Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: With Milosevic Behind Bars, New Questions Arise

Prague, 2 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Nearly all the Western press carries commentary on the dramatic arrest and detention yesterday in Belgrade of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. We look first at the U.S. press, which unanimously applauds the role of a Congressional arrest-for-aid deadline in yesterday's showdown, but diverges on what should happen to Milosevic next.


The "New York Times" writes in an editorial that "little more than six months ago, few people imagined that Slobodan Milosevic would soon be forced from power, much less that he would wind up in a Belgrade prison facing criminal charges within Yugoslavia." But, the paper continues, the arrest is only a "first step toward prosecuting Mr. Milosevic for crimes against humanity at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague." It adds: "[Now] there is an understandable desire in the [U.S.] administration to release millions of dollars in [assistance] to Yugoslavia. We hope [President George] Bush will withhold or delay certification to maintain maximum leverage, but if he finds in Belgrade's favor, the president and Congress must set the scale and timing of future financial assistance to keep pressure on [Yugoslav President Vojislav] Kostunica to send Mr. Milosevic to The Hague."


The "Wall Street Journal Europe" writes in an editorial: "Global politics is still adjusting to the idea that Mr. Bush is much tougher than his casual demeanor implies. Former Yugoslav strongman Milosevic learned that the hard way over the weekend."

The paper writes the arrest was a direct result of the U.S. Congress-imposed deadline for Yugoslavia to receive its $350 million aid package. Now, it writes, "it would be wise to let the Yugoslav legal process work itself out. The Yugoslav charges against Milosevic are largely financial, which will make it harder for his supporters to claim that he is a victim of political prosecution -- something [some people] fear would happen if he were brought to The Hague directly. [But] when the time is right to send Milosevic to The Hague, Mr. Bush's deadline diplomacy -- which has worked so spectacularly in this instance -- will no doubt be put to work again."


Balkan affairs analyst Tim Judah writes in a commentary in the "Wall Street Journal Europe": "Everyone should be pleased by the arrest of Milosevic, [but] let's keep this in perspective." He adds: "[Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic] has said that while the outside world appeared obsessed with the Milosevic question, ordinary Serbs were not. They want real change, and his government would succeed or fail based on whether it could deliver this."

Judah writes further: "Let's hail what has happened in Serbia. It was a step in the right direction. But Serbia is nowhere near the goal. The goal is to make Serbia a dull little country in Southeastern Europe that exports grain, is adapting to the global economy with its relatively high proportion of well-educated people, and whose borders are not lines drawn in blood but lines on a map as relevant to its people and its neighbors as those of Luxembourg, France, or Germany."


Two French dailies argue in favor of trying Milosevic on war crimes charges by the international tribunal in The Hague. An editorial in "Le Monde" says that Milosevic is responsible for "a war -- with its accompanying torture, pillage, rape, crime, and ethnic cleansing -- more savage than any the European Continent has known since World War Two. That's why," it says, "he was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity [in May 1999] in the midst of the Kosovo war, by Louise Arbour, [then] chief prosecutor of [the] tribunal. And that's why," the paper adds, "he must be judged by this international judiciary, created in 1993 by the UN Security Council." The editorial also notes: "This would be, of course, the first time that a former head of state is handed over to an international tribunal, but [The Hague court] has already tried Croats, Bosnians, and Serbs, and its authority has been imposed on all of them."


In a commentary in "Liberation," staffer Gerard Dupuy writes: "Of course, Milosevic has special debts to pay the Serbs themselves because they were not the least of his victims. But there can be no doubt that he should be judged first by [The Hague court]. Still," the commentator goes on, "his transfer to the Netherlands should not be effected in a way that aggravates the current situation. Prosecutor [Carla] Del Ponte has spoken of 'the end of the year' as the limit for handing over Milosevic to her court. Del Ponte, who is known for her firmness, also knows how to be flexible. What is important," the comment concludes, "is that in the end the power rests with [international] law, and that a lifting of the sanctions allows the reconstruction of Serbia."


Some commentary in the German press reflects a sense of victory that justice has prevailed in Yugoslavia. Katja Ridderbusch in "Die Welt" writes in her comment entitled "The Demise of a Dictator": "Sometimes history is just after all, and the despot exits as he deserves. The political life of Slobodan Milosevic as a Balkan brigand, someone between the humdrum and the dangerous, has come to an end."


On the other hand, Herbert Kemp in "Die Welt" attributes the success of Milosevic's capture more to the political tactics exerted by the U.S. He writes: "The arrest of Slobodan Milosevic was the result of American pressure. Washington was actually thinking less of the Balkans and had on its mind the Middle East, Saddam Hussein. This should become a symbol of the length of the arm of justice, strong and ready to unsettle culprits who are still sitting in their fortresses. This, then, is a chess move in the psychological war. But still there remains the seizure of [Radovan] Karadzic and General [Ratko] Mladic, who committed serious crimes in the Bosnian war."


Rolf Paasch in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" looks into Yugoslavia's future: "This trial against corrupt ex-state boss and alleged war criminal Slobodan Milosevic inaugurates the rebuilding of Yugoslavia after a lost 10 years. The demands placed on the one hand by the UN war crimes tribunal and on the other hand by this trial are different, in part contradictory. Serbia must come to terms with its past. The world demands justice. In theory, the one cannot exclude the other. But in reality, the court proceedings are far more complicated.

Nevertheless, the achievements of the Djindjic government present a chance that the condemnation of Slobodan Milosevic will bring some sense that justice has been done on behalf of the victims and that Serbia has come to terms with its past and culpability. But this is only feasible provided all those concerned -- in Belgrade, The Hague, Brussels, and Washington -- in promoting justice in dealing with the accused, are willing to mollify their extreme demands, are willing to show flexibility and cease boycott threats."


An editorial in the British "Financial Times" writes "the Serbian government is to be congratulated for arresting Slobodan Milosevic and for doing so almost without bloodshed. [This] was an act of great political courage. [But] Serbia must learn that it cannot enjoy the West's full support until Mr. Milosevic is tried for war crimes."

Still, it adds, "Serbia urgently needs political and economic aid. It would be wrong [of the West] to withhold support in order to try Mr. Milosevic for war crimes. The best approach for the U.S. and the European Union is to continue to give sufficient support to the authorities in Belgrade to allow them to minimize economic hardship and start the reconstruction of their country. But this aid will be subject, as now, to period review. [And the] international community should also keep talking to Belgrade about the mechanics of calling Mr. Milosevic to account."


A "Daily Telegraph" editorial says: "[Milosevic's] eventual arrest is immensely cheering, but it is just one of a series of tests facing [Yugoslav President Vojislav] Kostunica and Zoran Djindjic, the Serbian prime minister. Next month Montenegro will vote in a parliamentary poll seen as a barometer of popular desire to leave the Yugoslav Federation. Later in the year, provincial elections are due in Kosovo, a further stage in preparing the province for at least a high degree of autonomy from Belgrade or, which is much more likely, independence. Yugoslavia, created after the First World War, could cease to exist."

It adds: "In the months ahead, Western powers will need to remind themselves of the principle for which they became involved in the disintegration of the old Titoist federation -- that of peaceful self-determination. That means upholding the right of the Montenegrins and the moderate Kosovars to part company with Serbia. It also entails defending Macedonia and Kosovo from armed extremists."


An editorial in the British "Independent" newspaper says: "It would not matter if Slobodan Milosevic had been apprehended for non-payment of his library fines; the former dictator has been locked up against his will, and defenders of human rights and the rule of law everywhere should rejoice."

It adds: "The object of the exercise is not retribution but deterrence and reconciliation. [The] fact that Augusto Pinochet was eventually allowed to return to Chile did not detract from the shock value of demonstrating that it was at least possible to arrest those accused of crimes against humanity. [Milosevic] is a broken, deluded man today and a threat to no one. But the world is just that tiny bit safer now, because it is just possible that another tyrant, somewhere in the world, will pause in the watches of the night to wonder when the agents of international justice will come knocking on his door."


In a comment in the "Guardian," Martin Woollacott writes from Belgrade: "The arrest of Milosevic is the second act in a three-part drama. The first was his fall from power, the second is his disgrace in Serbia, and the third act will begin when and if he is dispatched to The Hague. But it is a drama which is being watched in rather different ways by Western governments and by the peoples of the region to which Milosevic brought so much suffering."

He adds: "The arrest is an important moment in the Serbian political struggle, which is between those who want a limited and essentially fraudulent settlement of the accounts of the last 10 years and those who want the process taken through to a proper end. But it is not yet a victory for the latter, because groups with very different ideas about Serbian renewal are trying to use Milosevic for different ends. A continued failure to arrest him would have been a clear signal that the wrong people were in charge in Serbia or that nationalist forces, whether of the old or the new kind, were too strong from the more realistic and liberal elements in the government to risk confrontation. But his arrest is not a clear signal that the opposite is true."

(Joel Blocker and Dora Slaba contributed to this review)