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Canadian Observers In Yugoslavia


Belgrade 22/09/2000

Canadian Observers In Yugoslavia

The international observers of the Yugoslavian presidential and parliamentary elections have arrived in Belgrade - some 200 of them from (so far) 54 countries. Contrary to the reports that "they have not been allowed in," there are registered observers from the following Western European countries. Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Sweden and UK. (The so far single American observer is an active senior participant in the Gore presidential campaign.) Among the observers are parlamentarians, delegates from political parties and organizations, as well as independents like the two participants from Canada.

The Canadian delegates have attended political rallies of the three major presidential candidates, in Belgrade and Novi Sad. These events were noisy and lively affairs, without any observable disturbances and any noticeable police presence. Literature was freely distributed and received at these events, in a way no different from political rallies in Canada.

One of us (Marjaleena Repo) has paid particular attention to election posters as she has been involved in the long standing and not-yet-finished fight for the right to poster in Canada - and she can report that posters are everywere in the street scene, accompanied by graffiti and the defacing of each others posters even-steven fashion, it seems. She has seen posterers at work in downtown Belgrade, with posters urging women to vote, while postering on top of other election messages! She had a chance to discuss this contradiction with five English-speaking Yugoslavian youth with their buckets and sponges. Unlike in Canadian cities, the posters appear not be scraped down by city workers but live to suffer the indignities from competing political parties. In addition, there are huge billboards advertising the three major presidential candidatets all around the cityscape. All in all, the appearance of democracy in action.

The other Canadian delegate, Professor Dimitri Kitsikis, has a long-time

experience of national elections, having systematically studied and observed them in many countries, notably in France, Greece and Turkey. His observations are therefore particularly valid and he has been unshaken by Western insistence that Yugoslav elections could be rigged. On the contrary, he is observing that these elections do not differ from those in any other democratic countries, particularly from France, of which Dr. Kitsikis is an expert.

The delegates have attended an information session on the electoral process in Yugoslavia and have been provided with background information and documentation on how the system works and how it makes an effort to guarantee an equal, free and transparent voting method leading to reliable results. Questions were invited and responded to. We were informed that the delegates will be able to attend any and all polling stations on voting day, Sept. 24, and officials at the polls have been instructed to welcome the foreign observers with full access to the actual voting situation, while respecting the citizens' right to privacy.

While in Belgrade, disturbing news reached the observers. The International Herald Tribune of Sept. 20 has a front page story, titled "U.S. aids Milosevic foes: Millions allocated to a democracy program." The article states that U.S. officials have acknowledged $77 million financial "contribution" to opposition groups in Yugoslavia, from students to labour, from so-called independent media to political rock bands, and the newspaper states that "There is nothing secret or even particularly unusual about the U.S. democracy-building program in Serbia, which is closely co-ordinated with European allies and is similar to previous campaigns in pre-democratic Chile, South Africa and Eastern Europe, among other places." Washington Post (Sept. 21) further reveals that U.S. officials and corporations are also "providing a sophisticated opinion surveying system, engaging for the purpose the New York firm that has done the job for Bill Clinton [Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates]" which explains the many polls that "prove" that an opposition candidate is ahead of President Milosevic and suggest vigorously that Mr. Milosevic will only win by fraud.

While the Canadian and other Western media have alredy declared the election to be "rigged" (without any evidence, of course), we believe that the actual evidence for rigging and distorting the Yugoslavian election results has been found in the pre-democratic countries of U.S. and the European Union who in an wholly illegal and undemocratic fashion are interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country. This, of course, must be condemned by all true democrats, be they individuals, organizations or nations. -30-

MARJALEENA REPO is a social justice activist and a long-standing member of Canada's "democracy movement," with hands-on experience on how Canada's democracy does and does not work. She lives in Saskatoon, Sask.

DR. DIMITRI KITSIKIS is a professor of International Relations at the University of Ottawa since 1970 and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He is a specialist of the Balkans and Turkey and has written many books on the area.

They can be reached for interviews at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Belgrade: 381-11-311-3333. Ms. Repo at room # 335 and Professor Kitsikis at room # 711.

Professor Kitsikis is multi-lingual and can give interviews in French and Greek as well as in English.

Back in Canada on September 29, Ms. Repo can be reached at (416)466-6533 or (306)244-9724.

Professor Kitsikis will be back in Ottawa on October 2, and can be reached at University of Ottawa, tel: (613)562-5735 or at his home tel: (613)834-4634.

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