• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

Cry, the Dismembered Country

Next day, I watch Xhaferi at a press conference to present the new Macedonian government in the capital, Skopje, together with the new prime minister, the fresh-faced Ljubco Georgievski, and the likely next candidate for president, a tubby old fox called Vasil Tuporkovski, formerly of the Yugoslav communist politburo. All three leaders privately assure me they didn’t need the pressure exerted by the United States in order for the Albanians to be included in the new government. All agree that the Macedonian nationalists of Georgievski’s party have become more moderate and pragmatic.

The Macedonian tragedy today, prime minister-elect Georgievski tells me in a subsequent conversation, is no longer foreign occupation, whether Turkish, Serbian, Bulgarian, or communist Yugoslav. It is poverty. The country has 30 percent unemployment. To revive the economy, they need to work constructively with Greece and Bulgaria. The challenge, says Tuporkovski, is simply to make a viable state. To do that, they must have the cooperation of the Albanians. And a lot of help from the West too. Last year, the country got just $6 million in foreign investment.

In the short term, things look moderately encouraging for this fragile new state of just two million people. Macedonia’s Albanian leaders are not about to lead their people in an armed uprising. But in the long run? Young Macedonian Albanians tell you they are “all KLA.” Talking to Arben Xhaferi Iam reminded of Walter Scott’s haunting romantic insurrectionary Redgauntlet. Indeed, the Albanians here may never need to reach for the gun. All they need to do is what they do anyway: have many, many children. Albanians are now at least one quarter of the Macedonian population. On current birth rates, they will be a majority in about 2025. And doesn’t democracy mean rule by the majority?


Belgrade. “I will lead a movement of one million Serbs to liberate Kosovo,” Vuk Draskovic tells me. “My party is organized like an army. We will fight.” Fight NATO? “There is no Serbia without Kosovo. I cannot betray it. I cannot betray Jesus Christ.” And the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement pulls from his inside pocket a map marking all the Serbian Orthodox churches across the province. This from the man who early last year was still part of the “Zajedno” (“Together”) coalition that was supposed to bring democracy to Serbia.

But Kosovo upsets more than just the ranting Draskovic. I tell the wife of an eminently liberal friend how in Kosovo I visited the exquisite Serbian monastery of Decani. It looked indescribably beautiful in the snow. But it is now occupied by soldiers. Suddenly her eyes are full of tears. She has such happy childhood memories of visiting her grandparents in the nearby town of Pec, of a Christmas with the nuns, of a magical cave where water runs uphill…

I explain to Biljana, one of my student guides through the great Belgrade demonstrations of 1996-1997, that I think Kosovo will become a kind of Western protectorate. “You know,” she says, “my stomach really churns when you say that. It’s such an emotional thing.” Kosovo is somehow closer to her heart even than the fate of the Serbs beyond the River Drina, in Bosnia, and formerly in the Croatian Krajina, although her own family comes from there. Ceda Antic, a patriotic and religious young Serb whom I got to know as a leader of last year’s demonstrations, still uses the official Serb name for the province, “Kosovo and Metohija,” Metohija being the historic lands of the Serb Orthodox church. He is equally dismayed to contemplate its loss.

Never mind that their history of Kosovo, like the Albanians’, is partly myth. Never mind that they haven’t been to Kosovo for years, and would not dream of living there. Or that they know, in their heads, that the Albanians have already won, simply by multiplying and occupying the land. The prospect of losing Kosovo is so painful because it comes on top of many other bitter blows. The former Yugoslav metropolis of Belgrade is so impoverished and depressed. Its population has been swollen by Serb refugees from the parts of the former Yugoslavia that Milosevic’s adventurism has already lost, but diminished by the emigration of much of the elite. Biljana tells me that 70 percent of her high school classmates have left. Those that remain live in a cage, with only limited information from a few independent radio stations and newspapers. They have great difficulty in getting visas to travel to the West.

My Serb friends feel, and they are surely right, that even sophisticated men and women in the West no longer distinguish sufficiently between the Serbian people and their regime. Being a Serb in the world today is like being a German in 1945. They also fear, and in this they are probably also right, that just as the Germans were the last victims of Adolf Hitler, so the Serbs will be the last victims of Slobodan Milosevic.

I find that, if pressed, more and more people in Belgrade see partition as the least bad solution for Kosovo. But generally they prefer to talk about the prospects of political change in Serbia proper, rather than about Kosovo. “Democratization in Serbia” is, they insist, the key to progress in the whole of former Yugoslavia. But what are the chances of that? At the moment, things look worse than ever. Veran Matic, the forceful head of the independent radio B92, sees a familiar pattern: when Milosevic makes concessions externally (over Kosovo, as previously over Bosnia), he cracks down on internal dissent. This autumn saw the universities stripped of their autonomy and the passing of a Draconian “information law” that threatens critical newspapers with confiscation of their assets. This has already happened, in a flagrant example of political justice, to the semi-tabloid Dnevni Telegraf, after its owner turned sharply against the regime.

How might change for the better come? Milosevic’s regime is an extreme post-communist example of what Latin Americans call demokratura: formally democratic, substantially authoritarian. Post-communist demokraturas maintain their power through control of state television, the secret police, and the misappropriation of large parts of the formerly state-owned economy. Such regimes may be overthrown peacefully, but this requires a grand coalition of virtually all the forces opposed to them. I come to Belgrade from Slovakia, where the demokratura of Vladimir Meciar has recently been overthrown, at the ballot box, by just such a “coalition of coalitions”: opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations, independent media, trade unions, parts of the church.

In 1997, with the “walking revolution” and the “Together” coalition, it looked as if that might be happening in Serbia. But the West gave little effective support and “Together” soon fell apart disastrously. Draskovic’s allies reneged on their promise to support his candidacy for the Serbian presidency, and he then made a shocking tactical alliance with the regime, being rewarded with the ample spoils of running the Belgrade city government. Now he and his former ally Zoran Djindjic speak more bitterly of each other than they do of Milosevic. Djindjic is trying to build a broad democratic alternative again, helped by Ceda Antic and other former student activists who have joined his Democratic Party. But their current public support is small and the necessary “coalition of coalitions” seems more remote than ever.

Another recurrent idea is that the Milosevic regime might crumble from within, perhaps being supplanted by a military coup. A recent bout of sackings, including the heads of the army and secret police, and their replacement with confidantes of Milosevic’s wife, Mira Markovic (a.k.a. Lady Macbeth), has supported such speculation. Romania is close, and people wistfully recall how Nicolae and Elena Ceausåüescu met their end. But do these purges actually weaken Milosevic or strengthen him? I, at least, don’t know anyone who can really tell me what is going on behind the closed doors of this messy, embattled, yet horribly durable regime.

But I will venture one guess about the social psychology around it. There is a kind of chemical solution that is both deeply inert and highly unstable. It’s not bubbling at all, but one tap on the test tube and—bang!—up it goes. Serbian society today may be like that. What could the tap be? Many serious observers agree that Western sanctions against Serbia produced a certain defiant popular solidarity with Milosevic, while this autumn’s NATO bombing threat occasioned a wave of xenophobia. Could concessions by Milosevic over Kosovo, in the middle of an economically difficult winter, have an opposite effect? Might that be the final tap?

Yet even if that were so, it is possible—even likely—that power would at least initially be seized by radical nationalists like Vojislav Seselj rather than by conciliatory democrats. Things could get even worse before they finally get better. The tragedy of former Yugoslavia is in its sixth or seventh act. Many have observed that “it began in Kosovo and may end in Kosovo.” Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it began in Belgrade, with Milosevic’s cynical exploitation of the Kosovo issue. And so the last act, too, may be in Belgrade, as Kosovo comes back to haunt him.


What have we learned from this terrible decade in former Yugoslavia? And what is to be done? We have learned that human nature has not changed. That Europe at the end of the twentieth century is quite as capable of barbarism as it was in the Holocaust of mid-century. That during the last decades of the cold war many in Europe succumbed to fairy-tale illusions about the obsolescence of the nation-state and war being banished forever from our continent. That Western Europe has gone on living quite happily while war returned almost every summer to the Balkans. And we have learned that, even after the end of the cold war, we can’t manage the affairs of our own continent without calling in the United States. Wherever you go in former Yugoslavia, people say “the international community—I mean, the Americans…”

Our Western political mantras at the end of the twentieth century have been “integration,” “multiculturalism,” or, if we are a little more old-fashioned, “the melting pot.” Former Yugoslavia has been the opposite. It has been like a giant version of the machine called a “separator”: a sort of spinning tub which separates out cream and butter, or liquids of different consistency. Here it is peoples who were separated out as the giant tub spun furiously round. Even half-formed nationalities (Macedonian, Bosnian) were solidified by the separator, while blood dripped steadily from a filter at the bottom. But when separation was almost complete, the West finally stepped in to try to halt the bloody process: in 1995 in Bosnia, in 1998 in Kosovo. In Bosnia, we now have a Western quasi protectorate. Soon we may have another in Kosovo.

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print