Central Europe Review Balkan Information Exchange
Vol 2, No 36
23 October 2000
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UK Press Review"Normal" Countries
Review of CEE issues in the UK press since 16 October 2000
Oliver Craske

The riot that broke out in Belgrade at the Red Star vs Partizan football match on 14 October, halting the game after just three minutes' play, seemed symbolic of some of the difficult problems faced by the new federal president of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Koštunica.

It seems the trouble was started by Partizan Belgrade fans, who are aligned with the military and Milošević. Their club chairman is Mirko Marjanović, Socialist prime minister of Serbia and a Milošević ally. Many Red Star fans "were in the vanguard of the opposition efforts to oust Mr Milošević," observed The Independent (15 October). The ensuing fighting left 40 injured, including some of the players. The police reaction was slow and weak, a reflection of the fact that no one knows yet to whom they are accountable.

The Economist asked ironically on 21 October: "Has Serbia... at last become a normal European country where the destructive passion of young malcontents is channelled into football hooliganism rather than ethnic cleansing or political protest?" It concluded otherwise. There is far too much to be confronted yet.

The constitutional crisis

Urgent questions facing Yugoslavia are manifold. Right near the top of the list, along with corruption and the economic and administrative chaos, is Yugoslavia's constitutional mess. Even setting Kosovo to one side for the moment (which has been Koštunica's wise initial decision), the relationship between the Serbian, Montenegrin and federal governments is in extreme crisis.

The independence-seeking Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović does not recognise the results of the direct federal presidential elections; he led a boycott of them, a decision described by The Independent on 18 October as "a disastrous mistake." But then he wasn't expecting Milošević to lose. The federal and the Serbian parliaments are both Socialist-dominated (at least until the recently announced December election for the latter).

Meanwhile, constitutionally, Koštunica must appoint a Montenegrin as his federal prime minister, and because of the boycott from Đukanović's side he must choose a pro-Milošević Socialist. As Misha Glenny said in a lecture in London this week, the most popular politician in the country is in danger of being left high and dry. There could be, within a few months, a federal president with unco-operative national parliaments and without a workable federal government. Shades of Gorbachev in 1991.

Another marooned ship

Another man who may be left marooned within sight of his goal is Đukanović, whose hopes for Montenegrin independence have, ironically, received their biggest blow in the departure of his nation's bete noire. Milošević's persecution of Montenegro had been the primary force pushing it towards independence and encouraging the West to support this path. With Milošević (apparently) gone, Western attention and aid has now shifted towards Belgrade.

It was wise and necessary for the West to offer aid incentives to Belgrade's opposition in the event of the ousting of Milošević, but this is no solace for Đukanović. The change in Western governments' attitudes may even have seeped into media coverage, as Private Eye suggested this week (20 October):

Conspiracy theorists at the BBC studios in Millbank are wondering how it was that when Slobodan Milošević presided over a pariah state, his country was referred to in all news bulletins as 'Serbia.'

Yet as soon as Milošević had been toppled, the country was immediately referred to as 'Yugoslavia'—even though 'Yugoslavia' only comprises Serbia and two states that don't want much to do with Belgrade, Montenegro and Kosovo. Might the BBC's revised script be in any way related to the policy now favoured by HM government—ie to swiftly 'park' the independence movements once so fervently courted in the two states that never quite managed to get away?

A restoration?

Surely low on Koštunica's list of priorities is the possible restoration of the Yugoslav monarchy. The Times reported how the exiled Crown Prince, Alexander Karadjordjevic, returned to his homeland for a meeting with Koštunica, who is known to be a monarchist. They discussed the possibility of the royal family reclaiming the White Palace in Belgrade, currently occupied by the Milošević family.

The Crown Prince, London-born and -bred and speaking only halting Serbian, commented in The Times (16 October) that "food and medicines for the people are more important than the throne at the moment." His cousin, Princess Elizabeth, was reported as saying that "There are a lot of priorities for this country, and the future of the monarchy is not one of them."

But the British press, well schooled in royal gossip, of course, still showed particular interest in the idea. The Times had first raised the question as early as 10 October, in an article accompanied by a photograph of the Crown Prince and Princess Katherine standing in front of a painting of his father, King Peter (who, if we are to trust the likeness, was blessed with green features).

The Daily Telegraph also picked up on the story on 11 October. Perhaps this interest in an essentially irrelevant question reflects the dangerous tendency for the media's attention to stray from the main story after a few days: after all, it's over two weeks since we last had a revolution in Belgrade.

Short attention spans

One person who was concerned with attention spans this week was Paddy Ashdown, former leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat Party. A one-time SAS soldier who has campaigned consistently over the past decade to keep public and political attention on the Yugoslav wars and their politics, Ashdown wrote in The Guardian (14 October) that:

"The West seems incapable of thinking of more than one Balkan thing at a time. But in the Balkans, it is the interconnection of things which matters. By thinking only of Croatia in 1992, we blew up Bosnia. When we ended the Bosnian war at Dayton, we forgot about Kosovo."

The danger, he holds, is that by shifting attention to Belgrade and not pursuing the handing over of Milošević to the Hague War Crimes Tribunal, the international community may destabilise Kosovo and Bosnia and undermine the government of President Stipe Mesic in Croatia, "who has taken great risks to send the Tudjman-era war criminals to the Hague."

A sham election

One of Slobodan Milošević's few friends in international politics is Alexander Lukashenka, the President of Belarus. Lukashenka, described by The Daily Telegraph (16 October) as "Europe's most autocratic leader following the downfall of his friend," saw his supporters triumph last week in parliamentary elections widely criticised for their unfairness and dubiously low turnout.

Opposition parties, harassed and repressed by the government, boycotted the elections in order not to grant them legitimacy, while the Council of Europe and the OSCE concluded that the vote "fell far short of minimum transparency requirements." (The Economist, 21 October). "Over the past two years," noted The Guardian (16 October), "a string of key opposition figures have died, been imprisoned or vanished without trace."

Lukashenka "roared defiance at the West" (The Daily Telegraph, 16 October) after the USA refused to recognise the result; The Independent (16 October) cited his defiant assertion that "Belarusians are holding these elections for themselves and not for anyone else." Maybe he should have said: "The President is holding these elections for himself and not for anyone else."

Indeed, with presidential elections due next year, it may come as little surprise that Lukashenka told journalists they should "start queuing now to congratulate me" on his forthcoming victory (The Daily Telegraph). The Economist's verdict: "Sham results from a sham election for a sham parliament—in other words, business pretty much as usual for poor Belarus."

Oliver Craske, 23 October 2000

Moving on:


The Guardian
The Times
The Daily Telegraph
The Independent
Private Eye
The Economist


Beth Kampschror
Leaving Gracefully

Howard Jarvis
Business in Belarus

Brian J Požun
Slovenia Turns Left

Daria Kulagina
Facing the Past

Andrew Cave
Finding the Centre

Cyril Simsa
The Modern
Human Wind

Catherine Lovatt
Blue Guide Romania

Dick Nilsson
Central Europe:
Core or Periphery?

Milošević Remains?


Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Andrea Mrozek
Exchanging Extremes

Oliver Craske
"Normal" Countries


Mixed Nuts

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