Balkans: Why the West must admit its error

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The Independent Online
Two apparently contradictory tides are pulling at the Balkans. In Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic has decided to exert an iron grip on political life and snuff out the one beacon of democracy - the Belgrade city council - in any position to oppose him.

In Serb-held Bosnia, by contrast, we are seeing the first tentative steps towards pluralism, as S-FOR troops deny the hardliners in Pale their stranglehold on the media and a second power base emerges in Banja Luka under the Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic.

This is almost a 180-degree flip from the political environment in the latter stages of the Balkan wars, when Mr Milosevic - rightly or wrongly - was considered the man who could knock heads together and talk the Bosnian Serbs into accepting a peace treaty, while the Bosnian Serbs themselves were seen as extremist, monolithic and unreliable.

The West was almost certainly wrong to put so much store by Mr Milosevic, tolerating the authoritarian, gangster-ridden regime he established in Serbia and Montenegro into the bargain.

It was forced to admit some of the error of its ways last winter, when students and opposition street demonstrators pushed Mr Milosevic into a humiliating admission of defeat in Serbia's municipal elections. And it should admit the same thing now, so that Mr Milosevic stops short of the absolutist solution he seems to be inching towards.