July 12, 2001

Kostunica’s Choice

"We cannot all be masters, Nor all masters cannot truly be follow’d."

~ Shakespeare, Othello, 1.1

It has been two weeks since Zoran Djindjic officially overthrew the federal government in Belgrade, and plunged the fragile union of Serbia and Montenegro into near-anarchy. Djukanovic's separatist regime in Montenegro has been boycotting the federal government to begin with, and only their poor showing in the April elections had given the federation a reprieve. Montenegro's government has now restarted the efforts to organize a referendum on secession.

President Kostunica reacted to the June 28 abduction of Slobodan Milosevic with harsh words, but little action. The ensuing political vacuum has been rapidly filled by pro-Djindjic politicians, academics and media. To hear the Belgrade press tell it, Kostunica’s inaction is proof that Djindjic’s action was fully justified; that principles and law ought to take the back seat to money and the good graces of the International Community. In the Western media, this is a foregone conclusion. No one even mentions Kostunica any more, as Djindjic and his allies fill the press with chest-thumping defiance to the man on whose coattails they rode to power.

With Djukanovic’s Montenegro on American life-support for years, and Djindjic kept in power by Kostunica’s inaction and American blood money, it is but a matter of time before the now empty shell of Yugoslavia will pass away. Djindjic and Djukanovic will then become rulers of the ruins – always beholden to powers that made them, of course.

A malaise of servitude thus takes hold over the last portion of the Balkans yet unconquered. Only tiny Macedonia still holds out, though given the amount of Imperial pressure on its indecisive leadership, that resistance may soon become a memory as well. The people, driven to the brink of insanity by wars, sanctions and mass migrations, are too busy scraping up the bare necessities to raise their voices. When they do, it is to cry out for leaders who would bring deliverance from misery. As always, they should be careful what they wish for.


There is little doubt that the once widely despised Zoran Djindjic is now firmly in charge of Serbia. The entire ruling coalition in Serbia sided with his decision to suspend the federal Constitution and turn Milosevic over to the Hague Inquisition. Only two parties have refused to play along – Kostunica’s DSS and Velimir Ilic’s Nova Srbija. Ilic, the mayor of central Serbian city of Cacak, is staunchly pro-Kostunica and played a major part in last October’s revolt. Yet neither party has officially left the coalition. They have merely formed separate voting blocs in the Parliament.

Collapse of the federal government also gave impetus to Djindjic’s associates in G17, a group of neo-liberal economists determined to drag Serbia into the orbit of statist capitalism (not to be confused with free-market capitalism). One of their leaders, former federal Treasury head Miroljub Labus, is now busily mocking federal institutions in the media.

Djindjic’s appetite for power is growing. Last weekend, he met with Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, vowing to restore the royal family’s property expropriated by the Communists in 1945. The meeting, of course, was much less about property rights and much more of an opportunity for the Prince to endorse Djindjic, saying he did "good things for the people of Serbia." Though he is an unprincipled Marxist, Djindjic understands well the propaganda value of royalty.

Another proposal by Djindjic, which sounds very reasonable on the surface, is that the question of Serb-Montenegrin relations should be resolved by the end of 2001, and "not a day later." Yet Montenegro president Djukanovic – a friend of Djindjics, coincidentally – is planning a referendum in early 2002. If Djindjic is true to his word, by then a referendum will not be necessary.

Yet the six-month deadline could mean more than meets the eye. Interviewed by Serbia’s top news magazine, Djindjic said last Thursday that he "needed" Kostunica, for without him, Serbia would be divided into two opposing, irreconcilable factions – "like it is in Montenegro." This amounts to surprising candor, since the general agreement is that Montenegro has not seceded only because its government is deadlocked, lacking a clear mandate. Djindjic can do whatever he desires and use Kostunica’s popularity as a shield, counting on the fact that Kostunica either does not wish to, or is not capable of, stopping him.


President Kostunica, meanwhile, seems perfectly aware that Djindjic’s actions in L’Affair Milosevic have shaken the very foundation of the country. Apart from several strongly worded statements, however, he has done nothing to prevent the country’s slide into anarchy. Even his own party is worried about Djindjic’s apparent triumph.

This lack of action on Kostunica’s part is alternately deplorable and frustrating. Even his enemies know that Kostunica stands for things they vehemently oppose – freedom, patriotism, integrity and principle. (For example, Serbia’s premier quisling, Sonja Biserko, called Kostunica a "fascist" in September of last year, only a few short months after her organization praised Djindjic as Serbia’s only possible savior.) But how can Kostunica build a state based on his ideas, when he allows Djindjic to run rampant doing the exact opposite of what Kostunica advocates?

Kostunica’s track record in handling Djindjic is about as successful as Othello’s handling of Iago. As early as last November, before Djindjic became Prime Minister by using Kostunica’s name to get elected, Kostunica’s advisor Aleksandar Tijanic claimed Djindjic was nothing but trouble. Since then, Djindjic has traveled around the world making "business deals," encroaching on the power of the federal government through tax codes and strangling the prospects of a free market through government monopolies. In March, he flouted the law by "arresting" Milosevic, again without suffering any consequences. And all that was just the prelude to June 28, 2001.

What is an observer forced to conclude, based on these facts? Either that Kostunica is a lousy judge of character when it comes to Djindjic, or that he is afraid that actions against Djindjic would precipitate civil war and foreign intervention, or that he knows something the rest of us do not.


Indeed, the power struggle in Belgrade is taking place in an extremely charged atmosphere. NATO still occupies Kosovo. Macedonia is under tremendous pressure to surrender to Albanian demands and allow partial NATO occupation itself. The newest imperial weapon against Macedonia is a campaign of vicious attacks on the country's leaders – a weapon once used exclusively against Slobodan Milosevic.

Kostunica knows how much the Empire’s verbal support – whether of Macedonia’s integrity or his presidency – is really worth. He could not have missed the fact that Sonja Biserko is now a Senior Fellow for the government-sponsored "U.S. Institute of Peace" in Washington DC.

If all that were not enough, the Hague Inquisition’s process against Milosevic, who has been assigned the role of avatar for the entire Serbian nation, is the darkest shadow over Belgrade yet.


A well-organized campaign for Slobodamnation of Serbs is already taking place. Spearheaded by blatantly false reports, the Western media are eager to exploit the "Milosevic myth." Such fictitious renditions of recent Balkans history, casting Milosevic "as a supposedly brutal Serbian nationalist-conqueror," says a commentary in Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti this Wednesday, "is the ideal justification for the new militant interventionism, motivated by the need of Western capital to move freely across national borders. The Milosevic Myth, thus embellished and richly illustrated, is also important because it embodies all the racist stereotypes of Balkans denizens as retarded untermenschen, incapable of living in peace without foreign intervention and permanent outside tutelage." (Misha Djurkovic, Slobo Myth A Creation of Western Media, July 11, 2001.)

Milosevic is thus tasked with defending not only himself but his entire people, in a "court" whose reason for existence guarantees he will never get a fair trial. The only "rule" the court recognizes is "we win, you lose." Just this week, they toppled a loyal vassal government in Croatia, seizing two Croat generals simply to undermine Milosevic’s criticism. No wonder he is refusing to play. And he is right.


It may seem absurd, ironic and almost surreal that Milosevic is now exhibiting more leadership than Kostunica. Faced with impossible odds, completely at the mercy of his tormentors, Milosevic is standing tall and scoffing right in their faces. Kostunica hesitates, even though he has both the power and the obligation to stop Djindjic’s tyrannical rampage.

It all comes down to a simple equation. Serbia is too small to have two masters, too weak right now to be run by two opposing ideologies. Which one will prevail will be decided by a contest of deeds, not words. People will follow those who are willing and able to lead. They rally behind the most assertive, most vocal idea, not necessarily the best. If the current trend continues, the battle for Serbs’ hearts and minds will be won by Djindjic’s neo-liberal statism, not Kostunica’s libertarian market nationalism.

Those who do not stand on principles, stand not at all. Rather, they kneel like slaves in the mud of self-abasement, cowering before arbitrary power.

Kostunica is running out of one thing he never had in abundance: time. Every day, Djindjic and his cohorts seize more power. If something is not done immediately to establish and maintain a constitutional order in Serbia and Yugoslavia, a month from now it might be too late to try. Kostunica’s choice will determine his people’s future. By voting for him last year, and taking to the streets afterwards, the people of Serbia entrusted Kostunica with that heavy burden of responsibility.

It is time he justified that trust.

Text-only printable version of this article

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo, and had contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specialized in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, which were published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Thursday.


Past Articles

Kostunica’s Choice

Betrayal in Belgrade

The Empire Shows Its Hand

The Return of Kings

Meditations On The Edge Of The Abyss


Terms of Betrayal

Presevo – A False Victory

The Balkans: Land of Delusions

Enemies at the Gates

ICG’s Blueprint for Destruction

Kosovo: Between Death and Taxes

Madness in the Mountains: Montenegro's Looming Secession

A House Divided


Empire at the Gates

Macedonian Maelstrom

Pax Americana

The Fourth Balkan War

Mayhem in Macedonia

Surreal Realm

Santayana’s Curse

The Croatian Conundrum

March of the Black Eagle

Showdown in Belgrade

Out of the Shadows

With a Grain of Salt

Crusade's End

The Worst of Times

Moments of Transition

Déja Vu

The Crucible

Bandits on the Border

It's the Spelling, Stupid

Zoran Djindjic: Serbia's Richard III

Wheels of Injustice

The Tragedy of Bosnia

The Suspended Castle

Hand Of The Empire: Decision in Kosovo

Introduction: The Balkans Babylon

ITN: Case Closed

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