bosnia report
New Series No. 9/10 April - July 1999
 
Crossing the Rubicon
by Noel Malcolm

The last issue of Bosnia Report was published shortly before NATO stumbled reluctantly into a sustained bombing campaign, aimed initially at persuading Milosevic to accept a compromise in Kosova roughly along the lines of the one he had refused at Rambouillet, subsequently at persuading him also to accept the reversal of the ethnic cleansing he had so savagely accelerated after the diplo matic talks broke down.

In the editorial to that issue, we spoke of a Rubicon in the West's relations with Milosevic that had not yet been crossed. What then is the situation today, after the air strikes? Once NATO had held together behind the bombing campaign, thanks in no small part to the firm indeed impassioned political lead provided by the British government, Belgrade was forced to capitulate on the military front, agreeing to withdraw all its forces from Kosova in favour of an interna tional protection force with NATO at its core. Milosevic has now been indicted as a war criminal by the Hague Tribunal. Serbia has been severely punished and told it will get no aid other than humanitarian so long as Milosevic is in power. So has that Rubicon at last been crossed?

Clearly one Western foot is now on the far bank, but unfortunately the other still remains firmly mired in the old, discredited policy. With its belated, un certain, but ultimately resolute decision to confront with force the prime gen erator of violence and instability in the former Yugoslavia, the West has set in motion a dynamic that has the potential to provide the entire region of South East Europe with a stable and democratic future. But only provided a second decisive step is taken, which would entail confronting not just the Milosevic regime, but the Greater Serbian project; accepting the full dissolution of the former Yugoslav federation, including above all the independence of Kosova; and abandoning the misguided `ethnic' policies that inspired the Dayton agreement in Bosnia-Herzegovina and still seem to inspire the West's thinking on Kosova - where it stubbornly persists in maintaining a symbolic (and perhaps more than symbolic) presence of the Serbian state, even though this will precisely endanger any hope of reconciliation or stabilization.

Most of this issue of Bosnia Report consists of reactions from throughout the former Yugoslavia - from Serbia, Kosova, B-H, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Vojvodina and Macedonia - to the events of the past three months. We print them under the common rubric of `The problem of Serbia', since all genuinely democratic forces in the region are agreed that this has for two decades been and still remains the key issue for regional stability. Western governments would do well to pay heed to the message they contain, key elements of which were most forcefully and courageously expressed by Sonja Biserko during her recent visit to London. In the first place, maintaining in existence the inherently undemocratic FRY goes against Serbia's most vital interest, which is to redefine its identity along modern, European lines, within its own borders, on the basis of equality with its neighbours rather than regional hegemony. Secondly, the successful intervention to enforce the right to return of the deported Kosovars provides a historic opportunity for the West to adopt a vigorous global approach to refugee return throughout the region.

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