by Branka Magas
The main message of Vojin Dimitrijevic's letter published in the London Guardian
of 31 March is that the air strikes are hurting Serbia's democratic prospects
and economic `transition', without which there is `no cure for the Kosovo prob
lem'. His letter, however, makes no reference to the war Serbia is waging in
Kosova, or to the causal relationship between that war and NATO air strikes. His
silence on these issues greatly weakens the case he is trying to present.
It is easy to agree with the first part of his message. Wars as a rule do not
help democracy, and destruction of economic infrastructure is not good for the
economy. We are left in the dark, however, as to what `the Kosovo problem' is in
his view, and what its `cure' should entail. The professor clearly does not
wish to admit that `the Kosovo problem' lies in Kosova's unwillingness to be
ruled from Serbia, and in Serbia's determination to hold on to Kosova by force.
There are many different `cures' for this problem - Milosevic is right now dis
pensing his own medicine - but there is no doubt that the only democratic cure
can be Kosova's independence. As the past ten years have amply confirmed,
without democracy in Kosova - and that means its independence - there can be no
democracy in Serbia. So the main question with which we all should be concerned
is Serbia's democracy not in the abstract, but in its mosÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
t concrete form: how
best Serbian democrats can contribute to Kosova achieving its democratically
The letter Professor Dimitrijevic has sent to London is clearly meant to elicit
a sympathetic response. We are meant to respond to his plea that air strikes
should stop. The question Guardian readers are bound to ask, however, is what
the Serbian democratic opposition's own response has been to the genocide their
government is conducting in Kosova. After all, Belgrade under `massive air
strikes' attends open-air rock concerts at mid-day, while at the same time Koso
va Albanians are being put to the knife or driven out in hundreds of thousands.
Serb suffering, as Dimitrijevic must well know, pales in comparison to that be
ing experienced by the Kosovars. He, however, has nothing to say about what is
happening in Kosova, or about whether the current air strikes may actually help
put a stop to the bloody butchery there.
The biggest collateral damage of the air strikes, Dimitrijevic tells us, will be
`the shattered possibilities for democracy in Serbia'. The `only' result of
these air strikes will be `a permanent state of emergency, legal and spiritual'
in Serbia. Yet the professor must be aware - this is no secret in Serbia - that
the Kosova Albanians favour air strikes. They are much more concerned with end
ing the ethnic cleansing of their population than with the possible effects of
these strikes on the Serbian democratic movement. which - and this should be ad
mitted for it is well documented - has persistently failed them. Dimitrijevic,
however, is not interested in what is being done to Kosova, but only in what is
being done to Serbia. He knows that the West is responsible for the air strikes,
which is why he is writing for a Western readership; yet he is unable to tell us
who is responsible for the genocide in Kosova. So long as he remains silent on
this crucial issue, he must be seen as little more than a spokesman for the Ser
It would be unjust indeed to tar with the same brush the Serbian government and
its democratic opposition, if the latter had distanced itself on basic questions
from the former. But such is not the case. Vojin Dimitrijevic's letter tells us
nothing about what separates the circles to which he claims to belong from the
clearly criminal Serbian regime. He tells us that the air strikes `erased in one
night 10 years of hard work of groups of courageous people in the non-
governmental organisations and in the democratic opposition'. He tells us that
these people have tried to `develop the institutions of civil society, promote
liberal and civic values, and teach non-violent conflict resolutions'. He even
tells us that `the emerging democracy in Montenegro is in peril.' He tells us
all this, and some of what he says must be true, but he does not tell us the
main thing we want to know: where does he stands in relation to the war his gov
ernment is waging in Kosova? On this crucial issue he remains silent.
This is not the first time that Professor Dimitrijevic has remained silent on
what matters most. I recall my first encounter with him in London in the autumn
of 1991, when he was unable to tell his audience who was responsible for the on
going destruction of Vukovar. Many Vukovars later, he is still unable to put a
name to who the `extremists' are in Serbia, or to what they are doing right now.
The sad truth is that, with the exception of a few brave women and men, the Ser
bian `democratic' opposition has never publicly denounced the terror the Bel
grade regime has been conducting in Kosova. It has never demanded that Kosova's
pre-1989 autonomy be restored, let alone extended its support to Kosova's own
democratic aspirations. It has never shown the courage of, for example, so large
a section of progressive opinion in France, during the vicious seven-year war
waged by Paris to hold on to `Alg‚rie fran‡aise': an opposition that solidarized
with the aspirations of the colonized for ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
freedom rather than with the colonial
regime's spurious claims to legitimate and everlasting sovereignty - and did so
at the price of imprisonment and sometimes far worse (think of Henri Alleg).
Where Kosova is concerned, the views of most of the Serbian opposition have
hardly differed from those of Milosevic. The Serbian opposition has in fact
failed Kosova, and it continues to betray its democratic vocation where Kosova
is concerned to this very day.
Up to now war has visited only Serbia's neighbours: Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Kosova. During these terrible wars Serbian villages and towns, hospitals and
schools, roads and power plants, churches and monasteries, have not even been
shelled, let alone obliterated. Serbia has not been occupied by hostile armies
nor its population subjected to ethnic cleansing. As the war spills into Serbia
for the first time ever, Dimitrijevic's anxiety about Serb lives, Serb property
and Serb security is understandable. Yet the NATO air strikes against which he
protests in his letter have not deliberately targeted Serbian civilians - by
contrast with the Serbian MiGs and helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery, which
are pounding the life out of Kosovo.
The least that he and his co-thinkers can do is admit that they have not been
able to prevent Milosevic's bloody game and someone else must do so instead, if
only for the sake of Serbia and its democratic potential.