Tony Borden on Fri, 21 May 1999 21:57:33 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> IWPR's Balkan Crisis Report, No. 36, 21 May 1999

     [orig not to nettime]


TOWARDS A GLORIOUS DEFEAT. Belgrade is putting out signals that it is
open to a settlement. The key question is how it will carry along
its own public opinion--and crush dissent afterwards.

NATIONAL UNITY, UTTER EXHAUSTION. Serbia is destroyed and its people are
on the edge. By day Belgrade retains a semblance of normalcy. But at dusk
the air-raid sirens wail, and reality sets in. A senior Belgrade columnist

IWPR's network of leading correspondents in the region provide inside
analysis of the events and issues driving crises in the Balkans. The
reports are available on the Web in English, Serbian and Albanian;
English-language reports are also available via e-mail. For syndication
information, contact Anthony Borden <>.

The project is supported by the European Commission, Swedish International
Development and Cooperation Agency, MacArthur Foundation, Press Now and the
Carnegie Corporation. IWPR also acknowledges general support from the Ford

For further details on this project and other information services and
media programmes, visit IWPR's Website: <>.

Editor: Anthony Borden. Assistant Editing: Christopher Bennett, Alan Davis.
Internet Editor: Rohan Jayasekera. Translation by Alban Mitrushi.

"Balkan Crisis Report" is produced under IWPR's Balkan Crisis Information
Project. The project seeks to contribute to regional and international
understanding of the regional crisis and prospects for resolution.

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) is a London-based
independent non-profit organisation supporting regional media and
democratic change.

Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH, United Kingdom
Tel: (44 171) 713 7130; Fax: (44 171) 713 7140;

The opinions expressed in "Balkan Crisis Report" are those of the authors
and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.

Copyright (C) 1999 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting <>.



Belgrade is putting out signals that it is open to a settlement. The key
question is how it will carry along its own public opinion--and crush
dissent afterwards.

By an IWPR correspondent in Belgrade

The Yugoslav public is being groomed to begin celebrating a glorious

With the country devastated from more than eight weeks of NATO bombing,
and dissent growing in the Serbian heartland, Belgrade has decided
that it must find a way to bring the campaign to a halt, sources
close to the regime say.

Although willing in principle to accept all NATO's demands, it wants
a face-saving formula and a free hand outside Kosovo in the rest of
the Yugoslav federation.

To prepare the ground for an agreement, Yugoslav military and police
have already been tasked with spreading the word among the people that
Yugoslavia will soon be victorious in the "unjust struggle against NATO,"
sources say.

With opposition parties and independent media muzzled, and information
about the real extent of the damage inflicted by the air strikes is
unavailable, analysts here believe that public opinion can be made to
swing rapidly behind any agreement Belgrade signs up to.

The biggest challenge is from the street protests that began this week
in the southern Serbian towns of Krusevac, Aleksandrovac and elsewhere.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 soldiers appear to have tried to escape military
service in Kosovo. In areas where many men have been mobilised, friends
and family are venting their frustration at the war in isolated but
significant outbreaks of dissent.

The returning soldiers, young, exhausted and frightened, say they are not
willing to die for Kosovo when they believe Serbia is likely to give it up
anyway. They report that, at moments, command and communications within
the province have become chaotic, leaving them dangerously vulnerable
to NATO attacks.

Yet military authorities have taken steps to address the soldiers'
concerns, while also making clear that most of the troops are staying
in Kosovo. Meantime, in what could be a harbinger of things to come,
Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj has accused the dissenters
of being traitors instigated by NATO.

Indeed, many fear that the regime will use an end to hostilities to
ratchet up domestic oppression across the rest of the country.

According to the political rumour mill, which is now in overdrive,
it appears likely that Belgrade intends to maintain the state of war
many months after air strikes have ended in order to shore up its
ever-diminishing power base in the unruly second republic of Montenegro,
in the province of Vojvodina and in Serbia proper.

In the event of a peace agreement which leaves Milosevic in power, Serbia
is unlikely to benefit from international aid for post-war reconstruction.
As a result, an already destitute population will become increasingly

Among the more pessimistic prognoses for the country's future are fears
that lists have already been drawn up of individuals earmarked for
liquidation. In addition to political opponents, these lists are said
to include people who have failed to show sufficiently loyalty by,
for example, failing to respond to the draft, boycotting the elections,
leaving the country, or even working for foreign companies and media.

The difficulty for Belgrade is not to give the impression to its own
public that it is caving in to NATO's demands, but to be seen to be
reaching a mutually acceptable agreement.

The magic word which state-controlled media have begun to use is
"compromise". Belgrade has said that it is willing to reach an agreement
based on the statement a few weeks ago by the G8 economic powers, which
was effectively a restatement of NATO's five tough demands for an end
to the bombing campaign, but with some room to manoeuvre.

Belgrade will only settle if it can portray a deal as a mutually
acceptable agreement between the alliance and the Yugoslav authorities.
For Belgrade, the key area for fudge is in replacing the demand for
a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo with a UN-led force, including a
strong Russian contingent--a shift which the G8 statement seems to allow.

"The credibility of both sides would thus be preserved, but also the door
would be open for a solution to everybody's satisfaction", says a senior
Serbian official who wished not to be named.

He also claims that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is willing to
co-operate on condition that the West drop its rhetoric about war crimes.
Yugoslav emissaries have been trying to inject this point into the
diplomatic talks via their Russian interlocutors.

In fact, Belgrade appears more concerned by events in Montenegro than
by the NATO air campaign.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic is increasingly pursuing an
independent foreign policy and has been invited to participate in a
German-sponsored conference of Balkan states scheduled for late May,
from which Serbia has been excluded. He even paid a surprise visit
to Bonn last week to meet up with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
with Zoran Djindjic, leader of the opposition Democratic Party and
former mayor of Belgrade, in the Montenegrin delegation.

Djindjic has now spent more than a month in Montenegro, where it is
believed he is attempting to build and co-ordinate a new opposition block
with a view to the post-war settlement.

Regardless of their many differences and personal rivalries, Serbia's
opposition political parties recognise the inevitability of an armed
international presence in Kosovo, but wish to find a formula by which
Kosovo remains part of Serbia. They also seek a settlement which protects
them and others with alternative points of view from reprisals.

Opposition parties are acutely aware of the toll that the NATO air strikes
have taken on efforts to democratise Serbian society during the past
decade. As much as they wish to see a halt to the bombing campaign, they
fear that an agreement on Milosevic's terms will simply herald another

The author is an independent journalist in Belgrade and a correspondent
for IWPR, whose name has been withheld.


Serbia is destroyed and its people are on the edge. By day Belgrade
retains a semblance of normalcy. But at dusk the air-raid sirens wail,
and reality sets in.

By a senior columnist in Belgrade

Suddenly the story is of discontent, with rallies in several cities in
Serbia and increasing strains with Montenegro. But the reality is that
people in Yugoslavia have been unhappy for a long time.

After only two months of bombing, memories of what used to be called
"normal life" have long faded. People are edgy and tense, and no one is
an optimist. There is fear, the sharp mannerisms of the sleepless, the
struggle against depression, a daily fight for survival. After more than
200 air raid sirens, even those with the strongest nerves in Serbia are

By day, Belgrade still looks like a metropolis at peace. Traffic, though
greatly reduced, continues to flow somehow (car owners are entitled to
20 litres of petrol a month). Cafes are full of people. Shops are well
supplied with domestic and foreign goods, though store owners report that
the sale of goods from NATO countries has fallen sharply. Even the cinemas
are open, from ten in the morning to six in the evening.

Then, with dusk, reality sets in: emptiness, darkness and fear. There are
no lights in the streets, restaurants and cafes are closed, buses pass
only once an hour. And people withdraw to their homes, waiting for the
air-raid siren, usually around 9:10 PM.

In an instant, it is clear once again that Serbia is at war. The bombing
starts, terrible tectonic explosions shake buildings and windows, thick
black smoke billows from various parts of the city, fires and reflections
light the horizon. The advance clips for George Lucas's latest Star Wars
feature film seem like nothing compared with the battles raging in the sky
over Belgrade every evening: anti-aircraft tracers streak overhead, the
sound of missiles rips through the night, and deafening explosions shatter
any temporary, unreal night peace. Indeed, when it comes, many hours after
midnight and enveloped in total darkness, silence itself seems ominous.

And in bleary-eyed morning, the reminders are everywhere:  Kneza Milosa
street, once one of the most beautiful streets in Belgrade and home
to the US, Canadian, German, Polish, Romanian and Croatian embassies,
looks like Dresden in 1944. The torn and crumbled buildings of the
chiefs-of-staff, the Serbian and federal Ministries of Interior, the
government of Serbia--all piles of concrete and steel, like Cubist motifs
of an early Picasso. The scene is similar in other parts of the city too:
the Dragisa Misovic hospital destroyed, petrol reservoirs burnt, petrol
stations hit, several civilian quarters razed, most army barracks simply
gone. Bricks, shattered glass, ruined apartment blocks, curtains waving
in the wind--it is a broad tableau of the proportions of destruction,
and beyond reconstruction.

The truth is that all aspects of life have been effected. Primary and
secondary schools have been closed since the first day of the bombing, and
like a frozen clock, students will finish with the grades they had marked
up on March 24. Some of the university faculties are working; some are
completely closed. The Education Ministry has promised that there will be
no entrance exams for university students and secondary school pupils:
all those who wish to may enroll--once the war is over.

Students from outside the capital cannot attend class, because most of
the bridges and many of the roads have been destroyed or badly damaged.
Trips that used to take two hours now follow intricate detours and
may last 10 hours. From Belgrade, it is nearly impossible to get to
Montenegro, and much easier to telephone Boston than Pristina.

The overriding feeling is one of uselessness. It is almost impossible
to work, much less get paid for it. According to official figures,
more than half a million people have had to stop working--unofficially,
the number may be twice as high. But few people actually go to a job. The
"economy" effectively no longer exists. People are without money, and a
monthly salary of 50 German Marks seems a dream. Pensions are being paid
with a four month delay, and many people get by bartering goods, such as
cooking oil, rice, sugar, bananas and macaroni--all valued items in short
supply. The price of cigarettes has doubled: a carton that used to sell
for 10 German Marks before the war is now being offered for 20.

With little to do, anxieties fester. NATO attacks on civilian targets
have caused many people to spend every night in air-raid shelters.
No one has any idea what will happen when all of this is over. Meantime,
the regime propaganda remains as fierce as ever--referring to NATO as
drugged-out, canine, murderous criminals, fascists and Nazis. The aim
is to maintain the illusion that for Kosovo it is worth sacrificing
everything: the factories, the bridges, the roads, the people. Such
feelings of paranoia leave people immune to news of peace initiatives
and other proposals--nothing seems possible anymore.

This suicidal policy has failed to generate a popular backlash, because
there is no chance for one. The few oases of freedom and pluralism--
Radio B-92, the Soros Foundation, a handful of magazines and other
publications--disappeared with NATO's first bombs. Whatever is
published now is subject to heavy daily censorship. There is no reporting
on events within Kosovo. Our news simply repeats over and over again
that we are winning a moral victory, that NATO is defeated, that we
refuse to accept foreign troops, and that Kosovo will forever stay
in Serbia. "The media are on the patriotic course," Vojislav Seselj,
Serbia's deputy prime minister, boasts.

Most opposition parties have fallen into line behind the regime, or been
silenced. War laws have been passed revoking the right to a fair trial
and allowing discretionary detentions, the seizing of apartments and
other property, even the reading of private mail.

Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party, has been attacked by the
regime media as a "traitor". "Spontaneous" demonstrations against him and
his colleagues have been staged in front of his party's headquarters in
Belgrade, and he has been directly threatened. Stories in the press have
predicted that he will end up on the "garbage dump of history"--a Serbian
euphemism for the morgue. No wonder Seselj can also proclaim: "For the
first time, we have national unity."

The regime propaganda is based on a very simple premise: whoever is
against Slobodan Milosevic is a supporter of NATO and the enemies of
Serbia. In this way, dissent becomes morally impossible: one is either
for or against. Again, Seselj has led the charge against the families
and young soldiers in Krusevac and other towns who have protested
over the continuation of the fighting in Kosovo.

As a result, even if some kind of deal over Kosovo is made, Milosevic
has achieved his main aim: unlimited power. So what if soldiers have been
deserting, that there are many casualties, and that NATO attacks in Kosovo
are unrelenting and taking a heavy toll. Radio Television Serbia keeps
telling us that we are defending the planet from the New World Order
and that Serbia is winning.

The author is a senior columnist and editor in Belgrade, whose name
has been withheld.


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