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Yugoslavia: Analysis -- Milosevic Defeat May Not Lead To 'Normality'

Those who think that the defeat of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will pave the way for Serbia's quickly becoming a "normal" country should think again. Given the anti-Americanism prevalent among leading oppositionists, Washington especially should be aware of what the future is likely to hold. RFE/RL's Patrick Moore provides this analysis of Sunday's vote.

Prague, 22 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Anticipation of change in Serbia is in the air in many Western capitals. The EU foreign ministers recently met in Brussels and promised to end sanctions against Belgrade once Milosevic is out. France's Hubert Vedrine even proclaimed "one must never forget the Serbs are Europeans."

This comes in the wake of increased political attention being paid to Serbia by several West European countries. Norway promised more aid to help repair the communist-era, rust-bucket infrastructure made worse by 10 years of neglect. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou went to Serbia itself on a mission, the purpose and results of which remain a matter of debate. Among the messages he carried, in any event, is that Serbia is welcome at the European table once it acquires a more respectable leadership.

Nor is the U.S. by any means idle. "The Washington Post" reported this week the U.S. is promoting the democratization of Serbia through a $77 million program. Most of the money goes to NGOs and other low-key civil society programs and not to support any specific candidate or party. The effort is long-term and modeled on similar programs Washington has funded elsewhere to promote transitions from dictatorship to democracy.

But it's not clear what the various donors' expectations are. The most important point is that, whatever the outcome, there will be no political about-face in Serbia as there was in Croatia at the start of the year. Croatia is historically a relatively open country with a high rate of emigration and return. Many people knew what was wrong with the previous regime and what Croatia had to do to enter Euro-Atlantic structures. They acted accordingly.

Serbian political culture, by contrast, is insular. None of the leading opposition figures argues the Serbian body politic should re-examine its values, attitudes, and relations with its neighbors. Instead, the opposition leaders agree that the regime is to blame for Serbia's problems, as are many foreigners, especially Americans.

Many speeches by Vojislav Kostunica in recent weeks show that his orientation is nationalistic and anti-Western. According to Kostunica, Milosevic is not bad because he destroyed the former Yugoslavia and brutalized Bosnia or Kosovo, but because he lost the conflicts he started and thus opened the way for foreign troops to come into the region.

This, in turn, underscores another difference between Croatia and Serbia. Croatia paid lip service to Euro-Atlanticism, even under the late President Franjo Tudjman, and embraced it with open arms under the new administration of President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan.

Among Serbian opposition figures, however, anti-Americanism tends to be open and blatant. Like the regime, they often blame "NATO aggression" for many problems that are really of Serbia's own making. The opposition says it wants to rejoin Europe (many European countries belong to NATO), but closer examination reveals a commitment to democracy, tolerance and respect for one's neighbors is lacking.

Exactly what the West might be letting itself in for by giving the opposition carte blanche was indicated by "Jane's Intelligence Digest" this week in an article on the shifting alliance patterns among Serbian parties. The main thrust of the article is that the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic is moving back to an open alliance with Milosevic--which many observers suspect has existed in practice all along--while the "democratic opposition" around Zoran Djindjic is cozying up to the Radicals' Vojislav Seselj, whom many suspect is on The Hague war crime tribunal's secret list of indicted war criminals.

It is such problems that primarily the EU will have to deal with should the opposition win the elections and Milosevic somehow be sent packing. If Washington does not want to give the blame-and-denial crew in Belgrade any new excuse to blame the U.S. for its problems, it will let Brussels lead the way. Such an approach will enable the EU to prove whether it is able to formulate and carry out a coherent policy vis-a-vis a pressing problem in its own backyard without waiting for the U.S. to offer a solution.