Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Forum
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 16:12 GMT
Yugoslav elections: John Simpson answers your questions

John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor is in Yugoslavia covering the tense aftermath of Sunday's presidential elections.

Opposition parties in Yugoslavia are urging supporters to take to the streets of Belgrade to show their anger at President Milosevic's refusal to admit defeat in the elections.

The authorities have acknowledged that Mr Milosevic polled fewer votes than his main challenger, Vojislav Kostunica. But they've ordered a re-run because they say neither man secured an outright majority.

Mr Kostunica has said he won't take part in a second round of voting, claiming he's already won a decisive victory

What's the atmosphere like out there amid such huge political tension? What will a winning result for the opposition mean for President Milosevic?

John Simpson takes a break from reporting to answer your questions

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson has answered a selection of your questions. A transcription is available below.

Unfortunately video of this event will not be available due to technical difficulties with the sound. We apologise for any disappointment this may cause.

Fergal Carty, Republic of Ireland: Do you think that Milosevic anticipated the strength of support for the opposition?

John Simpson: I'm certain that he didn't, I'm certain that it came as a terrible shock to him.
When people are in that position, one's reminded of the big figures of Eastern Europe until 1989, they're very much cut off by their advisors. Mr Milosevic's instincts have been as ever extremely good, it's just that the circumstances are changed and I suspect nobody had really quite told him that they had.
So the opposition for instance, which he must have assumed would fracture (19 parties supporting one candidate) didn't fracture, they kept together. He's always managed to divide the opposition in the past, but he couldn't do it this time.

Mark Gledhill, UK: If Milosevic were to claim victory and it is believed that the vote was rigged, what will the opposition do?

John Simpson: Well in a sense we're seeing what they'll do already because what happened in the first round, will presumably have to happen in the second round if Mr Milosevic is to be able to claim victory.
It does seem from the more objective evidence that the opposition leader was far far way ahead of Mr Milosevic. So we know already that they'll refuse to accept it. What we don't know is how strong they're going to be in their refusal - whether they're prepared to stand out in the street, really we're going to have to see.

Robert Tyllia, United States of America: Is Nato obligated to defend the integrity of the Montenegrin Government if Mr. Milosevic incites violence or attempts a coup? How would this Nato intervention manifest itself?

John Simpson: It's issued the strongest warnings, it's not bound by some kind of treaty or anything like that, but obviously it couldn't just look on passively while things happened here.
At the same time it's perfectly clear that no-one's thinking of sending in troops or doing anything like that.
If it does happen it will only be in terms of an internal power struggle backed by the different elements of the forces. I think it'd be very difficult for Nato to get in. I think their main function in this is to warn, but I don't think they've got a function to intervene in any sense.

Anthony Ristic, United Kingdom: Is there a potential 'people's revolution' brewing if Milosevic tries to cling to power?

John Simpson: This is really the central question. For those of us who went through the big revolutions of 1989, some of the circumstances are similar and some are very different.
The most different circumstance of all is that in each of those cases in Eastern Europe before the leadership knew that they were defeated and were really just looking around for a way to edge their way off the stage. That is not the case with Mr Milosevic, he's not prepared to leave there are lots of very personal reasons why he shouldn't - his entire liberty and future is at peril if he steps off the stage.
As for the crowds standing up to whatever it is the law and order forces are prepared to do - we don't know at this stage, but that really is the main question. In some places, in Romania for instance, they stood their ground, but this is not Romania and the circumstances are very different.

David Vujanovic, Australia: In a radio report today, I heard something about the police in Belgrade not appearing to follow (presidential?) orders and keep people off the streets. Do you know anything about this possibly crucial development and, if it's true, do you think this is a sign of Mr Milosevic's crumbling clout?

John Simpson: It is obvious that there must be policeman and senior military people who are considering their position, who are wondering what they'll do. But I think in terms of the actual day-by-day policing in the city, I don't think we've seen any changes from what we've seen in the past and I don't think we will see that for a little bit.
What we're talking about here really is raising this whole thing to an entirely different level - from being just a street demonstration to being in a sense a potential revolution. We don't know whether the people who are prepared to demonstrate have the will to go up those extra notches and turn it into a full scale revolution.

Jasmina Lijesevic, UK: Is the situation in Montenegro as tense as the media is suggesting, and do you believe that if Milosevic triggers unrest it really will be brother against brother?

John Simpson: I think it will be quiet difficult for President Milosevic to distract attention from his problems now by staging something in Montenegro. I think events have taken us further beyond that.
Tension is a very difficult thing to judge, I think if you looked out onto the streets here you wouldn't think it was particularly tense. But when you talk to people, talk to politicians you can see that they are very nervous that something might happen here, but I suspect we've moved beyond that stage.

Paul Clark, UK: What happened to Vuk Draskovic?

John Simpson: Well in fact he's not that far from here. He's at a seaside resort called Budva on the coast in Montenegro quite a long way away from everything that is happening.
The candidate of his party actually stood against Mr Kostunica and President Milosevic and didn't do particularly well. When Mr Kostunica won so resoundingly, or at least that's what the opposition are claiming he did, then Mr Draskovic congratulated him, apologised for not supporting him and offered his resignation as leader.
You have to remember Mr Draskovic was the opposition leader who really led his supporters right up the hill in the demonstrations at the end of last year against the Milosevic government and then at the last moment led them down again by saying it wasn't worth the death of a single person. Really after that the demonstrations against Mr Milosevic began to crumble.
A lot of people have made a lot of allegations and have got a lot to say about Mr Draskovic, I dare say a lot of these things will come out afterwards. But he is no longer really any kind of serious force.

Vesko Stanic, UK: Given that the opposition is also anti-western, what will the relationship between a new, and hopefully democratic, Yugoslavia and the rest of the US-led world be like?

John Simpson: I don't think the opposition is anti-western. What is absolutely true is that Mr Kostunica is a nationalist of a sort, but not an extreme nationalist - he's nothing like Mr Milosevic and would want to be seen to be extremely different from President Milosevic if he were to come to power.
I suspect that the first thing that would happen if Mr Milosevic goes and a democratically elected government replaces him is that sanctions will be lifted instantly, the relationships between Serbia, Yugoslavia and the outside world will be radically transformed. I suspect that within a year or so of President Milosevic's leaving office, it will be quite hard for people to realise that Serbia was ever at loggerheads with the international community.

Neil, Scotland: Are there really major differences in the policies of Milosevic and Kostunica?

John Simpson: Yes there are. It really is grotesquely overstating it to say they're both nationalists and therefore both exactly the same. For one thing, four wars have been fought in the 13 years of President Milosevic's government. Each of those has been stimulated by his own rhetoric and his own policies. Mr Kostunica is a completely different type of person, and there's absolutely no way he'd think of doing that kind of thing.

Piers Erridge, UK: When people power swelled in other eastern bloc states in 1989, its success was very much helped by the fact that the military wouldn't ultimately turn their guns on their own people. Is there any sign in Yugoslavia that a similar reluctance will prevail if Milosevic's opponents attempt a 'velvet revolution'?

John Simpson: The only country where the military were called in the first place was in China. The military were not involved in any of the revolutions in Eastern Europe. The police in some of those countries started off in a very hostile and aggressive way. Those of us who were there saw how day-to-day it became more difficult to get them to carry out their orders, to repress the demonstrators heavily.
We are still not at that stage in Belgrade or in the former Yugoslavia and it's impossible to know how people in the senior levels of either the military or the police are going to respond to their orders. We don't even know what the orders are yet.

Carlton Nielsen, United States of America: Given that Milosevic will use the apparatus available to him to remain in power, do you think that the Yugoslav population will have a tolerance for further delays/vote rigging on the government's part and how long will they tolerate it?

John Simpson: It would be nice to be able to say yes or no to that and to be able to say it's absolutely clear that people power will do such and such here - it's not that clear. We've been so often up to the point where it would seem to outsiders that a revolution against President Milosevic was absolutely inevitable and at the key moment it fell away.
President Milosevic is superb at undermining his opponents and getting them to do the wrong thing. This business of having a second round at the election is all a part of that attempt to split the opposition, so that some people will say we shouldn't stay out in the streets we should simply vote again. Other people will say that's absurd, it's a waste of time we must get in there and overthrow the government now. It's really a very very delicate balance.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Links to other Forum stories