Had it not been for the violence in the Middle East, last week's biggest news story would have been the end of Slobodan Milosevic's reign as president of Yugoslavia. Faced with strikes throughout the country and massive protests in the capital, Belgrade, Milosevic conceded defeat to opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica. Tens of thousands of Belgraders celebrated on Thursday by partying all night and drinking in the streets. How should Kostunica's victory be interpreted? And what does it portend for the future of Yugoslavia and the Balkans? Yugoslav and Western observers agree that the events of the last two weeks have been a major turning point, a victory for democracy. But even before the elections on September 24, it was clear that "democracy" -- and the political future of Yugoslavia -- were viewed very differently by policymakers in Washington and London than by the citizens of Novi Sad and Nis. To hear CNN or the major newspapers tell it, "the Serbs" -- rarely Yugoslavs -- correctly chose against the "Butcher of Belgrade," who for 13 years blinded them with nationalistic hate to maintain his iron-fisted rule. The new president, by contrast, is a Western-style "democrat" who promises to reform the economy by ending state subsidies, privatizing large sections of industry and implementing other IMF dictates -- exactly as happened 10 years ago in the rest of Eastern Europe. Freed from dictatorship, what remains of Yugoslavia is, at long last, ripe for the picking -- that is, investment and exploitation -- by Western multinationals, from Nike to Mercedes-Benz. In short, Yugoslavia has renounced its wayward politics and rejoined the rest of Europe. Its people will now be treated just like other Europeans and rewarded with the standard of living all Europeans enjoy. I doubt that most Yugoslavs share these illusions. To begin, they suspect that they will continue to be viewed as "inferior Balkan semi-Europeans" rather than full-fledged Europeans. They are sickened by the 10-year propaganda campaign against them in the Western press and doubt the sincerity of these generous pronouncements. From watching CNN and Britain's Sky News, they know how the U.S. and U.K. distorted their political system by pouring large sums of money into opposition groups. As The New York Times and Washington Post reported, the U.S., in the last three years, dished out $77 million to everyone from independent radio stations to student resistance groups. Many Yugoslavs, of course, know that the new road they have bravely chosen offers no guarantees for peace or prosperity. True, the European Union made good on its word and promptly lifted oil and airplane flight sanctions. But the last few days have also witnessed new conflicts with Washington. Immediately after Milosevic's resignation, the U.S. demanded that Kostunica hand over the ex-president to face "war crimes" charges in the Hague, which he refused to do. Now that the celebration is over, Kostunica faces tough questions. Will he accept Western "support" to oust or override the legally elected parliament, in which Milosevic's party won a majority? Will the U.S. and Germany finally recognize Yugoslavia as a sovereign country, instead of indulging in the absurdity of "Serbia and Montenegro?" Will the U.S. use Yugoslavia's non-Serbian regions, such as partly Hungarian Vojvodina or the largely Muslim Sandzak, as leverage against Belgrade? More importantly, what will happen in Montenegro itself, which NATO and the IMF have already converted into a Western protectorate? And what about the political fate of Kosovo? Reflecting on the likelihood of continued conflict between Yugoslavia and the West, I recall a conversation I had this summer in Belgrade with my friend Danijela. She predicted that the country would need only six months to recover once economic sanctions were removed. From what I saw, I had to agree. Yugoslavs are highly educated, and technical expertise is widespread. Young people speak foreign languages and watch more American movies and music videos -- and understand international politics better -- than most Westerners. What this means is that, should the U.S. and EU allow Yugoslavia equal economic footing with its neighbors, it will almost certainly re-emerge as a regional power. To prevent this, they will do everything they can to turn the country and its stubborn people into yet another military and economic colony. History is not over in the Balkans, folks. Milosevic's fall signals an end to a period of bloodshed and suffering. It remains to be seen whether Kostunica has what it takes to confront the uncertainty that lies ahead.Comments powered by Disqus
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