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Balkan Report: October 17, 2000

17 October 2000, Volume 4, Number 77

You Bombed US! It is difficult to say precisely what underlies the anti-American attitudes of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Some observers have suggested that they might be linked to something in his biography. Others hold that it is simply a classic Balkan expression of "inat," or spiteful defiance of that which is bigger and stronger than you are--especially when the bigger and stronger force is personified by an assertive female secretary of state (n.b. that Madeleine Albright has yet to join--or be asked to join--the international pilgrimage to Belgrade).

Whatever the case, two things seem clear. First, Kostunica's anti-Americanism was public and visceral during the campaign. He usually mentioned the U.S. together with NATO, although he never clarified how he could rail at "NATO" but admire "Europe" when there is a considerable overlap of membership in the two.

The second thing is that the new president has moderated his views in recent days, at least in his public statements. It may be that Russia's failure to express support for him quickly and unequivocally disillusioned him, especially when he contrasted Moscow's behavior with that of Brussels and Washington. Or it may be that he has subordinated his own personal views to the requirements of state. Perhaps this is because he has more pressing concerns and does not need tensions with foreign countries that advocate good relations. Or it may be that he has come to agree with Zoran Djindjic, who argues that Serbian strategic interests cannot be met without a partnership with America. After all, most of the countries in the neighborhood came to that conclusion long ago.

In any event, Kostunica took a relatively conciliatory line toward the U.S. after talks in Belgrade on 12 October with President Bill Clinton's advisor James O'Brien. Kostunica said that he regrets that there has been what he politely called a "gap in communication" between Washington and Belgrade. He added that "we hope we will bridge that gap and our relations [will] normalize," "The New York Times" reported.

O'Brien said that Kostunica needs first to clarify some "technical issues" in Belgrade before diplomatic relations are restored. The daily noted that Kostunica must move carefully in view of the widespread anti-American sentiment in Serbia, even though he has sound credentials as a critic of Washington.

And that anti-American sentiment is indeed strong. When asked to explain the reason for their views, Serbs usually say something like: "You bombed us!" The implication of this is that the Western allies should feel guilty and seek to atone for their imputed wickedness. Kostunica himself seemed pleased to note recently that he detected "feelings of guilt" on the part of some of his Western visitors.

The idea that Serbia somehow got its just desserts for unleashing horrors in Kosova (and perhaps in other places) does not appear to have occurred to him. While all death in war is tragic--be it due to bombing, ground warfare, ethnic cleansing, or whatever--there is more at issue here.

Just over half a century ago, the U.S. and some of the other countries that bombed Serbia in 1999 bombed Germany. The death and destruction there were many times worse than that visited on any part of Milosevic's Serbia. After 1945 and especially after 1968, Germany went through a soul-searching and a re-examination of its past. The process was not easy, quick, or uniformly engaged in. The outcome nonetheless was that Germans came to view their country's relations with their immediate neighbors, with other European countries, and with the U.S. in a different light. Responsibility was by and large acknowledged, and sincere reconciliation and partnership followed.

Any sign of such a process is precisely what is missing in today's Serbia. It, like pre-1945 Germany, has a nationalistic political culture that wallows in self-pity and gave rise to an aggressive dictator. The tyrant started wars of destruction against his neighbors. He also lost those wars, and in the process undid the results of centuries of migration and colonization by his people in neighboring regions.

An introspective look at Serbia's own political culture, recent history, and relations with its neighbors does not seem to be on the agenda of either Kostunica or the rest of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, to say nothing of that of the survivors of the old regime. This has not gone unnoticed abroad, particularly in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova. Leaders in all three of these areas are looking for signs that Kostunica is truly ready to acknowledge what Belgrade's aggressive nationalist policies have led to.

Instead, the new leadership in Belgrade seems to take the view that somehow every side was responsible for the destruction of the former Yugoslavia. It does not accept that the onus of blame lies with Milosevic and those who enthusiastically backed his wars. If anything, most Serbs' problem with Milosevic is not that he started wars but rather that he lost them.

In the meantime, those foreigners who are in a hurry to embrace Kostunica and the DOS should recall the view of Croatian President Stipe Mesic. He argued recently that Serbia "needs a catharsis" of its political emotions and to prove to its neighbors that it does not covet their territory. Mesic stressed that he hopes that Kostunica will be the leader of a "European Serbia" that will pursue the same sort of forward-looking policies as its neighbors. But for now, he added, the jury is still out. (Patrick Moore)

Setting An Example. Germany's Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who knows the Balkans well, recently suggested that the Western powers that urge Kostunica to arrest Milosevic and other indicted war criminals are taking the wrong tack. He argues that NATO should instead present a positive example--by rounding up all the war criminals in Bosnia, where SFOR and the international community's high representative enjoy something like absolute power. What better way to urge an embattled Serbian opposition to do its part in bringing war criminals to justice than to show that mighty NATO is willing and able to do the same thing? (Patrick Moore)

Washington's Man In Sarajevo Talks To RFE/RL. In a recent interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Thomas Miller said the United States has the right to be assured that its money is being spent in the right way and that its assistance is achieving the goals of U.S. foreign policy.

The United States has invested almost $1 billion in Bosnia since 1995, and the level of assistance is declining every year, Miller said. He said he did not know what will happen next year, because the process of defining the ways in which money will be spent is a complicated procedure, and the final decision will be made by the U.S. Congress.

The diplomat said the decision on the coming fiscal year is being made right now, and he does not know how much money will be approved for Bosnia. Miller added that if Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) wins in the Republika Srpska at the November elections, he will do his best to prevent U.S. assistance from being given to that entity.

Miller also pointed at some positive things that have happened in the past 13 months, during his tenure as ambassador. According to Miller, there was a good return of refugees and significant progress in the economic field. Moreover, the April local elections enabled the people with a vision of the future, who sincerely want to implement the Dayton agreement, to win office in some municipalities. Besides this, he said, a large number of war crimes suspects have been arrested, there is a basis for stability, and there have been no serious incidents.

The diplomat noted nonetheless that although this is all "good news," there is much more to be done. He mentioned numerous problems in the privatization process, adding that judicial bodies are not working as they should and that law enforcement is poor. Furthermore, he said that the central institutions are not as strong as they could be, and that the Council of Ministers does not work properly, although everyone hoped this institution would be much more productive than it is.

Miller recalled that he had publicly and privately shown concern about the questionable qualifications of Karadzic's former economics advisor Spasoje Tusevljak, even before he assumed the position of Chairman of the Council of Ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2000). Miller said that rather modest steps were proposed to the Council to deal with this and related matters, but nothing has been done yet. The ambassador said that the state functions only occasionally, meaning that from time to time it starts achieving results but then everything stops.

The diplomat argued that if Bosnia wants to become a country accepted by Europe and if it wants to join Europe and gain benefits from European institutions, then it must start acting like a country that has central institutions. When asked whether it is difficult to work with Bosnian officials--who "listen and sign whatever they are asked to, but then forget about any agreement"--Miller said this is counterproductive for the Bosnian peoples. "My concern is the good people of this country, who cannot afford vacations, who return to devastated homes and desperately try to provide themselves with a roof over their heads," Miller added. He stressed that these are the people who are important for him, not the high officials in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and Mostar.

He said it is up to the people in Bosnia to decide who are the allies and who are the enemies of all the peoples in this country. Therefore, he said, the people have a chance in the November general elections to pick the leaders whom they consider to be the leaders of the future.

Speaking about corruption in Bosnia, he emphasized that the root of the problem is the lack of accountability and responsibility. According to Miller, no one knows what is happening with the money because the level of accountability is low, and that this is the biggest problem. He said the people in state companies forget that these companies are owned by the people of the country, not by the directors.

Miller added that $1 million were lost in a "bank that went bankrupt," which was an "element of the criminal company led by the Delimustafic family."

Concerning refugee returns, he said the number of returns exceeds all funds formed to help the refugees in Bosnia, and that there is not enough money for every individual. Miller stressed, moreover, that the United States and the rest of the international community do not have the money to help every person in the country. (Onasa news agency. Edited by Patrick Moore)

The Disappearing Media Boss. Hadji Dragan Antic was Milosevic's Gauleiter at the Belgrade daily "Politika," which was founded in 1904 and was long considered the former Yugoslavia's most serious newspaper. Antic turned the once-proud flagship of Serbian journalism into a ridiculous mouthpiece of the regime.

Antic appears to have been one of the first victims of the people-power protests two weeks ago. When angry crowds approached the daily's offices on 5 October, he fled through a fourth-floor window, bolted down the fire escape, and has not been seen since, the "Financial Times" reported on 11 October.

At least he was spared the fates of some Milosevic appointees at Radio Television Serbia. Crowds attacked one presenter and pulled her hair. Angry men grabbed one editor and held him down on the ground. His tormentors kicked him repeatedly, including several kicks directly to his head.

Meanwhile, the staff at RTS appear to have exchanged masters but not their approach to journalism. Instead of replacing pro-Milosevic programming with objective and balanced journalism, the airwaves are now reportedly filled with news items about the activities of Kostunica. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "Disunity among the Serbs is encouraging the plans of our proven enemies [abroad to occupy Serbia].... If we continue like this, we won't get far.... How can we save the people of Serbia and how can we prevent our own extinction [and the Serbs from] disappearing?" -- Milosevic's Defense Minister General Dragoljub Ojdanic. Quoted by AP from Belgrade on 9 October.

"The coup leaders are taking control of one institution after another. That's a criminal act. We as the government in fact do not exist, we exist only formally." -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj. Quoted by AP on 12 October.

"We are Czechs, not Yugoslavs." -- Members of a family on a Beijing to Moscow flight suspected by journalists of being Marko Milosevic, his wife, and son. Reported by Interfax on 10 October.

"Doubts about the new Yugoslav leader are warranted. He is a much more consistent nationalist than Milosevic. He wants to hold on to the rump federation with which his predecessor was left after being thwarted in Bosnia. And he challenges the right of the Hague tribunal to try Serbs indicted for war crimes.... Yugoslavia became a pariah because it tried to force its will on its neighbors and thereby dragged in NATO and the UN in their defense. It is right that those responsible for this revanchism should be brought to account. If Mr. Kostunica and the Serbs do not accept that, they do not deserve wholehearted Western support." -- London's "Daily Telegraph" on 10 October.

Slovenia's "Liberal Democrats did not just profit from their opponents, who could write a book on how to lose elections. They also lost some of their imperial arrogance [since losing power in June] and moved away from their image of a party of yuppies and cold pragmatists." -- Ljubljana daily "Vecer," quoted by AP on 16 October.