DECEMBER 2, 1996
Serbians have taken to Belgrade's streets for the last two weeks to protest President Slobodan Milosevic decision to annul recent elections. The elections would have given power to opponent of Milosevic's Socialist Party. After a report on the protests from Serbia by ITN's Gaby Rado, a panel of experts on this troubled part of Europe join Jim Lehrer in a discussion of the protests and President and Serbia's future.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
December 2, 1996:
ITN's Gaby Rado reports on the recent protests in Serbia and ominous signs that a police crackdown is imminent.
November 15, 1996:
Two members of Congress react to President Clinton's decision to break own deadline and extent the presense of U.S. troops in Bosnia past December.
Browse past segments of Online NewsHour coverage of the former Yugoslavia.
JIM LEHRER: Now we get three views of the situation, from Warren Zimmermann, former ambassador to the former Yugoslavia, author of the new book Origins of a Catastrophe: Yugoslavia and its Destroyers; John Lampe, the director of East European Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, author of the recently published Yugoslavia as History; and Dragan Cicic, an international Nieman Foundation fellow at Harvard University. He's a reporter for the Belgrade Magazine Nin.
Mr. Lampe, is Milosevic on his way out?
JOHN LAMPE, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: I think Milosevic is in more trouble than he's been in since 1990-91. And if this year is not the end, surviving the elections next year, I think, would be very difficult, indeed.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Cicic, do you agree?
DRAGAN CICIC, Nin Magazine, Belgrade: Well, I do, yes. I think that Mr. Milosevic is now in the worst trouble since he came to power.
JIM LEHRER: And what has caused this particular problem right now?
DRAGAN CICIC: Well, the demonstrations were triggered by his decision to annul the results of the elections that he lost. However, the real reason, the more important reason, is that this economic crisis in Yugoslavia is really reaching unprecedented highs. The unemployment is running somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-50 percent of the work force. And if we compare the GNP, for example, and the average wages in 1987, when Mr. Milosevic came to power, with the GNP and average wages today, we will see that they were decreased by about 70 percent.
JIM LEHRER: So, Amb. Zimmermann, you agree that there's more involved here in just these elections, these elections just triggered this protest, but there's much deeper unrest there.
AMB. WARREN ZIMMERMANN, Former U.S. Ambassador, Yugoslavia: Much deeper unrest. What we're seeing in Serbia is the kind of thing that happened in East Germany in ‘89 and in Czechoslovakia in '89 -- that is, Communist regimes which have become so bankrupt that the people are beginning to rise up against them. Milosevic, though, is a tougher character than the people who were in charge of those regimes. He's a man who understands that a dictatorship is in deep trouble if it loses its nerve. And this is a guy who I don't think is going to lose his nerve. So, I think, we have not heard the last chapter, seen the last chapter of this.
JIM LEHRER: Losing his nerve, meaning that he will use force against these protesters?
AMB. WARREN ZIMMERMANN: I think he wouldn't hesitate to use force against the protesters. I think he now hopes that the demonstrations will peter out, or that he can make a kind of a compromise with opposition political parties which would involve him giving away very little, or being able to renege on what he did give away. But if he had to use force, if they forced him to use force, he'll do it.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree Milosevic would use force, Mr. Lampe?
JOHN LAMPE: I think he would, but he's hesitating now to be seen using force while the international media, the whole world is watching, and with important negotiations coming and with any remote possibility of having the outer wall of financial sanctions against Serbia lifted, those would certainly be undone by any show of force in Belgrade.
JIM LEHRER: This is quite a contrast, is there not, between the report that we had of the protesters walking through the snow, talking very quietly about peace and protest, versus what the people in Serbia saw on their own television, just the stone throwers?
JOHN LAMPE: Yes. This control of the media is one of Milosevic's key levers that he has used very effectively in the past. The municipal elections, if given to the opposition, would allow them to speak out and to open up the media in a way that would really make a difference.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Mr. Cicic, what's your view of the Zimmermann theory that we should not count Milosevic out yet, that he understands the use of power, and he's got some still to use?
DRAGAN CICIC: Well, I definitely agree with that, because Mr. Milosevic has shown in the past that he wouldn't be shy of any tactics which would help him to stay in power. For example, if you just recall that demonstration in 1991 that was mentioned in your program earlier, when that demonstration became so overwhelming, so powerful, that Milosevic felt really endangered, the next thing that happened was that instigated the war in Croatia, thus, distracting the attention of the whole Serbian nation. And his media, which are a very powerful propaganda machinery, as you could see in that excerpt on Belgrade TV News, then were spreading this propaganda of the Serbs being endangered, of the Serbs being actually a victim of the conspiracy plotted by the United States and other western powers aimed at the genocide against the Serbs, believe it or not. So there are--there's an array of tools that Mr. Milosevic can use -- police, army, media, and so on and so on. And as Mr. Zimmermann mentioned, Mr. Milosevic is really a master of negotiations which lead nowhere, which means that he could possibly offer negotiations to the opposition leaders in the hope that the demonstration--that would get demonstrators off the street and then he would, of course, run on everything he promised.
JIM LEHRER: Amb. Zimmermann, does the outside world, including the United States of America, have a role to play in this, or should we just sit back and watch these things happen, let this thing happen?
AMB. WARREN ZIMMERMANN: I think we absolutely have a role, and I'm a little bit afraid we're not playing it right. We have gotten so transfixed with the view that Milosevic is the guarantor of the Dayton Agreement that we've forgotten two things. One is that he has not been very good at guaranteeing the Dayton Agreement. He's actually welched on some of the major elements of the Dayton Agreement which he promised to make commitments to. And secondly, the opposition against Milosevic, the people that are leading the demonstrations in the streets, are not bad people. These are people, who like Milosevic, are nationalists, but they're not ruthless nationalists. And they're not the kind of people that would go back on Dayton. So I would feel totally comfortable to see either Gingic or Drasovic, the two people that are the most prominent--
JIM LEHRER: Outspoken opponents.
AMB. WARREN ZIMMERMANN: Outspoken opponents--in power. I think we would do much better in terms of the Bosnian peace process with either of them in power than we will do with Milosevic.
JIM LEHRER: But what we can do about this? I mean, isn't it not up to the people of Serbia to resolve this, or should we play some role?
AMB. WARREN ZIMMERMANN: Well, I think the people of Serbia are going to have to resolve it, and I'm not sure they'll do it this round. If they don't do it this round, they'll do it in a future round. What the West can do, I think, is slap some sanctions back on Milosevic, let everybody in the world know that Milosevic is not supported by the West. That will embolden the opposition, and will increase their chances of winning in the end.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think of that idea, Mr. Lampe?
JOHN LAMPE: Well, I think the full trade sanctions would hit that urban population harder than the Milosevic forces, themselves. At the same time, in talking to several State Department officials this afternoon, in the highest level State Department representations to our European allies and also to the opposition and to the Milosevic representatives in Belgrade, this reneging of the elections has been called unacceptable, of undermining the Dayton process, that any chance of lifting the outer wall of sanctions or ending Serbia's isolation is out of the question as long as this--these elections remain unrecognized. I think perhaps it's time for the State Department to step forward and make it clear to the American people what, in fact, is a harder line than some of our European allies are taking in reacting to the Milosevic activity.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Amb. Zimmermann that the Dayton Peace Accords would be just as safe in the hands of any successors, any protesting successors to Milosevic, as they are with him?
JOHN LAMPE: Safe or I think safer, because the arrival of democracy and a greater stability in Serbia and for that matter in Croatia, as well, is a guarantee, a model for democratic behavior in both Zagreb and Belgrade, is going to help in Pale and Sarajevo and in the difficult business of putting Bosnia together.
JIM LEHRER: What's your view of that, Mr. Cicic?
DRAGAN CICIC: Well, I think that the United States could definitely do a lot about Milosevic now. For example--and I agree that the sanctions against Serbia could now hurt demonstrators more than Milosevic actually, but Mr. Milosevic and his family are known to have become quite rich during this war, and they're flaunting their Ferraris and yachts and so on. There was this report in the Economist of London about Mr. Milosevic buying a yacht and the Lear jet from a Greek millionaire, so there's a lot of money that those people laid their hands and transferred it abroad.
So if the United States exercised some pressure over their allies to investigate into Mr. Milosevic's family's property abroad, for example, in Cyprus, especially, and in Greece, I think that it would be a very powerful trap to Mr. Milosevic to consider his decisions.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Cicic, what is your reading of the depth and the breadth of the opposition to Milosevic in Serbia? In other words, young people that were interviewed by the ITN reporter that we just ran, students, people like that, some workers, authors, does it go any deeper than that?
DRAGAN CICIC: Well, I think that it is, but you see, the problem is that the electronic media, say from a couple of radio stations, are totally controlled by Milosevic, and those radio stations which are not controlled by Milosevic are being constantly jammed. So what most of the people can get is just public television propaganda, which means that I talk recently with some acquaintances of mine in Belgrade, and I was told that people who live on the outskirts, on the suburbs, were even not aware that there was a protest in Belgrade, up to 12 days of protest, because they haven't been going downtown, and there are no means …
JIM LEHRER: That was the only way they could know about it was to go see it, is that right?
DRAGAN CICIC: Exactly. So people in Serbia can learn something about reality only by seeing it with their own eyes, which is rather inconvenient in the modern world, as you can imagine. But I think that the feeling of desperation is really, really wide.
And I would like to add, I mean, as Mr. Zimmermann said, the people who are in opposition to Milosevic are much more likely to respect the Dayton Agreement than he is. For example, one of the leaders--there are three leaders of that opposition group--one of the leaders, Vasna Pasage, was awarded the award from the National Endowment for Democracy in May ‘93, and she was received by President Clinton. Christian Science Monitor describes her as a leading Serbian anti-war activist and so on and so on. The same goes for Mr. Drasovic and so on. So I wouldn't support any hesitations.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. I hear you. Mr. Lampe, how do you read the strength of the opposition for Milosevic with society in Serbia?
JOHN LAMPE: I think there is the active opposition in Belgrade and in the corps of some of the towns, but there's a lot of passive opposition too. I really cannot think of a group in Serbia that has not been adversely affected in this place that had a higher standard of living than Hungary 10 years ago and now finds itself desperately far behind. So anyone who's concerned with some kind of connection with Europe or some future for their children has to feel that the Milosevic regime is not the answer and the local Milosevic team, if one could use that word, that's in power in these various towns has really blotted its escutcheon with a terrible corruption.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
AMB. WARREN ZIMMERMANN: This is a police state in Serbia, and while everything John Lampe says is right, I'm not sure it's going to have much effect. Milosevic has a police force that he's built up himself. It's loyal to him--that is larger than many armies in Eastern and Western Europe, and a lot of people who would ordinarily protest against Milosevic are not going to do it because they'll be intimidated, so that's why I think this round he may win.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you all three very much.
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