Milosevic Is One Problem. National Denial Is the Other.
By STACY SULLIVAN
The New York Times
August 21, 1999
Opposition political parties have joined forces across
Serbia in recent days in an
effort to oust
Slobodan Milosevic, the man who drove their country to ruin. As
James Rubin, the State
Department spokesman, put it, the
Serbs are realizing they would be better off "if an indicted war criminal
were no longer the President of
Yugoslavia." But if anyone thinks the demonstrations across Serbia
finally amount to a national day of reckoning, think again. The thousands of
Serbs marching through the streets are not calling for Mr. Milosevic's
resignation because his forces executed or expelled hundreds of thousands of
Albanians in Kosovo. No, the protesters are angry with Mr. Milosevic
because he has driven Yugoslavia's economy into the ground. They are angry that
he turned their country into a pariah nation. Yet, perhaps most telling, they
are angry with him not because he fought wars in Kosovo,
Croatia but because he lost
The United States has vowed, rightly, not to give any economic aid to Serbia so
long as Mr. Milosevic is in power. It has also indicated that once he is gone,
aid could flow into Serbia the way it's flowing into the rest of the Balkans.
The deal seems to be: force out your President and you will no longer have to
live in poverty.
Robert Gelbard, the United States
envoy to the Balkans, has met with top Serbian opposition figures -- who
are constantly squabbling with one another -- to encourage them to work together
to get rid of Mr. Milosevic. As an incentive,
Washington has pledged $10
million this year, and more in the next two years, to support "democratic"
opposition in Serbia.
This policy seems sound enough, except for one problem: the opposition in Serbia
has consistently supported the very policies the United States finds so
objectionable in Mr. Milosevic. With the exception of the Civic Alliance, a
party that's so unpopular it traditionally gets less than 5 percent of the vote,
none of the opposition parties
have condemned the mass killings and expulsions that Serbs carried out against
Albanians in Kosovo. Nor did they ever condemn the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia,
the shelling of Sarajevo
or the leveling of Vukovar.
Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the
Serbian Renewal Movement, the most popular
opposition party in
Serbia, is an avowed nationalist who once led a band of paramilitaries. He has
condemned Mr. Milosevic for failing to create "greater Serbia," and when asked
recently about atrocities committed in Kosovo, he claimed that both Serbs and
Albanians are victims but that the Serbs are "greater victims."
Zoran Djindjic, the leader of the
Serbian Democratic Party, Serbia's second most popular opposition party,
has been a fervent supporter of Serbian ethnic cleansing. After Mr. Milosevic
was forced by the West to cut ties with Bosnian Serb ultranationalist leaders,
Mr. Djindjic continued to cultivate them.
Given such views, it's clear that simply toppling Mr. Milosevic will not bring
the changes the West would like to see. What the West wants, and what Serbia
needs, is an acknowledgment.
For whatever reason, Serbian society is in collective denial about the
atrocities committed by Serbian forces. It needs to face up to its crimes. Serbs
need to learn the truth and admit their wrongs before they can escape their
shame, rebuild their nation and rejoin Europe. Yet, so far, the
Serbian Orthodox Church is the only major institution that has condemned
the killing in Kosovo.
The United States and its NATO allies are in a position to force the issue. Both
Mr. Draskovic and Mr. Djindjic have stated they want to re-establish contacts
with the West and lead Serbia out of isolation. And both are politicians who
have been known to opportunistically change their views. Washington should make
all aid to the political opposition in Serbia contingent on acknowledging
Serbian atrocities in
Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia -- for instance,
political leaders should
talk about them when they address rallies and encourage debate in the news
Some may say it's too early to start a national debate about
war crimes in Serbia. They
may argue that addressing the atrocities now would split the opposition and that
it's best to get rid of Mr. Milosevic first, then deal with the issue. But
what's the point of getting rid of one leader because of his genocidal policies
and replacing him with another who supports those policies?
Since 1991, Serbian military and paramilitary forces have killed an estimated
10,000 Albanians and 150,000 Muslims and
Croats. They have expelled
more than three million people from their homes, leveled every mosque in
Serbian-controlled Bosnia, held
United Nations soldiers hostage and systematically blocked deliveries of
humanitarian aid to civilians. It's high time to address these truths in Serbia.
Once Mr. Milosevic is out of power and the economic aid is flowing in,
Washington will have lost its leverage over Serbia's reckoning.
Stacy Sullivan is a consultant at the
Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard.