Much has been written in the last couple of days on the personality and historical role of the ex-Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. One is certain that Milosevic was a major, and extremely negative, player in the ex-Yugoslav wars.
Several interesting articles have been written in this regard, most interesting in the Economist and the regional press. These article present the readers with a less superficial view in regard to the political and historical role of Milosevic. Namely, they do much more than to call him ‘The Butcher from the Balkans’, the ‘last’ Serbian dictator (lets hope so that he is the ‘last’, I am generally sceptical and scared of these ‘End of History’ type conclusions).
Milosevic’s funeral is over, and as much as the mobilization of his supporters might have seem important, this event is not likely to have a significant impact on the Serbian politics. More than anything else it served to bring the divisions among the current Serbian political elite out on the open and to expose the nature of the Serbian government and politics in general to the International audience.
Certainly, offering inadequate medical treatment to Milosevic will certainly not help increase the legitimacy of International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. ICTY was already extremely unpopular among the Serbian population and the parts of the political elite, and just when it seemed that the Serbian government will continue the positive trend of collaboration with this tribunal started in 2004 and finally conclude on the case of the indicted General of the Army of the Republic of Srpska Ratko Mladic it now seems that there will be more complications on this field.
What was Slobodan Milosevic’s role in the years that followed the break-up of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia?
The Economist justifiably asks, “Given that he was such a dark, malign personality, why did so many people, in Serbia and further afield, tolerate him for so many years?” The Economist answers that Milosevic had many ‘supporters’ apart from the Serbs, for one the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and the Kosovar Albanian political leadership.
Concerning the Croatian President the Economist argues, “once they had stopped fighting one another (and reinforcing each other’s nationalist fury), the Serb and Croat leaders colluded to carve up Bosnia.”
As far as the Kosovar Albanian political leadership the Economist argues, “…some Kosovar leaders openly said they preferred to have Mr Milosevic in Belgrade rather than any other softer Serb politician: the tyrant’s ugliness lent weight to their cause. Indeed, the Kosovars could have voted him out by ending, just for a day, their boycott of Serb politics, but they left him be.”
The article also blames the International Community for strategically using Milosevic as a ‘problem solver’ in the region. The article does well to state that not only that policy of using dictators (Sadam Hussein and Milosevic) in such a way, is morally wrong but has serious strategic deficiencies in the long run, “In a diabolical world, you may have to sup with devils some of the time. But don’t sit too long at the table, or offer too many tasty dishes – especially if you expect to fight them one day.”
There were indeed so many missed opportunities to help bring down his regime by the International Community: large anti-regime demonstrations in Belgrade 9th March 1991 (tanks and blood on the streets of Belgrade), 1996-1997, more than hundred days long opposition and students demonstrations against Milosevic’s electoral fraud, how many avoidable wars; how many missed opportunities?
Furthermore, in the Economist, 18th March 2006 obituary, the conclusion perfectly describes the nature and the driving force behind Milosevic’s politics, “His true objective, to remain in power, was achieved to the expense of his enemies and of those he said he championed. Every war he fought left the Serbs worse off – impoverished, shorn of territory, excluded from international society and smouldering among rekindled enmities. Yugoslavia had no right to expect a Nelson Mandela in 1989. But all it needed was a leader with decent instincts and abilities. Instead it got a monster.”
William Montgomery, Ex-US ambassador to Zagreb and Belgrade, a man with great experience and knowledge in the region, in an article he wrote for the Serbian daily ‘Danas’ (18-19 March 2006) puts it in a more poetic way, “What Yugoslavia desperately needed at the end of 1980s and beginning of 1990s was a moderate leader, greater than life, like Mikhail Gorbachev or Nelson Mandela. In their countries there was also a potential for widespread violence in the time of transition and instability…The biggest damage Milosevic inflicted to the Serbian people is that he used their legitimate interests and fears for his own political benefit…” Another Serbian political analyst, in the daily ‘Politika’ advances an interesting argument, “Milosevic did something new for the Serbian national memory: he made us used to defeats. To perpetual defeats, that he always, and very convincingly, elaborated through victorious rhetoric.”
Serbs had the theoretical right to ask for territorial autonomy in Croatia and Bosnia. The memory of second world war genocide was still very much alive to assure peacefull life in the centralized Croatian state. A moderate politician in Serbia could use the situation to his favour. Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia could embark on a political alley of peaceful resistance and even if the nationalistic Croatian President Franjo Tudjman reacted in a violent manner, it was likely that the international community would react to stop the violence. The outcome would have been that the Croatian government would have to reckon with the fact that there is a significant number of Serbs living in Croatia and that they want territorial autonomy of some sort and the Constitutional recognition of the minoriy status.
Instead what Milosevic did was he facilitated conflict. One can justifiably argue that without Tudjman and to an extent Izetbegovic in Bosnia, Milosevic would not ‘exist’. However, one could also claim that, without Milosevic, or a leader of a similar psychological stature, there would have been no wars.
Possibly Milosevic did a something to help the maturity of the Serbian people. For the first time in their modern history, Serbs can hardly convince themselves (although many still try hard), that they are the victims (although irresponsible conduct of the bureaucratic machinery of the ICTY helps this victimization). If not completely, then at least one can argue that Serbs are one the way towards political maturity of the nation where victimization increasingly losses the propensity of playing the role of an efficient political mobilizator. The only positive outcome of Milosevic’s rule is that the Serbs are on the way out from the greatest curse of all times, the aura of a victim nation. Nations have to learn that there are no victim-nations but just individual victims or a collection of individual victims. The painful historical experience such as the Holocaust, the Croatian genocide against the Serbs, Jews and Roma during the Second World War, the Serbian Srebrenica massacre, if not managed carefully by the political elites of a country, will certainly facilitate that the victim-nation commits crimes in the future.