bosnia report
No. 17 November 1996 - January 1997
Bosnia Needs Democratic Neighbours
by Morton I. Abramowitz

The West may be approaching a turning point in Croatia and Serbia. Popular dissatisfaction with the authoritarian leadership of Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic is rising. Demonstrators in Zagreb and Belgrade are protesting their leaders' latest obscenities against democracy. The side we Americans take in the emerging struggle between the two dictators and their own peoples could determine the fate of the Dayton agreement.

Dayton will never work if Serbia's rulers remain utterly opportunistic and corrupt, its media under rigid state control and its economy a catastrophe. Nor can Dayton survive if virulent nationalists continue to hold sway in Croatia. An exclusive emphasis on Bosnia ignores the fact that it is Serbia and Croatia that will largely drive events in Bosnia, that only a prosperous and democratizing Serbia and Croatia can counteract the nationalist virus in both countries and reduce the risk of their absorbing most of Bosnia when allied forces depart.

We and our allies have refused to face that fact. Instead we have coddled Mr Milosevic and Mr Tudjman because they were seen as crucial to achieving the Dayton accords and carrying them out. That might have been justified if they delivered. But they haven't. They have largely lied to us since Dayton, frustrating the return of refugees, manipulating electoral processes and harboring indicted war criminals.

Mr Tudjman and Mr Milosevic have not helped peace survive; the West has helped Mr Tudjman and Mr Milosevic survive. We have invited them to international gatherings and fawned over them, lending them domestic political cachet to bolster their waning popularity.

We have made Croatia into something of a regional power house. Mr Tudjman wields a lot of sticks while we force-feed him carrots. And almost weekly since Dayton, US officials have carried their red carpet to Belgrade, giving Mr Milosevic every reason to think he holds the key to our Balkans policy. The British have been even worse in playing up to Mr Milosevic. In Belgrade, their ambassador is widely regarded as his handmaiden.

Meanwhile, the Germans have concentrated on courting Mr Tudjman, overlooking his authoritarian indiscretions - like virtually eliminating the independent media and protecting indicted war criminals, such as Dario Kordic, who lives in a Zagreb apartment - and pushing stubbornly ahead on Croatia's admission to the Council of Europe. When it comes to European allegiances to various Balkan countries, as one unusually candid American official put it, 'we're back to the beginning of the 20th century'.

While the West remains mired in old-think, many people in Serbia and Croatia increasingly realize what we do not - that Mr Tudjman and Mr Milosevic are albatrosses, that they are ruining their countries and that political change is necessary. SerbÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌðian citizens are fed up with the pervasive corruption, mendacity and statist policies that have led to drastic declines in living standards; they sense they are not likely to get out of their rut if Mr Milosevic stays.

Morton Abramowitz is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.


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