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Slobo's Ghosts | The Nation

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Slobo's Ghosts

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In Serbia people power has swept out another tyrant. In the aftermath the Yugoslav federation's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, the constitutional scholar of strong nationalist leanings who led the surprisingly velvet revolution, faced the tough job of renewing a government that stank of rot from the top down. Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic summed up the fast-changing post-Slobo status quo: "We've done two-thirds of the job, but we used the power of the streets more than the power of the institutions and more the power of the people than of political organizations. Now it's up to us to turn what people chose with their energy into reality."

The task of institutionalizing the revolution presented the new federal president with daunting problems. His moves to oust the pro-Milosevic officials in the Serbian government--the still-loyal secret police, the military, corrupt factory managers, bureaucrats and legislators--and install honest civil servants were complicated by resistance from leaders of the old regime and some generals. But he still had the powerful force of unleashed democratic energy behind him. Given Kostunica's nationalistic sentiments, however, which permeate the Serbian Orthodox Church hierarchy and other institutions to which he claims some fealty, there is a danger of the recrudescence of chauvinistic patriotism, which Milosevic stirred up during his reign and to which elements of the populace remain vulnerable. We can hope at this point that Kostunica will work to keep these emotions within bounds.

Kostunica must also deal with restive Montenegro, which harbors secessionist dreams and, unhappy over the current Constitution, boycotted the elections. And he must confront the issue of the future of Kosovo, whose people suffered greatly at Serbian hands. Hundreds of Albanian political prisoners are in Serbian jails, and Kostunica has the power to pardon them. His attitude toward municipal elections in Kosovo, set for October 24, is crucial. These elections were seen as an important step in UN efforts to establish workable institutions in the province--and by many as part of an irreversible process of readying Kosovo for independence.

The West must give Kostunica and his new-fledged democracy strong support, both diplomatic and economic, including lifting sanctions. Billions of dollars are needed to rebuild the economy that the Milosevic regime ransacked and that sanctions crippled, and to repair the infrastructure damage inflicted by NATO bombs.

That does not, however, mean putting on indefinite hold the reckoning with Milosevic and his henchmen before the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The meting out of justice to indicted war criminals must continue, but the West should give Kostunica running room while persuading him to cooperate with the tribunal.

The Contact Group, led by the United States, France, Britain and Germany, must begin thinking seriously about a broader international diplomatic process to resolve many of the outstanding questions and conflicts of the entire region and to give the Balkans a secure place in the European "house." The Serbs' yearning to be integrated into Europe was a strong motive behind their overthrow of Milosevic.

The crimes of Serbia's leaders, its army and its paramilitaries cannot be forgotten, but the NATO air war left a residue of bitterness among the people. Now, Yugoslav democracy needs to be nourished. The hope of better lives can sustain the Serbs in the arduous task of reconstruction they face in the years ahead.

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