Slobodan Milocevic has it right on one point: His much-shrunk nation of Yugoslavia faces its biggest test in history this Sunday when it holds its first direct presidential election.
But election isn't the right word to describe this sham democratic exercise. Many Yugoslavs expect voting fraud and other electoral abuses.
Still, a unified opposition has put up a popular candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, and, even though he's not allowed to campaign on television, he's ahead in the polls and will be a magnet to rally dissent after the election.
At least that's what the United States hopes - a flawed election can even put pressure on Milosevic to end his violence-stained 12-year rule.
Such a US scenario of supporting a dictator-controlled election worked in the Philippines in 1986, for instance, but it's failed elsewhere, such as in Burma in 1990 and in Peru this year.
The European Union has smartly enticed voters to oust Milosevic with a promise to lift economic sanctions if they do so. But such string-pulling in Yugoslavia often doesn't work.
The West, for instance, has forced Mr. Milosevic into a corner by indicting him as a war criminal. Now he's desperate to use this election to claim another eight years in power.
But perhaps nonviolent protests after this flawed election can trigger a people's-power revolution. If so, what will the Army do? Even with voting fraud, many Yugoslavs will know who really won the election. Will the generals respect the will of the people?
In his efforts to cling to power, Milosevic has caused three wars, leaving the Balkans out of Europe. This election is truly a historic test, but mainly for Milosevic.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society