For the first two days after Sunday's elections in Yugoslavia, the topic was almost as popular in the Russian media as Russia's own chaos in the television sector, although interest later subsided. Three major issues occupied the minds and publications of Russian journalists and political experts:
- The possibility of civil war in Yugoslavia
- The fate of Milošević himself
- The role of NATO (primarily the USA) and Russia in Yugoslav events
The majority of publications on the topic of the Yugoslav elections considered a peaceful resolution to the current elections to be the most desirable outcome—but, at the same time, an unachievable miracle. Yugoslavia, according to the Russian press, is one step away from a new war for several reasons.
First of all, Milošević is unlikely to relinquish the reins of power. Secondly, the Yugoslav people have grave doubts that the leaders of the opposition will use only peaceful means to get this power. Statements made by Koštunica that he will not call people to an armed and bloody conflict are met with great pessimism and distrust: to be so close to gaining power and not to try to obtain it by any means would be something rather new in political history. Thirdly, Russia believes that if Milošević remains president, the West will do its best to provoke a "patriotic-democratic" war in the country. Finally, as everybody in Yugoslavia is aware of these possibilities, a war can be started at any moment by anybody, "because now any single small spark can kindle the fire of civil war" (Nezavisimaya Gazeta).
That Milošević cannot lose power is the underlying message of all Russian papers, even if this idea does not necessarily reflect the desires of Russian journalists themselves. "Milošević has a lot to lose, but he has even more to answer for" was how one Moskovskie Novosti journalist identified the problem of the Yugoslav president. Trying to understand how Milošević is thinking now, journalists conclude that it is most likely that letting go of power would be the equivalent of Milošević signing his own death warrant.
Practically everyone agrees that the West will not give up until the moment when Milošević is publicly convicted in the Hague. Statements made on this issue by Koštunica and reported in the Russian press ("Milošević will answer to the nation") can be interpreted differently. It could mean that Milošević will face such treatment from his nation that "it would be better for him to go to the Hague of his own free will as soon as possible" (Vesti.Ru). In saying this, the online newspaper calls back memories of the trial of Ceauşescu in Romania.
However, the words of the opposition leader could also be interpreted as meaning that he does not consider Milošević to be an international villain. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta pointed out, "practically all the opposition politicians in Serbia saw the decision of the Hague tribunal to consider Milošević an international criminal to be a mistake." Such an interpretation is possible, because, as the same newspaper continues, Vojislav Koštunica cannot be a totally pro-Western candidate, since "a candidate who considers the operation of the Alliance [NATO] against Belgrade as being a proper solution cannot have any chance of winning the election in the country."
Retiring in Russia?
The last possible fate which Milošević might face is that he peacefully hands over power from his secret exile somewhere, and perhaps (why not?) Russia. It is difficult to ascertain whether this possibility has already been discussed between the Russian and Serbian authorities. But on Friday, in response to rumours to the contrary (primarily from the Western media), Russian officials did confirm to the international community that Milošević was not in Moscow.
Speaking generally about the Yugoslav elections and the two major candidates for the presidential post, it is difficult to say with certainty which of the two Serbs seems more favourable to Russians. Lacking the Western picture of Milošević as an international criminal, citizens and media look at both Milošević and Koštunica as just two potential candidates for the post, one from the conservative socialist left, and the other from the more liberal democratic part of virutally the same left wing.
In addition, the Russian media are admittedly very negative about Milošević's behaviour during the election campaign, "which, even according to the not very high local standards, can be called a 'campaign' only conditionally" (Moskovskie Novosti). However, such dirty election campaigns are rather well-known in Eastern Europe, and Milošević is seen as just another representative of post-Soviet Eastern Europe's prevailing powerful elites.
However, it would be fair to say that neither the elections, the candidates nor the possibility of civil war in Yugoslavia truly dominates the Russian media. The major question is an old one: why does the West want to interfere in the affairs of an independent country?
It would be a mistake to say that most of the Russian media view the entire attitude of the USA, NATO, European Union, etc to the election campaign very negatively. However, there is Russian indignation over the statements of several leading world politicians, made before the official announcement of the results, about unfair elections if Milošević wins or if Yugoslavia faces a second round.
In this respect, the opinion of the online newspaper Vesti.Ru seems to be quite logical: "...this is an incredible election: the number of votes means nothing... and even if Milošević wins objectively, nobody will ever believe it. The fate of elections is not decided by the election committee anymore. That is why it [the election committee] made a very logical decision to stop counting the votes [on election day]."
Russian newspapers are extremely interested in the question of whether the West will announce a new intervention immediately after the "unfair" elections. "External intervention" has become the key word symbolizing the Russian understanding of events. Even those democratic in their views—Russian journalists, as well as a large part of the country—cannot forgive the West for the last armed conflict in Yugoslavia, which is not interpreted in any other way than NATO aggression, war or intervention.
In connection with the recent Western role in Yugoslavia, Russian journalists have tried to evaluate the role of their own country in the same process. To a certain extent, discussions of pan-Slavic unity and Russian military support for the Serbian government—which were popular during the Kosovo conflict—have given way to more pragmatical judgements, such as whether it is necessary for Russia to spoil its relations with the West because of the problems in Yugoslavia, or whether or not Russia should give political asylum to Milošević.
Although commonly defending the cautious position of Moscow in the Yugoslav question, newspapers differ regarding the reasons for this caution. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, for example, suggests that Russia has demonstrated to the West what the position of the foreign country should be during the election process in Yugoslavia: "in principle this is the right decision [the cautious position of Moscow], because, according to the norms of international law, recognition of somebody's victory during elections before the official announcement of the final results is qualified as intervention into the state's internal affairs."
These issues raise the question of whether Russia can indeed so easily give up its influence in Yugoslav conflict. Maybe it can, due to the internal problems which Russian society and the government face right now. However, there is also another supposition, expressed by Seleznev: "A new person at the presidential post in Yugoslavia will not be much more favourable for the West, and there are serious doubts as to whether Vojislav Koštunica will open the Yugoslav door to NATO and let the Alliance throw its weight around the country."
Dmitry Gornostaev and Andrey Yadykin, in their article in Nezavisimya Gazeta devoted to the latest events in Yugoslavia, draw parallels between the IMF protests in Prague against globalisation and the Yugoslav elections. The authors raise a question which disturbs many people, not only in Russia, but in the whole region of Eastern Europe:
The slogan of political globalisation says that democracy must be everywhere... Milošević... definitely does not like this slogan. We can maintain that the leader of the FRY tries to save himself and postpone the day of reckoning for everything he has done. However, we can look at this from another viewpoint. Globalisation as a new order presupposes the failure of the rudimentary organs of the old system. It can be explained as an asymmetric attitude to the allegedly old norms of international law and its principles. The principle of state sovereignty is viewed by the West as one of them... [T]he most interesting question is: Why does the Western world need a "free Serbia"? (Free from what?). Truly free and independent from anyone, Serbia will be the same thorn-in-the-side as it is now. It is not Serbia which is claimed in the process of globalisation, but the simple disappearance of the Yugoslav state, a state which has been trying to preserve itself during all the Balkan wars of the last decade.
Natalya Krasnoboka, 30 September 2000
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