Diana Johnstone


was prepared a couple of weeks ago…

should have gone out sooner…my apologies…)


first round of voting to elect the next President of Yugoslavia Presidential is

to be held on September 24. If no candidate wins an absolute majority, there

will be a runoff two weeks later. Because of the boycott by Montenegro, this

will essentially be a Serbian election. There seems to be a real possibility

that the center right opposition candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, might defeat

Slobodan Milosevic. This election is being held under extremely difficult

conditions due to the aftermath of NATO bombing and ongoing interference by the

Western powers in Yugoslavia’s internal affairs.


United States is watching like a hawk, from a new office conspicuously set up in

nearby Budapest "to assist democratic forces in Serbia" and from

warships in the Adriatic, not to mention the spy network that is certainly in

place throughout the region. For months, the West has been encouraging

Montenegro’s pro-dollar and pro-Deutschmark (the term is

"pro-Western") president Milan Djukanovic to secede from Yugoslavia so

that NATO can settle in on Montenegro’s Adriatic coastline and complete the

strangulation of landlocked Serbia. The United States has ostentatiously thrown

millions of dollars at the Serbian "democratic opposition" — the word

"democratic" signifying above all willingness to take the proferred

dollars. Alongside these carrots for the "democratic opposition,"

there is the big stick of NATO intervention in the civil war that could be made

to break out in case the voters fail to get rid of Milosevic. The European Union

is also trying to interfere by promising economic aid to Serbia if, and only if,

Milosevic is defeated.


such massive foreign interference in a domestic election, charges that Milosevic

is going to cheat are almost laughable. Free and fair elections — in Serbia as

elsewhere — have never unduly impressed the United States government when

"the wrong" candidate won them.


short, the United States is blatantly giving this proud and stubborn little

Balkan nation the banana republic treatment. The mixture of support to armed

rebels (Contras in one case, "Kosovo Liberation Army" thugs in the

other) and hints of economic salvation aid recalls the measures used to defeat

the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Since the United States appears ready to stop at

nothing to get rid of Milosevic, some prominent American and European opponents

of NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia feel honor-bound to support Milosevic

and oppose Kostunica. It is certain that the defeat of Milosevic would be

heralded as a victory by NATO, and this cynical triumphalism on the part of the

very powers that have systematically destroyed the country would be hard to



propaganda has so long reduced the country to one man, Milosevic, pretending

that it was bombing "his" bridges, factories, power plants and so on,

that from the outside, this one man may look much bigger and more important than

he really is. With or without Milosevic as president, the people of Yugoslavia

will still be there and will not change over night.


any case, it makes little sense to fight out the Yugoslav election between

Western adversaries of NATO aggression. We have pathetically little influence

(not to say none at all) on elections in our own country, much less on elections

in Yugoslavia. We have to keep fighting lies and injustice with or without the

help of the victims. By resisting 78 days of NATO bombing and years of isolation

and sanctions, the Yugoslav people have already done as much as we can decently

expect of them. If they capitulate now, we can’t blame them. But there is no

reason to consider the election of Mr. Kostunica a capitulation. And this

becomes evident if we try to imagine what may happen after the election, if he

should manage to win.


of all, should Mr. Kostunica actually be elected President, his prestige at

home, with his own people, will be immense. Whereas a Milosevic victory would be

tainted by suspicion of vote rigging (because of control of the state

apparatus), a Kostunica victory would be above suspicion. He would not owe this

victory to anybody but himself and the voters. This is a factor worth taking

into account. Kostunica’s victory would be above parties — first of all,

because his own Democratic Party of Serbia is very small, and secondly, because

the other "bourgeois" (to use the apt Scandinavian term) opposition

parties supporting him don’t amount to much either. Having lost credibility at

home as they courted German media or Madeleine Albright, neither of the

opposition leaders familiar in the West, Zoran Djindjic or Vuk Draskovic, dared

run for president. In a spoiling action, Draskovic fielded his own candidate,

Belgrade mayor Vojislav Mihailovic, whose only asset is his politically mixed

heritage: his grandfather was the royalist anti-Nazi resistance leader General

Draza Mihailovic, executed by Tito after World War II, while his father belonged

to Tito’s Partisans. Nobody thinks he can win.


reality, all of Serbia’s political leaders have discredited themselves in this

past difficult decade — except Kostunica. Unlike the others, Kostunica is

considered patriotic, honest, and serious. In the past he was considered

"too intellectual," but that reproach seems to have been forgotten. He

is highly appreciated by the middle class Serbian diaspora. Having stayed out of

the endless infighting that discredited the opposition, Kostunica is like the

prince in the last act of a Shakespearean play who walks onto a stage littered

with corpses to announce a bright new future.


as President of Yugoslavia he would be faced with a sea of troubles, as he is

perfectly aware. The fate of Kosovo is a top concern, as well as international

sanctions, and foreign-backed secessionist movements in Montenegro, Voivodina,

and the Sanjak region of Serbia. As for economic policy, the fact that the

bourgeois opposition favors privatization is meaningless, inasmuch as everybody,

including Milosevic, has favored privatization for years. The real question is

how it would be done and what national assets could be saved from hostile

foreign takeover. This is impossible to predict. It should perhaps be noted that

although Kostunica represents "bourgeois" parties, the Serbian

bourgeoisie is a matter of professional people, essentially, without major

property interests comparable to those of the bourgeoisie in rich capitalist

countries. This being the case, the critical factor is their civic sense and

honesty: will they manage public affairs in the public interest, or rip off

whatever they can in the style of the Russian "oligarchs"? There is

reason to hope that Kostunica would lean toward the first choice. Coming from a

conservative family of jurists, his personal political movement has been from

right to left, at a time when very many former communists have been moving

opportunistically from left to right.


will tell. Certainly, if Kostunica failed to perform as desired in Washington,

he might be subjected to the same "demonization" treatment given other

Serbian leaders. But this would be difficult, and Europeans increasingly worried

by close U.S. links to criminal Albanian extremists might not go along.

Kostunica would thus have an automatic advantage over Milosevic in dealing with

the outside world.


"democratic opposition" supporting Kostunica has endorsed an economic

"reform" program that appears to have been ghost-written by a branch

of the U.S.-government-financed "National Endowment for Democracy". It

is signed by a group called the "G17". That "G17" economic

program is indeed dreadful, a recipe for the "shock treatment" that

has brought mass unemployment, debt dependency and misery to other countries of

Eastern Europe. Despite his undoubted patriotism, Kostunica is a jurist with

conservative leanings, who seems largely unaware of the implications of the G17

economic program for social and national cohesion. He campaigns on other issues,

more apt to win votes. Still, a victory of Kostunica would not in itself be a

victory for "shock treatment", even though it would be a dangerous

step in that direction. The Yugoslav presidency is actually very weak, and has

appeared strong only because occupied by Milosevic. Yugoslavia is a federation

of two republics, Montenegro and Serbia, which would both retain their own

governments. The Republic elections in Serbia next year will probably be more

decisive for economic policy and distribution of power than the federal

presidential election.


own party is very small. His election would precipitate changes in the Serbian

Socialist Party. There would have to be a political realignment to create a new

majority. It would be this new majority, and not the "G17", that would

finally define economic policy.


a key political question would concern relations between a President Kostunica

and a post-Milosevic Serbian Socialist Party, which would still be the largest

single political party in the country, with many competent administrators. If

the Socialist Party could manage a smooth reorganization after the defeat of

Milosevic, and work out a modus vivendi with Kostunica, then the country would

be able to confront its problems and the outside world more unified and stronger

than in the past.


is good reason to expect that the United States will continue to focus attention

on Milosevic as "indicted war criminal" and intensifying pressure on

Kostunica to turn his predecessor over to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

If Kostunica gave in to such pressure, that would shatter the possibility to

build national unity and catapult him into dependence on forces allied with



it is important to note that cheating in Yugoslav elections is not very easy or

likely. All parties send controllers to the polling stations, where they jointly

count the votes and sign the final result. There is a procedure for appeal to

the electoral committee, where all parties are represented, and from there to

the courts. The greatest irregularity surrounding these elections is the

extraordinary outside pressure being exercised by the West, including millions

of U.S. dollars poured into a range of takers, described as "civil

society". Kostunica has complained that the ostentatious U.S.

"support" to the opposition actually helps Milosevic, thanks to the

"kiss of death" effect. Whatever the actual effect on voters’ choices,

the blatant interference prepares the NATO powers to claim an opposition victory

as their own, which is in itself an unseemly interference in democratic process.


in Serbia believe that Milosevic is clinging to office precisely because of fear

of being sent to The Hague — to a Tribunal of no return. If so, the best way to

ensure a peaceful transition in Serbia would be to drop the charges against

Milosevic, but this is most unlikely to happen.


in her zeal to support the NATO war effort during the bombing, ICTY prosecutor

Louise Arbour indicted not only Milosevic but several other top Yugoslav

officials, including Serbian President Milan Milutinovic. These indictments rest

on nothing more solid than the assumption that massacres which may or may not

have occurred in Kosovo during the civil war were directly ordered by top

officials as part of a deliberate plan of "genocide" — an allegation

for which there is no solid evidence. However, the ICTY is a court where

defendants arrive already convicted and condemned by the media and Western

officials, and sometimes already dead (NATO forces have killed a couple of their

suspects during arrest).


is a constitutional lawyer who bases his program on democratic constitutional

reform and early elections under a new improved system. If left alone,

Yugoslavia is perfectly capable of developing democratically and of running a

judicial system as fair as most, and certainly far more so than the strange

institution set up at U.S. instigation by the UN Security Council to judge



the outcome of the Yugoslav presidential elections, the United States is going

to raise the hue and cry to arrest "the indicted war criminal"

Milosevic as a pretext to continue and intensify destructive pressure on

Yugoslavia. I would suggest that the first priority of those who are trying to

defend peace, justice, and truth is to call for abolition of the kangaroo court

in The Hague as an obstacle to peaceful reconciliation and the development of

democratic institutions in Yugoslavia.


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