DATE November 13, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Steve Erlanger of The New York Times discusses Serbia
and how it dealing with the election of a new president
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Neal Conan, sitting in for Terry Gross.
It's just about a month since the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic and Serbia
is still emerging from the long years of dictatorship. The changes are many
and profound, but much has not changed, at least not yet. Milosevic did not
go quietly. Though he was clearly beaten in the election for president of
Yugoslavia, he tried to steal enough votes to force a runoff. Massive
protests outweighed the backroom maneuvering, the support of the police and
the army ebbed away, and Serbia's strongman finally bowed to the inevitable.
Yet he is still around. Many of his appointees are still in office, and the
new Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, will need to win a new round of
elections next month if he's to consolidate power.
Joining us from Belgrade is Steven Erlanger, the central Europe correspondent
of The New York Times. Welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. STEVEN ERLANGER (Central Europe Correspondent, The New York Times): Thank
CONAN: Steve, the pictures we all saw here last month looked so reminiscent
of the overthrow of the Eastern European Communist governments 10 years
ago--the big crowds, the tear gas, the broken windows, the celebrations. I
guess we expected the same kind of complete change. You, however, have
described this as the self-limiting revolution. What do you mean by that?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, what happened here was quite extraordinary, because what
one had, first of all, was an election. It was an election called by Slobodan
Milosevic. No one forced him to call it. It was always a mixed system,
becoming increasingly authoritarian, but with strong democratic foundations
also. And he felt he needed that kind of legitimation, or a relegitimation.
He miscalculated terribly. So what really was the backbone of this revolt was
the sense people had that their votes had been stolen. So to some degree,
yes, it was a revolution, but it made it very different from the kinds of
revolutions we had in the rest of central Europe, much as Yugoslavia was very
different from the other countries of central Europe. People need to
remember, this was not a Soviet satellite. Yugoslavia was a founder of the
non-allied movement. Tito was between east and west. Yugoslavians traveled
freely. There was a mixed economy here. This wasn't, you know,
Czechoslovakia or Poland under the hand-fisted ruled of the Soviet Union. So
that's an important message.
And what you had in Vojislav Kostunica was a legal scholar, someone who felt
that he owed the system of law respect after so many years of Milosevic abuse.
And he intended to follow the rules as best he possibly could. Now that
meant, you know, following through on an election to be sure, but it also
meant not having revolutionary courts, not throwing too many people out of
their jobs without due process, not throwing out elected officials simply
because they belonged to different parties.
CONAN: Extraordinarily, Steve, two of the people who have held on to their
jobs are the defense minister and the head of the police. You'd expect those
to be the first people to be thrown out of work.
Mr. ERLANGER: Yes. I mean, actually it's the chief of staff of the army,
General Naboysha Povkovich(ph), and the head of the Serbian secret police,
Vladimir Markovich(ph). And there's no question that they were pillars of the
Milosevic regime. It is also true that they, while asked to intervene by Mr.
Milosevic during the uprising on October 5th, they did not do so. The army
stayed in its barracks. It did, in the end, not intervene against the will of
the people as expressed in the elections. But there are other issues at work
here. Partly it's Mr. Kostunica's desire to keep legality. Markovich works
for the Serbian government, and Kostunica was elected president of Yugoslavia.
He has no formal authority over Mr. Markovich. He does over General
Povkovich. But Kostunica does not want to rock the boat with the people with
the real power, which are the army and the police. And he does not want some
of his rivals, even though they supported in the coalition, in particular
Zoran Djindjic, head of the Democratic Party. He doesn't want Djindjic to be
able to name a successor to the head of the secret police, or to have access
to those police files.
So underneath this issue, there is a struggle among the democratic opposition
for who will control Serbia, which is really where power lies, and who will
finally control the instruments of power. So that's been one of the reasons
that, as someone once joked, everything is different, but nothing has changed.
CONAN: How many of Milosevic's cronies, as opposed to some of these political
appointees--his real cronies--how many of them are still obviously still in
power, and still lording it in Belgrade?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, it's a very good question. The most interesting thing to
me is none of them have actually left. None of them have left the country.
Now some of them have been moved out of institutions, to be sure, but many of
them, you know, control companies that, you know, had favors from the old
government. They're kind of keeping their heads down, but they seem to be
trying to make alliances with the new rulers. But at the same time, I think
everyone knows here that there will have to be a process of investigation, of
trials, of the corrupted, and these people will be significantly at risk.
CONAN: What about Milosevic himself? In this morning's newspaper we see a
quote by the UN War Crimes Tribunal chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte. She
was saying that he is expected to be arrested soon. She didn't define that
word. Where is Milosevic? What's he up to?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, I don't know what she's hearing, quite honestly, or what
she may even be smoking, because Milosevic is in one of his residences here;
he is under guard. I mean, he's being watched by a group of police who I
think are loyal to him, and then they're kind of being watched by military
units. He is not under arrest. He should be very careful. I think if he
walked the streets, people would probably kill him. That's a whole different
question. But Mr. Kostunica has said that he will not turn him over the Hague
tribunal, and there will be, I believe, a process here of internal
investigation and prosecution that will result, I believe, in the arrest of
Mr. Milosevic and other people. And there will also be, I think--very soon
the Hague Tribunal will be able to reopen its office in Belgrade so it can
continue its investigations of war crimes and alleged war crimes here and
elsewhere. But that process will take quite a long time, and when Milosevic
is arrested, I believe it will be on domestic charges first, and not
necessarily on war crimes charges.
CONAN: What about the broader issue, though, of acknowledgment of Serbia's
role in the various conflicts that have ripped through the Balkans in the last
10 years? Has there been any acknowledgement of Serbia's role in all of this,
or is it too early for, you know, the truth commissions and that sort of
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, there has been acknowledgement right along, quite
honestly. You know--I mean, there are parts of Serbian society which opposed
the wars, you know, and did so publicly. There are also huge parts of the
majority that supported the wars, you know? But there's also a very strong
feeling, and Kostunica shares this--I mean, I've spoken to him about it and
actually written about it--that there's a larger question of justice, of
responsibility that must be addressed, that it is very important. He himself
has raised the question of establishing truth commissions to look into Serb
crimes against others and others' crimes against Serbs done by experts. To
live in the world, Serbs have to be told the truth about what was done by
them, and certainly done in their name. And that, you know, one can't blame
it all on the evil Milosevic.
So it's in the society. I mean, people don't know everything. The state
media kept it hidden from them, but they know a lot.
CONAN: My guest is Steven Erlanger, the central Europe correspondent of The
New York Times. We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Steven Erlanger of The New York Times is on the line with us from
Belgrade talking about some of the changes that have happened in Belgrade and
Serbia and Yugoslavia since the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic.
And, Steve, I'm curious, from this juncture, how do people there regard the
war that the United States and its NATO allies waged against Serbia for
Mr. ERLANGER: With very, very mixed feelings. You know, bombing tends to
make people patriotic, and most Serbs, I think, would have a very difficult
time accepting NATO's notion that this was medicine and it was good for them
and they should be grateful. They regard Kosovo in general as a war that
Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton wanted, that Rambouillet, which--you know,
even Jamie Rubin, who was Albright's aide and press secretary, has written in
the Financial Times, you know, `Rambouillet was a negotiation less intended to
find a solution for Kosovo than to get NATO support for bombing the Serbs.'
CONAN: That was the conference just before the outbreak of the war.
Mr. ERLANGER: Yes. Yes, precisely. And there it is was the American
pleading, really, with Hassam Thouchi(ph), and the Albanian delegation to
agree not to press for immediate independence for Kosovo that allowed one side
to say yes, the Serbs to say no, and the war to start now. It is also true
that it is Milosevic whose policies created everything, made the war
necessary. In my view, it was a just war. I have trouble, and many people
here have trouble with the idea that it took 78 days, that it did great damage
to the very people it was designed to protect, i.e., the Kosovo Albanians.
So there's a lot of ambivalence. At the same time, some people will kind of
admit to themselves that what everyone thought of the war, Milosevic's loss of
Kosovo, was probably the last straw that broke his regime. But there are a
lot of people who believe that what, you know, happened in Kosovo happened in
many worse ways in Chechnya, also an internal affair, and that, you know,
Yugoslavia, Serbia was bombed because the West was obsessed with Milosevic and
because the country was small enough, unlike Russia, that it could be pushed
So there's a lot of ambivalence, which I think Kostunica, who opposed the war
and opposed the NATO bombing and regarded some of the NATO bombing as subject
for war crimes investigations itself, I think he's behaved very pragmatically.
He has said that the country, whatever it feels, cannot live against the
grain, that it wants to rejoin Europe. Serbia, this week, will re-establish
diplomatic relations with the four main bombing countries in NATO--the United
States, Germany, Britain and France--all at once. And, you know, it has been,
I think, with this change with Milosevic out, everybody's kind of shut their
eyes to what happened. The West has been uncritically accepting of the new
Yugoslavia, and Kostunica, too, has sort of wanted to push the war into the
background and rejoin Europe and the world as fast as possible. I think
that's probably the best policy.
CONAN: What is the aftermath of the bombing, though? Is the electrical
system working properly? Is there still bombed-out rubble throughout the
city? What about the Danube? Is the river open?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, this is, you know, one of these great issues, but the
bombing was pretty accurate. NATO tried very hard not to have too many
civilians die. It made mistakes, but I think NATO worked very hard to be
careful. However, no one here really understands why the bridges over the
Danube which, after all, are in the north of Serbia, were bombed. And the
Milosevic government actually has rebuilt a couple of them, but the Danube
remains blocked. All this will work a little more easily, but the desire of
Belgrade to have the West actually help pay for bombing damage, you know,
it'll happen through aid to some degree. But it is a problem. The electrical
system was badly damaged, it was patched together by the Milosevic regime.
But it is faltering now, in part because of bomb damage, but also, frankly, in
part because of lack of money and supplies and a regional drought. A lot of
Yugoslavia gets electricity from hydropower, and there's just no water around.
And also the price of oil has gone up.
So one of the main priorities of Western aid has been to provide electricity.
There are major electrical shortages now, which the new regime, the new
democratic government regards as troubling, because many people, while
supporting the fall of Milosevic say, `Well, we had electricity during the
bombing, why can't we have it now?' And it makes the new authorities look
incompetent, even so much that, you know, there are--some people suggest that
people close to Milosevic are trying to sabotage the system.
And in Belgrade there is bomb damage. I mean, there are some buildings, like
the army staff headquarters and so on, that have never been repaired, still
look awful. But other buildings, like the foreign ministry, which got
collateral damage, have been fixed up. Again, the Milosevic government worked
hard as part of its electoral campaign to so-called rebuild the county after
the bombing, and it actually did accomplish a fair amount rebuilding roads,
bridges, buildings, and keeping the electrical system going. That's a task by
no means finished, and it will take many, many years for Serbia to recover.
CONAN: Steven, it was interesting that one of the very few foreign policy
issues that played a role in this election in this country was the Balkans.
Condoleezza Rice, the adviser to George W. Bush, said at one point that she
thought the United States ought to pull its troops out of the Balkans. There
are about 10,000, I believe, between Kosovo and Bosnia. How is that playing
out in that area?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, you know, it's an interesting thing. Partly because of
the war, the Kostunica government, I think, would prefer George Bush be
president. In a way it would mark a kind of easier transition to a new
relationship with the United States. Al Gore has talked quite openly about,
you know, his own personal arguments for intervention in the Balkans and
Bosnia and in Kosovo. Many of the figures of the Clinton-Gore administration
would remain. I'm not sure they're right about this. I think the Democrats
also want a new relationship with the new Yugoslavia. But there is this
feeling, in a way, that the Republicans will meddle less in the Balkans than
the Democrats and are probably a little less even hypocritically moralistic
than the Democrats are. This may be entirely wrong, but that's the view.
There is a feeling--Condi Rice's statements I think had a bigger impact among
NATO allies than they did here. No one here takes seriously the idea that the
United States will pull its troops out of Kosovo. I mean, Kosovo was an
American-designed war, and no European is going to be very happy if American
troops leave Kosovo. It's just not going to happen.
CONAN: I wanted to ask you, Steve--you may not be in the best position to
answer this, but 10 years ago, after the Gulf War, Europeans realized that
there was an order of magnitude between their military capabilities and those
of the United States, and there was a great deal of talk in Europe of
upgrading to get the high-technology kind of equipment that the United States
had. Then came the war in Kosovo, and it appeared that the United States had
advanced even further beyond its European allies, who, despite the lessons of
the Gulf War, had not made the very expensive investments in high-tech warfare
that the United States had continued to develop. Since Kosovo, there has
again been a lot of talk in Europe about making these kinds of investments so
that Europe would have those kinds of capabilities independent of the United
States if need be. Any sign that European governments are serious about that?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, I think there are such signs. I mean, you've summarized
what's happened very, very well. The Europeans have begun with British and
French initiation, something called the European strategic defense initiative,
or plan, and the idea is to pull together 50 to 60,000 troops, plus the kind
of transport and surveillance that the Europeans have had to rely on the
Americans for in the past to be able to handle a Kosovolike problem inside
Europe in circumstances, for example, that Washington doesn't want to get
involved. So this really is under way, and, you know, we'll see how it goes
in the next couple years.
But Europeans have taken the NATO secretary-general, who prosecuted this war,
Javier Solana, and put him in charge of European foreign policy. Solana's
very much committed to this; the British and the French are, the Germans are.
And I think the only real worry in Washington is that somehow this will be
done outside NATO planning. This is the big debate now. I think Washington
very much is eager to have this happen. They'd like Europeans to take more
responsibility and to be more capable and to pay more, frankly, for defense,
but the United States also, in its usual rather schizophrenic way, wants to
make sure it knows what's going on, and that the Europeans aren't making
military plans that cut out the United States and keep it outside the real
heart of what happens in European security. So these are the big issues. But
I think the Europeans do understand that as they become more of a federal
state themselves, that they simply have to be more responsible about security
in their own back yard.
CONAN: Steve Erlanger is central Europe correspondent of The New York Times.
More of our conversation when we continue. I'm Neal Conan, and this is FRESH
CONAN: Coming up, Serbia, post-Milosevic. We continue our discussion with
Steve Erlanger of The New York Times. Also, our elections are still making
banner headlines around the world. We hear from Leonard Doyle, foreign editor
of The Independent of London. And we remember Leah Rabin, who died Sunday at
the age of 72.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This FRESH AIR. I'm Neal Conan, in for Terry Gross.
Now more of my conversation with Steve Erlanger, the Central Europe
correspondent of The New York Times. He was in Belgrade during the NATO
bombing campaign and then again for the dramatic events that overthrew
dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
In Belgrade, as in so many of the East European capitals, there was one day
that proved to be absolutely critical to this process. You were there. Can
you take us through that day? Can you remember now what sticks in your mind
about that critical day?
Mr. ERLANGER: Yes. And I, actually, would start even the day before because
there was a strike at an important coal mine outside Belgrade called Kolubara.
The army chief of staff came in the middle of the night to try to break that
strike. Police moved in in the morning. I went to the mine that day. The
miners called in help from ordinary citizens who came in their cars and
trucks. The police did not fight them. And I remember being actually proud
of writing a lead that said if the regime of Slobodan Milosevic breaks and
Kostunica becomes president, it will be because of what happened here at this
gritty coal mine today.
The next day, Thursday, the key day, was always the day the opposition would
call D-day. They had asked people to come in from all over Serbia to
Belgrade. There were some plans, not entirely coordinated, for this
demonstration to turn into something more. By the time--you know, 1 in the
afternoon, when perhaps half a million people were in the streets of Belgrade
and beginning to move onto the Parliament building and the police were only
shooting tear gas and a few rubber bullets and no weapons, it became clear to
me that this might actually work. It was quite extraordinary. So one
remembers the tear gas, which was terrible, because it had some extra agent in
it. I've been teargassed here before. This was something different. And the
courage of some of these tough guys at the front who kept pushing ahead into
the Parliament. No one still knows, in a way, who burned the Parliament,
though I think we have an idea. But it became this great symbol.
And then the idea was to go to the other bastions of state power, which were
the media; particularly radio-television Serbia, the state TV and radio; and
the police. And there'd been some arrangements made with the police
beforehand. But, in the end, the crowd pushed forward and the government
rotted. It just collapsed. I mean, it was quite extraordinary.
And the other fond memory I have of--was being in the middle of this crowd
when Kostunica came to the city hall, which is across the park from the
burning Parliament building, to speak to the crowd and, in a sense, claim his
prize. And I swept in with him. I grabbed a hold of one of his aides, whom I
knew, and got into the city hall with him and had about an hour and a half
with him in a rather private way, with his staff, as he made his speech as the
crowd cheered him; had a chance to talk with him about his feelings that day
and as he began to give his first orders as the effective president of
By the same time the next day, Milosevic had resigned and it was over. But I
remember the chaos. I remember the tear gas. I remember the feeling that,
in the end, the police were not and the army were not going to intervene;
and the sense of joy of this kind of strange, quiet, private, legal-minded
man who'd always been, really, on the margins of Yugoslav politics, rising
through his anti-Communist background; his anti-Milosevic background to
overthrow a dictator whose feet turned out to be made of rotten clay.
CONAN: You could tell a lot about a man in those conditions. Did it go to
his head? How did he respond?
Mr. ERLANGER: He has this ability, which he will sometimes describe as
standing, in a way, outside himself and, as he says, looking at this Kostunica
and wondering, `why is he behaving this way and who is he really'? And he did
have those feelings; a sense of great pride; also, as he said to me, an
extraordinary sense of justice because this country--though, transition came
very late--it was the only Central European country where a former Communist
apparatchik did not rise to power. His family was anti-Communist. He was
always anti-Communist. This was a whole, new generation of--I mean, not a new
generation so much, but people who had not dealt with the old regime; who had
not made the deal that brought them to power, which is really what happened
through most of Eastern Europe. Let's be honest. In the Czech Republic, for
instance, the old Communist elite traded political power for economic power.
And everyone shut their eyes, you know. But here, it was an anti-Communist
that came to power at long last, and he said he felt that this was a kind of
justice--and he actually said God's justice--for the people whose lives had
been turned upside down in the last 50 years, not just the last 10.
CONAN: Steven Erlanger, the Central Europe correspondent of The New York
Times, is on the line with us from Belgrade.
As you've pointed out, the question of Serbia and its role has dominated that
region for the better part of a century. Is that a question that is on the
road to being settled, in your view?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, I think it's a very difficult question. And I hope so,
but I'm more skeptical, I have to tell you, because, you know, there is deep
in many Serbs this sense that, you know, they are simply the most important
people in the region. The problem has always been that there are too many
Serbs to subjugate and not enough Serbs to subjugate everybody else. And this
is a kind of historical tension in many Serbs' stomachs. And it's in
Kostunica's stomach, too, because, you know, he is a Serb nationalist. He's
not a murderous one. He's, you know, not one that, you know, ever has
supported ethnic cleansing or, you know, ethnic warfare. But, you know, the
dream of, you know, a kind of Serbia primary in the region is going to be very
hard to die. And the promising thing, for me, is the--how pragmatic he's been
so far and how willing the new authorities seem to be to explore the past; the
recent past, in particular: Serb crime, Serb responsibility and the roots of
all the disgusting, awful behavior of back-and-forth that have ripped this
region apart for the last 13 years.
CONAN: Election recounts, of course, have played a major role in developments
there in Belgrade and in Serbia. Is there some irony there; some amusement at
the current problems that the United States is having in its elections?
Mr. ERLANGER: I have to tell you, there's a great deal of amusement. In
fact--and some serious thoughts, too. Some people have said, `Thank God
Milosevic had this election before the American one,' because think of the
propaganda he would make out of the American problems now. But the amusing
thing is people thinking, you know, had this been Serbia, what would people
think if Milosevic's brother were governor of Florida and the whole election
might depend on the outcome of absentee ballots from the military? Everyone
would say, `Call in the OSCE.' But, in general, you know, I mean, people are
kind of sweet about this irony. I mean, they are very happy with what they've
accomplished here. I mean, they regard the United States as a bastion of
democracy. And, you know, most Serbs, despite the war, remain very much
pro-Western. So, you know, it's done in good fun.
CONAN: Steven Erlanger, thanks very much.
Mr. ERLANGER: Thank you.
CONAN: Steven Erlanger speaking with us from Belgrade. He's the Central
Europe correspondent of The New York Times.
Coming up, how the US presidential election is playing elsewhere overseas.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Leonard Doyle discusses how the American election is
being viewed by overseas media
NEAL CONAN, host:
Foreign reviews of the presidential election have been--well, there's no kind
way to put it--scathing. The term `banana republic' is being tossed around
the world's editorial columns like a beach ball; `bizarre,' `parody,' `charade'
and `idiotic' are all popular, too. Liberation in Paris compared the Florida
recount to a World Cup soccer match being decided by penalty kicks. Britain's
Daily Mirror weighed in with `laughingstock.' South Africa's Independent
described reaction as ranging from `bemusement' to `contempt,' while the
august Times of London described the Electoral College as `the swollen
appendix of the American-body politic.'
For a more detailed reaction, we contacted Leonard Doyle in London. He's the
foreign editor of the British daily newspaper The Independent.
Behind some of those lines, I mean, you can certainly detect an element of
taking a shot at Uncle Sam, who can sometimes be a little bit earnest and
perhaps overbearing. But is there an element of seriousness behind some of
that criticism as well?
Mr. LEONARD DOYLE (The Independent): Well, people are incredibly interested
in the result of the election or in the kind of effort to find a result to
the election. And there have been attempts, of course, as you point out, to
sneer and to kind of ridicule the whole situation. But I think people are
genuinely worried that the thing could go out of control; that people want
and expect kind of an orderly transition and have been alarmed by some of the
kind of worries expressed by the correspondents that while it might go
smoothly, it could also result in the kind of lawyers ripping your elegant
Constitution to shreds.
CONAN: Hmm. Parts of that Constitution previously unread, I suspect, in
European capitals are now being pored over.
Mr. DOYLE: Well, I'm not sure how well they've been read in your own country
because I think the impression I got is that a lot of people didn't actually
know what the College of Electors was. And we, too, are learning here. And
people are getting increasingly fascinated by the incredible detail and
learning every day as they go along. There's an enormous and growing
appetite. There are correspondents who are saying, `Can you please scale
down the coverage? We can't keep up with it.'
CONAN: Hmm. I think it's was your newspaper--pointed out, quote, "At
moments like this, the cumbersome precision of the American constitutional
process is a blessing. Imagine, in such an impasse, that transition in
Washington followed the British model whereby power passes instantly, almost
brutally, after a general election.'
Mr. DOYLE: Well, it does. And it's always an extraordinary sight to see
that the minute the votes are counted in the UK, the moving vans have moved
in and the tearful occupant is kind of being shipped off to obscurity,
usually. So, I mean, the American system is a more elegant system and is a
more careful system. And is designed, no doubt, to keep populace from
grabbing the reins of power too quickly. And I think people have been
fascinated by the whole thing and just are fascinated and, at the same time,
worried and interested in trying to keep up with it.
CONAN: Was there a favored candidate amongst--I mean, European governments;
any government is sort of loathe to say, you know, `We're for one guy or the
other.' Heaven forfend, the other guy should win. But was there one
candidate who most governments in Europe were in favor of?
Mr. DOYLE: That's a little bit hard to say. But I would say that
in--certainly in the media's side, I can speak for that. And probably
that--maybe that accounts for it as well. But the general opinion seems to
be that in Al Gore you're dealing with a very seasoned operator and a
continuity. And, you know, governments and institutions always like
continuity. And with George W. Bush, there was this certain element of, you
know, how much time is he going to spend in the office and is he going to
make decisions on the fly? You had rather rude remarks in some editorial
columns. Some people are calling him a `nincompoop,' the BBC calling him
`hollow.' So I think that all kind of fed into a general fear that a Bush
administration would be a wobblier one.
But on the same--by the same token, you know, as we all know, the Gore
administration--a Gore administration might be a lot more combative and more
ornery to deal with now that you've got this very, very tight situation. And
the Bush--Governor Bush has proven in the past to be a far more collegiate
type of fellow when putting his hand across his--the divide to the Democrats.
CONAN: When you're talking about an ornery situation developing, you mean in
Washington with the closely divided Congress.
Mr. DOYLE: Precisely. If you have to rule--if you have to have a situation
where you have a de facto need for coalition in order to get any business
done, as we have in many European countries--and I realize, of course, you're
not going to have coalition governments, per se, in the United States--but
you need this bipartisan accord. And if, you know--perhaps people are
learning it now that candidate Gore might be a more prickly individual to
achieve that than Governor Bush.
CONAN: Vice President Gore spent some time in Britain when he was younger.
I don't believe George W. Bush has ever been there. Is that seen--their
level of experience in foreign policies; has that been an issue for people in
London and around Europe?
Mr. DOYLE: Well, certainly there are worries as to what a George W. Bush
foreign policy would be. Would he immediately yank American forces out of
Bosnia? Would he rapidly scale down American forces in Europe? And there's
no doubt that European governments, European countries are very concerned to
maintain the integration of American forces in Europe and this--and the very
robust relationship in foreign policy. But, frankly, I don't think people
are--you know, know. And I think the fact that George W. Bush has or has not
been to the UK should make much difference. And he'll--and, of course, he
will--you know, he has--it's not like he doesn't have seasoned, political
advisers around him. Indeed, maybe the policy will be made by these very
seasoned political advisers.
CONAN: Is there much of a distinction seen between their two foreign
policies, other than, as you've pointed out, Condoleezza Rice, one of George
W. Bush's advisers, did suggest pulling American troops out of the Balkans?
But in broader terms, what are the distinctions, as seen from London?
Mr. DOYLE: Well, I think one of the big worries in this much-flooded country
at the moment is global warming. So it will be keen to see an American
administration; a new administration kind of pushing ahead with attempts to
reduce global warming. We've got The Hague conference going on at the moment
with the Americans busily bartering away their kind of limitations on carbon
diox--on emissions; buying in pollution quotas from other countries. So
people are really very concerned to see that on that front, for one, that you
get a kind of sensible and environmentally friendly policy. And, of course,
people remember well Vice President Gore's book on the environment and his
position on the environment and would be equally concerned at a more
laissez-faire Republican attitude coming from the oil-rich or the oil
industry-inclined Bush administration.
CONAN: Was there some surprise after the United States election about the
machinery; the process of the election? Was there some belief that all of
this was done in a much more high-tech and predictable fashion?
Mr. DOYLE: I think people have been genuinely surprised to discover just the
absolute, extraordinary number of different ways that you can cast your vote
across the United States. And, you know, it's been a learning process for
people here, too, who probably assumed that this was a federal election, as
it would be in the UK, for example, where it would be a national election
and to discover that everything is actually a state election and run by
states. And this, of course, goes right back to the Civil War and all that.
I think people have been, you know, fascinated by the detail and amazed and
alarmed as well that something so crucial can be decided by the poor Theresa
LePore, as we've been coming to know so well.
CONAN: Tell us, by way of example, what is a national election like in
Britain? What kind of ballot do you vote on?
Mr. DOYLE: Well, you have a big sheet of paper with all of the candidates
marked out, a little bit like you do. And you can put your tick in the box.
And it's very straightforward. And it usually happens, as it does in the
United States, in your local church hall where you show up and see--and they
see if you're on the register. We don't have ID papers, but it's pretty
closely controlled. I can't remember any kind of situation like this ever
coming about, although we certainly do have close elections. But it's much
CONAN: But you're, literally, putting a check mark with a pencil or a pen on
a piece of paper?
Mr. DOYLE: Yes. It's the old-fashioned way; simple as that.
CONAN: At this point, is it coming clearer, to you, anyway, that any one of
these candidates would be in better shape after this bruising post-electoral
contest--in better shape to govern?
Mr. DOYLE: Well, this is what we've been trying to kind of work out; you
know, whether, you know, the various scenarios that you can see--presumably,
you can have a clear victory in Miami, which is increasingly likely, or you
could have a victory followed by endless recounts; perhaps a recount--hand
recount of the whole state, you know, for goodness sakes, followed by all
sorts of shenanigans in the Electoral College. And, no doubt, somebody's
looking for the moment of fame and of--and to jump ships there--jump sides.
And so that would be another scenario; and perhaps, you know, the
possibility that one of the candidates will just say that, `we'll retire
gracefully' and write themselves into the history books as the person who
saved American democracy; the American Constitution from becoming kind of the
plaything of the lawyers.
We were amused to see Alan Dershowitz showing up in Florida a little while
ago. And so the one thing, certainly on this side of the water we think is
true is that America loves a show trial. And we're just wondering whether
that's not what we're gonna see.
CONAN: Leonard Doyle, thanks very much.
Mr. DOYLE: Thank you very much, Neal.
CONAN: Leonard Doyle, foreign editor of The Independent in London.
Up next, we remember Leah Rabin. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Leah Rabin, in a rebroadcast of a 1997 interview,
discusses her husband's death
NEAL CONAN, host:
After her husband's assassination, Leah Rabin became an eloquent campaigner
for peace and wrote a memoir titled "Rabin: Our Life, His Legacy." The widow
of Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin died Sunday from lung cancer at
the age of 72. In 1997, she spoke with Terry about the peace process, which
was at a bleak moment then, too, and about the awful night when she
accompanied her husband to a peace rally in Jerusalem.
TERRY GROSS (Host): What did you hear when your husband was shot?
Mrs. LEAH RABIN: I heard bullets. And I saw my husband falling to the
ground. And, of course, this sight is in front of me and will stay there
forever in front of me. I see him falling down and two, three securities over
him. So what I thought was that they made him drop down, fall down to protect
him because there were the shots. And then I was told--right away I was told
the shots were not for real. Come quick. And they pulled me with force into
the second car that was accompanying my husband's convoy. And I was driven
out of town. And all the time I keep asking, `Where is my husband?' And they
said, `We don't know.' And I still wouldn't believe that, really, something
happened to him because there was--I believe that the bullets were not for
GROSS: How did you find out what really happened?
Mrs. RABIN: When we arrived at the hospital, looking into the eyes of the
director, who was waiting for me at the entrance of the hospital, I needed to
see no more. I understood the severity, the gravity, the horror. And he was
still kind of alive. They were working on him in the surgery room. They led
me and the rest of the people who started streaming into the hospital to a
nearby room. And we were sitting there and just, you know, waiting. And the
minutes were going by. And the director of the hospital came in and out. And
there was a minute, but they said, `We still have a little hope because we
managed to stabilize the blood pressure.' But there really was no hope. And
five minutes later he opened the door and his eyes told us everything. He
didn't need to say a word.
GROSS: So you didn't get to see your husband again before he died.
Mrs. RABIN: Yes, I did. I asked. I said, `I want to see him.' I want to
say goodbye.' And I did.
GROSS: When you found out that it was a Jew who had killed your husband, what
was your reaction? Did you ever think that that was possible?
Mrs. RABIN: I don't think I--I was--you know, my husband was so much
of--forgive me--was so much of an authority. When he said he doesn't believe
it and he doesn't think a Jew might do it to him, we all believed him, so that
the security, in a way--it was their task to protect him. But he was so
absolutely assured that a Jew will not kill him. He couldn't imagine a
situation like that. So I think we all were pretty assured that, no, there is
no danger for his life. My daughter claims that she was worried. My
sister-in-law says that she was quite worried. But I cannot say that I was
really worried. I wasn't.
GROSS: After the assassination, Yasser Arafat visited your house and paid a
condolence call, as did King Hussein and Queen Noor of Jordan.
Mrs. RABIN: They came to the funeral.
GROSS: They came to the funeral.
Mrs. RABIN: Yeah, they didn't come to--yeah, they came to the house in
Jerusalem before the funeral, but they came to the funeral, which Yasser
Arafat said he could not do. And therefore, two or three days later, in
disguise, he came to our house in Tel Aviv. And this was very, very, very
amazing, among so many other things that happened. I mean, 87 leaders of
state of the world came to the funeral; Yasser Arafat coming into my living
room with his aides, all these things. And the thousands and thousands and
thousands that were crying for him and lighting candles and being there day
and night at his graveside and the spot where he was murdered. I mean, it
was--the whole country, I think, held its breath for seven days and stopped.
It was just a horrible, horrible shock and a horrible crisis.
GROSS: I'd like to get back to Yasser Arafat's...
Mrs. RABIN: Yes--visit.
GROSS: ...condolence call, yeah. What kind of disguise was he wearing?
Mrs. RABIN: He was wearing a hat, you know--a real hat and a coat--an
overcoat and glasses. So when you met him on the street, you wouldn't know
it's him--no way. And then he took off the hat. And he was sitting there
without the kafee(ph) and without the hat. And this is--for the first time
that we saw him like that. And he was extremely warm and extremely friendly.
And he kissed us all and hugged us all. And, I mean, it became so amazingly
natural that here Yasser Arafat is sitting in our living room, except that you
were wondering, `And where is Yitzhak?'
GROSS: In your memoir you said that your husband was often described as a
soldier who, late in life, became a man of peace. But you consider that to be
an incorrect assessment.
Mrs. RABIN: Absolutely incorrect because he was a military man for 27 years
who believed that only if we really maintain a very strong military force can
we then aspire for peace. His aspirations were truly and honestly for peace.
He never stopped for one day believing that if we are strong enough, that day
will come. After the Six Day War, which was this very, very amazing victory
in which we, again, proved that though attacked by three Arab neighboring
countries, we not only survived, we had this enormous victory. So from then
on he said, `OK. I think I've done my share for the Israeli military force.
Now I want to go to Washington because Washington will be the only place that
we can hope to get a support for the cause of peace. And this is where I want
to be.' And this is where we went.
CONAN: The late Leah Rabin. She and Terry spoke in 1997.
CONAN: For Terry Gross, I'm Neal Conan.
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