What Will Become of Serbia?

The recent news from Belgrade announced the murders of famous mafiosos and politicians. Predrag Bulatovic, the Yugoslav deputy defense minister, was shot Feb. 7 in broad daylight while having lunch in a restaurant. His assassination came soon after the murder of the notorious mafia king of Serbia, Zeljko Raznatovic (popularly known as "Arkan"), at one of the most luxurious Belgrade hotels. While many wonder who is ultimately responsible for these two murders or whether there is a connection between them, Yugoslavia's people shiver at the thought of the virtual non-existence of the country's legal system. If such important people were killed with almost no consequence, then why would anyone feel protected? Will the police really come when called and will the courts judge fairly, or will this be yet another right that they have lost over the past decade? Unfortunately, any efforts to reform the government--and replace the unpopular President Slobodan Milosevic--have been negatively affected by the West's unfeeling treatment of the people of Yugoslavia.

With a population of about 11 million people, the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia--composed of two republics, Serbia and Montenegro--hosts an additional million refugees from the other territories of former Yugoslavia, more than any other former Yugoslav republic. Kosovo continues to be ethnically cleansed of Serbs and all other non-Albanians since the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR entered to "protect" the population there. Ironically and unfortunately, the Albanian expulsion of Kosovar Serbs, Turks, Gypsies and Croats under KFOR's eye has been even more successful than the Yugoslav Army's expulsion of Albanians during the NATO bombing campaign.

Yet, this time the public outrage has been missing in the international community. There has been little empathy in the press with the Serbian or Roma suffering in Kosovo, and no resignation at the destruction of their homes. A staggering number of more than 80 Christian churches and monasteries destroyed by the Albanians since KFOR's rule began in Kosovo, did not receive much attention either. Sadly, the story of Arkan's death attracted far more interest than the story of a tragic Albanian attack on a Serbian refugee bus "protected" by KFOR or other stories of daily killings.


The West has done little to change the situation. President Clinton's warning to the Kosovo Albanians last November was so weak--he expressed "dissatisfaction"--that it could only have encouraged further violence against Serbs and other non-Albanians there. Furthermore, it is very difficult to believe that NATO lacks troops to protect the small non-Albanian minority that still struggles to survive in Kosovo. Today when the Albanians are attempting to cleanse one of the last Serbian enclaves in Kosovo--the northern part of the town Mitrovica--Kosovo Serbs spend sleepless nights, unsure that this formidable army, NATO, would really keep them safe.

A lack of sufficient refugee aid contributes to the humanitarian crisis in Yugoslavia. While Kosovo receives humanitarian aid, as does the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, the rest of Serbia still largely lacks it. This is shocking, considering the fact that Serbia hosts almost all of the one million refugees outside the Kosovo province, and that non-Albanians who fled north of Kosovo therefore do not receive sufficient aid. The only organization that extends its aid further than Kosovo in Serbia is the International Orthodox Christian Charities, with some additional assistance coming from the U.N. and International Red Cross. Most of the major humanitarian agencies are still not present there for political reasons. The U.S. policy directive seems to be that the real help will come only after the Yugoslav President Milosevic is replaced. The logic of this argument is hard to comprehend if one thinks of a humane need to help the refugees and of a political reasoning that an opposition to a government needs certain means to overturn the regime.

Yet opposition to Milosevic has only been weakened through international actions. Economic sanctions transformed Yugoslavia into an autarky, affirming the regime's grip on power. An additional strengthening of Milosevic's power came with the bombing: NATO's destruction of plants that provided jobs, as well as an unacceptable number of bombing accidents that killed over two thousand civilians branded the opposition in Serbia with treason for previously allying with the West. This happened despite their condemnation of NATO's inhumane war.

Therefore, how can the democratic opposition to Milosevic's regime win? While all polls demonstrate that a significant majority of the Yugoslav population opposes Milosevic, the same polls also show people's distrust in the opposition. How can a population rise up when they are not sure of what will come next? The only transfers of Western democracy they have received so far have come in the form of harsh economic sanctions, bombs--and finally in the lack of humanitarian aid for the refugees, lack of compassion for the Serbian victims and what they perceive to be an international unwillingness to protect the non-Albanians in Kosovo. After the appointment of Hashim Thaqi, the founder and onetime head of the Kosovo Liberation Army--once described by U.S. officials as a "terrorist group" that finances itself through drug operations--as the head of a provisional government in Kosovo, the Yugoslavs fear whom the U.S. would choose as their leader if Milosevic leaves.

While Milosevic has destroyed the lives of many people by pursuing his own interests instead of securing the rights of Serbians and all other minorities, the future could be even dimmer. The Yugoslavs would not like to become another protectorate in the region, with elected presidents sacked at will as in Bosnia last year and with the possibility of losing further territory and rights. A particular aspect of this fear presently relates to Kosovo, which the international community recognizes as a part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia while not recognizing Yugoslavia itself.

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