Accessibility links

Breaking News

Watch List: July 1, 1999

1 July 1999, Volume 1, Number 24

SERBIAN CHURCH LEADERS CALL SERBIA'S WAR A CRIME. Leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church condemned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as "the root of all evil" on June 28, the 10th anniversary of Milosevic's fiery speech on the 600th anniversary of the Serbian defeat by the Turkish forces in Kosova. Then Milosevic pledged to hundreds of thousands of Serbs bussed to the battlefield site that "no one will beat you again," and his words ushered in a decade of conflict. Now Patriarch Pavle, head of the Church, declared: "If the only way to create a greater Serbia is by crime, then I do not accept that, and let Serbia disappear. Milosevic has done a lot of evil to everyone, but he has done the most evil to the Serbian people," said Artemiye, the bishop of Kosova. The two clergymen repeated the Church Synod's earlier call for Milosevic's resignation, and they sent letters with the same message to parish priests who are encouraged to read them to their congregations. The two leaders condemned the violence against both ethnic Albanians and Kosova Serbs. Bishop Artemiye called the latter "understandable." "What is not understandable," he continued, "is the suffering caused by the undemocratic regime of Milosevic." He faulted Milosevic not for losing the war but for failing to resolve problems peacefully. The patriarch and the bishop called on NATO to step up its efforts to protect Serbs, whom they urged not to flee Kosova. They said that in the two weeks since NATO's arrival, four monasteries and churches were desecrated or burned and one priest abducted. They warned that if the peacekeepers do not act now, Kosova could "become an ethnically-cleansed territory, which will be a serious blow and defeat to the international community."

KLA ABUSES PROTESTED. "Some members of the Kosova Liberation Army [UCK] are committing violent abuses against ethnic Serbs and, in some cases, ethnic Albanians and Roma in Kosova," but the evidence is "insufficient to prove a policy of revenge or forced expulsion" by the UCK, Human Rights Watch announced on June 25 in New York. The statement followed a week of investigation in Orahovac, Prizren, and Pec, which revealed UCK involvement in five murders, four abductions, one rape, and 14 detentions, including beatings. HRW explained the motivation as a desire to retaliate for Serbian atrocities and to force Serbs out of Kosova.

U.S., UN SEE NO ORGANIZED UCK REVENGE. "Clearly, there is no organized UCK effort to retaliate against the Serbs," a Clinton administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the press on June 28. Nor do the new slayings, which observers estimate occur at a rate of a few dozen each week, fall within the scope of the UN International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, said spokesman Paul Risely.

BOTH SERBS AND ETHNIC ALBANIANS VICTIMIZED ROMA. A conference on Balkan Roma held in Sofia in late June noted that both ethnic Albanians and Serbs have victimized Kosova's Roma, and it urged the international community to assist the safe return and resettlement of "the thousands of Roma refugees." But, the statement adopted by conference added, those Roma who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland should be given the opportunity to seek asylum elsewhere. Organized by the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center and the Sofia-based Human Rights Project, the conference ascertained that Serbian authorities used Kosova Roma for forced labor to support the Serbian army, which in turn triggered anti-Roma feelings among Albanians. In refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia, the presence of Roma has not been officially acknowledged, the conference charged, and Roma families suffered "discriminatory and prejudicial treatment." The conference statement reported "mounting violence" against Roma in the camps and "a high probability of reprisals" in the event they return home. The conference called on Balkan states to provide for Romany participation in "the political and social processes" and to pursue policies that prevent discrimination.

3,000 KOSOVAR PRISONERS TAKEN TO SERBIAN PRISONS. The Goettingen-based Society for Threatened Peoples International called for protests to free Flora Brovina, the Kosovar physician, poet, and human rights activist abducted by Serbian forces on April 22. She belongs to the estimated 3,000 political prisoners, including student activist Albin Kurti, editor Halil Matoshi, and opposition leader Ukshin Hoti, transferred from Kosova prisons to Serbia by withdrawing troops. Serbia's Ministry of Justice claims that the prisoners were moved "for their own security." According to STPI, Brovina is in the prison hospital of Pozharevac and in poor health.

SERBIAN REFUGEE PROBLEM URGENT BUT NOT DESPERATE, UN SAYS. Fearing vengeance, more than 75,000 Serbs fled Kosova in the 18 days following the Serbian military pullout, Yugoslav Red Cross officials said on June 28. The plight of the refugees inside Serbia is urgent but not desperate, the senior official in Belgrade for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said, according to "The New York Times." "There is a risk the international community will not maintain its objectivity and sensitivity," Eduardo Arbleda is quoted as saying. According to other sources in touch with private Yugoslav citizens, Serbian refugees are directed away from Belgrade, where the government is apprehensive about their presence, and told to settle in Vojvodina. In Vojvodina, members of the 16 ethnic minorities are concerned about a large Serbian influx. Ethnic Hungarians, numbering up to 350,000, are especially tense, remembering Serbian refugees from the Croatian and Bosnian wars once billeted in Hungarian villages. "Vojvodina Hungarians are known to be patient and long-suffering," says one Washington student of Hungarian minorities. "But it takes only a handful of Serbian refugees, if angry and armed, to create a crisis."

BELGRADE KEEPS SHUTTING DOWN MEDIA. On June 22, Yugoslav authorities banned Radio VK in Kikinda and RTV Devic in Smederevska Palanka and seized their transmission equipment, reports ANEM, the country's association of independent news media. The authorities also fined the independent newspaper "Parliament" the equivalent of $6,000, which may force the newspaper to cease publication. ANEM charges the government with suppressing independent news media. In London, the international anti-censorship group Article 19 called for the repeal of the Serbian Public Information Law adopted last October, which, the group said, "ensures that censorship continues, despite lifting of the state of war."

LITHUANIAN COURT REJECTS NAZI GROUP'S APPEAL FOR REGISTRATION... On June 29, the Vilnius appeals court ruled that Lithuania's Ministry of Justice was justified in refusing to register the Lithuanian National Socialist Unity Association because it foments "ethnic intolerance and distrust." Without such registration, a group cannot run political candidates and the police can deny a permit for a public rally. The association, which claims 2,000 members, is the country's only right-wing group that uses the swastika as its symbol.

...WHILE THREE OUT OF FOUR CZECHS WANT STRONGER STANCE AGAINST FASCISTS. In Prague, a poll released on June 29 found that 73 percent of Czechs say the police and local authorities are "not emphatic enough" in fighting fascist groups, which 91 percent of Czechs consider "dangerous." Only 6 percent of those polled said that fascist groups pose no threat.

UZBEK COURT SENTENCES SIX MEN TO DEATH... On June 28, Uzbekistan's Supreme Court sentenced to death six men accused of setting off bombs that killed 16 people in Tashkent in February. Another 16 men were also found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in jail or up to 18 years of hard labor. All defendants were charged with threatening the constitutional order and plotting a coup. Independent observers say that President Islam Karimov, who is the presumed target of an assassination attempt and who has eliminated opposition parties and the independent press, used the bombings to crack down on what the authorities see as radical Islamic groups posing the main threat to his rule. Human rights advocates have protested biased court procedures and legal practices and pointed out that six of the defendants were already in jail at the time of the bombing.

...POLICE BEAT UP RIGHTS ACTIVIST. Human Rights Watch condemned the beating in Tashkent of Mikhail Ardzinov, the activist it honored in 1996 for his leadership of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan. According to Ardzinov, on June 25 three plainclothes officers seized him on the street, forced him into a car, and beat him brutally on the way to his apartment, where six more officers and an investigator waited for him. They searched the apartment and confiscated his computer, fax machine, archives, and personal documents. When he protested, the officers beat him and took him to police headquarters, where he was questioned for nine hours about his ties to Islamists. HRW's Holly Cartner called the assault "an outrage" and suggested that "President Karimov wants no witnesses to the mass arbitrary arrests and political trials under way."

U.S. ENVOY CONDEMNS AZERBAIJANI MEDIA LAW. Stanley Escudero, the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, has condemned as "undemocratic" the draft law on mass media now under discussion in the Azerbaijan parliament, according to Turan News Agency. Escudero said that the draft law, if adopted, will take the country back to the situation that existed before the abolition of censorship.

TIBETANS RESIST BEIJING'S CHOICE FOR THE COUNTRY'S SECOND-RANKING LAMA. The nine-year-old boy China's government chose as the 11th Panchen Lama, Tibet's second-highest monk after the Dalai Lama, arrived on June 28 "blanketed in tight security" at a Tibetan temple, while the original Panchen Lama, selected by the exiled Dalai Lama, is under house arrest with his family, reports "The Washington Post." "The show of force and the unwillingness of Chinese authorities to allow foreign reporters to actually see the doe-eyed youngster" indicate Beijing's difficulty in persuading Tibetans to accept him as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the reporter suggests. Nema Tsering, a deputy governor of Tibet, said that concern with "separatist terrorist activity" explained the tight security. "No matter what you say," he said, "in Tibet there is a separatist struggle." In conversations the Post reporter describes as "surreptitious," he learned that the monks were "under enormous pressure to accept the boy." They said the Chinese threatened that if they did not behave themselves they would be kicked out of the monastery and no one would be allowed to replace them.


By Charles Fenyvesi

In his book titled "Origins of a Catastrophe" updated as recently as May 1999, Warren Zimmermann, the last U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia, presents his thesis that Yugoslav leaders destroyed their country "from the top down." Their methods were those of Josip Broz Tito, the dictator who preceded them: co-option, intimidation, circumvention, and elimination of all opposition to what Zimmermann condemns as the nationalist leaders' "demagogic designs." He still mourns what he calls "the catastrophe" of Yugoslavia's collapse. But he does not distribute the blame equally.

Now a professor of diplomacy at Columbia University, veteran diplomat Zimmerman first served in the U.S. embassy in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and returned as ambassador for the crucial years between 1989 and 1992. On May 12, 1992 the Bush administration's secretary of state, James Baker, recalled him to protest Serbian aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Within a few days, most of the ambassadors from European Community states followed, in a traditional gesture which, Zimmermann acknowledges, made no impact on the strategy, worked out by Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, and the Yugoslav army, to seize most of Bosnia. Zimmermann approved the recall as signaling that "there would be no longer even the pretense of normal relations with Serbia." He calls the Western move "modest but the right thing to do."

Throughout the book, which relies on his diary and reports, Zimmermann is a staunch advocate of Yugoslav unity and the country's gradual democratization, but he is equally firm on championing human rights and privatizing the economy. Unmistakably, he was--and is--a friend of Yugoslavia and a student of Balkan history. He is also fluent in Serbo-Croatian.

Thoughtful, considerate, and sensitive, Zimmermann expected Yugoslavs or at least their moderate leaders to be similar or, at a minimum, evolving in that direction. Early on during his tenure a Westernized Serbian intellectual, an art historian, told him that the solution to the problem of Kosova Albanians was simple: "Just line them up against a wall and shoot them." The ambassador was shocked and dismayed. But he did not seem to believe that Serbs would actually do that. He saw it as his duty to speak out for tolerance and ethnic harmony.

However, Zimmermann has a diplomatic way of sandpapering the rough edges of the recent past. For instance, in detailing Tito's career, he writes about Tito "carrying out purges for Stalin in the 1930s." Not a word about the bloodiness of the executions Tito ordered and the reputation for ruthlessness he acquired; nor is there a mention of the massacres targeting various Yugoslav ethnic groups following the victory of his partisans. Instead, the ambassador's emphasis is on the postwar Titoist slogan of "brotherhood and unity," which he acknowledges was repeated ad nauseam.

Zimmermann learned to detest Milosevic, then president of Serbia, who said he was too busy to meet with the new U.S. envoy well known for his criticism of Serbian suppression of Kosova Albanians. It took 10 months for Milosevic to invite Zimmermann for a meeting that showed what Zimmermann calls Milosevic's two sides: amiability and hostility. What Zimmermann refers to as Milosevic's "ugly side" came out in his presentation of fallacious statistics and other facts, his putdown of the Slovenes as "Bolsheviks" for advocating multiparty democracy, and his unyielding position on Kosova. Talking about Albanians, he spewed invectives, and he had no answer to the ambassador's tactful question: What is your strategy for winning Albanian support? Zimmermann remembers asking himself: "Was Milosevic an unhinged fanatic or a clever manipulator?" At the time Zimmermann was not sure. But now he is sure: a manipulator.

Among those Zimmermann identifies as the gravediggers of Yugoslavia are Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia, but "the one who stands out" is Milosevic, whom he describes as "one of the most duplicitous politicians the Balkans have ever produced." In an uncharacteristic fit of anger, Zimmermann writes that if Milosevic's parents had committed suicide before his birth rather than after, Yugoslavia would not have died.

Although Zimmermann traveled extensively in Yugoslavia and met many political and intellectual leaders, he appears not to have been impressed with the persistent presence of intense ethnic hatreds that continued to smolder underneath the vast expanses of the concrete Tito laid across the political landscape. Or, to switch metaphors, the staccato rhythms of the region's violent history remained alien to him and unlikely to be repeated. He minimized the Serbs' insistence on living in the past, relishing their victimization, and taking pleasure in their international isolation. Dutifully, Zimmermann noted briefly that Serbs identify themselves as little appreciated for their historic achievements in defending European Christian civilization against the Muslim Turk, mounting the most effective military resistance against Hitler's juggernaut, and putting up the only successful challenge to Stalinist Russia's overwhelming political power. But he does not connect Tito's championship of the nonaligned bloc to the South Slav penchant for heroically standing alone, this time defying both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. A reasonable American, Zimmermann stressed the positive and tried to build on it, and he shunned the grandiose, the way a sober man avoids a drunk at a party.

Though Zimmermann acknowledges mistakes in American policy, he still believes it was right to promote federative unity and territorial integrity rather than to support what he calls secession and nationalism. He regrets deeply that Yugoslavia, as a country and as an idea, has few mourners.