Milosevic's Shell Game

In turbulent Serbia, President Slobodan Milosevic has begun a political shell game in an effort to hang on to national power. Accused of throwing out legitimate opposition victories in November's municipal elections, he has now given his foes a bone, albeit a large one, to chew on while he tries to consolidate his assets. Milosevic now concedes that the southern city of Nis, Serbia's second-largest, was won by the democratic opposition, Zajedno (Together). This comes after nearly two months of nightly protest marches in Belgrade, the capital, and other cities.

But the concession on Nis should not suggest that the Serbian strongman is throwing in the towel and that his Socialist regime, father to the war in neighboring Bosnia, has lost its grip. In fact the concession probably has a darker motive.

Whether the tactic will work depends on the opposition's fortitude--the marches in Belgrade continued Thursday--and other factors, including Western pressure on the president to concede even more electoral victories. Fifteen municipal elections in all were held Nov. 17, including one in Belgrade. By confirming other opposition successes in dribs and drabs, the beleaguered leader apparently hopes to let some steam out of the peaceful but persistent protests in Belgrade. The strategy could work, but Milosevic also faces the outrage of the United States and its European allies over the election thefts. His Socialists (former Communists) should carefully weigh their prospects.

Milosevic is useful to the West for his influence on the Bosnian Serbs, but disruption in his own country, the greatest part of the former Yugoslavia, would ultimately be more dangerous than events in Bosnia. He is playing a risky game in pursuing power.

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