Will Milosevic Still Rule From the Shadows?
by Stephen Schwartz
SARAJEVO, Bosnia -- It's the morning after in the Balkans and a lot of people are asking themselves if the party was as good as it seemed to be. While Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic has formally recognized the victory of his opponent Vojislav Kostunica and the latter has been sworn in as president of the so-called country of Yugoslavia, serious issues remain to be addressed.
Mr. Kostunica has made it unalterably clear that he will not even consider extraditing Milosevic or any of his co-indictees to The Hague tribunal on war crimes in Yugoslavia. The new president has repeatedly denounced the tribunal as a political, rather than a legal, institution.
Thanks to the deal arranged by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Milosevic retains a seat at the table of Yugoslav politics. Indeed, he could enjoy a good deal more than that. His front man, Milan Milutinovic, another indicted war criminal, may retain power in Serbia. The Serbian presidency is a bigger political chip than its Yugoslav equivalent, which is in many ways a figurehead position (one which only a strongman like Milosevic could parlay into real power), and, as a fellow indictee, Milutinovic is very unlikely to desert his master. Milosevic's Socialist Party and the Radical Party of extremist Vojislav Seselj have controlled the Serbian legislature, while Milosevic's supporters, including a faction in Montenegro, have a third of the Yugoslav federal legislature.
Reports yesterday that these legislatures would dissolve and new elections for them would be held, and that Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, Milosevic's Montegrin booster, had resigned, sound promising.
But the upshot is that Milosevic could block virtually any reforms Kostunica might propose, and might even form a new government that would leave the new president in the shadows. Zoran Djindjic, one of the main opposition leaders who had previously supported Milosevic's criminal adventures in Bosnia, warned over the weekend of a "stab in the back" by Milosevic.
Finally, however, one could not help reflecting on the grotesque slowness of the process that had led the Serbian nation to this apparently decisive moment. Whether or not Milosevic has really fallen, the time has come for a post mortem, to be delivered not only by the Serbs but by the world at large.
Unfortunately, the Serbian people have yet to comprehend the tragedy that has befallen them, and their former fellows in ex-Yugoslavia, over the past decade. Mr. Kostunica is a clean politician who has gained the support of the public as an alternative to Milosevic, his deranged wife Mirjana Markovic, and their coterie of gangsters.
But Mr. Kostunica remains an extreme Serbian nationalist who blames the West, and especially the United States, for the consequences of Milosevic's policies, especially the NATO bombing of Belgrade last year. In addition, the failure of Europe, to say nothing of the Clinton administration, to develop and impose a rational policy on the former Yugoslav states, means that even without Milosevic, enormous problems will remain unresolved. Above all, there is still the conundrum of Kosovo: the West intervened there with no plan for what to do after the war. Kosovo is more of a crisis spot than it was before the 1999 war.
Kosovar Albanians are extremely cynical about this. They describe the Western administration of their province as "Serbian rule without the massacres" and would have preferred that Milosevic remain in power until the international community confirmed Kosovo's independence as a country and its right to issue sovereign debt.
Mr. Kostunica's appeal to Serbs does not reside exclusively in his Serb nationalist rhetoric but in his personal integrity. Mainly, he is sincere in his nationalism, which Milosevic had never been. Rather, Milosevic was the most elaborate example of the political trend known in Russia as the "red-brown alliance" -- the coalition of former communists with fascists. In Serbia, Milosevic crafted a Hitlerian communism to retain power, while in Moscow, after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, communists adopted crude anti-Semitism in a bid to regain power.
The significance of this phenomenon is barely understood in the capitalist democracies. Yet we also see its expression in the West. In the U.S. there's the common political gobbledygook spouted by the "leftist" Ralph Nader and the "right-wing" Pat Buchanan, both of whom attack the World Trade Organization. The "anarchist" rioters from Seattle to Prague -- hardly aware of their similarities with skinheads and other proto-Nazi enemies of the "new world order" -- have been egged on by the likes of Cuban dinosaur Fidel Castro, and sadly flattered by U.S. President Bill Clinton. They march, consciously or unconsciously, to the tune played in Belgrade, where Milosevic and his wife claimed to defend "the Yugoslav workers" against "rapacious American finance capital."
So much for politics. Economically, the tragedy of Yugoslavia, and especially Serbia, had roots that are easy to discern. Yugoslavia under Marshal Josip Broz Tito had long enjoyed a false level of prosperity not known elsewhere behind the Iron Curtain, thanks to a dual system of global welfare payments, with the West subsidizing its military and the Russians paying it for technological and other economic projects. When the Berlin Wall fell, no one needed Yugoslavia anymore. The payments stopped and the country collapsed.
Milosevic and his cabal saw this coming. But they made no effort to get the Serbs off the addiction to international welfare. The Serbs still consider themselves an entitled nation for whom everything would have been fine if the rest of the world had just continued paying for their oversized army, their inefficient state industries, their pseudo-sophisticated cultural establishment, and their worldwide propaganda for "Third World" solidarity. (Remember: Tito was head of the "nonaligned" nations).
Today's Serbs need to be taught that the era of welfare dependency, both internal in the form of a socialist economy, and external in the form of international aid, has ended. There is no guarantee Mr. Kostunica can do this, and many observers believe the next step, with or without Milosevic, will be for a "democratized" Serbia to demand a renewal of international economic assistance.
It's time, however, for the West to draw back from this quagmire. Lifting sanctions quickly, or showering Serbia with cash, as the European powers seem wont to do, would be enormous mistakes. Serbia, in fact, should be told in no uncertain terms that the reforms it has to undergo would involve more than a change of regime. A wholesale transformation of its economy, and a real education of its public about out the realities of the modern world, must be imposed. And they must be imposed from within, not by a new welfare program. It's time for Serbia to get clean and sober, on its own, with no compromises or coddling.