Central and Eastern Europe was no different from any other part of the world, as it watched on as the Yugoslav elections unfolded with a mixture of apprehension and amazement at what potentially could happen. Internationally villified, Slobodan Milošević's support at last seemed to be going down the plughole in his own country, in favour of presidential hopeful Vojislav Koštunica.
For old enemies, who have cosied up to the West to gain credibility by clinging to the coat-tails of the anti-Milošević sentiments, the imminent departure of the authoritarian leader should have been a clear-cut cause for celebration. But not so. Albania's press accompagnied echoes of the statements of Bill Clinton, Robin Cook, Jacques Chirak, Lamberto Dini and others with a scepticism at the possibility of change in Belgrade, even if Milošević were to go and Koštunica take power.
Enthusiasm with reservations
The Albanian-language section of the USA's Voice of America Radio (VOA), for example, last week interviewed different personalities of USA's American-Albanian community who appealed to the international community not to lift sanctions against Serbia until signs of democracy in Serbia are clearly evident.
Representatives of American-Albanian League on VOA demanded that the lifting of sanctions against Serbia should be linked to the release of 5000 and more innocent Albanians currently in Serbian prisons, co-operation with the Hague Tribunal. They also called for potential new president Vojislav Koštunica to show that he respects the concepts of self-determination for other nationalities.
The FRY elections have also had a high profile in neighboring Bosnia-Hercegovina, where they were met with similar concern. Koštunica was shown on BH-TV stating that he "unconditionally" supports normal relations between Serbia and BiH. While television coverage has been the usual shots of mass rallies and press conferences, the newspapers and magazines in the Muslim-Croat Federation have daily full coverage of Serbian and Montenegrin events from their own correspondents. Sarajevo's dailies, notably Večernje Novine, in an interview with former SFRJ President Raif Dizdarevic, brought up the fact that Koštunica does not exactly represent the antithesis of Milošević.
Dizdarević told Večernje that Koštunica is a nationalist as well, and that his criticisms of Milošević stemmed from Slobo's failure to realise the dream of Greater Serbia, not because he held those views in the first place. While it sometimes seems that media in the West see Koštunica's victory as a quick fix for ex-Yugoslav stability, the Federation analysis is that:
- what happens in FRY doesn't depend only on Koštunica.
- that Greater Serb nationalism is not going to exit the area's stage even if Milošević does.
Some Republika Srpska media were more gleeful in their coverage of the vote. The weekly magazine Republika crowed that "Serbia finally passed the IQ test" and called the elections an "earthquake." In every article referring to Milošević, the magazine capitalised the prounouns He and Him in a tongue-in-cheek way. Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine published the diary of DOS election headquarters chief for the Drina River area Milisa Petković, who reported that in this region it was even dangerous for people to greet members of the opposition in the street.
Avoiding Ceauşescu's fate
Along with most neighbouring countries, Romania—whose pro-West stance during the Kosovo bombing was detrimental to traditionally good relations between the country—saw their independent journalists and election monitors turned away at the Yugoslav border before and during election day. EvZ reported that the Pro-Democratia Association (A Romanian NGO) had the accreditation of 50 observers denied by the Serbian authorities prior to the elections.
Four representatives of Pro-Democratia seeking accreditation in Belgrade told Monitorul that the atmosphere in the Serbian capital was tense and that they had been followed and photographed continually before they were advised to leave.
Sunday 24 September saw Serb customs and immigration officers armed with lists of Romanian citizens not to be allowed into Yugoslavia. Analysts suggested that this move was to prepare for election fraud.
In a widely reported speech made in Arad on Tuesday the Romanian Foreign Minister, Petre Roman, urged those members of Yugoslav military and secret services who were close to Milošević to learn from the Romanian tragedy of December 1989. He appealed to them to avoid using force and violence against innocent people and added that democracy would win in the end. Roman continued by expressing his support for Koštunica and by condemning the maintenance of the Serbian dictatorship by the use of force.
The Nine o'clock editorial of 29 September portrays the feeling from within Romania, "For Milošević, the only way out of this situation is to quit power. He will leave, one way or another. In Yugoslavia, the president has been replaced already."
The Bulgarian media has covered the Yugoslav elections as though they were domestic ones. While Bulgarian dailies usually allocate one or perhaps two pages for all international news, this week they filled at least two of them just with the elections.
Bulgaria has suffered huge economic losses by the Yugoslav wars in the past decade and a substantial Bulgarian minority lives in Serbia (in the so-called "Western outskirts") and was bombed last year (in Surdulica for example). A NATO bomb also landed in the capital Sofia during last year's air operation of the alliance against Yugoslavia. Bulgaria was asked to give its air space to the NATO aviation during that campaign, which provoked furious public debates and divided society into "for and against" camps for the Western Alliance.
As in Romania, a principal concern was treatment of journalists. Bulgarian National Television's leading story was the refusal of the Belgrade authorities to give accreditation for the elections to its team of journalists. Furthermore, National Radio's correspondent in Belgrade, Boiko Vassilev, was among those 20 journalists who received orders to leave Yugoslavia, without explanation, just a day before voting day. A group of seven Bulgarians was detained by police in Niš, Southern Serbia, and four of them were severely beaten and intimidated before being expelled from the country, which intensified emotions even more.
However, National Radio's correspondent was granted permission to stay due to some diplomatic pressure by Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, and was able to give unsettling accounts of police brutality on the streets of Belgrade. Some Bulgarian journalists in Belgrade who still managed to enter the country reported that Yugoslavia is at a standstill, with huge queues for food and people scared and having nobody to believe to anymore (Sevda Dimovska, Trud).
Just as Bulgaria's pro-Alliance stance split the country, the nation is divided over the elections. Some say the election results were rigged, others say they were free. Some say the opposition in Serbia should participate in the run-off of the presidential elections, others say this would symbolise defeat. Some say the opposition has won, pointing out that most people have voted for DOS. Others say Milošević has won, pointing out that he and his allies still have absolute majority in parliament.
Bulgarian members of parliament who observed the elections (from the ex-communist Bulgarian Socialist Party, opposition, center-left) tell those were the calmest and most democratic elections they have ever seen. Meanwhile, Bulgarian policymakers, including the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, the President and the Foreign Minister, have raised concerns over the outcome of those elections and the future of Yugoslavia and the Balkans as a whole.
Generally, the Yugoslav elections has not constituted a special part of the Ukrainain news. The political position for the two candidates is in favour of Vojislav Koštunica as a true democrat and possible saviour of the country out of the current chaos. Milošević is portrayed as a bloody dictator who due to his ambitions and desire to keep power, unable to see the damage and tragedy he has brought to his nation during the last twelve years.
Ukrainian evaluation of the election events in Yugoslavia is, in these respects, very close to Western comments. There are no thoughts about pan-Slavic unity, NATO threat in Eastern Europe or imperialist intervention. Somehow, the media have taken a rather distant position in this question. There are almost no personal comments on the situation in Yugoslavia right now.
The only issue which gets some interest from time to time in connection with the elections is the position of Moscow. Ukrainians are curious: will Moscow "hand over" its friend Milošević or will it again be "unable to find the strength to join Western civilisation and support Serbs in their struggle against dictatorship,"—as a journalist in the newspaper Den' puts the question. (See also this week's Russian press review)
The Montenegro question
A distant approach also marked the reporting in Poland. Yugoslavia is not such an electrifying country for Poland as it was when NATO waged its war machine at it. But, of course, the main dailies, Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita, as well as minor ones, did publish news reviews from Yugoslavia, always underlining the wrong-doings of Slobodan Milošević's regime (except for those few that advocate extreme rightist, anti-NATO and anti-EU, policy).
Two weeks prior to the elections, the Polish press started reporting on Yugoslavia's preparations, foreseeing possible outcomes and the way the regime may react to it. Conclusions are common, and do not differ from those held elsewhere in Europe: Milošević is going to lose, but his divorce with power will not be smooth for Yugoslavia.
Obviously, Polish readers are presented with analyses of Vojislav Koštunica's political dossier, written in a rather positive and supportive way. Not, "fully" positive and supportive, because one could see a tiny amount of contempt for Milošević's main rival for his sudden metamorphosis: from an intellectualist to a Serbian nationalist not avoiding populist rhetoric. The general opinion is that, however, if there is anyone to challenge Milošević, Koštunica is the right man to do it. "Smiling and unbribable" was the headline of Gazeta Wyborcza's article presenting the opposition leader.
But in another article in the same daily, Dawid Warszawski, writes about Koštunica: "In terms of ideology, opposition candidate Koštunica does not differ much from President Slobodan Milošević. He is a Serbian nationalist and dislikes the West. But Serbs do need his victory in order to be able to face their bloodbath history of the last ten years." A few paragraphs below Warszawski writes: "His [Koštunica's] victory will not mean a breakthrough yet. But only this victory will make a breakthrough possible."
Another much-analyzed aspect of the Yugoslav elections is the fate of Montenegro, with its pro-Western government and ambitions for independence. On 4 September, Rzeczpospolita's Ryszard Bilski interviewed the Montenegrin minister of foreign affairs, Branko Lukovać.
Q: What are Slobodan Milošević's chances for re-elections?
A: I'm not an optimist, unfortunately. Milošević and his party will win the elections because there's no other possibility. [...] They aim not only at re-election but also at doing away with the opposition, which is presented to the people as traitors, collaborating with the West. Naďve and propaganda-dumbed Serbs believed it again. I wish I were mistaken.
Q: It's being said that boycott of the elections in Montenegro will be a kind of referendum as well—whether Montenegrins want it "with or without Belgrade." What answer can we expect?
A: After so many bitter experiences, there can only be one answer: no [without]!
CER Staff, 30 September 2000
Contributors: Andrew James Horton, Beth Kampschror, Wojtek Kość, Natalya Krasnoboka, David Lovatt, Matilda Nahabedian, Artur Nura.
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