Mon, 09 Oct 2000

Democracy for the people of Yugoslavia

TOKYO: The people of Yugoslavia have proved that long-term authoritarian rule is a thing of the past.

Popular protests that began as a campaign against alleged election irregularities by Yugoslavia's president Slobodan Milosevic quickly led to the de facto collapse of his administration.

Serbian opposition leaders have set up a "crisis committee for Yugoslavia" to take over governing powers in Serbia and started preparing to establish a government led by opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica.

What brought to end Milosevic's hard-line rule was the spread of strikes by workers and the occupation of the parliament, developments that were backed by the public, which denounced the government's misconduct. With these developments, the protests gradually evolved into a democratic revolution in which government-affiliated labor unions defected to the opposition.

A democratic revolution, similar to the one that swept Eastern European countries in the early 1990s following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, has apparently ended the last dictatorship in the Balkans.

But Milosevic resisted the people's escalating demands to leave. A politician known as a schemer, Milosevic took both flexible and tough measures to overcome his crisis. For instance, he used police and soldiers to try to break a strike at the Kolubara mine complex, Serbia's biggest mine, in a bid to intimidate workers.

He steadily stepped up attempts to suppress protest rallies in Belgrade by flaunting his power. Meanwhile, the pro-Milosevic Yugoslav Constitutional Court annulled "part" of the Sept. 24 election in response to opposition protests.

However, the opposition camp immediately suspected that the ruling was a trap, concluding that the court was only pretending that it was conceding to the opposition's demands. The opposition understood that the president was maneuvering to arrange a new election, thereby avoiding a run-off vote.

Milosevic was apparently trying to gain time to split the opposition. History shows that opposition forces in the country have often split soon after uniting.

But the people's protests this time were coupled with bitter dissatisfaction with the quality of their lives, which has suffered as the country's economy has deteriorated amid sanctions by the international community. Yugoslavs have become increasingly hopeful that their country can become an ordinary member state of Europe, rather than remaining a rogue state under a hard-line regime.

In this connection, many people considered the latest crisis an excellent chance to restore the country. We wonder whether the president failed adequately to understand the people's feelings.

We think he did understand -- because he knowingly cut off his own path of retreat. Milosevic has been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague for atrocities in the Kosovo crisis. After becoming increasingly isolated in the international community, he made a last gamble and failed.

Even so, concerns remain over more possible unrest as Milosevic's whereabouts is unknown. However, the world is hoping for a bloodless and peaceful political transition as early as possible. We wish them well.

"Whoever comes too late will be punished by history," former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned a leader of East Germany. Milosevic should have himself taken this warning to heart.

-- The Yomiuri Shimbun