Now I Know

by Aleksandra Priestfield

November 6, 2000



Yugoslavia has just weathered some of the most shattering times of its entire existence, not least being an election which had more of an international spotlight on it, relatively speaking, than the election currently brewing in the USA. One would think that the two were vastly different - the one was an election held in a war-ravaged European "backwater", whose results could not and probably should not have possibly mattered to anyone outside the country itself; the other, a battle for the position of what has become known as the leader of the "free world", a man in whose hands would rest the life and death of nations. And yet, the results of the Yugoslav election were so important that the USA poured in the equivalent of what (if the same amount of money had been channelled proportionately into the US elections) billions of dollars to prop up the Yugoslav opposition.

The Opposition won. Sort of. The election was watched by people who had warships on full alert doing "exercises" a missile's throw from the heart of the country where it was held, and commented on in no uncertain terms - one of the candidates, it was overtly stated, "would not be allowed to claim victory". The end result showed that neither of the two main candidates had polled enough votes to claim an outright victory, but that a "runoff election" would be required according to the law of the country. This was immediately dismissed as "cooking the books", and the candidate who everyone wanted to win refused to take part in this. Revolution, in a way, followed, as people took to the streets - people who had had enough. The revolution, one burned parliament building later, seemed to achieve its objective. The candidate everyone loves to hate, the dreaded Milosevic, resigned.

Vojislav Kostunica stepped up to grasp the reins of power. It was a hot seat he sat on. Let him bow down to the people whom he had lambasted in his election speeches, NATO and its cohorts, and his own electorate would turn on him. Let him not, and sooner or later he would be branded the new Milosevic. I reserved judgment, for the interim; I held off from the unseemly gloating of certain Americans to whom the results of the Yugoslav election could not possibly have mattered, and from the worried mutterings of those who saw danger in the fact that Kostunica's right hand man, Zoran Djindjic, was a known West-phile who could not be trusted with the fate of the nation. Two things then happened.

One was an address by Dr Kostunica on the future of the Serbs and of Serbia. Amongst other things, he said:
The question of what the Serbs have to agree to in their future relations with the Western world, and what they must never accept, is central to our future. In seeking an answer we have to be free from self-delusion of any kind. The issue "what the Serbs have to accept and what they must not" begs two further questions. The first concerns the definition of the statehood of Serbia, externally and internally. The second concerns the terms for the lifting of all sanctions.

Serbia cannot resolve its relations with the outside world until and unless it resolves its status from within. This concerns Kosovo, Montenegro, possibly Sanjak and Vojvodina.

(on sanctions) Does it mean that there is an "inner wall" of sanctions, and what does it consist of? Obviously, the "inner wall" is less important, and from Washington we were told that the change of regime in Serbia would lead to the lifting - or merely suspension -- of those less important, cosmetic sanctions, while the "outer wall" would remain. Why didn't they commit to the lifting of the "outer wall" if political changes occur in Serbia? The answer is very simple: new concessions would be sought, whether on territory - specifically Kosovo - or on Yugoslavia's internal constitutional arrangements that would lead to its further fragmentation. That which had not been achieved through Milosevic's action, or inaction, would have to be conceded by those coming after him. That means securing as much American presence and influence in this part of the Balkans as possible.

Another demand, of course, concerns the so-called "democratization." This does not necessarily entail the creation of democratic institution as such. No, this entails finding obedient, pliant people who will assume power, people whose equivalents in Bosnia and the Republic of Srpska are known as the "pro-Dayton" forces. Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially the Bosnian-Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), provides the prime example of the relativization of "democracy" and all democratic institutions. Whether it is elections, the media, or the functioning of elected bodies, the will of the people in the Bosnian Serb Republic is irrelevant. What matters is the will of the authorities in Washington.

Some authorities in Montenegro and in the Republic of Srpska, and some opponents of Milosevic among the opposition in Serbia, have also behaved very cooperatively. It is noteworthy that communist apparatchiks, young and old, have replaced one form of Newspeak with another. They are well aware what can be said and what is forbidden. One must not talk of the NATO bombing and the subsequent conditions in Kosovo, while one has to talk about the Serb "culpability" and The Hague tribunal.

Even if the future Serbian political elites succeed in avoiding the many traps that await them as they sail between Scylla and Charybdis of the modern world, between confrontation with the outside world and a subservient attitude to it, we shall face yet another major problem and obstacle. It is the distorted and prejudiced picture of the Serbs that has been created throughout the past decade in the Western media and public.

It is now quite clear that factually, politically and legally the so-called humanitarian intervention by NATO against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was not justified, that it was the intervention itself that caused the humanitarian catastrophe, the consequences of which will be felt for a long time. This view is shared by an increasing number of prominent commentators, from Noam Chomsky to Henry Kissinger. This is the view of some Western media and many international organizations, including the CSCE. Even the chief protagonists of the air war, including President Clinton himself, defend it with an ever-slackening enthusiasm. It is hard to imagine President Clinton going public today with an article claiming that the war of nineteen NATO states against Serbia was "just" and "necessary."
I sat up and took notice. This was rational, strong, it took a stand and drew a line in the sand.

Maybe the guy had what it took after all.

And then he went off to the EU summit, and behaved rather like a once-favourite spaniel, long in the doghouse, who has finally been allowed to climb back on the sofa once again. Not once in the gathering did Kostunica reiterate what he had said above, to the people who should have been hearing it. He demanded no apologies, which should certainly have been due. And what emerged from the round of international glad-handing was an intimation that Yugoslavia would rejoin the IMF (even after all the evidence of the havoc that such organisations can wreak on "clients" weak enough not to be able to dictate terms). And then Kostunica declared that "Yugoslavia" was dead, or should be.

There are many who reacted to this badly; the country in which they had been born had just been obliterated. Worse, the abandonment of "Yugoslavia" implies the abandonment of the federation of Yugoslavia. Wither Montenegro? Whither Vojvodina? As far as the latter is concerned, the US is already passing laws expressing solidarity with the put-upon Hungarian minority in Vojvodina - and the fact that there have been no "atrocities" there is irrelevant, some will be manufactured before too long if they are required. Kosovo is agitating for independence.

For all his rhetoric, what has Kostunica actually done….?

And then, on October 25, it became obvious why Kostunica had to have been elected to the Yugoslav presidency. The headline of an article from the UK's daily, Independent, screams: LEADER OWNS UP TO KOSOVO GENOCIDE. In it, journalist Stephen Castle goes on to say:
Vojislav Kostunica, the new President of Yugoslavia, has admitted for the first time that genocide took place in Kosovo, saying he is ready to accept his share of responsibility for the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic on behalf of the Serbs.

In a highly symbolic admission, Mr Kostunica became the first Yugoslav leader to express remorse for the Balkan conflicts of the last decade. In an interview with the American CBS network, Mr Kostunica said he is ready to "accept the guilt for all those people who have been killed" and that he is "taking responsibility for what happened on my part". "For what Milosevic had done, and as a Serb, I will take responsibility for many of these crimes," he added.

Asked if former president Milosovic should ever stand trial, Kostunica replied, "somewhere, yes," keeping open the option of judicial proceedings against him in Yugoslavia. During the run-up to last month's elections Mr Kostunica promised on several occasions not to hand Mr Milosevic over the The Hague.
The Yugoslav election was in late September - the results were first announced on September 28. Less than a month later the West had from Kostunica what it could not get from Milosevic and from Serbia even after 78 days of pulverizing bombardment: vindication. They can point to this announcement (isn't it significant that it was made during an interview with an AMERICAN news network) and say with comfortable self-importance, "You see? We were right."

This while Government committees lambaste Blair's Government for their role in Kosovo; in the glaring absence of any corroborating evidence; on the heels of mounting evidence, in fact, that the "intervention" in Kosovo was an expensive and embarrassing mistake.

You know your rhetoric, Dr Kostunica. But in the wake of this statement you have just pulled the rug from under the feet of your friends, and damned your people to everlasting damnation in a special circle of hell reserved for the evil and murdering Serbs. In your speech you berate Richard Holbrook for referring to the Serbs, in a public interview, as "murdering assholes". Your "apology" may not have done so quite as blatantly, but you have just done the same.


       Aleksandra Priestfield is a writer and an editor. She contributes her regular columns to Swans

Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Aleksandra Priestfield 2000. All rights reserved.


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Published November 6, 2000
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