does the tragic earthquake in Turkey.
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Carrots a dictator offers are almost always poisoned
In a commentary in Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Stephan Ulrich examines the motives behind the latest maneuvering by the government in Belgrade. He says dictators can deal with difficult opposition movements in one of two ways -- either with the carrot or the whip.
In Serbia, he says, the beleaguered Milosevic has already used the whip on the opposition recently, in terms of calling members of the movement "traitors" and "NATO vassals." One general even threatened to steamroller the opposition with his tanks. But just ahead of today's planned big demonstration in Belgrade, Milosevic turned to the carrots by dangling promises of new elections before the opposition.
Ulrich asks: "Has the Milosevic regime had a last-minute change of heart? Has it decided to opt for a course of peaceful change? Not on a bet! The phony election offer had one single purpose -- to undercut the opposition. Ultimately, the sooner the election, the worse the opposition's chances of success are -- especially since Milosevic still has the controls in his hands -- the media, the economy, the administration. In short, he's still the boss in Serbia."
The commentary continues to say, however, that as winter comes on, Milosevic's power may start ebbing. With no heat, no warm clothes and nothing to eat, the bulk of Serbs may start to see where their president has led them. With that prospect in the offing, the regime may see speedy elections as the best bet.
Ulrich continues that the promise of early elections holds another danger, too. It may be meant to split the opposition, seducing at least some opposition leaders with its apparent compromise. He says: "If that's true, the opposition has only one chance -- uncompromisingly fighting Milosevic every inch of the way. And while they're fighting him, they'd do well to remember that the carrots a dictator offers are almost always poisoned."
FINANCIAL TIMES: The same clash of egos has reappeared
The Financial Times ponders the same theme in an article by Charles Clover and David Buchan. They write: "On the eve of a demonstration planned to sweep Slobodan Milosevic from power in Belgrade, the same clash of egos that bungled the opposition's chances in 1996 has reappeared."
The two writers say that the decision of a key opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement, to withdraw from today's rally is a clear signal that the opposition is fragmenting. They continue:
"The clash of egos between opposition leaders has made it obvious that it will not be as easy as originally expected to overturn Mr. Milosevic in the wake of Yugoslavia's defeat in the Kosovo war."
FINANCIAL TIMES: The West can do three things
In an editorial today, the same newspaper, the Financial Times, says that the fragmentation of the opposition may help consolidate Milosevic in power and is disappointing for the international community, which is hoping for democratization in Yugoslavia. The editorial continues:
"Even governments such as the U.S. and U.K., which are loudest in their refusal to countenance any reconstruction aid for Serbia while it is ruled by an indicted war criminal, concede that any effective plan to rebuild the Balkans must embrace Serbia over the long-term."
The editorial, looking at the divisions among the opposition, says that the West can do three things. First, it can help the opposition parties, but only "modestly and unofficially." It says the $100 million that the U.S. Congress is considering giving the Serbian opposition is excessive and would "make it too easy for the Belgrade regime to brand recipients as tools of NATO." By contrast, Western non-governmental organizations could usefully aid opposition-held cities in Serbia and show their citizens the merits of electing democrats.
Second, the editorial goes on, only continued Western economic pressure on Belgrade is likely to produce internal cracks within the Milosevic regime. Thus, thirdly, "the West needs to sharpen this pressure by setting out more clearly what it is prepared to offer Serbia once it has rid itself of Mr. Milosevic."
INDEPENDENT: Serbia faces its starkest choice today: tanks or democracy
The Independent of London also writes about events in Belgrade today, in dramatic terms. An article by Adam LeBor says: "Serbia faces its starkest choice today: tanks or democracy. Tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of protestors are expected to gather in the capital Belgrade to demand the resignation of President Slobodan Milosevic in a demonstration that is likely to shape the country's political destiny."
LeBor's view is that toppling the president is likely to be a long process which could turn bloody and violent, and some fear that a civil war could erupt. And the central question remains -- Who would replace Milosevic as leader of Yugoslavia?
Tuesday's horrific earthquake in Turkey continues to gain wide coverage, with commentaries focusing on the need to help the stricken area, and also raising questions about negligence by the Turkish authorities.
LIBERATION: Europe should take a decision to help
An editorial in the Paris newspaper Liberation calls for a European initiative to help victims. It says: "Why, at a moment like the present, when there is so much talk about the reconstruction of Kosovo and the development of the entire Balkans region, should there not be similar consideration given to rebuilding one of the most important industrial areas of Turkey?"
Referring to Turkey's long-standing difficulties with the European Union about prospective membership, Liberation goes on to say that better than just talking, which costs nothing, Europe should take a decision to help in a way that would convince every doubting Turk about Europe's earnestness.
It says the political climate in Ankara is particularly ripe for such a gesture at the moment, following the trial of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, as Turks are asking themselves some important questions in connection with the Kurdish minority.
NEW YORK TIMES: The destruction in Avcilar seemed selective
Writing from Istanbul in The New York Times, Celestine Bohlen says that many modern high-rise buildings appear to have been so shoddily built that they collapsed in seconds.
She says: "Avcilar, a new neighborhood on the western edge of this giant sprawling city, suffered more from Tuesday's devastating earthquake than any other part of Istanbul, most of which was shaken but largely left intact." Bohlen continues: "The destruction in Avcilar seemed selective, leaving behind an odd checkerboard pattern of buildings that remain standing, next to houses that were utterly wrecked by the wrath of the quake."
She says that, according to local residents, the selection was not so random. The difference between the buildings that fell and those that didn't lay, they said, in the quality of construction, in the corners cut by contractors who mix too much sand into cement and use cheap iron in their rush to build housing.
She notes the builders of the old city did not share the modern haste in construction. When the great Ottoman architect Sinan was building mosques in the 16th century, he first built the foundations and then let them settle for two years before completing construction.
WASHINGTON POST: Many residents of the earthquake zone alleged the government failed...
In an article in the Washington Post, R. Jeffrey Smith examines a similar theme. He writes from the damaged town of Golcuk that as the Turkish people began to grasp the scale of the damage, many residents of the earthquake zone are turning their wrath on local and national officials. Smith says:
"They alleged that the government not only failed to assure that buildings had been adequately inspected for their resiliency to earthquake damage but also failed to stockpile food or rescue equipment, or to otherwise prepare for disaster in what is one of the world's most active geological fault lines. They also denounced the failure of local officials to provide any meaningful assistance to those anxiously attempting to find their relatives."
NEWSDAY: Scientists could be helpful in giving warnings at a future date
In another article, appearing in the U.S. newspaper Newsday, correspondent Bryn Nelson writes that the earthquake that devastated so much of northwestern Turkey left the biggest city, Istanbul, largely undamaged. However, he says that ominously, it could set the scene for a direct hit on the city in a later earthquake. Nelson continues:
"Since 1939, earthquakes have ruptured successive segments along the 1,600 km-long North Anatolian fault, migrating westward toward Istanbul. The fault segment that ruptured in Tuesday's quake borders the last unruptured portion of the fault, a 95-km segment extending west under the Sea of Marmara. Istanbul lies only 16 km to the south."
He says a team of U.S. scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are hopeful an early warning system they are working on for the region surrounding Izmit, the city hardest hit this time, could be helpful in giving hours of warning should any other seismic activity take place at a future date.