184. Post-Kosovo Serbian Politics: Missed Opportunities For Peace

By
Aleksa Djilas

The century's main principles responsible for the redefinition of empires and nation-states in Europe and the launching of an era of democracy - self-determination and liberalism - have one overarching flaw, Aleksa Djilas states: there are no formal guidelines for application or instruction. Had there been a more clear definition of applicability of these two pillars of democracy, and had the West chosen a more uniform pattern of across-the-board action, perhaps the Yugoslav disaster might have been prevented. As an example, Djilas pointed out that the political option of pressure for multi-ethnic integration and cooperation was unfortunately not even explored prior to 1991 at the outset of the Yugoslav crisis. Another example: had the West exerted pressure on the Albanians to vote and participate in the political process in Serbia as early as 1992, Slobodan Milosevic would have lost the presidency of Serbia to Milan Panic and the war in Kosovo could have been averted.

Expressing support for the Serbian opposition, despite his lack of direct linkage with any party platform, Djilas strongly believes that if free elections were held now, the opposition would win. Unfortunately, as Djilas points out, Milosevic has been and continues to be helped more by his enemies rather than his friends. Factors like the division of the opposition, widespread corruption at senior levels of both the government and opposition, and Western treatment of Milosevic as a primary senior official to be consulted in matters of regional peace and stability have all promoted the Yugoslav President's inflated role in the region and opportunistic grip on power in Yugoslavia, despite the less than 1/3 popular support he enjoys nationally.

Throughout the bombing campaign, NATO and the US administration made several statements to the Serbian people claiming "a war against Milosevic, not Serbia." Both also spoke of a democratic, multiethnic Kosovo as the primary goal, where all minorities' rights would be respected. During the war and its aftermath neither statement has proven true. NATO repeatedly bombed Serb civilian sites and after the war the Serbs were allowed - despite the presence of tens of thousands of NATO peace-keepers - to be pushed out of Kosovo.

According to Djilas, not only did NATO and the West fail to deliver on either of its promises but they misled the international community in their use and application of the term "ethnic cleansing" in the Kosovo crisis prior to the start of the bombing campaign. Djilas categorically states that although human rights violations and police brutality did occur in Kosovo, no ethnic cleansing, defined as the expulsion of a people on the basis of their ethnic and/or religious background, took place before the start of the bombing campaign. These Western failures have only supported Milosevic's propaganda which describes the NATO campaign as a war directed against the Serbian people. Djilas also drew attention to the little publicized fact that Muslim Slavs are now also leaving the province of Kosovo under pressure from Kosovo Albanians.

The need for a functioning police force in Kosovo has been emphasized by several Western officials. According to Djilas, the claim by NATO officials that there was not adequate time to develop such a police force was completely unfounded, especially in light of the humanitarian basis of the NATO action. The issue of Yugoslav sovereignty has also remained unsolved.

Against the background of these shortcomings, Djilas views the main goal of the NATO campaign not as a humanitarian effort, but rather, one of securing the institution's increasingly uncertain identity, or in simpler terms, an "ego trip" bent on humiliating Milosevic in order to ensure an obvious loser in the conflict. Unfortunately, Djilas attests, the West's insistence on terms no Serb - democrat or nationalist - could accept (i.e. the loss of Kosovo) also rendered the Serbian opposition as a "loser." The current status of Kosovo within the context of UN Resolution 1244 which ended the war, Djilas points out, also remains vague and undefined. Though Kosovo is described as an autonomous entity, part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), the UN Kosovo mission is running the region as a virtual protectorate, beyond the control of the FRY.

The solution, Djilas points out, should have been joint rule by both Serbian and Albanian representatives. Working towards this vision, Djilas recommended the engagement and integration of Serbian troops with NATO and Albanian forces in the reconstruction and rebuilding of the province. The return of Serbs and other minority groups to Kosovo should be identified explicitly as a conciliatory move toward the Serb opposition. The overall solution in Kosovo, Djilas emphasized, lies in a still unexplored political option - pressure should be exerted on the Kosovo Albanians by the West to get directly involved in the political process in Serbia, aiding the Serbian opposition in removing Milosevic and working together for a democratic Yugoslavia with an autonomous yet integrated Kosovo.

Within this context, Djilas supports opposition leader Vuk Draskovic's call for free and fair elections in Serbia, and rejects another opposition leader's, Zoran Djindjic (Draskovic's personal rival) demand that Milosevic first resign. Djilas also questions the G-17 Economists' argument for a technocratic government, labeling it "a powerless hybrid lacking the popularity and personal magnetism necessary to carry out true reforms."

As for the removal of Milosevic, Djilas recommended another unexplored, political tool - the constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. According to this document, the country is a federation with equal powers shared by its two republics: Serbia and Montenegro. The President of Yugoslavia - Milosevic - is given only limited, almost ceremonial powers. Additionally the constitution includes an agreement between Serbia and Montenegro stipulating that if the President of Yugoslavia is a Serb then the Prime Minister is to be chosen and appointed by Montenegro. The current Prime Minister, Momir Bulatovic, was appointed by Milosevic, and though Montenegrin, he is a Milosevic supporter. Pointing out the Yugoslav President's blatant disregard for the federal constitution, Djilas believes Montenegro's President, Milo Djukanovic, whose party currently has a majority in Parliament, should continue to push for a new, anti-Milosevic Prime Minister, thereby effectively undermining Milosevic's control of the Yugoslav government.

This constitutional process, combined with a Western-led aid package designed to credit the opposition, internationally-monitored free elections and the active re-involvement of Serbs and other national minorities in the leadership and governance of an autonomous yet integrated Kosovo, as well as an increased Kosovo Albanian role in Serbian politics at the national level will go a long way towards stabilizing the region and steering Serbia down the path of democracy and rule of law.

On October 5, Djilas shared his insights on the Kosovo aftermath and the struggle between Milosevic and the political opposition in Serbia at a Woodrow Wilson Center noon discussion presentation.

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