Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo
After days of delaying the "official" results of the Yugoslav elections, and in the face of an increasingly obvious first round defeat at the hands of the united Democratic Opposition (DOS), Slobodan Milosevic has finally made his move one that was bound to take everyone, friend and foe alike, by surprise. Yugoslavia's troubles, far from being at an end, are just beginning. But there is a new optimism in the air, the widespread feeling that old Slobo is finished: it is a new day, or so many in Serbs would love to believe. Yet, Milosevic has a few more tricks up his sleeve and his latest challenge to the opposition is a real show-stopper. . . .
Instead of proclaiming a first-round victory, or even claiming to be ahead, Milosevic and his neo-Communist allies have thrown out all their previous tallies which invariably showed Milosevic with a big lead and announced that Kostunica did indeed come out ahead, but not enough to claim a first-round victory. According to an announcement on the state-run RTS television network, Kostunica won 48.2%, Milosevic garnered 40.2 percent, and the rest went to minor party also-rans This is alleged to be a "preliminary" tally, based on results from 10,153 of 10,500 polling stations: the entire Federal Election Commission, including representatives of the opposition, will meet on Wednesday, when the final tally will be announced. These "official" numbers, whatever they turn out to be, are sure to be wildly at variance not only with the count conducted by the Opposition, but even contradicting the tallies announced by the once pro-government Serbian Radical Party, and Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Party. The reaction from some in the Opposition was immediate and unequivocal, even before the state-run Tanjug "News" Agency released the election commission's figures. In this morning's New York Times [26 September 2000], Zarko Korac, leader of the small and slavishly pro-NATO Social Democratic Union, and a member of the Serbian parliament, declared:
"If the Socialists declare victory or say we go to a second round, and it goes against the voting data we gather, we must defend our vote. Why should we accept his offer for a second round, if it's illegal? Our problems are in a way beginning. We have to get him to concede his defeat."
But why provoke an armed confrontation when victory is within the Opposition's grasp? Unless Kostunica steps in, and reins in his supporters, the united Opposition is headed for disaster and the near certainty of US military intervention. To his great credit, Kostunica seems to understand this: "The numbers speak for us," he says. "We will fight in democratic ways. The truth is our strongest weapon. We don't want to provoke internal tensions and foreign intervention." Already the US and Great Britain have announced with great fanfare the beginning of a concerted campaign of "international pressure" to make old Slobo cry "uncle!" But the real leaders of the opposition, Serbian patriots such as former military Chief of Staff Momcilo Perisic, must take the Zoracs of the movement by the scruff of the neck and subject them to a little party discipline: it was Gen. Perisic who remarked, on hearing of defense secretary William Cohen's and UK warlord Robin Cook's sabre-rattling, that he wished some "loony" Western leaders would shut up and let the Serbs settle their own political problem.
No one outside of the "observers" invited in from China, North Korea, Tadjikistan, and the British Socialist Workers Party believes that this election was conducted under any but the most onerous conditions. Hundreds of Opposition activists were arrested and brutalized, radio stations sympathetic to Kostunica's candidacy were shut down, the offices of independent organizations were invaded, and even Kostunica was attacked by a mob of pro-government thugs while out on the stump. Now the election officials, all answerable to Milosevic, are manipulating the results. Is anybody surprised? What is surprising, however, is that the Opposition not only managed to unite behind a single candidate, but also managed to achieve such a turnout for Kostunica that the numbers couldn't be cooked even quasi-convincingly. And here's where it gets interesting. . . .
When news of the catastrophe spread throughout the ruling party coalition, a three-way split developed over the question of how to respond. The hard-liners, affiliated with the nutball neo-communists of the Yugoslav Left (JUL), led by Mirjana Markovic that's Mrs. Milosevic wanted to declare victory in the first round and be done with it. But the resentment against the JUL, which has been taking over the traditional prerogatives of the ruling Socialist Party (SPS) as a result of Markovic's all-pervasive influence, finally found its voice: according to the newsletter VIP, senior SPS official Nikola Sainovic "advocates a second round which would give them time to consolidate and try to find a way for Milosevic to win." A "small number" of Milosevic supporters, according to this report, argued for conceding defeat: after all, they accurately noted, the SPS-Left coalition would still control the federal legislature, thanks to the boycott of the election by Montenegrin President Milos Djukanovic. The scoop is that Sainovic was assigned the task of telling Slobo the bad news and was thrown out of the cabinet for his trouble.
Sainovic, it appears, has won, at least for the moment, against the ultra-left loonies in Mrs. Milosevic's inner circle and provided the Opposition with a lever by which to decisively split the ruling party and hand them a decisive defeat. For the reality is that, in the end, it is the loyalty, not of the nation, but of the police and the army that Milosevic is counting on. While that cannot be taken for granted under the present circumstances, not by any means, Milosevic would still command the allegiance of some 30,000 "special police" forces, recruited from jails and sent to Bosnia and Kosovo to fight: they could arrive in Belgrade in a matter of hours and crush any incipient rebellion. This could likely provoke the Western intervention that Kostunica rightly fears and opposes. But he would, in effect, be powerless to stop it. Instead of taking advantage of the split in the ranks of the government, the Opposition would itself split, Kostunica would be sidelined, and the country would descend into civil war, followed by a shooting war with NATO in which Kostunica and his supporters would be caught in the middle.
By accepting the terms of the election as set down by Milosevic by saying, in effect, okay so you cheated us, and you're playing for time, but your time is up on October 8th the Opposition would be calling his bluff. They would also be sealing Slobo's fate. For if it was a landslide in the first round, then the proportions of Kostunica's victory in the second round are bound to be even more decisive. In appearing to adhere to the forms of democracy, in at least conceding the necessity for a second round, Milosevic's government has managed to salvage at least the shreds of legitimacy, albeit only among its active and self-interested supporters. A second and even more crushing defeat in the October 8 run-offs would deal the ruling coalition a death blow and isolate the hard-liners. De-legitimizing Milosevic not only in the eyes of university students and urban activists but in the view of many of his own demoralized followers in rural areas and in the Yugoslav Army, would be the death knell of the regime.
What is Milosevic counting on? That wily old fox, backed into a corner, is holding out for the prospect of US/NATO military intervention. October 8th isn't that far away, but a lot can happen in two weeks, and old Slobo is counting on his friends in Washington, London, Berlin, and Paris to come to his rescue. When Robin Cook pointed out that NATO has the military capability in the region to retaliate if Milosevic should resort to force, this only confirmed the rightness of Sainovic's survival strategy.
The symbiotic relationship between Milosevic and the NATO-crats has never been clearer. Milosevic and his Socialist-Left coalition, who couldn't hope to tarnish the impeccable sheen of Kostunica's reputation as a man of high principle and patriotism, instead chose to run against NATO. In turn, at this crucial moment, the NATO-crats are beating the war drums a sound that is music to Slobo's ears. What better excuse to cancel the election than the threat of war? It wouldn't be hard to provoke a confrontation in Montenegro, whose shady President a former Milosevic crony has been angling for secession under NATO's auspices: Yugoslav troops are already face-to-face with Montengrin police, and the pressure from certain circles (both in Montenegro and abroad) for a formal declaration of independence has been building for many months. A recent edition of Antiwar.com carried a story reporting that Albanians in the breakaway province of Kosovo were rooting for Milosevic, although how many actually voted for him is impossible to say. It couldn't have been more than 50,000, according to UN accounts of the voter turnout. In any case, the KLA is quite clear about pursuing its own territorial interests, and that involves the breakup of what remains of Yugoslavia a far less likely prospect under Kostunica. Without the villain Milosevic in Belgrade, the Montenegrin separatists have a hard case to make for "independence," either historically or economically. Without the unlovable Milosevic, whose villainy is virtually cartoonish, the whole campaign against Serbia loses its rationale: for here is a leader who represents more than just the aspirations of the Serbian people. . . .
From the tenor of his recent remarks, Kostunica, should he succeed, will fast become a rising force in European politics, part of a generalized rebellion against the rule of the acronyms and in favor of national sovereignty. In his first major comments since his stunning upset, Kostunica took on not only Milosevic but also NATO, the EU, the OSCE, and the endlessly proliferating organizations that have subverted the idea of national sovereignty. Yugoslavia, he declared, will never become "anybody's protectorate." Furthermore, he upbraided former European communist countries that went unnamed who, he said, had applied for membership in supra-national organizations "without caring much for their independence, their own freedom in relations with the outside world."
This was an unmistakable reference to the European Union, which had just recommended the lifting of sanctions against Yugoslavia. Now here is a dangerous man. As Danes go to the polls to make a decision on the euro, and the specter of a continental tax revolt threatens the Social Democratic governments of Europe, these words have resonance. If, by some miracle, Kostunica prevails, how long before he's declared a hateful nationalist and treated like Joerg Haider?
Kostunica understands the strange symbiosis of NATO and Slobo. He blames the "Western powers, primarily the U.S. policy of sanctions against Serbia" that "enabled Milosevic's authoritarian regime to stay on. It has thrived on isolation. The West, primarily Washington, effectively created a cult of Slobodan Milosevic. The international community, the United States, saw only Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.'' And that's all they want to see in Serbia, all the better to carry out their plans for the breakup of the Yugoslav remnant and the military occupation of the Balkans. The cult of Slobodan Milosevic is not confined, it seems, to the far-left fringes of the Western left: he has his share of devotees at NATO headquarters. . . .
When Robin Cook alluded to the circumstances under which NATO might consider intervening in the election crisis, a Reuters dispatch reporting that this caused "consternation" among the NATO-crats underscored the meaning of his remarks: "The Western powers, while doing what they can to encourage a big turnout at the polls in hopes of seeing an overwhelming vote for Milosevic's opponent Vojislav Kostunica, are only too aware of how counterproductive it would be with Serbs to interfere blatantly in their political process at such a delicate stage." You bet they are aware of how counterproductive their behavior is, yet no one has taped Robin Cook's mouth shut. Perhaps we can get some British tax protesters to blockade him, so he can't get anywhere near a microphone. Meanwhile, Bill Cohen is grandstanding, while an armada is on its way to the Adriatic could Slobo himself have thought of a better way to keep his cult a going concern?
Who benefits from the squeezing of Kostunica between two combatants ready for war? Milosevic, for one: he gets to declare martial law in the name of a national emergency, cancel the elections, arrest his political opponents, and complete Yugoslavia's transition to neo-communism, in which Serbia would become the equivalent of North Korea (before the thaw with Seoul). The NATO-crats would also benefit: they would have their villain back, in full form, and, what's more, they would have the pretext they've been looking for to complete the conquest of the Balkans. This tragic outcome will be hard to avoid if the Opposition provokes a violent confrontation with the authorities. Nobody believes that Yugoslavia measures up to even the less exacting standards of what is "democratic," and to pretend otherwise is indulging in wishful thinking when the occasion calls for hardheaded realism. Demonstrations in the streets by university students out on a lark can accomplish nothing but provocations: the real break in the regime will come when the Opposition wins over key elements of the Army and the national security apparatus a possibility that could be only a matter of weeks. . . .
In answer to questions as to what means of protest he will lead against Milosevic's electoral fakery, Kostunica replied: "We will defend our victory by peaceful means ... we will protest for as long as it takes,'' he said. "If I had the patience to struggle for years against communism ... I certainly won't become impatient now.'' I hope and pray not. For impatience, at this crucial juncture, would be fatal, not only to his own cause, the struggle for Serbian dignity and independence, but to the cause of those in the West who oppose US intervention in the Balkans and around the world.
As we prepare this edition of Antiwar.com, the news that Kostunica has reacted "angrily" to the prospect of a second round, and rejected it out of hand, is puzzling. What, exactly, does this mean will he have his name taken off the ballot? Will he urge his followers to boycott an election that he is sure to win? Surely this would be the ultimate absurdity. Yet, in Serbia, things are not always what they seem: in any case, the election commission has yet to make its final pronouncement. Whatever the significance of Kostunica's initial reaction, it does not portend well for the future, for it is hard to imagine what road the Opposition can take other than to press on to victory on October 8th. The alternative is unthinkable.
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