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A Hard Loss To Spin

Reports on the peace agreement in the Belgrade media have been muted, with minimal reporting and even less comment and analysis.
By Nada Mijatovic

Belgrade's media welcomed the Serbian parliament's acceptance of the international peace plan, which should signal an end to NATO air strikes, with relief and minimal comment.


Government officials avoided journalists as they left the parliament after the historic vote which effectively recognised their country's defeat.


Despite organising daily press conferences throughout the NATO campaign, the Yugoslav army was equally tight-lipped and failed to comment on the agreement--which calls for the "immediate and verifiable withdrawal" of all military personnel.


As a result of intermittent power supplies, few Serbs have been able to watch television in recent days, with the result that newspapers have become the principle media.


Regime daily Politika reported simply that parliament had accepted the peace plan for Kosovo and reproduced the official statement on the settlement. It said that the agreement did not compromise Yugoslavia's sovereignty; affirmed the role of the United Nations; and would serve as a basis for peace.


The plan itself was not published and no comparison was made between the latest agreement and the offer which had been on the table three months earlier at the Rambouillet peace talks.


Danas, the opposition daily published in Novi Sad, did print the peace plan in its entirety, but again failed to make any comparison with the earlier accord. It reported that the UN force would contain some 10,000 Russian and 48,000 NATO troops, but remained sceptical about an end to the war.


Belgrade tabloid Glas Javnosti--which has the largest circulation in the country--tried to put on a brave face and forecast that the bombing would end on Sunday. Moreover, despite the terms of the agreement (which it did not publish), it concluded that: "It's easy to say that Serbs are in the right."


All newspapers reported that 136 members of the ruling Socialist Party, the Yugoslav Left and the opposition Serb Renewal Movement and New Democracy voted for the agreement while 74 members of Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party voted against. All four members of the Vojvodina Coalition abstained.


In the absence of official comment, it was up to the opposition to pass judgement on the agreement.


All newspapers reported details of a press conference called by Vuk Draskovic, Serb Renewal Movement leader, at which he endorsed the peace agreement and hoped for an immediate halt to the bombing.


Draskovic was also reported to have said that the night before the vote, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic met with the leaders of all parliamentary political parties and ordered them to support the plan without giving any details.


New Democracy spokesman Zarko Jokanovic and Vojvodina Coalition leader Dragan Veselinov confirmed Draskovic's account saying that they had not seen the agreement in advance of the vote.


In an uncharacteristic move, Politika cited Veselinov's critical analysis of the agreement. It reported him as saying that the plan was harsher than that which had been on the table at Rambouillet; that the government had turned Serbs into a nation of beggars; and that as long as it remained it power Yugoslavia would never receive any financial help for reconstruction.


"Our government has created complete destruction with this war and for that reason should resign," Veselinov was reported as saying.


Radical leader Seselj did not give comments to the press to explain his position but all newspapers reported how he stormed out of the parliament at the head of his 73 deputies and is considering leaving the government.


Nada Mijatovic is an IWPR project assistant.


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