Articles on the Kosovo Conflict


Moving Serbia Toward Democracy
June 21, 1999
Originally published at

The Institute of Peace is a U.S. government agency. While Balkan Witness has generally avoided posting information coming directly from the U.S. government, the article addresses the present situation of wreckage in Serbia and takes a specific position on what kind of sanctions to maintain against Serbia. Unfortunately, little else is available that addresses these problems constructively.

Instead of isolating Serbia, the policies of the international community should move the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) toward democracy -- and quickly. On June 17, 1999, the U.S. Institute of Peace convened a Balkans Working Group to discuss the future of Serbia. Participants recognized that although the initiative for democratization must come from the people and organizations within Serbia, the international community could implement policies that bolster their efforts.

Democratizing Serbia will be harder today than it was before March 24, since the war has damaged the relationship between Serb democrats and the West. Moreover, the West's isolation of the FRY-- with the important exceptions of Kosovo and the Republic of Montenegro, whose embrace of democracy is the bright spot in an otherwise bleak picture -- will complicate the FRY's necessary move toward democracy and stability.

Isolation Helps the Regime

Regional experts among the working group participants expect isolation of Serbia to be counterproductive to Western interests. The Milosevic regime will use isolation by the West as an excuse to continue repressive emergency decrees, to limit the flow of information, and to encourage extreme nationalism. Furthermore, Serbia faces disastrous economic conditions -- $4 billion in war damages and a 40 percent GDP loss, on top of previous sharp GDP declines since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. These desperate conditions can not foster democracy; instead they may push Serbs toward nationalist or autocratic leaders.

No Collective Guilt

Accusations of collective guilt against the Serbian people must be avoided. Responsibility for the Kosovo atrocities belongs to the Milosevic regime. However, pro-democracy Serbs must acknowledge the atrocities committed in Kosovo by Yugoslav security, army, and paramilitary forces and should support the United Nations Security Council peace arrangement.

Fair Treatment

The international community must reassure all Yugoslavs that they will be treated equally with regard to humanitarian assistance, human rights protection, and refugee returns. The NATO and UN missions in Kosovo must treat all individuals -- regardless of national origin -- fairly. They must guarantee protection to those Serbs who wish to remain in Kosovo.

Possible Next Steps

The Balkans Working Group identified initial steps to revitalize democratic forces within the FRY that do not also strengthen the Milosevic regime. The following options emerged from the discussion:

  • Initiate a quiet dialog with members of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) who are prepared to challenge the regime.

  • Renew and increase support for democratically oriented non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and encourage the building of democratic institutions.

  • Deliver humanitarian assistance through democratic NGOs and opposition-run municipalities.

  • Reconstruct infrastructure for humanitarian purposes (water supplies, possibly electricity).

  • Exempt from sanctions small investments in the private sector if procedures can be established to channel funds directly to private entrepreneurs (avoiding the regime).

  • Increase support for and transmission of RFE/RL's South Slavic service and VOA's Serbian service to provide alternative sources of information.

  • Renew and increase support for independent media within the FRY.

  • Lift some European travel restrictions that apply to Yugoslavs.

  • Offer Yugoslavia membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on a quid pro quo basis: membership for the FRY only if the Yugoslav government holds new elections supervised by the OSCE.

The international community must consider measures such as those outlined above to bridge Serbia's isolation and to push the republic in a democratic direction. The stability of the Balkan region depends on a strong democratic Serbia at its center. Official high-level contacts with the Milosevic regime must be avoided. Selective engagement of and assistance to Serbia must be tied to strict compliance with democratic values.

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