bosnia report
New Series No. 9/10 April - July 1999
Vojin Dimitrijevic
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 validated independence.

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 bian state.

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.


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