Handmaiden to Milosevic
The main target of Morton Abramowitz's late November Washington Post article
(reproduced overleaf) was the US administration's misguided policies in the
former Yugoslavia. These had culminated in a reliance on authoritarian leaders
in Zagreb and Belgrade the fragility of whose power was suddenly visible.
In Croatia, the serious illnesses of first Susak and then Tudjman, in combination with the huge spontaneous rally that forced the government to retreat from
its closure of the popular radio station 101, necessarily focused attention on
an imminent post-Tudjman future.
In Serbia, meanwhile, the sustained mass demonstrations that filled the country's cities day after day, in response to the cancellation by Milosevic's tame
courts of opposition victories in local elections, threw an unmistakable light
on the true extent of popular dissatisfaction with the regime. The moment was
indeed right for Abramowitz to ask whether the United States would not be better
advised, if it wanted stability, to rely on a democratic future rather than an
undemocratic present to provide this.
All friends of Bosnia will hope Abramowitz's basic message has been heard in the
White House. Bosnian political leaders have repeatedly stressed that a democratic B-H is impossible without democratic neighbours. Moreover, a change of US
policy towards Croatia and Serbia would certainly entail a shift in Bosnia too,
away from the partitionist elements of Dayton and towards those of potential
At a more superficial level, however, the impact of Abramowitz's article was
more immediate in London, where foreign secretary Rifkind reacted furiously to
the passing remark that Britain's envoy in Belgrade was widely perceived as
Milosevic's 'handmaiden'. Rifkind's response, in which he defended Ivor Roberts
as doing no more in his posting than what every good ambassador should, was disingenuous. For the context, of course, in which Roberts had established such
comfortable relations with the man most responsible for war and genocide in Bosnia, was London's own longstanding policies in the former Yugoslavia: policies
more consistently favourable to Belgrade than those of any other major player
apart from Russia.
The reasons for London's stance have been much debated. They are probably a matter more of ignorance, incoherent prejudice, inertia, false analogies, extraneous considerations and misconceived self-interest than of any deeplaid conspiracy. But what is certain is that this stance has been adopted and maintained
without the kind of serious challenge that was mounted against administration
policies in the United States - by a Congress that overwhelmingly supported Bosnia's right to self-defence; by a press and informed opinion that was by and
large not ready to equivocate about genocide; by State Department officials with
sufficient integrity to resign over Bosnia.
In Britain, despite the brave contributions of many press or television reporters on the ground and the efforts ofÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ` a tiny number of MPs, Major, Hurd and
Rifkind have never been put under any real pressure for their anti-Bosnian policies. It was perhaps emblematic that the one-time authentic voice of domestic
liberalism The Observer should have run a prominent feature article (in the same
month as Abramowitz's) asking whether the work of the war crimes tribunal at The
Hague was not in fact an impediment to peace in Bosnia.
On the contrary, no one who has the cause of peace in Bosnia at heart should be
in any doubt that this can be durably built only upon justice and democracy. The
world is full of situations where quick-fix partitions have produced generations
of misery and violence. Bosnia is no different. The argument for arresting those
indicted for crimes against humanity is overwhelming in moral terms. It also indicates the essential first step towards creating a Bosnia-Herzegovina in which
the population can move freely, refugees can return home, serious economic
reconstruction can begin, and a peaceful democratic order can be built.