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Western Press Review: Yugoslavia Assessed; Violence in Israel

Prague, 2 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and yesterday continues to assess the latest developments in Yugoslavia, a week after an election that apparently most of the country -- and the world -- believes unseated President Slobodan Milosevic. There are also comments today on the recent Israeli-Palestinian violence in Jerusalem and on the West Bank.


In a commentary for the Irish Times, analyst Jonathan Eyal says "the election alone won't dislodge Milosevic [and that] the unfolding crisis in Belgrade is likely to be resolved through violence." He adds: "Both opposition and government know that the matter will be settled by demonstrations on the street. What neither side knows is how the military and the security services, the real mainstays of the Milosevic regime, will react."

The commentary continues: "There is little doubt that the real battle now taking place is over the loyalty of these services. If Mr. Milosevic can be assured of their support, he will ignore the opposition and crush the demonstrations. If, however, [opposition candidate Vojislav] Kostunica can gain the support of the security services and the military, perhaps by promising them immunity from international criminal tribunals, then Mr. Milosevic will be finished."

Eyal says further: "The opposition has managed to organize some huge rallies in Belgrade. It will need to apply this pressure for many more days, and the demonstrations will have to spread to other cities in Yugoslavia, before Mr. Milosevic is under real threat. This week will be decisive. The general strike which the opposition has called must effectively shut down the entire country."

He then says: "But even if he survives, Mr. Milosevic will be a broken man. Members of his own party are deserting him. The all-important Orthodox Church now supports the opposition, and even the clique of Mafia bosses which surrounds him is showing signs of cracking. One way or another, it is hard to escape the conclusion that change will come, but that it will involve violence. And it will probably resemble events in neighboring Romania in December 1989 -- a mixture of popular uprising and military coup wrapped into one."


In the French daily Liberation, a signed editorial by Jacques Amalric calls Milosevic "a wounded animal far more dangerous now than when he was healthy." He writes: "Milosevic and his formidable mastermind [wife] Mira are both wounded, but they are still politically alive and ready for a counter-offensive."

Amalric goes on: "The principle ingredient of their recipe, is always the same -- divide the opposition. That's what they had in mind in announcing the organization of a presidential election runoff which they hope to win through an even more fraudulent vote count and, no doubt, through the differing voting instructions given to their supporters by the 18 groups making up the political opposition."

"At this point," the editorial argues, "only two factors can alter the [Milosevics'] sinister plan -- the overwhelming success of the civil disobedience campaign that begins today, and the abandonment by Moscow of the Milosevic regime. And nothing yet suggest that these two conditions will be met."


In the Spanish daily El Pais, a commentary by Andres Ortega says that "Milosevic made a mistake in holding the elections." He writes: "When the genie of the democracy gets out of the bottle, it is difficult to force him back in. Milosevic, a master of manipulation, [a] man who led his people and his neighbors to ruin in four lost wars, was institutionally protected by the Yugoslav presidency. He hoped to gain legitimacy through the war in Kosovo war and its consequences by ratifying himself through universal suffrage. But," Ortega adds, "the desire for change was so strong that, despite extensive fraudulent balloting, Milosevic lost the first round. The hour of his fall could come soon."

He continues: "The opposition does not want a second round. It feels, correctly, that the [political] wind has changed. Through massive mobilization, including a general strike, [it] wants to chase Milosevic from the government, after he fell into his own trap: Not only he has de-legitimized himself through the ballot boxes, but he is probably entered a process where he is not any longer respected and feared. The question is, he concludes, "will it be possible to put an end to this dictatorship if the dictator does not himself leave?"


An editorial yesterday in the Washington Post (published today in the IHT) finds that the Yugoslav "standoff leaves both the opposition and its outside supporters with difficult choices. Mr. Kostunica's team is calling for civil disobedience, demonstrations, a general strike," the paper says. "Opposition forces have been down that road before, only to see Mr. Milosevic outlast them. This time they have the added legitimacy provided by their electoral victory, plus a unity that eluded them in the past and a single, credible leader. But there is a sense that they must prevail reasonably soon -- we hope by convincing Mr. Milosevic's dwindling group of backers within the security services that they are on a losing team.

The paper goes on: "[U.S. President Bill] Clinton and his European allies have sought to boost the opposition's chances by promising to lift sanctions on Serbia once Mr. Kostunica takes office. The impulse is right," the editorial argues, "both tactically and on principle, but it needs to be modulated. In Croatia, the West made clear that a democratic transition was essential but not sufficient -- a new government had to meet certain conditions before the country could be welcomed back into Europe. In Serbia, too, it will be important for a new regime to cooperate with the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague -- including by delivering Mr. Milosevic himself -- to release political prisoners -- including many abducted from Kosovo -- to honor Serbia's commitments to Bosnia under the Dayton treaty, and to cooperate with its neighbors on issues such as the former Yugoslavia's debt."


In the Los Angles Times yesterday, analyst Susan Blaustein imagines what the effects of a Yugoslavia without Milosevic might be. She writes: "The Serbian people [could] at long last dare to imagine a future free of fear, international isolation and relentless economic hardship. It would also be a vindication for Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, whose breathtaking, consensus-defying decision both to boycott and to monitor the elections helped to de-legitimize the polls and to limit Milosevic's opportunities for fraud." Externally, she continues, "an acknowledged Milosevic defeat would, as well, be an immense relief to allied nations, whose commitment in recent years to seeding democratic change in Serbia has at last borne fruit. Finally, it should encourage Russia, China and other nations that have supported Milosevic to persuade the strongman to give up his power, as well as his office, and to set about building constructive relationships with his successors."

Blaustein advises: "At such time -- whether measured in days or months -- as Milosevic finally concedes, or the last of his desperate maneuvers fails, Yugoslavia's newly elected government should move quickly to differentiate itself from its predecessor by acting on its campaign commitments to democratic governance, economic reform, human rights and the rule of law. After a decade of Milosevic's corrupting touch, the effort will be difficult and slow."

She adds: "A new Yugoslav government would help stabilize the Balkans by categorically rejecting the use of force as a means of settling territorial disagreements. To show its good faith, Kostunica should comply fully with the international agreements and resolutions that ended the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, which include the inviolability of borders, the return of refugees and the turnover of war criminals. Toward the same end," she says, "the new government should also recognize and establish diplomatic relations with the independent states of Bosnia and Slovenia, agree to resolve its 10-year-old border dispute with Macedonia and apply for UN membership as a new nation, leaving to the courts all previous claims on the assets and entitlements once enjoyed by the former Yugoslavia."


Turning to events in Israel over the last several days, the Norwegian daily Aftenposten writes today: "The clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators -- the most serious violence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the past four years -- have brought a severe crisis to the Middle East." It goes on: "The Palestinians' frustration with the failed negotiations with Israel is understandable. The talks, which began in Oslo seven years ago, should have been completed by September 13. Yet nothing happened," it says, "primarily because of Israel's lack of flexibility."

"Still," the editorial adds, "the last few days of violent protests have shown that war and confrontation will not solve the problems. Some have already announced that the 'Battle for Jerusalem' has begun. The city is the key to peace in the whole region. But peace," it concludes, "will never come as long as there is constant fighting over the key."


Spain's El Pais writes in an editorial: "Last week in the Middle East began with a song of hope. [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Barak invited [Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat Monday [Sept 25] night to his home for their first face-to-face encounter since the failure of [negotiations at ] Camp David." But, the paper adds, "Barak did not want to -- or could not -- stop the affront of the leader of [the Israeli opposition Likud party, Ariel Sharon, who visited the Muslin holy site in Jerusalem on Wednesday]. Nor did Barak condemn the visit publicly. As a result," the paper says, "there were three days of violence [in Jerusalem] that spun out of control and slipped over into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank."

This, the editorial argues, "is not no longer the 'intifada' of the 1980s. The Palestinians have now an armed police and their confrontations with Israeli soldiers are exchanges of real fire. Young Arabs now use their Kalashnikovs, not only stones and incendiary bombs."

The paper continues: "Palestinians and Israelis hold each other responsible for what happened. Jewish leaders pressure Arafat to put an end to the disorders. Arab Middle Eastern leaders accuse Israel of having declared war and say they are prepared for it. All this," it concludes, "makes that the word 'peace' again sound far off and meaningless. Negotiations are not sufficient, the hate that each side had for the other is so deeply rooted that any spark could set off a devastating fire."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego and Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to our report.)