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Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Should the West take sides in the Yugoslav elections?
Campaigning in Yugoslavia is reaching a climax ahead of Sunday's general elections, and the international community has entered the fray on the side of the opposition to President Slobodan Milosevic.
The United States has said that it could lift sanctions on Yugoslavia if the elections lead to a change of government. And the European Union released a statement urging Yugoslavs to vote Mr Milosevic out of office.
Belgrade has barred European observers from the poll, and there have been widespread accusations of media bias and intimidation of the opposition.
But in spite of doubts about the fairness of the elections, should the West be so partisan? Will this encourage support for the opposition or will it play into the hands of the Milosevic camp?
This debate is now closed. Your reaction:
Simon, Anglo American
One day the Western governments will need Yugoslavia. Yugoslavians will remember what the West did to them.
Why don't NATO go into Yugoslavia and take care of the country like in Kosovo?
Whatever the outcome of the elections in Yugoslavia, even if Milosevic looses after the second round of voting, Slobodan Milosevic will have a lot of influence over Yugoslav politics behind the scenes. How long will the union of opposition parties last, a matter of weeks, maybe months? The people of Serbia and Montenegro will prevail only when they all unite with the same vision of the future.
If the Yugoslav people did gain a new president would the West really lift sanctions and reinstate full international status to Yugoslavia, or would more concessions be sought from them? Would the world live up to its promises? Remember all those it made to Yugoslavia's neighbour during the conflict. Not one country has been fully compensated for its assistance rather they have to get by as best they can.
Why has the western Media been so biased in the Yugoslav conflict? Why are you not reporting of the massive ethnic cleansing in Kosova? 90% of the Serbs are cleansed! Where were you when 300, 000 Serbs were cleansed in the Krijina along with Nato Military support? It seems that you guys are the best supporters of Nato. How about Nato's war crimes?
Who knows the secret knowledge of counting the ballots? The tone of the western media implies reliance on the official results. And despite the opposition to Milosevic's tyranny is reluctant to signal who the winner is. Along this lines is a precautionary comment that Kostunica is a nationalist too. Does it not in itself imply that the west prefers the crippled and compromised servant Milosevic who does not have a choice but to do anything to remain alive and in power, to Kostunica who has not accepted the money from the west so far. The west has a choice to make yet another turmoil over Serbia and that can only be justified if Milosevic claims victory. Besides the status of Montenegro, Kosovo and Vojvodina have still to be resolved. The chance for the west to intervene on these matters is lost if Milosevic accept his loss.
West, please stop "helping" us. You have been "helping" us for 10 years. So, if you don't want to help, or maybe if you want to but don't know how, please stop helping us. It is the only way this country to really becoming democratic and part of Europe!
Is the West interfering with the internal affairs of Yugoslavia? Yes, in much the same way as a sighted person "interferes" with the affairs of a blind person in offering to help them cross a busy street.
Simon Paul, UK
The Serbian people have suffered enough. First, from their internal blood enemies, the Croats and Muslims and then from their former allies (UK, USA, Canada etc.)
Judging by most of the comments on the above topic it seems that the people of Serbia, would rather go it alone as it were to out Mr Milosevic. Well if it is left to the people of Serbia, I think Milosevic is going to be around a lot longer than people think.
It's all well and good to say it's an internal Yugoslavia problem, but we have to remember Chamberlain and Munich. If we allow aggression to go undeterred, it will create greater problems for us all.
Judging from what I've been reading about this election, Milosevic's days in power are numbered. It seems clear that most of those voting in the election have already, through popular slogans such as "He's finished!" etc, that they won't stand for a Milosevic victory. All I know is that if the "West" intervened in the upcoming elections in my own country, I would certainly vote against the candidates supported by those who bombed my home.
Half of the problems on the Balkans are because of the foreign interests. If we are leave peacefully to take control over our own future, there will be no more wars here. Don't forget that here started WW1. And it started because of foreign intervention!
I think that if the Serbian people cannot see beyond the end of their nose, and wish to keep someone like Milosevic in power, then let them. Let them also not come moaning to Western governments in a few years' time saying 'we've made a mistake'.
How would Gore like it if China spent millions of dollars and exerted horrific trade sanctions to ensure the election of Bush. This as well as the Austrian fiasco are black marks on western claims of democracy ... it is only democratic if it is politically correct as "we see it".
After watching this you realise that this must not happen again, but yet it did, in Kosovo. That is why the west needs to intervene. Sure politics plays its part, but we cannot let what happened in Bosnia and Kosovo happen again in Montenegro.
G Hedley, Scotland
The west should let the people of Serbia decide who leads them without intervening. Intervention never works, just make the situation worse. Does Robin Cook really think Milosevic would take his advice and 'step down' after the bombing, or is he trying to boost his standing for the Labour Party Conference?
Is it not possible that Milosevic will concede the loss of the Yugoslav Presidency, but positioning himself as the Serbian President instead. Maybe it's far-fetched, but after this, he could declare Serbia will no longer be part of Yugoslavia. After all - it is rapidly becoming the only member. This way he could 'legitimately' still keep control of Serbia.
Paul Lockwood, UK
The West should take sides. The Serb nation has proven itself to be barren of people with conscience. The cues leading to a civilised country must be signalled by the West. For those Serbs who despise Milosevic, yet close ranks with him in the face of world wide objections should examine their position.
The West should stay out of it. They have done enough damage already to the people of Serbia with bombing civilians and crippling the country with sanctions. I hope that Kostunica gets in because then the 'international community' will be forced to drop the sanctions, honour UN Resolution 1244, stop their demonising and start rebuilding the country that they have devastated.
T. Gill, UK
Absolutely not. Military intervention in the internal affairs of another country is the slippery sloe to disaster, as has been proved too often before. By all means apply diplomatic pressure, but no armies or sanctions.
If Milosevic attacks outside his borders, that is a different issue, which would merit a military response.
Of course the "west" has to take a firm stance against a despot and indicted war criminal whose rule has led the Serbian people into isolation and misery. It is about time to break the vicious circle in the Balkans and give a chance to the young generations!
Normally I would say no, the western powers shouldn't take sides. Yet, in this unusual and somewhat desperate situation which now faces the world, I encourage the west to take sides. Yet at the same time, I urge the west to handle the situation with care.
For westerners the thing that they can not understand is why people will for Mr. Slobodan Milosevic.
The very idea that a group of powerful outside powers can intervene to insure a peaceful fair election is something of a self-contradiction.
I like many others have been forced to leave my home due to the sanctions of the west. I now live in Australia where democracy is in theory practised. The USA which is the ruler of the west first put sanctions which ended my rich life and forced me to live in a flee infested house for a year. I have always wondered why the intervened in Serbia when East Timor was left to Australia. The bombing last year also did nothing to raise the image of the west in Serbia.
Timothy So, Hong Kong
Nato and the USA should let Yugoslavia alone.
NATO soldiers are imperialist forces protecting capitalism. Other countries with worse human right records do not received this attention because they are already subdued to the IMF and the USA imperial policies.
The West should stay out. Milosevic will win either way - if we support the opposition, he has a ready made excuse to nullify elections, and if we let all go free, he can easily declare fraud and go home a happy man. But if the history of Serbian politics teaches either him or us anything, it's that someone will eliminate him soon enough.
Jelena Nikolic, Australia
No, the West should stay out. What the West is doing reminds me of the time when the Soviets were interfering in the internal affairs of the Eastern Block countries.
The West showed it inhumanity, or should we say the right face during the bombing of Yugoslavia. The West is not capable to bring any peace or stability to any region in the Balkans. So, please no intervention. Stay out of Serbia. Serbs are capable of voting and electing their own president. No occupation of Serbian land, please!
The west must lift sanctions against Serbia as soon as possible and on that way help Serbian people. With sanctions in full force we are just helping Mr. Milosevic to stay in power.
The so-called "west" has only worsened the problem. Before the bombing and sanctioning of Yugoslavia, the vast majority of Yugoslavia's people were against Milosevic. Milosevic only stayed in power because he marred the elections. Have we forgotten the near constant protests in Belgrade against Milosevic a couple years ago during the previous elections? They only thing that NATO succeeded in doing is creating near unanimous support within Yugoslavia for Milosevic. Now, 80% of the population opposes him again. NATO, please don't screw this one up. The people of Yugoslavia are not stupid. They can decide for themselves.
A simple human being in Kosova, Kosova / Kosovo
Who are we kidding?
The West (read USA) needs Milosevic to stay in power. What better excuse to continue with the destruction and occupation of Yugoslavia?
The same goes for Kosovo Albanians - as long as Milosevic is in power, their dream of independence (read unification with Albania) is real.
Extreme caution should be exercised in dealing with the Yugoslav problem. Let's not forget that the Serbians indirectly started World War I, which directly lead to World War 2. I hope all involved will consider how quickly terrible things can happen.
A Serbian, Yugoslavia
Just leave us alone.
Please, stay out of our elections, and our country too. We're not idiots. Last time when you tried to help us you bombed us and many civilians were murdered. Thank you for that help, and please don't try to help as again.
West supporter of Democracy? Please. What kind of hoax is this? And who was behind all that direct and indirect interferences in the whole world in Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Greece? The world does not need a second period of colonization under the hypocritical interest of the West for Democracy.
It is up to the people of Yugoslavia to decide who is going to be their next president. As the situation in Kosovo demonstrates, taking sides by the West in this highly volatile region of Europe can only complicate the situation and bring more harm. The Western meddling in Yugoslavia's presidential elections is a precursor of civil war in this traumatized nation. The West clearly should stay out.
The only reason why some people who do not support Milosevic are not willing to vote for Mr Kostunica, the strongest opposition candidate, is that the West verbally 'supported' Serbian opposition, the same West that bombed us all last year, pretending to be ignorant of the fact that at least 75% of people here do not support Milosevic and were not at all responsible for Kosovo or anything else. So, what do you think is the answer? He is still in power just thanks to the West.
Dieudonne M Kasamba, Canada
The West was prepared to take sides in the wars over Bosnia and Kosovo so it would be extremely hypocritical for it to decide that Serbia needs independence and abstain from giving Milosevic's opposition support. In fact, it says a lot about the Western world's attitude and objectives if it will try to defeat dictators with bombs but it will turn a blind eye to defeating them with the far more justified and far less destructive alternative of democracy.
If Yugoslavia is to have a free and fair election, it must be conducted by the Yugoslavs alone. Any Western intervention or propaganda will only serve the interests of the propaganda spewed forth by the "butcher of Belgrade." Should Milosevic think of annulling the elections if he loses, he would do well for himself to remember what happened to Ceaucescu back in 1989.
The "West" should really restrict its activities regarding Serbia to physically isolating it from the neighbours who suffered enough because of Serbian delusions. As long as their pathetic infighting does not affect Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia, they would do us all a big favour and take their aggressiveness on themselves. Others have suffered enough.
Definitely not. It only makes things worse. The West should leave the Balkans alone once and for all.
I believe that the only way for the opposition to build democracy is for the West to allow Yugoslavs to do it themselves. Only with a strong, self-made democracy will Yugoslavia and the region be able to stand as a peace loving nation, and set about on the process of reconciliation with itself, its neighbours, and the world.
Rob Morrison, USA
Only if you want to insure that Milosevic wins.
I think the US should influence more Opposition Rallies and tell the people that if Milosevic stay's in power that means that no humanitarian aid nor budget influences will be supported. Being an Albanian, I have too say that you must be mad to vote for Milosevic.
Funny things, a few years ago, Milosevic
was pressed hard by democratic pressures
to remove him, but he was allowed by the outside
world to suppress such democratic dissent through the use
of force. Had the West promoted the protection
of democracy in Yugoslavia then, had the West
remained vigilant and active in the promotion of democracy,
we may not have had a Kosovo war at all, and may not
have had Milosevic for some years now.
The Serbian people should decide who they want as their leader. They live in Serbia, we don't. If the US was smaller and less powerful, I would certainly not appreciate it in the least if a big foreign power told me who to vote for. The bombing of Serbia was a criminal action, and the excuse they (NATO) used has been exposed as false. Where is this "might makes right" philosophy leading us?
Will Kaploun, Australia
What is it about the Serbian people? No matter how well educated and informed, they seem to support their government's butchery of other ethnic groups. What is even stranger now, while the rest of the world wants Milosevic and his gangster politics out, many Serbs resent this stance?
Whether the West should take sides is a redundant question. The West took sides LONG time ago when they decided to disintegrate Yugoslavia, the same country they supported to be formed for their own interests: to get rid off the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoma empires.
Recently, the superpowers changed their agenda, only to find out that Serbia and the Serbs do not quite fit it in their plans. Just leave Serbia and the Serbs alone. Go back to your home countries and defend your own
Whatever happens in the elections in Yugoslavia, Milosevic will win. He will not relinquish power because if he leaves office he will be vulnerable to attempts to bring him to justice for his war crimes. The interventions of the US and EU will do nothing to swing voters against Milosevic and will probably only antagonise the situation, as voters will see it as further NATO interference in their own domestic affairs.
Serbian media is almost completely state-controlled, the police and the army are heavily corrupted, judicial system works only if Milosevic needs it for something, and large segments of the population are also economically dependent on the state and kept on a very short leash.
Certainly not, we do not expect them to take sides in our elections so therefore we should not interfere in theirs.
If there is evidence that the election result has been tampered with then the international community should voice
their opposition, however the people always have the democratic right to vote, free from intimidation and pressure.
In short, we should act, but only if really necessary.
It all boils down to whether you believe that there is a democratic election in Yugoslavia (or more particularly Serbia) and whether the result will actually stand. Judging by Milosevic's attitude and comments on the opposition it is unlikely that he will depart quietly and he has refused to allow independent election observers to monitor the election which is very suspicious. If he is abusing the idea of democracy those in countries that have a tradition of democracy must stand up and stop the abuse of it.
Yugoslavia! Come back to place, that has always belonged to you: to the community of the civilised Europe!
J. Knight, UK
Isn't democracy about the choice of the people? If so, let the people decide. Regardless of what I think of Milosevic, it is a matter for the Serbian people to decide whom they wish to follow. No state should interfere in the election process of another, whether it is John Major campaigning for George Bush (against Bill Clinton) or whether it is in Serbia, stay out!
Milosevic needs to surrender power to someone who is going to do positive things for his country. These people have endured too much pain and suffering.
It's a choice between a donkey and an ass. Opposition leaders have made anti-Western speeches. They are also committed to hanging onto Montenegro, even though many Montenegrins crave independence from Serb control. If the West's favoured candidate wins the election and then tries to draw Serbs in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro into a war against non-Serbs in Montenegro, this will cause the same procrastination amongst the allies which caused the slaughter of so many Croatians only a few years ago.
I am an opposition supporter. However, there's not a shred of evidence to support the charges brought against Milosevic.
The West, suddenly, cares about us and wants us to re-join the European family. WOW! How arrogant can one get? 18 months ago, the very same West bombed the entire country of 11.5 million. They bombed everything we'd built since WWII. They murdered thousands! Now they want to help us? I am sorry, I am not buying it and neither is the majority of this country.
We will join the West when the West learns how to behave. Until then...
Just stay out of our internal affairs.
The West shouldn't take sides, because it would definitely decrease the candidate's popularity among some voters; while not supporting a favourable hopeful would do him no harm. But Russia and Greece rally behind Vojislav Koshtunica to make him unbeatable and completely diminish Milosevic in the eyes of Serb voters.
Neil H, UK
If democracy is to be fair and prevail, let the people in Yugoslavia decide who ought to lead them. There should be no media propaganda here. If they send Milosevic back to office, it is their prerogative. Yugoslavians are not to be considered idiots here. Since they have to live under the leadership of this individual, they know what is best for them. Let democracy prove itself in its most natural form. Have faith in the invisible hand effect of the economic gurus from the past.
Perhaps the UN should
keep the pressure on other political
parties to hand over Milosevic for
war crimes. The biggest fear is that if
Milosevic fears he may lose, he would
assume a dictatorship.
Any election is characterised by the majority over ruling the minority with all its attendant problems and injustices. In cases like these other people's governments should at most offer to make sure the voting is carried out fairly, but not try to secure a result the Yugoslavian majority would not secure for themselves.
Having failed to subvert the legally elected government of the Yugoslav Federation, the purveyors of war now attempt another feeble effort to unseat President Milosevic. It apparently did not occur to the Nato warlords that an overwhelming majority of the Yugoslav people support Mr. Milosevic and condemn the wanton destruction of their country's infrastructure by the dogs of war.
Nathan Dobson, UK
The government of UK and their EC club members should be accused of gross interference in the political affairs of the Yugoslavian democratic election by bribing the electorate to drop sanctions if they vote Milosevic out of office.
If the West really wants to get rid of Milosevic, it must stay away from such statements. Nationalist feelings that are so strong in Yugoslavia can be exploited by Milosevic by pointing to his opponents as "the Western agents".
Frankly, I don't see how Mr. Milosevic can win the election, but losing an election does not mean he will be removed from power. Mr. Milosevic surely knows that when he loses power, he also loses protection from prosecution for his grotesque human rights abuses. I rather doubt he will go quietly into that good night.
Thomas Threlkeld, USA
Sure, the Yugoslav people have every right to re-elect a man the
most of the rest of the world holds responsible for some of the worst
atrocities on this continent since the end of the Cold War. But if they
do, then the Yugoslavs have only themselves to blame when the rest
of the world takes sanctions against them because of the actions of
their leader. I think it's only fair that we make it clear what our position
is with their government.
Paul R, UK
The Serbs need to be left alone to fight for their own democratic path no matter how long this process might last. The Milosevic vs. opposition debate is an internal dialogue that will come to a resolution in due time.
When a country is playing dirty, and that country influences the welfare of the rest of the world, why should the rest of the world play it fair? Meddling in democratic processes must be viewed as dodgy, but sometimes principles should be prioritised behind what's actually gonna work.
John Brownlee, England
So our government supports telling the Serbs that if they elect Milosevic then they'll get more of the same (bombs, sanctions etc.) and yet when a bunch of economic terrorists interfere in our democratic process with fuel blockades they shout not fair.
At heart, the Serbians are just ordinary Europeans: they (and the rest of us) want Serbia to be a normal part of Europe. The only way that can happen is if Milosevic goes. It doesn't hurt to make that fact clear.
Although our sympathies are clear (nationally, not individually), it would be daft for our governments to overtly take sides in what is, after all, the internal affairs of a (albeit primitive) democracy. That would be the height of hypocrisy and could backfire against us anyway. Better to just sit back and watch ... if Serbian citizens don't know which side we support by now, they never will!
R. Dasiel, UK
Would the British welcome Col Gaddafi's help to the oppressed people of English-administered, English-controlled Ireland?
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