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Western Press Review: Election In Montenegro, Other Topics

Prague, 24 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Much commentary in our survey of the Western press today analyzes the results of Sunday's election in Montenegro and what it means for the Yugoslav Federation. Other commentary considers problems in Ukraine and Russia, Iran, and Iraq.


Analysts often declare winners and losers in national elections less by counting the votes than by comparing results to expectations. By that gauge, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung's" Bernhard Kueppers writes, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic won only a "Pyrrhic victory" in Sunday's elections. The expression is from the ancient Greek general Pyrrhus, who said after winning a costly battle, "Another such a victory and I am undone."

Kueppers writes: "The end of what remains of Yugoslavia was announced prematurely. The feeling after the election in Montenegro is above all one of disappointed embarrassment on the part of the pro-independence camp."

The writer says: "In the streets of the capital people celebrated with Yugoslav flags, surrounded all the while by the jeeps of Djukanovic's omnipresent police. Opponents of the president, shouted: 'Gotov je! Gotov je!' -- He is finished! -- the same chorus with which Serbia's democratic opposition toppled Slobodan Milosevic last autumn."


"Washington Post" correspondent R. Jeffrey Smith writes from Podgorica that the results show "a population deeply divided by the central question of whether the republic should declare independence and finally dissolve Yugoslavia."

Smith says: "Based on the results, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, an advocate of independence, probably will be able in the coming weeks to muster enough parliamentary support for a formal referendum on the matter, as the constitution requires. But the narrow victory of the pro-independence parties has galvanized the opposition, which today called for new negotiations with Serbia aimed at preserving the federation, even though Montenegro has already created its own currency, customs service, and police force."


The "Wall Street Journal Europe" suggests that Djukanovic looks far less attractive standing alone than he did when Yugoslavia's former President Milosevic was available for comparison purposes. The newspaper says in an editorial: "Sometimes what a protagonist needs most is a good foil to show off his virtues by way of comparison."

The editorial continues: "Until recently, President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro had the sort of counterpart who couldn't help but make him look good -- Slobodan Milosevic. Mr. Djukanovic, who broke with Milosevic in 1997 in the face of massive opposition to the Milosevic regime in Serbia, has worked since then to modernize and Westernize his small republic on the Adriatic, even as an increasingly desperate Milosevic drove Serbia deeper into irredentism and international isolation."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" treats the election not as a Pyrrhic victory but as a welcome temporary ceasefire. It says: "Not many months back, the republic of Montenegro was seriously regarded as the next possible venue for another bloody civil war in the Balkans. The pro-independence movement led by President Milo Djukanovic was fiercely opposed by the pro-Serbian minority wanting to preserve what was left of the Yugoslav federation. The outcome of Sunday's election has not resolved the division but it should have bought a breathing space to allow a sensible settlement to be negotiated."


In a commentary in the "Christian Science Monitor," analyst Richard Hottelet says that Montenegro's position is decisive for the future of what remains of Yugoslavia. Hottelet writes: "Yugoslavia is little more than a figure of speech. It consists today of Serbia and Montenegro. If Montenegro declares independence, Yugoslavia will be only Serbia. It is inconceivable, after 10 years of oppression under ex-President Milosevic, that Kosovo would agree to remain a part of [Serbia]."

The writer says: "Europe and the United States are working on a stability pact for Southeast Europe that would link those nations through their common interest in peace, security, and prosperity. As one European diplomat remarked: 'To join, Kosovo must be a state. It cannot be allowed to become a black hole.'"


"Die Welt's" Katja Ridderbusch writes that today's Serbia still obsesses over the Milosevic clan. She writes: "For more than 10 years Belgraders could talk of nothing but politics, at all times of day and in all places. [And] until very recently, politics represented a tiny world in Serbia, all revolving on one single point -- that occupied by Slobodan Milosevic and his wife, Mira Markovic, otherwise known as the despot and his missus. Mira, a bizarre apparition sporting a garish silk flower set in her dyed bluish-black hair, looks like something out of a Fellini film, a living caricature of the fairy-tale witch. For more than 10 years, the people of Belgrade observed the couple as if paralyzed in fear and hate, with scorn and cynicism, and sometimes with a dark fascination. That spell has now been broken."

However, Ridderbusch continues, "for the tabloid press, the private lives of the Milosevic clan provide a seemingly endless treasure house of gossip and information. Milosevic is still worth running a story on -- be the topic his heart conditions, which saw him turn up in hospital last week, or the concessions he is said to have made at the central Belgrade jail, where he is being held while awaiting trial."

"Die Welt's" commentator recounts the story of Slobo and Mira as a kind of black Romeo and Juliet tale. And she ends it: "Mira once told a journalist that come 60, she and Slobo were going to withdraw from politics and live a life on holiday, perhaps in a little spa town in Switzerland. That project has been scotched as the future of Slobo and Mira comes to an end in a windowless visitor's room in Belgrade's Central Prison."


In the "Frankfurter Rundschau," commentator Karl-Otto Sattler writes that the Ukrainian government of President Leonid Kuchma is under assault both domestically and from Europe. Sattler writes: "A committee of the Council of Europe has spoken in favor of expelling Ukraine from the [pan-European body]. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is due to vote in Strasbourg [26 April] on sanctions against Ukraine. The former Soviet republic is being accused mainly of violation of press freedom and non-observance of standards expected of a state under the rule of law."


The "Boston Globe" headlines a staff-written analysis, "Putin Exposed." In an editorial, the newspaper says that Russia's Vladimir Putin likewise is stumbling over blatant attacks on the press. This presents a good time, the newspaper says, for the United States to treat Russia gently. The writers say: "Self-serving as it may be, [exiled media magnate Vladimir] Gusinsky's claim that Russia's President Vladimir Putin has used prosecutorial and financial ploys to silence the independent journalists working for his media properties ought to be accepted by U.S. policy makers." Russia is at a point where it feels defensive and vulnerable, the analysis says, and concludes: "The time to cultivate cooperation with [Russia] is now, when Russians feel most vulnerable to humiliation and the United States is best able to be magnanimous."

Britain's "Financial Times" and the U.S. capital city daily, the "Washington Times," carry commentaries respectively on Iran and Iraq.


The "Financial Times'" Guy Dinmore writes that the role of Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami -- often called relatively "moderate" -- seems to be fading. The commentator writes: "It is spring in Tehran and camels are once again plodding along traffic-choked highways bearing sacks of dung for the rose gardens that Iranians love. But with a presidential election approaching on 8 June, many citizens fear that the country's political and theological spring under Mohammad Khatami, its reformist but relatively powerless president, is coming to an end. Tehran's Revolutionary Court, dominated by ultra-conservative clerics opposed to Mr. Khatami, is certainly doing its best to give that impression."


In the "Washington Times," writer Joe Lauria cites evidence from the writing of Laurie Mylroie, whom he identifies as an "Iraq expert," that Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq is behind a series of terrorist attacks on the United States. He writes: "Saddam Hussein has vowed revenge for air strikes near Baghdad earlier this year. Conventional Washington wisdom says he is sufficiently boxed in by sanctions and the no-fly zone to hit back. But the Iraqi leader has called on Arabs outside Iraq to strike U.S. interests in the region. That, according to Iraq expert Laurie Mylroie, fits Saddam Hussein's pattern of revenge since the 1991 Gulf War: masterminding terrorism through Arab fundamentalists who are left holding the bag."

Lauria concludes: "We may never know if Iraq was behind these terrorist attacks, but if the Bush administration wants to lead a more robust policy against Baghdad, it might be wise for it to find out."