Following elections in late September of 2000, which Milošević clearly lost and tried to rig, mass protests rallied for the Serbian leader to step down, which he finally did on this day 15 years ago. It was a repudiation, Christopher Hitchens wrote in The Nation, of those in the United States, including most of the rest of the staff of this magazine, who argued against American participation in the bombing to save the beleaguered Kosovars would only strengthen Milošević’s rule. That difference of opinion between Hitchens and the rest of the magazine foreshadowed the conclusive break a few years later in the run-up to US intervention in Iraq.
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—because they are all now safely home and because the death squads of Greater Serbia cannot trouble them anymore….
The Serbian people have put us to shame this year by rejecting the phony choices offered them and by repudiating the politics of manipulation. In both countries, numerous parties and spokespeople were on the ballot and, when it mattered, voted across loyalty lines to secure the general point that an election ought not to be staged. What a contrast to the home of the brave, where public intellectuals run no risk in arguing that the regimentation of parties and the buying or fixing of primaries, conventions, debates and candidates is a secondary issue when compared with their own pet cause.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.