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South Slavic: October 5, 2000

5 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 36

Will The Wars Of The Yugoslav Succession End Where They First Started? Part I

Our participants in this Radio Most (Bridge) are Professor Ivan Siber of the Faculty of the Political Science College in Zagreb, and Professor Zdravko Grebo of the Sarajevo Law Faculty. Part II will appear on 12 October.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Siber, do you believe that the September elections will lead to changes in Serbia? Could [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic step down peacefully?

Ivan Siber: I suppose that there will be changes in any event. Whether they will be bloody or peaceful changes remains quite uncertain. It is also hard to say what it will mean for Serbia and for the region. I do not see a serious alternative over there, except for the fact that in case of an opposition victory, the present government would be changed. A change offers hope in itself, but it seems to me that, as far as ideological concepts are concerned, there is--unfortunately--not much difference between the government and the opposition.

Zdravko Grebo: I agree that, unfortunately, there is not much hope. Although no one is innocent in this horror story that took place in the region of the former Yugoslavia, it all started in Belgrade. It is there that the problem must be solved.

I agree with Mr. Siber that there is neither a real alternative nor a real opposition program in Serbia. A large part of the Belgrade opposition platform is just a poor version of the national--since I dare not say nationalistic--aspect of the program launched by Milosevic. Let me, however, paraphrase one political analyst: it would be good even if what we got in Serbia is just another authoritarian regime, as long as we get rid of this one, which has given a hard time to the entire region. At least that would show that dictatorships cannot last forever.

The program of Vojislav Kostunica, the united opposition candidate, is just a mild version of Greater-Serbian nationalism. To be fair, he will probably be more polite, somehow more civilized. He will seek better relations in the region, Europe, and the entire world.

However, what prevents me from being an optimist is the awareness that there is no real alternative on the political stage there. The few [Serbian political figures] I can really believe in have no chance whatsoever in future elections. Therefore, what we will have there actually is a fight between two Greater-Serbian concepts.

Omer Karabeg: Does it mean that it makes little difference who wins?

Ivan Siber: I must say that it does matter to me. Actually, it is very important to me what is going to happen in Serbia. I would compare...Vojislav Kostunica and Biljana Plavsic. What I mean is that we all remember the dreadful [early wartime] scene in Bijeljina with Biljana Plavsic hugging the war criminal, [Zeljko Raznatovic] Arkan, and only a few years later she became a promoter of a very different policy in the Republika Srpska.

It seems to me that Kostunica has found himself in a similar game. He is a man associated with hope--a hope for Serbia, but also the hope of the world. In a way, the world is clutching at a straw. Kostunica will probably be involved in a scenario that will impose on him the rules of a game he will have to obey, even if they run against his own beliefs. This is why I think he is going to play a transitional but constructive role.

Zdravko Grebo: As a [former] Belgrade student, I am quite familiar with the Serbian political stage. I know who Vuk Draskovic is. Vojislav Seselj was my student, and Vojislav Kostunica was my fellow student from the Belgrade Law School. A comparison between Biljana Plavsic and Vojislav Kostunica is appropriate, since Biljana Plavsic belongs to the same ideological background Vojislav Kostunica comes from.

However, I fear that this very comparison shows that there will be no improvement in this region for a long time. Although Biljana Plavsic used to be the preferred candidate of the international community--whatever that may mean--she is politically dead today. She probably has no influence whatsoever in the Republika Srpska.

If Vojislav Kostunica is elected president of Yugoslavia, he will represent the symbolic change that Serbia really needs. But I am not so sure that this would mean significant changes in the overall Serbian political situation.

The point is that the opposition mostly blames Milosevic for having lost the war in Croatia, for having lost--in a way--the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for being a loser in Kosovo. Therefore, they do not criticize him for the troubles that he has made for the entire region. Instead, they criticize him for not being successful in realizing their common goal--the one shared by the Serbian intelligentsia, most of the media, and all the political protagonists--namely the project of a Greater Serbia. In this context, I do not see any chance for substantial changes, although anything is better than Milosevic.

Ivan Siber: It is true that the Serbian opposition has always criticized Milosevic by trying to be more nationalistic than he is. But the only real way of overthrowing him is actually a radical alternative that will be more liberal and democratic.

Unfortunately, such a political force does not exist there. There are only rare individuals, whom I respect, but, as we all know very well, an individual cannot do anything unless he has an organization behind him.

I would like to say one more thing. The main problem of the democratic transformation of Serbia is that Milosevic has turned a huge and massive resource--the former League of the Communists of Serbia (SKS)--into [a bulwark of] nationalism. This has prevented the former SKS from transforming itself in the way that the former parties did in Slovenia, increasingly in Croatia, and more and more intensively in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Zdravko Grebo: Mr. Siber will correct me if I am wrong, but I find this euphoria about the changes in Croatia unwarranted. Those who have come to power in Croatia were silent [too long] about the worst aspects of the regime of the [late President Franjo] Tudjman. I am talking about the coalition of the six parties, and especially about the Social Democratic Party that was the driving force behind it.

The entire discourse in this region--including Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina--is obsessed with ethnic origins. None of us talks about different political alternatives; we are simply captives of an imposed ethnic paradigm. Or maybe it was willingly chosen after the collapse of the Communist ideology.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Grebo, do the [Muslims] care about the winner of the elections in Serbia?

Zdravko Grebo: It is hard to tell. Of course, it would be very important for Bosnia-Herzegovina that radical or even only symbolic changes take place in Serbia--after that has already happened in Croatia--since Bosnia-Herzegovina depends in many ways on the political atmosphere in Belgrade and Zagreb.

However, I fear that in a Bosnia-Herzegovina divided into two entities, the nationalist card is still being played....

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Siber, do you think that an opposition victory in Serbia could somehow help ease the tensions between Serbs and Croats?

Ivan Siber: It is hard to say whether it would help ease or worsen the tensions, would bring about changes, create some possibilities. To what extent these new possibilities will be used depends, of course, on the competence of the one who comes to power. But let us not forget that what we are talking about here is just the president--the parliament also needs changes, as do many other things.

The case of Croatia, however, shows the impact that a change of leadership can have. I accept and agree with all the remarks by my colleague Grebo concerning the coalition of the six parties, including the Social Democratic Party. I myself left the Social Democratic Party precisely because I was discontent with the fact that [it did not offer a] truly alternative political program.

However, the most important thing for me is the fact that a change at the top creates an awareness among ordinary people that no authority lasts forever, and that in a democratic society, one can replace those in power by voting.

Omer Karabeg: Do you believe that, once Milosevic is gone and somebody comes to power after him, gradual building of a democratic society can start?

Zdravko Grebo: It is, of course, important that Milosevic goes because he epitomizes a monstrous regime. However, the fact that he is gone--whether it happens in a violent or a peaceful, democratic way--will not resolve the problem, since ten years of his cruel rule have taken their heavy toll.

Milosevic has created a camarilla within the police, army, media, and economy. That system will be hard to dismantle regardless of the fact that Milosevic might one day become an ordinary citizen of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or a resident of the Scheweningen prison [in The Hague], where he actually belongs. The atmosphere must change in Belgrade in such a way that those frightened, frustrated, and humiliated can emancipate themselves and realize that they can have normal lives.

I recently read a statement by [Milosevic's wife] Mira Markovic that Yugoslavia has defeated NATO not only morally, but also militarily. She said that Yugoslavia is a model for the small and big countries that are ready to stand up against the United States of America and the new world order.

I am afraid that there will be no changes in Serbia until they get rid of that sort of frustrated mind-set, and until people say: we want to have normal relations with our neighbors, without sacrificing our national pride or our...traditions.

That is the only way to achieve change in Serbia. You cannot expect changes to take place if Serbia is defeated. This is what Milosevic is counting on. He thinks that he could lead the entire [defeated] population into a certain death. And that is the real danger for the country.