Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: May 16, 2000

16 May 2000, Volume 4, Number 36

Taking Stock Of Kosova. A debate is in full swing regarding the efficacy of NATO's 1999 campaign in the Balkans. The questions being asked are not necessarily the best ones.

The media have been full of stories in recent weeks as to whether NATO's successes in the 1999 campaign were actually all that they appeared to have been. Some critics of the alliance seem to have forgotten that, regardless of the exact number of Serbian tanks that NATO hit, the genocide has stopped and that the Kosovars have gone home. And if all goes according to the international community's plans, the Kosovars could actually wind up with a functioning system of home rule in the not too distant future. All this is thanks to NATO, and is a far cry from the Kosovars' being stuck at the receiving end of Operation Horseshoe.

But for now, the sometimes bizarre revisionist debate drags on. This is much to the delight of the Milosevic regime, which seeks to win through Monday-morning quarterbacking the political victory it was not able to win on the battlefield. Once, however, the various pundits have scored their political points, the discussion will hopefully be left to qualified professionals and, in the future, to trained historians.

Or perhaps other questions could now be raised in addition to the ones about the number of tanks and bridges hit. Where, for example, might the Balkans be today if NATO had carried its 1999 campaign directly to the source and eliminated the Milosevic regime instead of settling for a "Saddam Hussein peace" that left the dictator in power? What might have been the savings in human lives and well-being, property, and political and social stability had NATO intervened to stop the Serbian war machine in 1991 or 1992 instead of letting Milosevic wage four wars? And what would the former Yugoslavia look like today if the leaders of the democracies had taken seriously Milosevic's war-mongering rhetoric of the late 1980s and taken appropriate steps at that time? A similar question has often been asked regarding the democracies' behavior toward certain belligerent dictators in the 1930s, and it might well be asked anew in the former Yugoslav context.

And last but not least is the big historical question, namely why did the democracies wait so long to act and even then still leave the indicted war criminal in power?

To look toward the future, one might further consider two questions that retired U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith--a former commander in Bosnia--posed recently: "You've got to make two decisions. One, what do you want the Balkans to look like in 10 to 20 years? And two, what do you have to do to get there?"

These and similar questions deserve to be raised time and again. The discussions could prove far more fruitful than the one about tanks and bridges. (Patrick Moore)

General Jackson Recalls Intervention. General Sir Mike Jackson, who commanded the 50,000 troops that entered Kosova last June, has offered some views on related issues. He told the British parliament's defense committee on 10 May that the 50,000 were enough to do the job, but that a much larger force would have been needed had the Serbs fought. "Had we had to force our way into Kosovo against opposition...we would have had to build up a much larger, harder-hitting force....Had the mission been to evict [Serbian forces], 150,000 would seem to have to be the minimum," Reuters quoted Jackson as saying.

This state of affairs would not have lasted for long, he argued: "The Yugoslav army has not fought a conventional war.... So although [their] numbers were large, the capability was not one which would have given a properly organized, trained-NATO force too much problem." Consequently, Jackson concluded, the 150,000-stong force could have been reduced "quite quickly."

The general did not let himself be drawn in by questions as to whether he and NATO's then-Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark had a sharp disagreement over preventing Russian forces from making their dash for Prishtina airport. Jackson simply noted that "it is inevitable that in any chain of command there will be differences of view from time to time."

It is widely believed that Clark wanted Jackson to seize the airport, whereas the British general felt that the issue was not "worth starting World War III" with the Russians. According to persistent reports, Jackson used NATO's "red card option" that allows a commander to defer to his own government when displeased with a NATO order. (Patrick Moore)

Mesic Says Milosevic Could Hang. Croatian President Stipe Mesic said that Milosevic may some day meet his end on a gallows, either at the hands of his fellow Serbs or of the international community, Reuters reported from Paris on 11 May. Mesic recalled a conversation he had with Milosevic in 1991: "I told him: 'When the Serbs understand who is responsible for the tragedy, they will hang you'. He was smoking a cigarette and replied: 'Who will hang remains to be seen.'"

Referring to more recent developments, Mesic said: "The end of Milosevic gets nearer every day....He may lose the [upcoming] elections, he may be ousted." Asked if Milosevic could be hanged, Mesic said "Why not? [The Serbian leader] is a criminal....He planned the war, he ordered the massacres."

Referring to Croatia's cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Mesic stressed: "All documents will be given to the tribunal. No state or military secret can protect a war criminal. We want war criminals--Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians--to be identified by name as soon as possible. It's up to them" to face the tribunal. (Patrick Moore)

Croatian Court Chucks Out Tudjman-era Libel Law. The Constitutional Court ruled on 10 May that an article added in 1996 to the criminal code to prosecute opponents of then-President Franjo Tudjman is unconstitutional. The measure required district attorneys to prosecute journalists and others suspected of libeling the president, the speaker of parliament, the prime minister, or the chief justices of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts. The court ruled that the article violates the constitutional guarantee of the equality of all citizens before the law because it establishes a special legal status for five individuals. This is what the opposition has been saying for four years.

In practice, the measure's bark proved worse than its bite. Two journalists were acquitted after being prosecuted for an article comparing Tudjman to the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. A third case is still being tried, but presumably not for long. Under the new ruling, top officials--like everyone else--will personally have to institute legal proceedings if they feel they were slandered. (Patrick Moore)

Hague Chief Judge: Criminals Are Best Tried In Holland. One recurrent topic of discussion in some parts of the former Yugoslavia is where should war criminals be tried. Serbia does not recognize the Hague-based tribunal and has said that it will try any war criminals itself. The Republika Srpska has begun limited cooperation with the court, but that institution is still widely regarded among Serbs as one-sidedly directed against them. The Bosnian federation and Croatia have been more forthcoming, but they, too, have tried to settle wartime scores with their enemies in their own courts where possible.

Many Croatian conservatives argue that Croatia should try its own war criminals under its own laws. Even some people close to the new government have argued for this option, presumably in order to help defuse domestic political tensions (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 May 2000).

But the Hague tribunal is firm: all war criminals it has indicted must face trial in Holland. This point was brought home recently by Claude Jorda, who is the court's president, on a visit to Croatia.

Jorda stressed that the trials are very serious business and that holding them "in a country like Croatia would be quite risky," "Jutarnji list" reported. He said that perhaps some witnesses' testimonies could be taken in Croatia, but that the trial itself must be held on more neutral ground.

It is in each country's best interest to cooperate with the court and provide as much evidence as possible, Jorda reminded his listeners.

It appears that his message was taken to heart. After all, he went to Croatia to discuss the future of cooperation between Zagreb and The Hague, and producing evidence of such cooperation is important for Croatia in its quest to overcome its Tudjman-era isolation. (Patrick Moore)

Patten Making His Mark. The EU's foreign affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, said in Brussels on 10 May that he wants to consolidate many of the projects coordinated by the EU's stability pact in order to eliminate duplication of effort. "We've got to deliver our aid assistance more rapidly," he added.

The commissioner warned that the EU is risking its credibility by raising expectations but delivering relatively little: "We cannot go around making huge spending promises to people unless we put it in the budget. I'm embarrassed by the size of the gap between committed and spent [assistance]," AP reported.

Patten added that long-term priorities in the Balkans should be to promote democracy and human rights and encourage market reforms. He stressed that "it is important to send signals to Serbia that if they get rid of Milosevic, the EU will stand ready to play a constructive role in reconstruction." Brussels already has $2 billion set aside to help Serbia make its transition once it ousts its dictator.

Patten is probably best known abroad as Britain's last governor of Hong Kong, until the Chinese takeover in 1997. In his subsequent book, "East and West: China, Power, and the Future of Asia," he stressed that his years in the Far East taught him that human rights, political freedom, economic success, and healthy societies are part of an indivisible whole. We can probably expect to hear more along these lines from this articulate political figure in the coming months. (Patrick Moore)

Time Of The Generals. Milosevic's top officers continue to defend their boss against his critics, whom they view as traitors and foreign agents, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The generals refer to him as their "supreme commander" even though no such title appears in the Yugoslav constitution. As the weekly "Vreme" recently pointed out, that document names the General Staff as the highest military authority.

Back on the hustings, Air Force General Spasoje Smiljanic said on 11 May at a base near Kraljevo that Milosevic's enemies are "malicious, biased, and directly working to break up the Yugoslav Army."

That same day, Third Army commander General Vladimir Lazarevic said in Vlasotince in southern Serbia that moderate Kosova Serbs who are working with the UN's advisory council are "the card that the Americans are playing."

But two retired commanders have other opinions. Former communist-era military chief Admiral Branko Mamula told "Vreme" that the only top officers left in the Yugoslav military are those from whom Milosevic does not have to fear a coup. The admiral warned that the regime could touch off a civil war by increasing repression.

General Martin Spegelj--who also was prominent in the former Yugoslav military and then joined the Croatian cause--was quite blunt. "Globus" quotes him as saying: "I condemn Milosevic and Tudjman for genocide." (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "I knew he was working as a journalist, which is the most dangerous job at the moment, but he never tried to hide anything. He signed all his texts and anybody could read them." -- Slavica Filipovic, to Reuters on 10 May, two days after police arrested her husband Miroslav. He may face trial by a military court in Nis for alleged "criminal espionage" and "undermining the national defense system."

"Their future is in Kosova and not in Belgrade." -- Kosovar Albanian leader Hashim Thaci, on the province's Serbian minority. Quoted in Vienna's "Die Presse" of 11 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000).

"The exit strategy for our troops out of Kosovo is to provide money for stability and the creation of institutions there." -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, quoted by AP on 10 May.

"Just two or three more such 'victories' [like the one in Kosova], and Belgrade will become the capital of Albania." -- The Belgrade daily "Danas'" aphorism of the day, 5 May.