Articles on the Kosovo Conflict




Milosevic Is One Problem. National Denial Is the Other.
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, Bosnia and Croatia but because he lost them.

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 media.

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.


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