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Western Press Review: Sizing Up A Post-Milosevic Yugoslavia

Prague, 6 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The uprising in Belgrade yesterday against the rule of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has triggered a flurry of commentaries in today's Western press. Some focus on the challenges ahead for opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica in a post-Milosevic era. Others analyze how western governments and Russia should react to the tumultuous events in Serbia.


An editorial in Britain's Financial Times offers short-term policy recommendations. It says: "The West can help by encouraging Milosevic's opponents without undermining their independence. Western governments must continue to stress the prospects for aid and a lifting of sanctions in the wake of Milosevic's departure from power. Western governments cannot grant Milosevic immunity -- that would undermine the war crimes tribunal and war crimes law. They should increase pressure on Russia to get off the fence and follow suit in recognizing Kostunica's election victory. First, Milosevic has to show he recognizes the reality that his reign is over. That could come at any moment. The West should hold back until it does."


A news analysis in today's New York Times focuses on Russian President Vladimir Putin's refusal to take a position on the leadership struggle in Yugoslavia. The analysis concludes that "[Putin's] remarks emphasizing Russia's support for democratic development suggest that Moscow is adjusting its position to recognize an inevitable transfer of power."


Meanwhile, a New York Times editorial encourages Putin to support Kostunica. It says: "Russia has much to gain, and little to lose, by using its influence in Belgrade to speed Milosevic from power. President Putin should abandon Moscow's neutrality on the outcome of the Yugoslav election and affirm Kostunica's victory."

The editorial goes on to discuss the challenges facing a post-Milosevic Yugoslavia. It says: "In some ways, Kostunica and his allies will have a simpler task than Belgrade's Central and East European neighbors faced in 1989. Yugoslavia already has a legitimately elected president and Parliament that can now assume legal authority." The paper adds: "While a majority of the legislators elected last month ran as Milosevic allies, many may now transfer their loyalties to democratic government. A crucial step will be to de-politicize the army and police, which have been agents of repression under Milosevic. Many commanders will have to be removed, and some should be brought to trial for their role in enforcing Milsevic's brutal policies."


Robert Kaplan, a U.S. writer on Balkan history and transition, writes an opinion column in today's New York Times examining the impact Milosevic's ouster on Serbia's Balkan neighbors -- particularly, Bulgaria, and Romania. Kaplan says: "The real issue for the next administration in Washington will be less the former Yugoslavia than the integration of the entire Balkan peninsula, including Romania and Bulgaria, into Europe. For at the moment, there are two Europes, with the southeast part of the continent a bloc of unstable, impoverished countries where the political and economic trends are mostly bad."

Kaplan continues: "After the NATO air war against Serbia in 1999, hopes ran high in [Bulgaria and Romania] that generous aid would be forthcoming. People there say they have been bitterly disappointed. An end to the Milosevic era could bring new hope in the Balkans. It will be the job of the next [U.S.] administration to expand NATO to the Black Sea and prevent the Balkans from permanently rejoining the Middle East. The fall of Europe's last Communist dictator would offer an unprecedented opportunity, but not a solution to the current division of Europe."


An analysis by Carla Ann Robbins in today's Wall Street Journal Europe examines the impact of the Belgrade uprising on Serbia's neighbors within Yugoslavia. She writes: "An ouster of Milosevic makes it far less likely that NATO will have to [defend] Montenegro, Serbia's fragile but democratic junior partner in Yugoslavia. The effect on Kosovo could be far more worrisome," she adds. "Until now, the ethnic Albanians have seen NATO troops as their saviors and protectors from Milosevic. As long as he was in charge, the West's declared opposition to full Kosovo independence wasn't taken seriously. That could change quickly and dangerously now."

Robbins concludes with advice to Kostunica: "The support the West actually delivers to Yugoslavia now will depend on whether the new government drives out Milosevic and other indicted war criminals, including several of Bosnia's top former thugs. Kostunica has said he won't turn Milosevic in to the Hague. If he makes good on that promise, it could temper the warmth of the West's embrace. Before the West, and especially international leaders, are willing to invest big in a post-Milosevic Serbia, it will also have to prove that it is done once and for all with communism as well."


A news analysis by David Sands in today's Washington Times takes a cautious approach on Kostunica. Sands says: "Kostunica's strong nationalistic views and his lack of experience in governing could cause problems. Any new government will face a steep learning curve after Milosevic's near monopoly on power. Potential pitfalls include forming a new government, the economy, Kosovo and [relations with] Russia." But Sands concludes: "Despite the immense challenges of rebuilding Yugoslavia, Kostunica can expect a warm honeymoon for now."


A commentary in the British Guardian by Martin Woollacott puts Belgrade's uprising in the historical context of post-Communist Eastern Europe. Woollacott writes: "The priority [for Belgrade] is to get off a path which leads only to more isolation. Serbia must rejoin the east European story, which is one of transformation to a true multi-party state, the establishment of a market economy, and membership in European organizations leading on to a place within the European Union. This is a message the Serbs are finally ready to hear. It has been Serbia's fate to stay beneath the water longer than any other ex-communist society But it seems now that finally Serbia's moment has come."


The French national daily Liberation says in an editorial: "Last night, a people began to break out of the ghetto of resignation and hate in which it had been locked up by the great intoxicator [that is, Milosevic]. It is now recapturing its dignity. And it remains for us, in coming days, to tell them: 'Welcome to Europe.' Not," the editorial adds, "because things will now be simple in liberated Serbia but because, in getting rid of Milosevic -- together with his henchmen, with their obsessions and thirst for power and money -- the Serbs will have accomplished an eminently democratic act."


The influential French provincial newspaper Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace today says: "Because he has managed to shrink Yugoslavia drastically since [he took power], Milosevic has lost everything -- now including Serbia! And this," it continues, "after tens of thousands of deaths in Croatia, in Bosnia and in Kosovo. And after fraudulent elections that reached the absurd with the annulment of a presidential vote still too unfavorable to Milosevic, despite the gross manipulations of ballots." The paper warns, however, not to rejoice too soon: "We're not in Prague in 1989, it says, "nor in Leipzig or Sofia. We're in Belgrade, the lair of the last dinosaur of the old Europe. And Milosevic has never hesitated when it comes to shedding blood."


The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende says "last night's events in Serbia looked like they were the beginning of the end of one of Europe's most brutal despots. Milosevic has already become used to massive rallies demanding his resignation," the editorial goes on. "But the difference this time is that the opposition is united in supporting Kostunica. The attitude of the international community is also different. It has both put enormous pressure on the regime and unequivocally supported the Serbian people by promising them a better future if they remove the dictator themselves."

"Still," the paper adds, "one name is prominently missing from among the collection of Milosevic's opponents: Russia. The only thing President Putin has done so far has been to offer to be a mediator. It is," the editorial notes, "quite incredible that the Kremlin still cannot get rid of its old ways of responding to rogues who have stepped on the wrong side of the law."