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Western Press Review: Commentary Returns To Balkans

Prague, 29 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- As attention to the foundered Russian Kursk submarine subsides, some Western commentators are returning to the Balkans. Economics and world politics also draw commentary.


The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's commentator Bernhard Kueppers -- writing today from the traditional Balkans watch site, Vienna -- seems prepared to give up on former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, who disappeared late week. Kueppers writes that Stambolic very likely is dead.

Kueppers says: "If past experience is a guide, it seems unlikely that Stambolic is still alive. His disappearance is after all only the latest in a long line of mysterious murders and abductions in the Serbian capital, which can only be explained by the symbiosis that exists between politics and crime in today's Serbia. Not only have there been scores of Mafia-related murders in recent months, the country's political landscape has also lost many members from the front benches to violent death, from both Milosevic's closest circle and the ranks of his sworn political enemies.

The writer adds this: "A former friend and something of a mentor to Milosevic, Stambolic was removed from supreme power by his protege 13 years ago, but he could never be viewed as posing a danger to the president or his continued rule. Despite critical interviews and occasional public appearances, Stambolic possessed neither the ambition nor the political platform to inconvenience Milosevic."


The Washington Times offers an editorial suspicion that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ordered Stambolic's kidnapping as part of a continuing campaign to suppress potential political opponents. The newspaper says: "In 1986, Mr. Stambolic became president of Serbia and named his college friend [Milosevic] head of Serbia's Central Committee. When Serbian demonstrations against the ethnic Albanian police were getting out of hand in Kosovo in 1987, he sent Mr. Milosevic to calm down his fellow Serbs. Instead, Mr. Milosevic seized the opportunity to stir up nationalist extremism among the Serb crowds, then went back to Belgrade and ousted Mr. Stambolic."


In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Kueppers cites evidence for a kidnapping theory. He quotes the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or DOS - which has united to try to oust Milosevic in the coming election -- as saying in a statement that the state media's failure to report on the disappearance shows it is a political kidnapping -- "yet another revenge against political foes," in the DOS' words.

The commentary concludes" "If he had no part in the apparent abduction, Mr. Milosevic and the Serbian authorities should not only condemn it but send a search team for the 64-year-old former politician. If it does turn out to be an orchestrated kidnapping by Milosevic supporters, the dictator has done himself no favors. The opposition will be more determined than ever to get rid of him."


Elsewhere in the Balkans, Serbia's partner republic in the rump Yugoslavia, Montenegro, lives in mounting fear, says a commentator in The Washington Times.


And a Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator says that ethnic cleansers continue to victimize the weakest members of minority populations in the Serbian province of Kosovo.


International affairs professor Nikolaus Stavrou prophesies in the Washington newspaper: "Montenegro is rapidly becoming the next flash point that could silence [U.S.] presidential candidate George W. Bush's criticism of the uses and misuses of American power and could serve as an October surprise in an election year [in the United States]." ("October surprise" refers to a widely held belief in U.S. politics that some kind of unexpected major event occurs every four years in October just before the U.S. November presidential elections.)

Stavrou writes: "This tiny republic of 600,000 people is neither a democracy nor a state, although it is treated as one by our architects of the Balkan quagmire. Its government behaves as an aspiring victim and seems eager to make the most of Mr. Milosevic's villainous image in an election year. [U.S. Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright's latest model of Balkan democrat, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, presides over a smuggling enterprise, not a government."

The commentator says: "Judging from its escalating rhetoric, the Clinton administration seems itching for another Balkan war in defense of self-proclaimed victims." He adds: "Under apparent Western tutoring, [Montenegro's government] has opted for the well-tested victimhood model. Verbal and other provocation against Belgrade have intensified and a paramilitary force resembling the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] in its formative years is used to solve the unemployment problem.

Stavrou concludes: "Ironically, in a land of suffering and more than 40 percent unemployment, Mr. Djukanovic builds a paramilitary force with unexplained resources and highly paid foreign mercenaries as trainers. This force resembles in more ways than one the KLA in its formative years -- and in the heat of American presidential elections, it could provide an October surprise."


Peter Muench writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that NATO and the KFOR peacekeeping force it leads in Kosovo seem impotent in the face of the latest wave of vicious ethnic cleansing in the province, perpetrated this time by elements of the Kosovar Albanian majority against the new Serb minority.

Muench says: "Now it's the Albanians working over the Serbs. First, two hand grenades go off in a children's playground in a Serbian community. Then, an Albanian drives into and chases after a group of Serbian children, killing an 8-year old and injuring four other children. These, he says, are "two recent events that news agencies can add to Kosovo's catalogue of horrors, two events which have earned the usual tired-sounding condemnation from the Western peace-keeping forces in the province."

"Kosovo," he goes on, "has apparently seen too many acts of cruelty and malice in recent years for one more -- no matter how offensive or shocking -- to finally motivate people to halt the senseless downward spiral into hatred and revenge. NATO and its KFOR peace forces appear to be powerless, aid-workers feel helpless. More people are now saying that there is no way the two ethnic communities are going to be able to live together is the violence keeps going the way it is."

Muench concludes: "The international community now has the job of bringing this [bullying] under control, and at the same time trying to encourage initial steps towards reconciliation. The oft-mentioned helplessness in such situations verges on complicity."


In a news analysis for the French daily Liberation, Petra Markovic raises the possibility that Milosevic might end up losing next month's presidential election. Writing from Belgrade, she says: "The election -- designed last month specifically to guarantee Milosevic's re-election -- could have a boomerang effect. Public-opinion polls for the past several weeks," she notes, "show Milosevic losing to Vojislav Kostunica, the surprise [unity] candidate of some 15 parties grouped under the banner of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia."

Markovic adds: "After 20 years of internal divisions, Milosevic's adversaries believe they have finally found someone who can beat him in the ballot boxes. Kostunica's partisans emphasize that his name has never been linked to any corruption affair, and that he has never collaborated with Milosevic's regime -- unlike two other opposition leaders, Vuk Draskovic and Zoran Djindic, who did so in the past."


On an unrelated issue, the Wall Street Journal Europe ponders today the decline of the young European currency, the euro. In an editorial, the newspaper disputes the claim that the euro lacks credibility. The editorial says: "The euro continues to weaken against other major currencies because investors, including European investors, consider their money better spent elsewhere, and hence have a preference, on balance, for other currencies."

The newspaper says: "Despite signs of improvement in most euro-zone economies, economic fundamentals remain more attractive in the United States and in a few less-developed economies. Capital flees from euro-denominated assets to dollars, and that puts downward pressure on Europe's new currency. The French may be tickled that unemployment has squeaked below 10 percent, and Germany may beam about its 2.4 percent gross-domestic-product growth, but investors are unimpressed."

The editorial says that some EU nations have yet to recognize the driving power of freer markets and the drag that undo restrictions exert. It says: "That restrictive labor markets and heavy-handed regulation have economic costs is now all but impossible for politicians on either side of the Atlantic to deny. But so far, these costs have not been high enough in Germany and France to send the politicians into actual battle with the forces opposed to the march of economic progress and its inevitable upheavals."

(Joel Blocker contributed to this press review.)