bosnia report
New Series No: 21/22 January - May 2001
 
An exile returns
by Srdja Popovic

Milosevic’s solution to the Kosovo problem

‘Albanian-Serb relations were bedevilled by serious problems, but one could have lived with them and tried to solve them slowly, carefully and rationally. Milosevic’s political temperament excluded this approach. He decided to solve them by force. This approach resulted first in the awakening of Albanian national sentiment, then in organized resistance and finally in the emergence of a guerilla movement. It was an inevitable outcome. Look: he rejected his party colleague Azem Vllasi and got Rugova , with whom he would not negotiate. Rugova was replaced by Thaci, with whom he went to war. And Thaci was eventually replaced by NATO. That is where his solution to the Kosovo problem led.’

The Serb perception of history

‘It is crazy but true that we Serbs are taught at school that we destroyed the Ottoman Empire singlehanded, that we initiated and won the First World War, that we defeated Germany in the Second World War, that we created our own form of Communism and then destroyed it unaided.’

Responsibility

‘There are different kinds of responsibility. There is juridical responsibility, which is the domain of The Hague. There is also moral and intellectual responsibility, which in my view is shared by those members of the Serb intelligentsia and cultural elite who supported Milosevic’s wars. This will be punished not by imprisonment, but by the way they are recorded in national history. There is also a third kind of responsibility, which is historical in nature. It is collective in the same way as the pride an individual experiences when he sees his football team win, even though he himself did not contribute to that victory in any way. He simply sat in front of the TV, and now shouts: ‘We’ve won!’ When we win the world basketball championship, we say ‘we’. When crimes are committed, however, then it’s not ‘us’. You cannot have it both ways, however. It is not difficult to see what historical responsibility is and how it is punished. The fact that many people in Belgrade simply do not understand what is involved in the cases of Montenegro or Kosovo is an expression of historical punishment. If you wage aggressive wars and lose them, as a rule you lose territory. Everyone will be against you and on the side of your opponents. This is what happens in the real world. It is a price the Germans are paying to this day. The fact that people continue to view them in a special way is a form of historical punishment. There are people who understand this, however: people like the poet Misa Stanisavljevic, Mirjana Miocinovic, Latinka Perovic. It is possible that there are more of them, but they do not choose to go public.’

NATO intervention

‘When I signed the letter [calling for NATO to intervene in B-H] I was not happy with all its contents, but it came closest to what in my view should have been done. I realized from the moment the war started that no one in Yugoslavia was in a position to stop Milosevic and the JNA, since they could be stopped only by a superior force. It was thus obvious to me that the Serbian aggression against Croatia and Bosnia could be prevented only by a force that would have to come from outside. I also thought that the NATO action could be legally defended, given the international convention on the prevention of genocide. This convention has been signed by practically all civilized countries, which thereby accepted the obligation to do everything in their powers to prevent genocide. The letter sent to Clinton, however, contained parts with which I disagreed. One was the demand that the Muslims be armed, because I thought this would be dangerous. In my view it would be better for someone from outside to stop the thing, in order to prevent revanchism and keep down the number of victims; better if it were a simple confrontation between NATO and Milosevic .

The trouble was that it came too late and was justified by wrong, if not hypocritical, reasons. Milosevic was bombed not only because of Kosovo, but also because of Bosnia and Croatia - he was bombed because it was understood that he finally had to be stopped. Kosovo was only the last straw. I think it was wrong not to say this clearly; wrong that the doctrine of intervention for humanitarian purposes was invented instead. The intervention happened because the civilized world could no longer bear to watch what that criminal was doing in the area. However, there was also an element of revenge in the whole thing. The intervention was conducted in the name of his victims, but also out of revenge, since he had played a game with them for ten years. They tried to bribe him in various ways, and while he accepted the bribes he never gave anything in return. So he made them look ridiculous in the eyes of their own public, while he increasingly appeared as a political genius. The truth is that the intervention should have taken place as soon as the siege of Sarajevo began, or perhaps soon after Vukovar, when it became clear that those people would stop at nothing; that one was dealing not with skirmishes or spontaneous clashes, but with an organized force which was mercilessly destroying thousands and thousands of lives. This had to be stopped in the name of civilization. Another aspect of that letter with which I did not agree was that it demanded selective bombing of military targets only, which was insufficient to prevent the thing. It had to be a serious military operation.’

The US contribution to Milosevic’s downfall

‘Every objective historical account of the events will confirm that it was the Americans who brought Milosevic down. They imposed sanctions and then discredited him in the eyes of his population by inflicting a military defeat upon him. I am not at all surprised that the army voted against him. If you combine this with the fact that Madeleine Albright united the opposition, that the Americans paid for its electoral campaign, that they supported financially all the NGOs who played a crucial role in the events of 5 October, that they had for years maintained the opposition media, and that most likely the CIA was also very active on the ground - then you can see that it was the Americans who brought him down. People in Belgrade were angry with me when I told them that Milosevic was right when he said on his departure that NATO’s agents had provoked his downfall. That was true and I see nothing bad in it. He was also right, in my view, to say that the country would become a semi-colony of the West. I do not think this is the best outcome, but it is better than what was there before. Since we were responsible for what we had before, we can only blame ourselves.’

Srdja Popovic, best known civil rights lawyer of the former Yugoslavia, who founded Vreme in 1990 and moved to the United States in the following year, made these comments in the course of an interview in Dani (Sarajevo), 23 February and 2 March 2001

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