Protests put UK link to Belgrade in line of fire
Thursday 09 January 1997
To some eyes, it looked like a foolhardy policy from the beginning: offering the oxygen Mr Milosevic badly needed - foreign investment - to shore up his authority and bolster the gangster economy he had built up over four years of war and international sanctions.
Now, after eight weeks of pro-democracy street protests against the Serbian president, that policy is effectively in tatters. By annulling municipal elections, which were won convincingly by the opposition, and then sending riot police into the streets to try to contain the spontaneous protests that followed, Mr Milosevic has put himself beyond the pale of even the most cynical of foreign-policy formulators in Whitehall, the Quai d'Orsay and the Farnesina in Rome.
Commercial contacts, which had led to a number of fat contracts, including a telecommunications deal with the French company Alcatel, have dried up, and embassies in Belgrade have brought their scouting trips around the decrepit factories and mines of Serbia to an abrupt end. The European Union and the United States have been unstinting in their statements urging Mr Milosevic to reinstate the election results and respect the basic rules of a civil and democratic society.
But the rapid policy transitions have not gone unnoticed among the intellectuals and fledgling opposition politicians of the pro-democracy movement, and even now much bitterness remains. The country invariably singled out for criticism is Britain, which has the unenviable reputation on the streets of Belgrade of being Mr Milosevic's biggest chum in the international community.
The British Ambassador to Belgrade, Ivor Roberts, has been nicknamed "Roberts the Red" and is variously accused of schmoozing with Mr Milosevic and conspiring to contribute to the government campaign in the run-up to last November's elections.
The British government, meanwhile, has been accused of dragging its feet about joining the present chorus of international disapproval - only doing so, as the street wisdom has it - when it found itself with no other choice.
As ever in the Balkans, public perceptions are a mixture of rather conspiratorial fantasy and hard fact.
The fantasy largely concerns Mr Roberts, who seems to have been penalised for his ability to gain frequent but above-board access to Mr Milosevic and other senior government officials - something that the rest of the Belgrade diplomatic corps envies, not resents, him for. The average Belgrade taxi driver will accuse him of appearing "night after night" on state television during the election campaign, but in fact he was the subject of a single short report on a visit to a plastics factory.
In reality, Mr Roberts was the first EU diplomat to draw up a draft reaction to the cancellation of the elections. When the independent Belgrade radio station B-92 was shut down in December, he was there within an hour to sympathise with the staff and was instrumental in getting the station reopened two days later.
The hard facts concern British policy and the behaviour of senior British officials, not just in this crisis but stretching back to the beginning of the Balkan wars. Resentment against Britain has been welling ever since Douglas Hurd, as Foreign Secretary, seemed to make it his policy to uphold a "stable" (ie Milosevic-run) Serbia and Lord Owen, as European mediator, refused to consult any opinion in Belgrade other than that of the President.
- 1 Student jailed for hacking University of Birmingham computers to improve his grades
- 2 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 The most powerful passports in the world
Student jailed for hacking University of Birmingham computers to improve his grades
Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
Nepal earthquake: More than 1,100 killed across four countries and in Mount Everest avalanche
Royal baby: Live updates as the wait continues for Duchess of Cambridge's second child
Hermann Goering's daughter fails to reclaim items looted by Nazi deputy during WWII
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...
£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...