On the hill near the Serbian village of Drsnik in central Kosovo I counted smoke billowing from eight houses. Or at least I thought they were houses. Some proved to be haystacks. For Albanians taking revenge, even Serbian haystacks must now be burned.
In the northern town of Mitrovica I sat on a wall with Meli Uka, a pretty, twenty-two-year-old student. We sipped Coke as we watched a column of fleeing Serb families packed into cars and tractor-trailers. They looked no different from the Kosovars I had seen who had been expelled from Kosovo a few weeks earlier. Meli was smiling and said: “They wanted Albanians out and now this is our revenge. I am very happy about it and I never want them to come back. Now we are free.”
Forty-five minutes later I saw the Serbian village of Samodreza on fire. Two Albanian brothers, Naim and Namun Bala, were watching it burn. The Serbs had left two hours earlier. “The Kosovo Liberation Army did it,” they said. “These Serbs were our neighbors. We never had any problems with them. We grew up with them, played with them, and ate with them. But when the Serbian police came and burned our houses they turned their backs and said: ‘Fuck you!”‘ Namun said: “There are twenty-eight of us in our family. We asked the KLA not to burn the houses because we could live in them, but still they went ahead and did it.” Cars full of KLA fighters drove past waving happily and tooting their horns in triumph.
In the town of Vucitrn, Albanian families swarmed through the Serbian Orthodox priest’s house. Mothers maneuvered sofas down stairs, children roamed about smashing religious pictures with hammers while others piled food, church candles, and anything else they could carry onto wheelbarrows. When they were done they moved to the church. A girl with a manic expression on her face smashed the windows. Women tugged on dark red velvet altar cloths and precious icons crashed to the floor. A man struggled to wrench the chandelier from the ceiling.
Outside two French soldiers from the Kosovo Force, KFOR, the newly arrived international peace force which has NATO at its core, looked on amiably. Up the road a Gypsy house was on fire. Albanians accuse many Gypsies of having “collaborated” with the Serbs. At that moment the local French commander drove past. According to the sticker on his jeep his regimental motto was “Avec le sourire.” He said: “Our job is to reassure the population.” I said it didn’t look as if he was reassuring the few remaining Serbs. He replied, sans sourire: “The orders are to let them pillage.” I said: “That’s mad.” He said: “Of course it’s mad, but those are the orders, from NATO, from above.”
As everywhere else in Kosovo, Serbs in Pristina, the provincial capital, live in terror. I rented a flat and soon Mileva, the Serbian woman from next door, came by. Almost whispering, she said: “What am I going to do? Someone’s stuck an Albanian name on my door. It is a message that they want me out.”
The next day British KFOR troops were rummaging through Flat 42 upstairs on the tenth floor. The neighbors reported that the Serb family who lived there, and whose two soldier sons had already left, were armed. It was true. Among other weapons the British confiscated a World War II- era machine gun which can fire up to seven hundred rounds a minute. My guess is that that family are by now long gone.
The following day three Serbs, an economics teacher, a porter, and a canteen worker, were murdered at the university. British troops played cat and mouse in a shopping center trying to control the looting. Whenever they left, the looters came back. There are still no police in Kosovo.
The NATO-led KFOR has got off to a rocky start. The Yugoslav army and the Serbian police fulfilled their side of the agreement made at Kumanovo on June 9 and pulled out of Kosovo on schedule. What KFOR is finding hard, even impossible, to cope with is the overwhelming popular desire for ven- geance among the Kosovars driven out and persecuted by the Serbs during NATO’s bombing campaign.
Their anger is easy to understand. Wherever you go Albanian villagers will show you graves. Thirty-seven killed by the Serbian police or paramilitaries here, a family there (baby bottles and children’s boots left where they were killed)… The final total of innocent civilians murdered during the two and a half months of NATO’s bombing campaign, which began on March 24, will certainly be in the thousands. In the June 10 issue of The New York Review I reported that refugees arriving in Albania on April 27 told me that Serbian security forces had, a few hours earlier at a place called Meje, hauled off as many as two hundred men from a convoy of people being expelled from their villages. Later they were seen dead in a field.
I found the field. Glasses, watches, tobacco tins, and bone fragments littered the site. The earth was stained with dark crusty patches which locals said was blood. A putrefying corpse lay in a hedge. A leg lay by the side of the field. Villagers said that after the massacre all the other bodies had been taken away but they did not know where or how they were disposed of.
A great evil was done here, in Meje and across the rest of Kosovo. Still, there can be no escaping the fact that evil is being repaid in kind. Thus far, NATO has been unable or unwilling to prevent ethnic cleansing in reverse. Sometimes revenge is being exacted by KLA men, but much of it is spontaneous. A car for a car, a house for a house, a life for a life.
As of June 28, that is, sixteen days after the NATO-led force arrived, 340,000 Kosovars were reported to have returned from the refugee camps of Albania and Macedonia. Tens of thousands had also returned home from the hills and forests.
Kosovars are resourceful people with strong extended family networks. Where houses are burned, some are making do in one or two cleaned-up rooms until the rest are made habitable again. Others are staying with relatives in houses that are still intact. Many are bringing home the tents they lived in in the refugee camps and are sleeping in them in the garden while they rebuild their houses. In towns, of course, others are also moving into Serb houses or buying them at rock- bottom prices.
By the same token, also by June 28, more than 70,000 Serbs had left after the NATO-led force arrived. Since as many as 30,000 Serbs are thought to have fled to Serbia proper during the period of the NATO bombing, people I spoke to in Belgrade believed that as few as 25,000 Serbs remained in Kosovo. Yugoslavia is also home to some 600,000 Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia.
On June 28, 1989, Slobodan Milosevic, who had recently taken over as president of Serbia, commemorated the six-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, at which, legend has it, the Serbs lost to the Turks. Then there were more than 200,000 Serbs in Kosovo. At the site of the battlefield he told the assembled throng of one million people: “Six centuries later, again we are in battles and quarrels. They are not armed battles, though such things should not be excluded yet.” Since then Milosevic has led the Serbs into defeat after defeat.
Bones of some of the knights who died at that battle lie in the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Visoki Decani, a twenty-minute drive south from Pec. In 1941 Albanian fascists wanted to burn it down but Mussolini’s regular Italian troops prevented them. Today, the Italians are back. In the late afternoon, black-robed monks venture out to serve Turkish coffee to the soldiers, who sport designer sunglasses and lounge on top of the Leopard tank that stands guard outside Decani’s great wooden doors.
The monks here have waged a long campaign against Slobodan Milosevic, who they believed was ruining any chances the Serbs had of coexistence with Albanians. Their leader is Bishop Artemije, who, in the spring of last year, predicted what has now come to pass. He said then: “The chances of a dialogue have been missed. What remains is what the gentlemen in Belgrade have chosen—the loss of Kosovo, just like the Krajina, in war.” Krajina was the self-proclaimed Serb state in Croatia. When it fell in August 1995, the Croats cleansed its entire population of some 200,000 Serbs. According to the UNHCR only about 3,000 have returned.
Bishop Artemije’s right-hand man is the urbane Father Sava, often dubbed the cybermonk for his deft use of the Internet and e-mail to spread the monastery’s message of peace and reconciliation. (At the moment they are cut off. There is no phone line.) He says that, for the Serbs, Kosovo now has the same destiny “as Asia Minor, once full of wonderful Christian sites and now all ruins and ash. Or Constantinople, now a Muslim city. Or Palestine, which once had flourishing Christian communities.”
He is undoubtedly right. In a month or two KFOR, by then up to full strength with 55,000 men, may be able to protect Serbs. But by then not many of them will have remained and, as in Croatia, few will be willing or able to return. So with Kosovo (and its Albanian population of up to 1.8 million) now lost to the Serbs, both it and Serbia will paradoxically become model European nation-states. That is to say, countries which are basically monoethnic with small minority groups rather than multiethnic ones.
Sergio Vieira de Mello was the interim head of the United Nations administration of Kosovo until July 15, when Bernard Kouchner, the well-known French health official and founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, took over. The elegant Brazilian told me: “If we let ourselves be discouraged by the early signs and by intolerance, I don’t think we’ll succeed.”
Kosovo is a tiny place, about the size of greater Los Angeles. It also has a small population—no more than two million before the war. Still, such statistics mask the enormity of the job that the UN now has to do. Since the Serbian administration here has simply evaporated, the UN must hurry to set up its own structures. The situation it finds itself in is, however, unprecedented. While Security Council Resolution 1244 of June 10 reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia—of which Kosovo is of course a part—it also calls for the UN to organize “provisional institutions” and move toward elections in Kosovo.
The contradictions in all of this are immediately obvious. The UN is to run part of a country whose status under international law is unclear. Who, for example, will collect customs and taxes, and where will that income go? What law will apply? Who will issue passports? Will Yugoslav currency still be legal tender? (The German mark and Albanian lek are already pushing out the Yugoslav dinar.) “The sovereignty question is very delicate,” says Mr. Vieira de Mello, adding, “There are a thousand questions; we have thought of them all and we are trying to find answers. However, when we relate the present status of Kosovo to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia—sometimes the two are not compatible.”
Despite Mr. Vieira de Mello’s diplomatic caution it is clear that a vision of the future is beginning to emerge. The UN will run Kosovo, subcontracting various parts of the administration to the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Vienna-based group concerned with regional security. The former will be in charge of reconstruction; the latter will help recruit a new police force. Yugoslav law, stripped, he says, of certain “repressive” measures, is to be applied. A UN customs and tax regime will be set up and funds raised will help pay for the administration. The international administration will organize and consult with committees of Albanians and Serbs. Although these voices will be listened to, the administration will have the last word.
The UN resolution talks of elections, but there is no political settlement for Kosovo, as February’s Rambouillet accord would have been if the Serbs had accepted it. One still has to be worked out. But since Kosovo is still part of Yugoslavia and since the “international community” agrees that Kosovo cannot become independent, shouldn’t the government in Belgrade have a say about this part of its country? Or, in fact, is everyone just playing lip service to the question of sovereignty? I asked Robin Cook, the British foreign secretary, on his visit to Pristina, if the Serbian authorities would be entitled to a say on any final agreement for Kosovo. He said: “Belgrade will not have a veto on it…. For the long term that depends on the democratization of Serbia.”
Statements like these enrage the authorities in Belgrade. Milisav Pajic, the Yugoslav assistant deputy foreign minister, whom I saw there, says that since Kosovo remains part of his country, “that implies a role for Yugoslavia in any discussions.” And, as for Mr. Cook’s visit to Pristina, Mr. Pajic notes that since the British foreign secretary had not asked permission from Belgrade to go to Kosovo, this proved, once again, the British (and American) “neo-colonial approach to the region. This disrespect for a sovereign country drives us crazy!” But whether Mr. Pajic’s government can translate its anger into political pressure seems doubtful. The governments of Britain, the US, and other countries have said clearly that Yugoslavia will remain isolated as long as Mr. Milosevic remains in power.
There is only one bar open in Pristina. It is called Tricky Dick’s. Phil Smucker, an American who co-owns it, says it was named in honor of Richard Holbrooke, who tried to forestall the disaster that eventually engulfed Kosovo. Anyone who is anyone in Pristina (so long as he is not a Serb) comes here now. I watched a diplomat I know propel Hashim Thaci, the leader of the KLA, into Tricky Dick’s. Later the diplomat outlined the Western strategy.
“The KLA have a shock coming to them,” he said, “because contrary to their expectations, they will not be running Kosovo—the UN administration will.” He told me that he and his colleagues were working hard on a plan to detach the thirty-year-old Thaci, along with the KLA’s other political and military leaders, from the top of the guerrilla organization, whose job was done and which now had no role to play. The idea, the diplomat said, is that Mr. Thaci and his friends should now move into civilian politics by forming a party that could then claim the mantle of the KLA. When the time came for elections this party would be well primed to take over.
In fact the jockeying for future power has already started. Bardhyl Mahmuti, one of the formerly Swiss-based émigré founders of the KLA, has begun a new political party, taking with him some KLA leaders. However Thaci has not so far joined him and could emerge to head a rival group. Since all but a small number of ordinary fighters now want to go home, find work, and rebuild their burned houses, the NATO strategists do not expect major military problems from the KLA. Any middle-level commander who refuses to comply with orders to disarm will either be seduced into joining a new police force or will be arrested by KFOR.
But are people like Mr. Thaci suitable candidates for coddling by Western diplomats and politicians? All sorts of charges have been leveled against the KLA. These include accusations that they are drug smugglers and, recently, that they have executed political opponents and dissenters. Certainly the KLA has taken money from the Kosovo Albanian mafia but this does not make the KLA, per se, a drug-smuggling organization. Besides, whatever outsiders may think and say, most Kosovo Albanians see it as their liberation army.
Recent accusations that Mr. Thaci or elements of the KLA leadership may have ordered the execution of opponents are almost impossible to substantiate—KLA leaders deny them—but in a few cases they are more than probably true. The question then arises whether that means the West should not do business with them. As a matter of Realpolitik that would be unfeasible since they are clearly a strong power in Kosovo, and overwhelmingly popular among its Albanians. Brutal though it is, another question arises. If the accusations are true, so what? A guerrilla organization fighting against a vastly superior power—which certainly penetrated its ranks with infiltrators—that did not eliminate people would be a historical first.
While the Western nations have to deal with the KLA, simply because it is there—and it is powerful—what about ordinary Kosovars? Whatever they may say now, during these euphoric days, they may well have their private reservations about politicians who have emerged not by way of the ballot box but thanks to a brutal armed struggle. Still, sooner or later, they will have a chance to make their choice in what will be internationally supervised elections, closely scrutinized for fairness.
Unless things change in the next few months and years, there may be less choice than people might like. From 1989 until the emergence of the KLA as a serious force last year, the overwhelming majority of Kosovars supported Ibrahim Rugova, president of the self-proclaimed (and nonexistent) Republic of Kosova. Mr. Rugova consistently argued in favor of independence but cautioned that it had to be achieved through peaceful means in order to avoid death and destruction on a huge scale. Laudable though Mr. Rugova’s methods were, the problem was that they achieved nothing.
Clearly the uprising led by the KLA eventually provoked precisely the death and destruction that Mr. Rugova warned against. Still, to judge by the rapturous reception Mr. Thaci gets when he walks through the streets of Pristina, it seems obvious that most Kosovars think the outcome so far was worth it. The ones I talked to said they believe that the sacrifices of those killed, and the damage and the displacement they themselves suffered, will have been justified if they achieve the end they have long hoped for—independence. Since nobody here, or in Serbia for that matter, believes that Serbian rule will ever return to Kosovo, most Kosovars are now convinced, probably rightly, that independence is simply a matter of waiting a few more years.
The next problem is Mr. Rugova’s credibility. First it was undermined by the KLA and then by his meeting with Mr. Milosevic, under duress, during the bombing. Until recently he had much residual support; but this may have been further weakened by his delaying his return to Kosovo until July 15.
As if all this were not enough Mr. Rugova’s once monolithic and powerful Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) is in ruins. And the chances for its reclaiming its lost strength seem weak. Not least among the reasons for this is that Fehmi Agani, its most respected political strategist, was murdered during the war. According to the Serbs he was killed by the KLA; according to his family he was killed by the Serbian police. Veton Surroi, both a politician and editor of the influential daily Koha Ditore, sums up the LDK’s predicament this way. “The LDK was a dinosaur with a very big body and a very small brain, and that was concentrated in the very great mind of Fehmi Agani.”
Surroi’s analysis of the political situation among the Kosovo Albanians is succinct and convincing. He says that the LDK is now a party without leadership. The small party led by Rexhep Qosija which is allied to the KLA is “a leadership without a party” and the KLA is “disintegrating militarily” into “many splinters.” Still, he is optimistic that new forces, or new political alliances, will emerge and that the job of the international community will be far easier in Kosovo than in Bosnia. Unlike in Bosnia, he says, “here there is a much higher degree of identification with the idea of Kosovo. The idea of Bosnia as a state is a NATO idea. Here you have a people who were not free but have always felt that this place is theirs.”
The thirty-eight-year-old Surroi decided to stay in Kosovo during the bombing. Many suggested that he did so because, if he lived, he could then make a pitch for the leadership of Kosovo’s Albanians. When I walked down the street with him, people constantly came up to greet and hug him. His reception was not quite that of the conquering hero, which was reserved for Mr. Thaci. But Kosovo’s political scene is in turmoil and Mr. Surroi could still put himself forward as a political leader. Would he do so? “If it was clear that what I would be doing would be right, I might consider it,” he says coyly.
In fact Mr. Surroi has been considering what new position he might have. As one diplomat pointed out, “If it was up to foreign diplomats and liberal intellectuals in Pristina then Veton would win any contest hands down.” The problem, as Mr. Surroi has probably rightly assessed it, is that in any forthcoming elections Mr. Thaci is going to wear the mantle of the KLA and win the popular vote, particularly in the rural areas. Still Mr. Surroi, who smokes a pipe and exudes the unusual (for here) image of an American college professor, will without doubt have an immensely important part in the future. He is positioning himself to be a behind-the-scenes power broker, using Koha Ditore and perhaps new ventures in radio and television to exercise that power. He also seems likely to become the de facto foreign minister of the Kosovo Albanians.
Bishop Artemije is clear about who is at fault. Still living in Kosovo, he says that the main responsibility for everything that has happened there must lie with Slobodan Milosevic. The KLA must share some of the blame, he argued in a press conference on June 28, but “Milosevic’s policy is the reason for all the evil that has been inflicted on Kosovo Albanians and also Serbs….” He is also clear about another point. So far as broad accusations against the Serbs themselves are concerned, “There is no collective guilt or collective crime.”
In Belgrade, Milan St. Protic, a historian who has written extensively about ethnic cleansing and migrations in Balkan history, is now a political activist with the new Alliance for Change coalition, which has been trying to build up opposition to Milosevic throughout Serbia. He, too, has begun to open up the debate about responsibility. “We want to send the message that it wasn’t this nation that was committing those atrocities and crimes but this government. It wasn’t this people who were doing them but the repressive dictatorial regime of Slobodan Milosevic. As absolute ruler he should face absolute responsibility.”
Zarko Korac, a professor of psychology at Belgrade University and a well-known liberal commentator, has long held the view that, in the post-Milosevic world, Serbia will not be like postwar Germany, but will be like postwar Austria. That is to say, Milosevic will be made the scapegoat for all the evil that was done in the name of the Serbs; and the Serbs will then claim that they were his first—and ultimately greatest—victims, since more Serbs ended up being driven from their homes than people from any other former Yugoslav nation.
“Of course,” Professor Korac argues, “the debate has to start”; but he believes that it cannot make much progress under present circumstances because the press and television are still restrained and fearful. Until Mr. Milosevic has gone, editors are unlikely and unwilling to show the Serbs the full extent of the carnage committed in their name. Natasa Kandic, the director of the human rights organization the Humanitarian Law Fund based in Belgrade, described to me how press restrictions during the last few months have encouraged Serbs to think of themselves as victims twice over. First NATO bombed them and now they see the Serbian exodus from Kosovo apparently presided over by NATO.
Until new media laws were passed last year, Ms. Kandic argues, things were quite different in Serbia. A small number of independent magazines and newspapers accurately described Serbian abuses in Kosovo and the displacement of many thousands from their homes. Their reports were supplemented by Serbian-language broadcasts of the BBC and other foreign programs by local radio stations. The new media laws banned such broadcasts. Whether the majority of Serbs actually wanted to know what was happening in Kosovo is another question. However, once the new laws were passed, Ms. Kandic said, editors “stopped publishing stories about atrocities. They only published stories about negotiations, talks with foreign governments, and about terrorists.” In Kosovo virtually every family has satellite television, which transmits programs from Albania and many other countries. In Serbia proper, far fewer people have satellite TV, and thus their access to news from outside is far more limited.
Days after the bombing began, Slavko Curuvija, a member of Milosevic’s inner circle who had defected to become an opposition newspaper editor, was murdered, apparently by professional assassins. Among intellectuals and other people who shape public opinion, panic set in. Anyone who was associated with the opposition or foreigners feared arrest or worse. Some who had worked with foreigners were bundled into cars by the secret police, who said they were hunting for spies. They were subjected to harsh grillings but then subsequently released.
For the authorities in Belgrade the question of responsibility is simple. Milisav Pajic says that the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes by the Hague Tribunal during the bombing was “widely ridiculed here.” It was part of “an attempt to make the victims guilty. Those who committed crimes are saying who is guilty.” The victims, in this case, are the Serbs, and the criminals are NATO countries, primarily Britain and the US. Mr. Pajic says NATO bombs killed some 1,500 civilians and about 500 soldiers and policemen. (His claims about civilian casualties roughly correspond to estimates by NATO sources.)
As a debate in the West begins on the subject of the collective responsibility of the Serbs, it is vitally important to keep the setting in mind, and to ask what you would have done if you had lived in Serbia. It is also important not to have a double standard. There is a very thin line between flight and cleansing. Many Kosovo Albanians fled Kosovo during those awful months of Serbian attacks—some without waiting to be ordered out at gunpoint—and we are right to say they were cleansed. But the entire debate risks being debased if the flight of the Kosovo Serbs is passed over in silence or rationalized as something different. The essence of the matter in Kosovo was, and is, simple. Us or them. Serbs or Albanians—but not fellow citizens.
If you did not pass the ruined ministries and police buildings hit by NATO bombs, you might easily believe that nothing had happened in Belgrade. Shops and cafés are full, people friendly, everything looks normal. It is not. Serbia has become Europe’s black hole, more isolated than ever and, as far as most people are concerned, the outlook has never been so utterly hopeless.
It would be wrong to try to characterize the views of Serbs as homogeneous. They are not. Many direct all their bitterness at NATO. “Everything is NATO’s fault,” a friend told me. “Milosevic is the American man. He does whatever Bill tells him to do. Now he has sold Kosovo, the soul of the nation, so I, and all my friends, are leaving. We don’t want to be American slaves.” Mad though it sounds to a Westerner, a great many Serbs hold this view.
Others are less sure. On June 27, a part of the Serbian opposition held its first postwar anti-Milosevic rally in the provincial town of Cacak. There were some 7,000 people present—not a very large crowd but still a significant one. Igor, aged eighteen, told me: “Milosevic lost three wars and I will not see many of my friends again.” Pointing to printed announcements of the names of soldiers killed in Kosovo, he said: “You can see their faces on the trees.” He wants to leave too. “My mother spent two hours waiting in line to buy a kilo of sugar this morning,” he said. Over the loudspeakers came the booming voice of Milan St. Protic: “Milosevic has lost everything and shamed us before the world.”
During the war it became a commonplace to say that NATO bombs had solidified Serbian support behind Mr. Milosevic. Whether that was true or not is open to question. The bombing strengthened support for the defense of the country. Now that the war is over the opinion polls show that Milosevic’s popularity has slipped to an all-time low, hovering at about 20 percent. Still, support for individual opposition leaders is even lower, and they have now resumed their favorite pastime of bickering among themselves instead of concentrating their energies against Mr. Milosevic.
What this could mean is that, with many people bitter and now associating democracy and Western values with bombs and cruise missiles,nothing will change, or, worse, that the power of the extreme nationalist Vojislav Seselj will grow. Since most Western leaders say that Serbia cannot be reintegrated into the rest of Europe while Mr. Milosevic remains in power, the country may well remain a black hole for years to come.
Still, there are those who argue that sooner rather than later things will change. The historian Aleksa Djilas argues: “This must be the beginning of the end. People will want him to go when the Himalayan proportions of our defeat become clear. It will sink in when people realize the level of the destruction of the economy.” Mr. Djilas is careful to point out that, unlike others, he has never before predicted that Mr. Milosevic would fall. Now he is convinced that his end is near.
Predrag Simic, a political analyst now close to the Serbian Renewal Movement—the party led by Vuk Draskovic, who was sacked as Yugoslav deputy prime minister during the war—also thinks that Mr. Milosevic cannot survive. But like everyone else he does not know how he will go. “It will not be the Ceausåüescu scenario since, despite the bombings, things here are still not as bad as they were in Romania. But it will not be a velvet revolution either.” As if to confirm this view, Mr. Draskovic announced on July 14 that he was planning anti-Milosevic demonstrations.
Mr. Simic talked of obscure machinations within Milosevic’s own Socialist Party which may eventually threaten Milosevic’s power. He also outlined the so-called Kurt Waldheim scenario. This envisages the opposition gaining strength if Western countries make good their promise to give aid to towns like Cacak that oppose Milosevic. If that happens, a coalition of opposition forces in Serbia could link up with the anti-Milosevic forces of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. Together they might be able to muster enough strength to take over the Yugoslav federal government. They would then leave Milosevic ignored and isolated, just as Kurt Waldheim was in Austria after the revelations about his Nazi past.
The Waldheim scenario has obvious advantages in that it might allow Yugoslavia to be reintegrated into the world while avoiding unpopular choices about what to do with Milosevic. The trouble is that it may well be little more than wishful thinking. Zarko Korac, who also does not believe that Milosevic can survive politically, is skeptical. Authoritarian personalities don’t just fade away, he argues. “I cannot see him as a pensioner walking his grandchildren in the park,” he says.
And who knows? The country is volatile, especially people in the provinces who believe that more of their men were sent to fight an ultimately useless war than were sent from Belgrade. Opposition activists, including Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party, who on July 5 returned from his self-imposed wartime exile, pin their hopes on provincial opposition spreading across the country this summer. He had been joined by such men as Vuk Obradovic, once Yugoslavia’s youngest general, who resigned his commission in 1992 after he was unable to keep his promise to bring home conscripts from Sarajevo early in the siege there. And recent reports of continuing protests suggest their hopes may not be unfounded.
As for officials like Mr. Pajic, they simply dismiss calls for Mr. Milosevic to go as “unrealistic.” He says: “No one serious here blames the Yugoslav leadership for what has happened.” He for one does not believe that Yugoslavia will remain isolated. While Britain and the US maintain their “arrogant,” “disgusting,” and “hypocritical” positions, many other nations, he suggests, including Austria, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries, are being much more “flexible.” And the reason for that is that they do not wish to miss out on important trade and reconstruction contracts. “I’m not so sure that Britain and the US can block these things,” he says. If he is right Mr. Milosevic might well be able to shore up his position.
If the next few weeks and months are unpredictable, then so, by definition, are the next few decades. While the Serbs stream out of Kosovo, just as they did from Croatia and western Bosnia in 1995, some may be tempted to think that a victory for ethnic cleansing, however brutal it may be in the short term, will at least secure peace in the long term. Others are not sure.
Paraphrasing Stendhal, Aleksa Djilas says, “The possibility of revenge increases the desire.” So while today Albanians take their revenge, the day may yet come when Serbs can take theirs. The way the Serbs have lost Kosovo means that for years to come the Serbs will have no chance to get it back. How could they do so while it is controlled by 55,000 NATO and other troops? But what will happen in ten or twenty years? Just over a decade ago no one could have predicted the shape of the world as it is today. What if, in twenty or thirty years, America is locked in isolationism, Russia rearmed and strong, and Europe weak and divided? He says that the spirit of revanchism may grow. “Of course,” Djilas adds, “I would not support such a thing, but Serbs are not exactly a ‘forgive and forget’ nation. If they have remembered the 1389 defeat for 610 years, why not this one?”
Mr. Djilas may well be right. In the short term, though, as Duska Anastasijevic, who works for the Belgrade magazine Vreme, says, things might look a little better if “Serbia found its Adenauer and Kosovo its Mandela.” They are both so far from achieving this that it would be foolish to be optimistic about the future of either place.
—July 15, 1999
August 12, 1999