leaders face off in a hotly contested election race, one which
will determine the fate of their nation. One is a leftist
liberal, entrenched in power, relying on a police apparatus
and propaganda; the other a conservative, enjoying an advantage
in funding and promising to restore dignity to office of the
president. There is a vote. But the results are contested,
ballots are miscounted, and the Supreme Court intervenes to
resolve the election. United States, December 2000? Try Yugoslavia,
Milosevic’s government claimed the election was too close
to call. The opposition protested, claiming outright victory.
While Vojislav Kostunica was offering a recount ("Goodwill
gesture" from Yugoslav opposition could end impasse,
AFP, 29. September 2000), Milosevic was insisting on holding
a runoff election. When Zoran Djindjic and his cohorts running
Kostunica’s campaign refused to consider such an option, the
Yugoslav constitutional court (US Supreme Court’s counterpart)
annulled the election results (see NY Times, "Belgrade
Court Annuls Vote That Was Milosevic Setback" by Steven
Erlanger, 10/5/2000). This provoked a demonstration in front
of the parliament that led to the overthrow of Milosevic and
the inauguration of Kostunica as Yugoslav president.
the face of it, the similarities are eerie. Knowing that the
United States was deeply involved in this chain of events,
they become downright sinister.
week before the elections in Yugoslavia, a NATO naval expeditionary
force was moored off the Yugoslav coast; the US-funded Montenegrin
regime boycotted the election; and Madeleine Albright asserted
that the vote would be "stolen" weeks before any
ballots were actually cast. Then the Washington Post
ran a front-page story detailing the "$77 million U.S.
effort to do with ballots what NATO bombs could not
get rid of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic" [US
Funds Help Milosevic’s Foes in Election Fight, John Lancaster,
9/19/2000, A01] .
promptly denounced the US for meddling, but his convincing
lead quickly melted away. As Milosevic thundered against "traitors
and foreign mercenaries," the Post just about
admitted his allegations were true!
days later, Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times:
"Even if, as almost everyone expects, Mr. Milosevic simply
declares himself the victor, Washington is hoping that angry
voters will take to the streets in a way that eventually drives
him from office, much as Ferdinand E. Marcos was ousted in
the Philippines in 1986." (US Anti-Milosevic Plan
Faces Major Test at Polls, September 23). When the masses
did exactly that on October 5, everyone seemed surprised.
Soon thereafter, Kostunica’s coalition partners began boasting
how they had planned a violent overthrow of Milosevic. Was
it just them?
according to the Washington Post. This Monday, amidst
the US electoral controversy, the Post published another
report, detailing how the United States planned, funded
and ran the campaign against Milosevic this past fall.
Dobbs, author of the article, claims that Americans and US-paid
consultants crafted the strategy to vote Milosevic out of
office; that retired military officers taught Otpor activists
how to organize demonstrations; that US taxpayers funded 5,000
cans of spray paint used to scrawl opposition graffiti across
Serbia; that President Clinton’s own pollsters – Penn, Schoen
& Berland Associates, Inc. – were involved in crafting
pro-opposition polls before the election.
is startling and sickening to read how the US operatives exploited
Milosevic’s greatest weakness – his soft spot for the democratic
process. Says the Post,
Yugoslavia been a totalitarian state like Iraq or North
Korea, the strategy would have stood little chance. But
while Milosevic ran a repressive police state, he was never
a dictator in the style of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
His authority depended on a veil of popular legitimacy.
It was this constitutional facade that gave Serbian opposition
leaders, and their Western backers, an all-important opening."
greatest weakness was that he was not ruthless enough? Such
a supreme irony, indeed, especially when coming from the same
media house that has denounced Milosevic as another Hitler
and gleefully published editorials advocating the complete
destruction of Serbia during the 1999 war.
NEW KIND OF COVERT OP
September 19 article described US meddling in Yugoslav elections
as "similar to previous campaigns in pre-democratic Chile,
South Africa and Eastern Europe." But Dobbs dwells on
"extraordinary US effort to unseat a foreign head of
state, not through covert action of the kind the CIA once
employed in such places as Iran and Guatemala, but by modern
election campaign techniques."
of the countries and regions described above have profited
from US involvement. Quite to the contrary, it had profoundly
negative consequences. Guatemala plunged into a 20-year, bloody
civil war. In Iran, oppression of the people by the American-dominated
regime spawned the Islamic revolution. South Africa and Eastern
Europe have seen their state institutions disintegrate, and
have plunged into abject poverty. In Chile, US-backed dictatorship
of Augusto Pinochet was responsible for numerous crimes against
on this record, extensive American involvement in Yugoslav
and Serbian elections ought to cause every freedom-loving
human being to cringe with disgust. By definition, it flies
in the face of everything that has ever been said about democracy,
responsibility, freedom of choice and international law –
to mention just a few major points.
US government may argue that its meddling helped the Serbs.
The jury is still out on whether Kostunica’s presidency has
made things better, though. International recognition is hardly
a compensation for famine, economic collapse and fuel shortages
that have descended on Serbia after Milosevic’s fall. Kostunica’s
election may yet prove to be a beneficial development for
the Serbs, plagued as they have been by ill fortune throughout
the 20th century. But that would come in
spite of Washington’s plots, not because of them.