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Balkan Report: October 26, 1999

26 October 1999, Volume 3, Number 42

Ms. Plavsic Settles Accounts. Biljana Plavsic says that everyone indicted should go to The Hague. The former president of the Republika Srpska recently gave an interview in which she settled scores with her old rival Slobodan Milosevic and expressed her views on a host of other topics.

Plavsic argues that those few individuals who have been indicted should appear before the war crimes tribunal and try to clear their name, "Vesti" reported on 18 October. The fate of a few dozen people before "one political institution" is nothing for the Bosnian Serbs, who have lost 20,000 fighters, generated 450,000 refugees, and seen 35,000 of their people wounded. (Her ally, Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, now takes a similar line. The previous policy of virtually all Serbian politicians was that the court is a Western propaganda tool used exclusively against Serbs.)

She says that she has no knowledge of whether her own name appears on the court's secret list of indicted war criminals. She stresses, however, that secret indictments are not "appropriate" for a democratic society. "The court should issue a summons, and the person indicted should appear." Above all, it is necessary to avoid the "cowboy maneuvers" by which several indicted persons have been whisked away to The Hague.

Plavsic saves some of her sharpest comments for Milosevic, with whom she has been feuding in public for years. She blames him for selling out the Serbs of Krajina and Bosnia, and adds that he would betray the Republika Srpska completely if he thought it were in his interest to do so. In 1994, Plavsic claims, Milosevic offered the strategic town of Brcko outright to Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic in hopes of striking a peace deal with him. She argues that the present compromise solution to the Brcko imbroglio may not be perfect, but at least it allows the Serbs to remain there in peace.

As to Milosevic himself, she concedes that he has charisma, but denies that she ever fell under his influence. She regrets that Radovan Karadzic has done so--and wishes that Karadzic and other Bosnian Serbs thought and acted more independently of Milosevic over the years. In any event, Plavsic argues that Serbia has had enough charismatic leaders, and that charismatic leaders make poor statesmen.

But she stresses that he will not go easily. "I know him well. ...He can't live without power...nor can he conceive of anyone else leading the Serbian people." In the last analysis, however, the one man must give way to what is good for the nation, she argues. Serbia cannot go on with Milosevic much longer. For her part, she is in touch with most of the key players in the Serbian opposition.

Turning to Bosnian Serb politics, the former president says that she is surprised by the behavior of her successor, Nikola Poplasen. She agrees with the decision of the international community's Carlos Westendorp to oust Poplasen for not respecting the Dayton agreement, and adds that Poplasen had it coming because all presidential candidates signed a declaration to respect that document.

But she rejects calls from representatives of the international community to ban one or more hard-line parties. Plavsic argues that the way to deal with the extremists is at the ballot box. If one bans them, one makes them into martyrs, and Serbs like to identify with the underdog. Banning a party is, moreover, a precedent that could be used against the moderates at a later date. (Patrick Moore)

Is The Serbian Opposition At The End Of Its Rope? Has the opposition's much-advertised "wave of protest" petered out? Oliver Vujovic--the veteran Belgrade correspondent for Vienna's "Die Presse"--thinks so. He recently wrote that the opposition has run up against a number of problems, and that Milosevic will remain firmly in the saddle as a result.

First, the protesters number only a few thousand, even in Belgrade. This fact has proven to even the buoyant Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic that the coalition Alliance for Change (SZP) is no mass movement. The opposition has been able to attract some key intellectuals and former generals, but the hoped-for crowds of ordinary citizens never materialized.

Second, Vuk Draskovic remains the one opposition leader who can bring thousands of people onto the streets. But he never threw in his lot in with the SZP and remains as enigmatic as ever. Vujovic argues that many people think that Draskovic remains in the background not only because he fears a second attempt on his life, but also because he still hopes he can cut a deal with the regime.

Third, the authorities have been active in a propaganda campaign to portray the opposition as stooges of the NATO countries that bombed Serbia in the spring. Should the opposition secure winter fuel deliveries for various towns and cities, the regime knows how to make political hay out of that, too. And when Milosevic is confident that his propaganda has had the desired effect, he will call new elections and trounce the opposition.

And meanwhile, Vujovic notes, the regime is carrying on its campaign of intimidation against independent journalists and opposition politicians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 22 October 1999). (Patrick Moore)

Going For The Head Of The Snake. U.S. Air Force Lt.-Gen. Michael C. Short told the Senate Armed Services Committee on 21 October that he would have launched a massive air campaign at the very start of the Kosova conflict. "I'd have gone for the head of the snake on the first night. ...I'd have turned the lights out the first night. I'd have dropped the bridges across the Danube. I'd hit five or six political and military headquarters in downtown Belgrade," he stressed.

Several top NATO military commanders have recently complained about civilian interference in the campaign, particularly by the French. In a refrain that will sound familiar to students of the Vietnam conflict, those officers charge that civilians tied the military's hands for political reasons. The result was that the campaign took longer and proved less effective than might otherwise have been the case. And one might add that the problem posed by dithering and half-measures is especially sensitive in the Balkans, where determination and fortitude command respect but a milder or gradual approach is likely to invite contempt and defiance. (Patrick Moore)

A Solution For Serbia's Energy Problems? Miroslav Solevic thinks he has the answer. "Vesti" reported on 21 October that the former leader of the Kosovo Serbs now breeds goats near Nis. He calculates that Serbia's current population of 200,000 goats could easily total over one million in just three years. At the going price of DM 100 per kid, Solevic calculates that the sale of goats could more than cover Serbia's energy bills if Serbia kept a large enough herd and let it breed. He does not say, however, whether the market for goats will hold up indefinitely. Solevic adds that he is through with politics and devotes himself completely to his goats. (Patrick Moore)

Yugoslav Minister Lauds U.S. Media. Information Minister Goran Matic said that "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," and CNN provide better coverage of Yugoslav affairs than do the independent Belgrade periodicals "Blic," "Danas," "Glas javnosti," and "Vreme," Beta reported on 25 October. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. The car bomb attack on outspoken Bosnian Serb journalist Zeljko Kopanja "confirmed that the forces of evil have not left the stage and that those who want to conduct a political battle with bombs are still powerful." -- Republika Srpska Information Minister Rajko Vasic, on 22 October.

The Serbian opposition "is connected to everybody but their own people. Lucky is the government with such an opposition. Such a government will rule forever." -- Ivica Dacic, spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, on 21 October.

"We detest everything that is American. We don't need their Los Angeles, but [Americans] want our Belgrade." -- Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic, after meeting with Iraqi officials in Belgrade on 25 October.