Balkans: September 29, 2000

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Did Milosevic cheat in the election? Of course he did. Voluminous reports suggest that Serb opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica won the Yugoslav presidency outright in the September 24 elections. The Serbian Orthodox Church seems to think so. On September 28, the Serbian Orthodox Church declared Vojislav Kostunica the "elected president" of Yugoslavia. One of Milosevic's key allies, Vojislav Seselj (of the Serbian Radical Party) also endorsed Kostunica. On September 28 Montenegro's Prime Minister Filip Vunanovic said that the Montenegrin government "recognized" Kostunica as the victor in the Yugoslav presidential election. This means Milosevic's political coalition is ruptured and absolutely key Yugoslav cultural and political entities openly reject Milosevic. Who is Kostunica? His big plus is that he is not Milosevic and as far as we can tell he has no ties to Milosevic's corrupt regime. Kostunica is, however, no Western democrat's "dream candidate." He's a self-described Serb nationalist. This means, when translated from Balkanite lingo, that Kostunica is an ultra-ultra-nationalist by anyone else's standard. He opposes UN and EU economic and political sanctions against Serbia. He was very opposed to the 1999 NATO Kosovo War and NATO air attacks on Serbia. He opposes UN war crimes investigations and trials involving Yugoslavia and its "wars of devolution" (ie, the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY.) He has opposed indicting Milosevic for war crimes. The potential actions, reactions -or inaction- of the Serb Army remain the big question in the election's aftermath. Remember, Milosevic, has used the army to attack his Serb opposition. In March 1991, when confronted by large opposition demonstrations in Belgrade, Milosevic used army motorized infantry and tanks to supplement paramilitary police units to break up the rallies. Yugoslav Army General Nebojsa Pavkovic issued a statement to the effect that the Yugoslav Army would never move against its citizens. One part of the quote was interesting, though, where Pavkovic said Milosevic "would never order the army to intervene against the people." But would a "loyal" army commander make that move after a wink from Milosevic? Over the last decade Milosevic has purged around 80 senior military officers. As a result, the existing senior officer cadre is closely tied to his regime. Pavkovic (like other key Serb commanders) has given his personal loyalty to Milosevic. But will the Serb Army continue to support Milosevic when the EU, NATO, and the UN offer Yugoslavia economic plums and political promises if Milosevic leaves? Will field-grade and company-grade Serb officers resist when ordered to attack the Serb people en masse? Former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff Gen. Momcilo Perisic told western journalists that Milosevic might try to use the military power against the Serb people, but in the end that gambit would fail. Perisic (you'll also see his name spelled Persic) is the same general who told General Wesley Clark when Clark was NATO's SACEUR, that the West should pursue a strategy of "splitting the Yugoslav Army" away from Milosevic. Perisic told Clark that war by NATO against Serbia would be a mistake because waging war would at least temporarily align the entire army with Milosevic as the military acted to protect the Serb state. Perisic contended that the Serb Army was the one key institution in Serbia that Milosevic did not completely control. (Perisic was purged by Milosevic in late 1998.) At that time Perisic argued that the Serb Army was a reservoir of genuine Serbian nationalism and that a majority of Serb officers knew Milosevic was not good for Serbia. He said this disenchantment should be exploited. NATO waged war and the Serb Army defended Serbia. But in the wake of the presidential election, Perisic seems to be saying once again that Serb officers know Milosevic hurts Serbia and defending Milosevic's regime is not the same thing as defending Serbia. If Perisic is right, look for Milosevic's loyal senior officers to talk about rattling sabers but expect the Serb Army to keep a very low profile and remain in the barracks. An army in the barracks means an opposition strategy of nation-wide civil disobedience has a chance to work. The fact that Kostunica is regarded as a legitimate Serb nationalist will also gain him military support. As for the paramilitary police, who have been the real enforcers of Milosevic's rule? Milosevic's Interior Ministry has a 100,000-strong paramilitary police force. Under Milosevic, the "special" state police have received high salaries and new equipment. In some cases police units are better equipped than the army, particularly for operations against demonstrators and small-scale civil conflict. Some of the senior officers in the special police have also been accused black marketing and corruption. Would the Serb Army act to defend the Serb people against the paramilitary police? That's a script for a civil war. (Austin Bay)

 

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