During the Kosovo crisis of last year, it was commonplace if not routine to hear two mantras being intoned by those who had decided that "never" would be about the right time to resist ethnic cleansing with a show of force. We were incessantly told (were we not?) that NATO’s action would drive the Serbs into the arms of Slobodan Milosevic. And we were incessantly told (were we not?) that the same NATO action would intensify, not alleviate, the plight of the Kosovar refugees.
Now there has been an election that was boycotted by almost all Kosovars and by the government of Montenegro. And even with the subtraction of these two important blocs of opposition voters, it is obvious that Milosevic has been humiliated, exposed, unmasked, disgraced. The Kosovar population could boycott even these proceedings with confidence–unlike their cruel experience of previous decades–because they are all now safely home and because the death squads of Greater Serbia cannot trouble them anymore.
What a spectacle the former allies and apologists of a national socialist Serbia now present. The choicest of all must be Lord Owen, writing in the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps at last, he slimily says, "we" now have a credible Serbian negotiating partner. For the whole period of the Bosnian slaughter, Owen maintained that "we" already did have a credible Serbian negotiating partner–in the figure of Slobodan Milosevic himself! And now, still seeking to help his former friend out of difficulty, the noble Lord Owen proposes a solution to the disposal problem. We don’t want the unpleasantness of a trial, so why not, he suggests, make Milosevic the Yugoslav ambassador to Beijing? Meanwhile, Milosevic said on October 2: "My wish is that people do not see the validity of my warnings too late, that they do not do so once it is too late to right the mistakes citizens made by themselves in their naïveté, shallowness or ignorance." This is the perfected version of Brecht’s old joke about the party dissolving the people and electing a new one.
Yes, of course it is true that Vojislav Kostunica is a nationalist, perhaps even a chauvinist. The same could be said of President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro. But they are not national socialists. (And they disagree: Djukanovic says Montenegro will cooperate with the war crimes tribunal, and Kostunica says he personally will not.) A heroic Serbian journalist, Miroslav Filipovic, was sentenced to seven years in prison in July for telling some part of the truth about the campaign of murder and rape carried out by "Yugoslav" regulars in Kosovo. Kostunica says he doesn’t believe the reports but doesn’t believe, either, that Filipovic should be in prison. Well–there’s your lesser evil.
A columnist for this magazine wrote a few weeks ago that one should beware an "October surprise," whereby the US military-industrial complex would use the Montenegro crisis as a budget-boosting provocation. This is not being wrong by accident. It is being wrong on purpose. All year, the US government has been urging the Montenegrins to contain themselves and their aspirations. For two years, ever since Djukanovic began to talk of independence, Clinton has spoken dogmatically of the "territorial integrity" of a fictional Yugoslav state. Meanwhile, the Republican leadership has repeatedly stressed its opposition to any overseas intervention that is not strictly oleaginous in character and motivation. I am writing this as Milosevic is holding on to power. Nothing in the posture of political Washington or the Pentagon made him afraid to call, or afraid to try to steal, a fall election he could easily have postponed.