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Western Press Review: Milosevic, Oil Prices, And British Politics Highlighted

Prague, 26 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The political future of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, British politics, oil prices, and the death penalty are all fodder for discussion in today's Western press commentaries.


The Irish Times notes that the end-game may have finally come for Milosevic, writing in its editorial today: "There have been several occasions on which the Yugoslav regime has indirectly admitted that it is in trouble following Sunday's presidential election. Press conferences to announce victory have been postponed. The Federal Election Commission, charged with producing a favorable result, has failed to produce verified tallies." It continues: "Serbs were on the streets of Belgrade four years ago demanding his resignation but he outfoxed and divided the opposition with a scorn for democracy worthy of a politician committed to despotism. He will undoubtedly attempts to do the same again but the opportunities open to him in this regard are considerably narrower than heretofore."

The paper adds that some Western leaders may be tempted to offer Milosevic asylum in exchange for his agreement to step down. But it cautions against rushing to offer this option: "Every time [Milosevic] has been cornered he has shown an ability to strike back extremely effectively," the editorial argues. "A case has been put that in order to avoid such potentially dreadful consequences he should be given a way out by the West. Some countries completely opposed to his policies and his personal actions have offered him asylum should this help in relieving Yugoslavia from his rule.

"The scenario," the paper says, "is a tempting one even though its morality may be dubious. The picture of an elderly ex-dictator ending his days in isolation on a farmstead on the African veldt while Serbia enjoys prosperity and a return to the democratic fold, has definite attractions. It should be given consideration, however, only if all other options fail. Mr. Milosevic, has, after all, some very serious questions to answer in The Hague, where he stands indicted of war crimes."


Britain's Financial Times agrees on this point, making the case even more forcefully. The paper writes in its commentary today: "The West should also emphasize that, whether he quits now or in 10 years, Mr. Milosevic will face a trial on war crimes charges. The man most responsible for the atrocities of the Balkan wars of the 1990s cannot be allowed to avoid justice for the sake of political expediency. He must be called to account."


In Denmark, Berlingske Tidende also notes that Milosevic may have miscalculated and backed himself into a corner. The paper writes: "The elections in Yugoslavia were originally devised as a political maneuver aimed at consolidating Milosevic's power. However, there are many indications that the elections have turned into a big defeat for the regime. It adds: "As Belgrade keeps still, probably not knowing how to report on Milosevic's fiasco without having to hint at the grandiose fraud it engineered at the ballot box, the EU and the United States have reacted with commendable speed to increase the pressure on the regime."


But Peter Muench notes from Germany, in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, that Milosevic has always known how to exploit potential defeats to his advantage. He urges caution: "It is the principle of his [Milosevic's] paradoxical rule: he never wins and nevertheless never loses. Others make a career in the government through successes. In Milosevic's case, the opposite is true: at least until now his failures have kept him in power." Muench adds: "When things went badly for the Serbs he made them even worse. When his citizens were freezing he gave them war propaganda. And when, after the lost war they were freezing even more, he blamed the war and the enemy." He concludes: "Considered this way, a Milosevic failure in the presidential election could be even more dangerous than a victory."


Finally, Switzerland's Neue Zuercher Zeitung writes in an editorial that even if Milosevic leaves office, dealing with Serbia will remain difficult for the West: "Those who believe that the solution for Serbia's problems is a victory for the opposition have to be prepared to be unpleasantly surprised. [Opposition candidate Vojislav] Kostunica has not gained distance from the regime and has not become a dangerous rival to Milosevic only through his personal integrity and his coherent politics, but also because he has never clung to Western politicians." The paper reminds its readers: "A vote against Milosevic does not signify a 'no' to Serbian nationalism."