Balkans / Update
On Tuesday, former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic
spoke on national television for the second straight day as he
made it quite clear that he would attempt a political comeback.
On December 23, Serbians go to the polls to elect a new
parliament and Milosevic wants to make sure that his Socialist
Party is unified for the vote.
This Sunday, the Socialists hold their party congress and
Milosevic will be the sole candidate for party president. Slobo
had been out of sight, out of mind since his resignation last
October 6. He''s baaack!
Actually, this was all fairly predictable, as your editor has
continued to describe the whole Balkan situation as a mess,
particularly in my "Week in Reviews." And others expressed
their doubts, as well, last October when Vojislav Kostunica took
over after the September election.
Author Peter Maass wrote then, "For 13 years under Mr.
Milosevic''s rule, Serbs were bombarded with massive doses of
propaganda that portrayed Serbia as the innocent victim of an
international conspiracy....Nations tend to be reluctant to face
their guilt." [For example, France, which took decades to
acknowledge the scale of their collaboration with their Nazi
occupiers during World War II.]
The point being, it''s going to take quite some time before the
Balkan region truly resembles the sort of western-style
democratic region that NATO is seeking.
The mere fact that the people haven''t hung Milosevic from the
town square is telling in and of itself. This is a man whose rule
had been a succession of lost wars, with hundreds of thousands of
Serbs uprooted, a ruined economy, and a new center of poverty in
what had been one of the prosperous regions in the Communist
bloc. Let alone the fact that more than 200,000 have died in his
wars of destruction.
But there are obviously more than a few in Serbia who still
believe the Milosevic myth. "That a Balkan enemy, or the outside
world, or NATO, was intent on humiliating Serbia and the only
way to resist was to stick together." [Roger Cohen]
Much of the blame for Milosevic''s return to the public arena lies
with new Serbian President Kostunica who always had a
reputation for being cautious. While he still enjoys a high
approval rating (85% shortly after he was elected), the daily
struggles of life in Yugoslavia are beginning to catch up with him.
The nation is in desperate need of electricity, food, and the ability
to pay out pensions, for starters, and clearly the West was caught
unprepared by the swiftness of the democratic overthrow of the
Milosevic regime. It''s now winter in this region and despite their
best efforts, aid is slow in coming. In other words, your editor
continues to believe that the country could slide into a state of
anarchy over the next few months; especially if Milosevic is given
any kind of public forum, either a position in Parliament or by just
Amazingly, Kostunica, known for his indecision, has continued to
pledge no revenge against those who served in Milosevic''s
regime. Some of the people want it. But Kostunica stated himself,
shortly after assuming office, "that the hasty removal of people
from leading positions in the state and army undoubtedly runs
counter to state interests, since it inevitably leads to
destabilization of those very institutions and society as a whole."
So, for instance, just who controls the secret police and the army
remains in some dispute today.
But, in addition to the internal problems which Yugoslavia and
the Balkan region as a whole face, there is this growing sentiment
of hatred for all things American. And the biggest manifestation
of this was the recent election in Bosnia - Herzegovina, where
two extreme nationalist parties won the majority of the
parliamentary seats in the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim-
Croat Federation, despite NATO''s intense support for the
As Robert Kaplan recently wrote, this is the area where "Croatia
and Serbia will always seek to advance the interests of their ethnic
compatriots in Bosnia, at the expense of each other and of the
Bosnian Muslims, no matter who is in charge, democrat or
And it needs to be added that one of the major concerns in both
Croatia and Bosnia - Herzegovina is that Yugoslavia will get the
lion''s share of money and attention over the coming months and
I was going back over the text from a "Frontline" program on the
region last February and I came across this passage which I think
sums up the Balkans and U.S. / NATO policy.
"Irony is the theme of history. Policies frequently do not achieve
what they were intended to achieve; not uncommonly, they
achieve the reverse. So there is reason to fear that what will
come out of our intervention will be something we did not
Now don''t you feel better?!
Peter Maass / Washington Post
Robert Kaplan / Washington Post
Jeffrey Smith / Washington Post
Roger Cohen / New York Times
Steven Erlanger / New York Times
Louis Branson / Washington Post
Carlotta Gall / New York Times
Bob Dole / Washington Post