By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The new ruling elites in the post-Yugoslav states, sometimes with roots in the old Communist nomenklaturas, have prospered mightily during the wars of Yugoslav succession, accumulating wealth and power in the old-fashioned way — by robbery. In these countries, where no legitimate money was available to buy the formerly public or state property, the prescription by the United States, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to "marketize and above all privatize" guaranteed the diminution of the middle class and the rise of a gangster economy. This new class thrives on ethnic confron ta tion and relentlessly fosters ethnic chauvinism, preventing any transition to stability and democracy. Its leaders remain in power by insisting on the presence of external and internal threats. This is made easier by their control of the electronic media, and reinforced by a public opinion that wallows in self-pity and has been poisoned by a decade of nationalist propaganda.
And yet, right up until the current war, the West, and above all the U.S., treated these corrupt and dangerous regimes as legitimate governments and indispensable guarantors of the ramshackle peace agreements negotiated essentially by the Americans — and this may happen yet again at the conclusion of the Kosovar conflict. The Dayton Peace Accord, based on the U.S. belief that the governing thugs in Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo would remain the only political partners available, has only strengthened these regimes and made a stable peace impossible. Even before 1995, Washington modernized Tudjman’s army and police, making possible what was until the past month the single biggest case of ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav wars of secession, in which 200,000 Croatian Serbs were driven into exile. Tudjmanlegions remain a constant threat to democracy in Croatia.
Bosnia’s Alija Izetbegovic has used his control over the vast aid sent into Bosnia to tighten his stranglehold on the government and inject specifically Islamic programs into the army. This makes the development of a secular multiethnic, democratic Bosnia all but impossible.
The worst predator in the area, Milosevic, was strengthened the most. To bolster his status as a lesser evil, this "force for stability" took Vojislav Seselj’s semi-fascist Radical Party into his government as a junior partner, and with its help abolished university autonomy and all but destroyed the independent press — before the current war began.
As for Kosovo, the agreement Milosevic reached with U.S. emissary Richard Holbrooke last fall provided for a mere 2,000 unarmed "observers," who in fact functioned as 2,000 hostages. The agreement left at least 15,000 heavily armed Serbian police and troops in Kosovo, as well as an armed and encouraged Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Despite renewed Serbian aggression, the KLA was, until the current war, prospering mightily at the expense of other political forces in the Albanian community — taking over entire towns, occupying the abandoned Serbian police bunkers and pushing aside the local Rugova leadership, often by brute force.
The more sensible Western policy would have been to offer help to the democratic forces throughout the region — most immediately, the principal Serbian oppositionists, even if they were themselves nationalistic. In the long term, the smaller, "hard" — non-nationalist — opposition must be supported throughout the region. The "hard" democrats tend to be independent trade unionists, non-governmental organization activists, students and democratic leftists with populist overtones. They have been less attractive to U.S. policymakers than English-speaking, well-dressed, deodorant-using liberals who are devoted uncritically to privatization and the free market, but who can’t attract substantial electoral support.
To date, however, the democratic option has been consistently dismissed by the U.S. as utopian fantasy. The hard-headed choice was Milosevic. Now, we see the wages of such crackpot pragmatism.Bogdan Denitch is director of the Institute for Transitions to Democracy, a human-rights organization operating in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia since 1990, and author of Ethnic Nationalism: The Tragic Death of Yugoslavia. A version of this article appears in the current issue ofDissent.
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