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Balkan Report: September 22, 2000

22 September 2000, Volume 4, Number 70

Don't Hold Your Breath! 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. Washington especially should realize what the future is likely to hold.

Anticipation of change in Serbia is in the air in many Western capitals. The EU foreign ministers just met in Brussels and promised to end sanctions against Belgrade once Milosevic is out. France's Hubert Vedrine patronizingly proclaimed that "one must never forget that the Serbs are Europeans."

This comes in the wake of increased political attention to Serbia by several West European countries. Norway promised more aid to help repair the communist-era, rust-bucket infrastructure made worse by ten years of neglect. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou went to Serbia itself on a mission, the purpose and results of which still 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 on 19 September that the U.S. is promoting the democratization of Serbia in a $77 million program. Most of the money goes to NGO's 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 that Washington has funded elsewhere to promote transitions from dictatorship to democracy.

One wonders, however, 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 and narcissistic. It is very heavily into blame and denial. None of the leading opposition figures argues that the Serbian body politic should reexamine its values, attitudes, and relations to its neighbors. Instead, the opposition leaders agree that the regime is to blame for Serbia's problems, as are many foreigners, especially the Americans.

"Balkan Report" and "Newsline" have published several remarks by Vojislav Kostunica in recent weeks to show that his orientation is nationalistic and more than a bit anti-Western. According to Kostunica, Milosevic is not bad because he destroyed the former Yugoslavia and brutalized Bosnia or Kosova--but because 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 (which also belongs to NATO), but closer examination reveals a lack of clarity as to what the opposition means by that. One suspects that what they really hope for is a return to the trade, travel, and subsidies of the 1970s. One German diplomat summed up all this as difficulty in coming to grips with modernity. In any event, a commitment to democracy, tolerance, and respect for one's neighbors seems lacking.

Exactly what the West might be getting into by giving the opposition carte-blanche was indicated by "Jane's Intelligence Digest" this week in a perceptive article on the shifting alliance patterns among Serbian parties. The gist is that Vuk Draskovic is moving back to an open alliance with Milosevic--which many suspect has existed in practice all along--while the "democratic opposition" around Zoran Djindjic is cozying up to the fascistic Vojislav Seselj, whom many suspect is on The Hague's secret list of war crimes indictees. It is to be hoped that some of Djindjic's many Western contacts will soon tell him that this would not be a wise course, although the article suggests that some in the West have also been flirting with Seselj.

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 also enable the EU to show that it is finally able to formulate and carry out a coherent policy with regard to a most important problem in its own back yard--without waiting for the U.S. to bring about a solution, as it did in Bosnia and Kosova. (Patrick Moore)

Tensions Build As Election Nears. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic predicted on Tuesday that Milosevic will declare victory regardless of the outcome of Sunday's elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2000). Similarly, Montenegro's Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said Monday he believes Milosevic will not concede the election if he loses. He added that Milosevic "will do everything to stay in power".

The Yugoslav army chief of staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic declared his support for Milosevic last weekend. He called the Yugoslav president a "courageous visionary" and declaring that his troops would prevent any "forcible power-grabbing" in the streets.

For his part, Milosevic has made only two campaign appearances so far. He told a bussed-in audience of some 10,000 at the Iron Gates hydropower station that his opponents were "foreign traitors."

Milosevic visited Montenegro Wednesday to speak at a rally in Berane, a Yugoslav army garrison town close to the boundaries with Kosova and Serbia.

Meanwhile, the Belgrade regime is continuing its efforts to silence the opposition. It has harassed candidates, detained activists of the opposition youth movement Otpor and muffled the news media. The election commission last week ordered independent media to cease disseminating what it termed opposition "political propaganda."

The regime daily "Politika" has denounced the front runner in the presidential elections, Vojislav Kostunica. The paper accused him of, among other things, cheating on his wife by having affairs with young girls and of keeping 17 cats in their apartment.

Kostunica responded that the regime's campaign against his opposition coalition "has been the dirtiest and most irregular one so far." In his words, "our reply to the speech of hatred will be the speech of truth."

Kostunica says the opposition has decided to disregard "all irregularities and lies of the regime." But he adds: "We have set a firm line that understands recognition of the real election results."

With less than a week to go before the elections, European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels Monday, promised to lift sanctions against Yugoslavia if voters oust Milosevic. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine read out the minister's statement: "On 24 September, the people of Serbia will be faced with a crucial political choice. Whatever the circumstances under which they have been decided and organized, the elections give the Serbian people the possibility of repudiating clearly and peacefully Milosevic's policies, which consist of political manipulation, the deprivation of freedom, impoverishment."

But former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter tells RFE/RL that even in the event of a partial lifting of sanctions, "the last people to benefit from that [would be] the average Serb."

Hunter says that in addition to what Milosevic may do to swing the election this Sunday, Montenegro is his biggest worry.

He says Western "contingency planning and preparations are the only things that could influence Milosevic," adding that the Yugoslav leader "knows the difference between resolve and pretense." Hunter added that "as a former ambassador to NATO, I believe that now is the time when the nations of the West need to be making clear to Milosevic that we would have a strong response, that NATO needs to be getting on with its contingency planning, and that in fact we need to be preparing our people for the possibility--nobody wants it--that we might have to contemplate very serious actions, including military actions, if Milosevic were to attempt to do in Montenegro something similar to what he did in Bosnia and in Kosovo."

Hunter is critical of the Montenegrin government for boycotting the election, calling the move a "mistake" and a "serious miscalculation for the future of democracy in that country." In Hunter's words, "it is rarely useful for the forces of democracy, the forces of freedom, the people who really care about their country, to boycott an election because--including in this case--that is going to play right into the hands of Milosevic." Rather, he says, "everyone in the Yugoslav Federation who has a chance to take part in politics should do it in [his] own self- interest".

Montenegro's anti-Milosevic president Djukanovic has defended his election boycott on the grounds that the elections are a farce and Milosevic is what he called a "genuine dictator." But Djukanovic insists that no matter who wins on Sunday, Montenegro will continue its pro-Western orientation.

Hunter is currently an advisor to U.S. Vice President and Democratic Party presidential candidate Al Gore. He says any attempt by Milosevic to take advantage of the U.S. election campaign would be a miscalculation: "Let me tell you, that would be a colossal mistake. I have no doubt that if Milosevic did something in Montenegro, the United States government would take decisive action along with the NATO allies and that this would be strongly supported by all the presidential candidates, particularly Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush."

Hunter says one of the key things the West must do is to get more information into Serbia to enable Serbs to find out what is happening, to understand--as he puts it--"that Milosevic is the problem, not the West." Hunter says the U.S. does not have the standing to do that, and suggests that the new democracies in central Europe are in a much better position to get that message across to the Serbs. (Jolyon Naegele)

Quotations Of The Week. "Even stray cats know that Kostunica is a man loyal to the [U.S.-backed] New World Order.... He is supported by gays and lesbians, members of various non-government and feminist organizations." -- The Milosevic-run daily "Politika" on 18 September.

"Milosevic can't find partners here [in Montenegro] like he did in Croatia or Bosnia, but he also can't afford to retreat without any commotion." -- Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan, noting that even many of Milosevic's supporters in that republic consider themselves Montenegrins first. Quoted in the "Financial Times" of 19 September.

"Surely [Milosevic] is capable of stealing the election. But if he does, we must make sure, all of us, that he loses what legitimacy he has left in the world." -- U.S. President Bill Clinton, in Washington on 19 September. Quoted by Reuters.