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Western Press Review: Yugoslav Elections

Prague, 28 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Developments in Yugoslavia following Sunday's elections continue to occupy Western press commentators. Another subject for comment today is Denmark's referendum on whether to join the European Union's euro currency, a vote seen as important both to the new currency's value and to further integration of the EU.


"Milosevic Loses Out" is the title of the Irish Times editorial today. The paper writes: "Mr. Vojislav Kostunica has been recognized by all but the most stubborn supporters of Mr. Slobodan Milosevic as Yugoslavia's president elect. For this reason he has refused to become involved in the runoff election scheduled by Yugoslavia's Federal Election Commission for October 8. There is little doubt," the editorial goes on, "that the 'official' figures which show Mr. Kostunica ahead after the first round -- but falling short of the 50 percent needed for outright victory -- are the product of serious falsification."

If Milosevic and his associates appear "cornered." The paper continues: "It is under circumstances such as these they can be at their most dangerous. A highly paid and loyal paramilitary police force has been able to keep them in power throughout the series of crises that began with the dissolution of the old Yugoslav Federation. Mainly from rural areas loyal to Mr. Milosevic, this heavily armed force has been the mainstay of the regime. The loyalty of the regular army is not as strongly guaranteed and the possibility of a civil war in Serbia cannot be completely ruled out."

"[Milosevic's] response," the paper warns, "could be dangerous and defiant. Once again, therefore, the threat of serious violence and loss of life hangs over the volatile Balkan region. The accession to power of Mr. Kostunica, despite his Serbian nationalist and frequently anti-western attitudes, would provide the optimum scenario. It is to be hoped that this can be achieved in the most peaceful manner possible. "


In Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve, a signed editorial by Antoine Maurice says that "nerves are on edge in Belgrade." He writes: "[Pro-opposition demonstrators in Belgrade and elsewhere] now feel that history is on their side, which is remarkable given the many years they have been effectively held down by the regime."

The editorial continues: "Western capitals are also 'demonstrating' against Milosevic's authority with a number of peremptory statements [about the necessity of his leaving office]. But there are differences" Maurice says, among Western appraisals, some simply demanding Milosevic's departure, others anticipating a new move by the Yugoslav president.

He sums up: "Those who are expecting some new Milosevic maneuver are concerned as well by the void the election has created. Once the Yugoslav election commission failed to fulfill its obligations [in declaring opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica the victor], the legitimacy of the election was compromised. The road to end of despotism in Yugoslavia will no doubt pass through Kostunica, but it is still likely to be a long one.'


The Norwegian daily Aftenposten carries a commentary by analyst Per Anders Madsen that says: "While the regime in Belgrade is playing for time, the West continues to support Serbia's opposition. But the final victory must be won by the Serbs themselves."

Madsen goes on: "In announcing a second round of the elections, Milosevic has made a shrewd move designed to give him more time to devise how to get out of the awkward predicament [Kostunica] has put him in. Acknowledging a partial opposition victory allows the regime both to manufacture runoff results and to drive a wedge within the opposition."

The commentary then suggests the Yugoslav opposition is already divided over whether to support Kostunica's rejection of a second round in the elections. Madsen says: "It may be clear to Kostunica and to the international community that he has convincingly won the elections, but will he be able to prove it to his own people?"


In Spain, the El Pais daily writes: "Once again, the Yugoslav opposition has taken to the streets to protest against en electoral burglary orchestrated by Slobodan Milosevic. [But this time] there is a possibility of a Serbia without Milosevic -- in other words, a Europe without its last dictator."

The paper's editorial continues: "Serbs have clearly demonstrated their will for change, and the opposition leader should not accept [Milosevic's deceit]. Serbia does not belong to Milosevic anymore, but Milosevic will try by all available means to [fight to keep whatever power he can]."

El Pais adds: "In this end-of-rule situation, where any scenario is possible, Europe and the United States play a crucial role. They should not harass Kostunica, who won not because he is pro-West but because he opposes Milosevic. Their stance should remain strict and clear both to the Serb military and to Russia -- the only [foreign] support Belgrade has." The paper concludes: "Milosevic's moves show that he feels besieged. We should not allow a final move that would again mock the democracy he displays only as a facade. And later on, he should find himself in front of the [UN's] Hague war-crimes tribunal [where he had been indicted]."


In a commentary for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate (published in today's IHT), columnist William Pfaff says: "It comes down in the end to Mr. Milosevic himself, and to where the blind and self-destructive nationalism that he rode to power leads him next. His Serbian biographer, the novelist Vidosav Stevanovic, calls him 'uninteresting and banal, ordinary to the point of being repellent,' adding that 'one does not recognize the terrible, inexpressible, unthinkable banality of evil, about which [philosopher] Hannah Arendt wrote, until the moment when the evil is done."

Pfaff adds: "Mr. Milosevic has exploited what a former Yugoslav president, Ivan Stambolic, has called a Serbian identity 'affirmed in an anti-European, anti-modern and collectivist form.' He says that Mr. Milosevic 'is the most perfect expression of the worst traits in our national personality,' adding: 'He is the expression of our despotic consciousness. The Serbs do not want a man to govern them. They want a master, a guide. Our history is made of this. We have spent half our history searching for such figures, and the other half in attempting to get rid of them."

To which Pfaff comments: "Serbia's elites were the first and most enthusiastic to follow Mr. Milosevic when he launched his campaign for a 'greater' Serbia, an ambition nearly all of his rivals shared, Vojislav Kostunica prominent among them. This is part of the explanation why the Yugoslav opposition has in the past repeatedly failed to unite against him," he concludes, "and why last weekend's vote was so significant."

Several papers also comment on today's referendum in Denmark on whether or not the country should join the European Union's common currency, the euro. Of the 15 EU members, 11 now belong to the euro-zone -- with Greece due to join in three months -- while only Swede, Britain and Denmark have so far chosen to retain their own national currencies.


In Denmark itself, one of its major dailies -- Berlingske Tidende -- writes: "We should remember that the euro is just a small part of the overall cooperation the EU is about. It is, however, a step in the right direction," the paper goes on. "Putting the [question of joining the] euro to a national referendum may seem awkward -- especially when all the arguments have been blown out of proportion, blurring the differences between important and unimportant, the long-term and the immediate."

The Danish paper goes on: "The [EU's] Economic and Monetary Union is the logical continuation of the kind of [West] European cooperation that began with the Common Market and NATO, and that ensured peace and prosperity while communism descended upon half of the European continent. To maintain these conditions," it adds, "and to ensure that civilization triumphs over barbarity, is the EU's only reason for existence."

The editorial then calls on Danes to vote "yes" to the euro. It argues: "By supporting the euro today, Danes are given the chance to have greater impact on pan-European policy, and to make it easier for the [10] central and eastern European candidate states -- which have already had to wait for too long on the EU's doorstep -- to get involved in a community that will help them significantly improve their welfare. This," the paper concludes, "is all in Denmark's best interest."


In the International Herald Tribune today, Anja Dalgaard-Nielsen a U.S.-based Danish analyst, says that the apparent skepticism about the euro among her fellow citizens carries what she calls "a crucial message for EU leaders." She writes: "The emotionally charged debate in Denmark goes well beyond monetary issues and touches upon Danish identity. If Danes were convinced that the vote was just about economics, a 'yes' would be the likely outcome. A nation of only 5.3 million people with an open, export-based economy has long accepted that it has to coordinate its monetary policy with that of the European Central Bank." But she adds: "More issues are in play [in the referendum].".

The commentary goes on: "The Danes worry about what will happen to their political and cultural identity in an 'ever closer European Union.' Xenophobia is on the rise. The rightist Danish People's Party is gaining votes by associating further integration into the EU with the arrival of more immigrants. However," it adds, "the skepticism about economic and political European integration should not be passed off as the obstinacy of a pampered little country preferring to disengage from a messy, threatening world."

Rather, Dalgaard-Nielsen points out, "Denmark is the only country in which the population has had regular opportunities to express its opinion on the EU. And, according to opinion polls, Danes' skepticism is shared by other European populations: In Germany, voters may well have rejected the Maastricht Treaty, the euro and future EU enlargement had they been asked." She concludes: "In few European countries have fears of dilution of nationhood and loss of identity been confronted head-on by the political elite. The lack of public involvement in most big EU issues points to the democratic deficit of the Union. [EU] leaders would do well to perceive it as a reminder that the current state of affairs, where most big EU issues are conducted behind ordinary peoples' backs, is not sustainable."


An editorial in the Washington Times discusses the referendum's possible economic effects. It says: "Today Denmark will be center-stage in global economic markets. Should the Danish people decide to reject the euro as the national currency in a referendum, the European currency could come under attack -- and that would affect the bottom line of U.S. companies that export to Europe. If Denmark embraces the euro," the paper continues, "the currency would get a helpful boost -- at least in the short term."

The editorial then notes the growing weight of the euro: "One measure of how important the euro has become is that on Friday [Sept 22] the industrialized countries in the Group of Seven (G-7) intervened in world currency markets to shore [it up. The] euro, which had been testing new lows with each passing month, had lost about 28 percent of its value since its introduction in January 1999. The intervention briefly boosted the currency more than 5 percent."

"Some observers," the paper says further, "believe the G-7 intervened in support of the euro just in time for Denmark's euro referendum, to convince the Danish people the G-7 is prepared to come out in defense of the currency in times of trouble." But it calls on euro-zone countries themselves to "make additional fundamental changes to support their currency over the long run. Germany's decision, for example, to cut corporate taxes and its top income-tax rate is worthy of emulation. In the meantime," the paper concludes, "the backing of Danish voters wouldn't hurt either."

(NCA's Aurora Gallego and Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)