bosnia report
New Series No: 19/20 October - December 2000
Beware Yugo-phoria
by Bob Dole

Beware Yugo-phoria

Bob Dole

The civilized world has waited over a decade for the defeat of Slobodan Miloševic and his bloodstained regime. Unfortunately, the euphoria over Vojislav Koštunica's accession to the presidency of the rump Yugoslavia has seriously clouded the judgment of a number of American and European policy makers.

Koštunica's election was a democratic triumph for the Serbian people. But it does not mean that Koštunica is a democrat or Serbia a democracy. This obvious point merits repeating as Western policy makers rush to embrace Koštunica. He is an unknown quantity, his brief biographical sketch revealing only a deep - and apparently contradictory - faith in constitutional law and Serbian nationalism.

To bring things into perspective, we need to remember that Croatia's late president, Franjo Tudjman, was also democratically elected - and more than once. His tenure was marked by cronyism, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, repression of electronic media, and irregularities in the judicial system. The new government of Croatia has been working hard for nearly a year to dismantle Tudjman's cronyism and establish the rule of law. It has also cooperated with the Hague tribunal and turned over indicted war criminals. But Croatia has yet to be admitted to the European Union.

Nevertheless, some Western political leaders are advocating that in addition to immediately being relieved of all sanctions, the rump Yugoslavia should be brought rapidly into the European Union, the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and international financial institutions. This view ignores the reality that building a genuine democracy in Serbia will be extremely difficult and time-consuming, given its recent history of violence, institutionalized corruption and cronyism. The possibility that Slobodan Miloševic will remain politically active will make the task even more daunting, if not impossible.

Tasks facing Serbia

What is needed in Serbia is radical reform to establish the basics of democracy: equal rights for all citizens, irrespective of ethnic or religious background; freedom of the press; rule of law; and an economy devoid of corruption and cronyism. Also essential is a campaign to tell the citizens of Serbia the truth about the crimes perpetrated by Miloševic in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia.

At the same time, Koštunica must establish a cooperative relationship with the democratically elected leadership in Montenegro and Kosovo. As urgent as internal reform is the need for a fundamental change in Serbia's external relations with its neighbours - Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia - which have been victimized by its brutal aggression and territorial aspirations. Greater Serbia must die with the Miloševic regime.

To help achieve such sweeping change, the United States and its allies will need to build a system of incentives that rewards democratic progress and withholds the inclusion of Serbia in various international institutions and forums until critical measures are taken. Specifically, the West must make clear that for Koštunica and his regime to be embraced as a democracy and allowed to participate fully in international organizations, he must:

* reject any role for Miloševic in Serbia's political life;

* ensure that all ethnic minorities in Yugoslavia are treated as equal citizens with the same rights as ethnic Serbs;

* treat Montenegro as Serbia's equal and work with the democratically elected government of Montenegro to establish new terms for the relationship between the two republics;

* withdraw support from extremist Serbs in Kosovo, who are inciting violence in areas such as Mitrovica, and pledge to work with NATO in Kosovo;

* publicly renounce the idea of a ‘Greater Serbia’ and all territorial claims beyond the borders of Yugoslavia, in particular in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia;

* firmly commit to cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague and agree to hand over all indicted war criminals on the territory of rump Yugoslavia, including Miloševic and Ratko Mladic;

* like Slovenia and other states, reapply for UN membership, rather than restating Miloševic's assertion that the rump Yugoslavia is the sole and legitimate successor to the former Yugoslavia.

Koštunica may not be able to take all of these actions at once. Nevertheless, until they are taken, Serbia will neither be on the road to democracy, nor ready to join Western democratic institutions. Only by setting the same high standards for Serbia that have been set for all other post-communist states in Central and Eastern Europe can we ensure that true democracy will take hold. And only by building genuine democracies in the territory of the former Yugoslavia can we guarantee regional stability and prevent a recurrence of the violent aggression of the past decade.


The writer, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, is chairman of the International Commission on Missing Persons in Bosnia. This article appeared in The Washington Post, 12 October 2000


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