Whoever does not fight at Kosovo…
May nothing bear fruit that his hand sows.
Contrary to US expectations, a Kosovo peace agreement isn’t going to be signed after a few weeks of bombing, and maybe not ever. To understand why Slobodan Milosevic decided to fight NATO instead of conceding, one must understand the contemporary role in politics played by the 1389 Battle of Kosovo. Milosevic is re-enacting the Serbian central myth of the leader who lost the medieval battle against superior Turkish forces and became a martyred nationalist hero. He is trying to keep his power by casting himself as the reincarnated defender and shifting the public’s anger over the possible loss of Kosovo from himself to the evil West.
There are many forces in his once small political base prompting Milosevic’s defiance. Their continued support for the president is critical to him now, but they are too peripheral to gain power were he to be ousted. One group pressuring him is the ultranationalist Radical Party, which won only sixteen seats in the federal Parliament. Vojislav Seselj, its leader, might have pulled his party out of the ruling coalition and weakened the government if Milosevic had agreed to NATO troops. He could have painted his president as a traitor to Serbian interests. Seselj’s popularity grew while he urged a war with NATO and delegates at the Rambouillet peace talks considered caving in to the West. To undercut his rival, Milosevic had to adopt Seselj’s positions.
Another factor is the nationalist military officers Milosevic appointed after firing the military brass who tried to restrain his actions in Kosovo this past fall. These new officers seemed to be implicitly threatening a coup when, according to the European press, they told him that allowing NATO troops into Kosovo would be the beginning of the end of his power. Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic said the current military leadership believes that sacred Kosovo must be defended at all costs. Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, the supreme commander, speaking in the language of the myth, told his soldiers to “prepare for martyrdom.”
Belgrade political analysts say the Yugoslav president fears the public, which holds the Kosovo myth at the heart of its identity. He worries about being killed by an angry mob, like Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu. To guard against that fate, he silences every critic who could stir up riots or electoral opposition. He purged not only the military but the universities. Death threats against students continue. There is an escalated closing of independent media and jailing of journalists. Serbian journalists expect him to follow Seselj’s urging and crack down on the judiciary and the anti-Milosevic government in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.