Magazine article Dissent

Faint Hopes in the Balkans

Magazine article Dissent

Faint Hopes in the Balkans

Article excerpt

POLITICS ABROAD

POLICY MAKERS in Washington need good news in the Balkans, but have never been willing to lay out the resources necessary to make things turn out well. Instead, they have searched for good guys, effective leaders who might bring good news on the cheap. First they embraced the Bosnian Muslim leader Alia Izetbegovic; then moved on to the ultra-rightist Croatian nationalist Franjo Tudjman; then to Slobodan Milosevic (the "indispensable" person for the Dayton agreement); then to the Kosovar Albanian "freedom fighter" Hashim Thacqi (a favorite of Madeleine Albright); then to the president of that smugglers' paradise Montenegro; and most recently to the new president of Serbia, Vojislav Kostunica, an Orthodox Christian believer who is a conservative legalist and a "moderate" nationalist. Kostunica won last year's election, but the results were contested by Milosevic and his regime and had to be enforced by an impressive mass mobilization of students, coal miners, and small-town industrial workers. It was these groups, not the moderate and liberal opposition parties the West backed (but always in a miserly way) that stormed the parliament and television headquarters and disarmed the police. The best of the opposition parties did participate: the two social democratic parties (Social Democratic Union and the League of Social Democrats in Vojvodina) and the Civic Alliance were in the forefront of the demonstration, but the mass of demonstrators were people who had never participated in politics before-the youth of OTPOR (Resistance) and the blue-collar tough guys, the metal workers of Kragujevac and the hard-rock coal miners, who served as the shock troops of the anti-Milosevic coalition. It was their grim faces that convinced the police to lay down their arms.

In a second election, on December 23, the Serbs overwhelmingly supported a heterogeneous anti-Milosevic grouping of mostly small parties, giving it two thirds of the Serbian legislature. But before we cheer too loudly-and we should certainly cheer, because the defeat of Milosevic's kleptocratic and authoritarian regime is an indispensable step toward democratic reform-we should note that our natural allies on the scene, the folk who drove Milosevic out of office, are restrained in their joy. These actors-the students and workers, OTPOR and the independent trade unions-- are cautious for several reasons. For one, they were not overjoyed when a major figure in the new regime, the mayor of Belgrade, stated that the three bases of the regime are anticommunism, Orthodox religion, and monarchism-- and was then rewarded by being appointed ambassador to the United States.

The Orthodox base is clear enough, although more than 25 percent of the population is non-Orthodox, and many of the Orthodox are nonbelievers. There is a major offensive by this most tribalist of Christian churches to consolidate its place in public life. Not only is religion being introduced into all the schools, but one of the first state visits of the new president, in the company of the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox church, was to Moscow to visit President Vladimir Putin and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church. His next important visit was to the Serbian monastery on Mount Athos (in Greece), where he was accompanied by a large entourage of post-- Milosevic "democrats."

The new regime is moving at a snail's pace to deliver its war criminals to the international court in the Hague; nor is it in any hurry to punish war crimes committed by Serbian military and paramilitary units in the long and bitter war of Yugoslav succession in Serbian courts. …

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