Central Europe Review find out about advertising in CER
Vol 3, No 13
2 April 2001
front page 
our awards 
CER cited 
jobs at CER 
CER Direct 
e-mail us 
year 2000 
year 1999 
by subject 
by author 
EU Focus 
music shop 
video store 
find books 


Slobo! We will never give you up! Playing a Game of Wait and See
Susan Abbott

As reports came out late on Friday night about Slobodan Milošević's arrest, the world quickly turned to Internet sources and old cable television standbys to find out if the news was really true: was the ousted former Serb president really taken into custody and would he be jailed in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) or taken to The Hague?

Seemingly all news had mention of a B92 (television station) report that Serb police had stormed Milošević's compound and that the first steps were underway to bring the notorious corrupt leader to justice. Quickly, however, new reports came out suggesting that no such arrest had been made and that the Balkan nemesis was just hanging out and having coffee with friends.

Then amid a second attempt to arrest Milošević, new reports surfaced that there was a stand off between the old guard and the new; a real power struggle took hold in Belgrade forcing the question of how Serbia would face its future. Would it comply with a US State Department mandate to arrest the fallen leader, thus complying with a March 31 deadline—tied to foreign aid and international war crime tribunal mandates?

Other lesser-acknowledged questions also became apparent. What is the role of the international media in reporting on such heavy news and thus shaping how world leaders react to crisis situations? And, have we all become so accustomed to instant news and live coverage that any thought of entertaining the idea of digesting and contemplating events of such magnitude are out of the question?

Everything on hold until Monday?

As of Saturday morning at 9 am, the US State Department press office had not released any official announcement about the situation in Serbia, saying that they were gathering facts and awaiting further details about what is happening in Belgrade before acting further.

What is for sure is that there have been and continue to be many conflicting reports about the situation and that what seems imminent is that a real political battle is unfolding between the old guard and the new, as Serbia spirals further into its transition period.

Milošević has been charged with a laundry list of corruption charges, and added to them now are new accusations that he will be charged with resisting arrest and illegal possession of arms. Public survey polls recently taken in Serbia suggest that the majority of Yugoslav citizens support his arrest and that there will not be a major backlash if the former president is brought to trial either in Serbia or taken to The Hague.

What is the upshot of all of this?

Eric Witte of the Coalition for International Justice in Washington, DC stated in an interview with CER on Saturday that, "It is so important for the future of Serbia that they start complying with the international pressure to comply with the US State Department's expectations that were tied to the March 31 deadline." He stated further that if they do so, it would put them on the fast track of joining the European mainstream. If they do not comply with the conditional requirements, Witte is not very optimistic about the future of Serbia and cites that its economic situation only stands to worsen.

When asked whether he agreed with reports on Saturday that the arrest of Milošević was just a coincidence and had no bearing on US foreign policy, Witte stated, "I don't believe that for a second; it was absolutely driven by the 31 March deadline."

Nonetheless, the actions taken in Serbia over the weekend will most probably be enough for President Bush to certify that FRY has met expectations tied to conditional requirements and that it will receive the much needed economic aid vital to reforming and rebuilding the economy after 13 years of despotic rule that has left it in complete devastation.

Witte criticized the Yugoslav government for not taking further steps to extradite Milošević, commenting that they are fully aware that non-compliance would isolate the FRY not only from Europe but also from the rest of the international scene. The time to act is now, when the public still favors the kinds of reforms necessary to put Serbia on the proper path of transition. Waiting to see how things will play out and being overly cautious as to avoid nationalistic uprisings and public backlash is not the answer.

Lessons should have been learned from other areas of the Central and East European region, where the transition from Communism to democracy showed that there is a small window of opportunity to act. Implementing the kinds of reforms needed to jumpstart not only democratic and accountable governance but also meaningful economic restructuring necessary for sustainability and competitiveness within an international marketplace are not easy ones to swallow.

However, according to Witte, instead of using the leverage provided by the conditionality rules given by the March 31 deadline, the State Department has spent the past few weeks trying to avoid a nationalist backlash and putting too much pressure on what it considers a fragile government.

These are hollow sentiments indeed, given that expectations amongst the public are high and that they may become increasingly disappointed if the economic situation worsens and a lack of proof that what the opposition fought for was so worth the wait. If other regional patterns in CEE hold true, in three to six months time, according to Witte, the popularity of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) will decline and other power structures in FRY will take hold. The upshot of this is that if the US State Department is reluctant to act now and push forth the conditionality rules, then further down the road all we will see is another missed opportunity.

Failure to craft meaningful reforms will possibly have ramifications beyond the borders of the FRY, as other
Send this article to a friend
Balkan countries will watch to see how President Koštunica's leadership and decision making is treated. In other words, US policy has to be consistent, and exceptions to the rule or watered-down foreign policy will not cut it in a region that is still wounded after years of conflict, ethnic and religious struggle and economic crisis.

The question remains: will Milošević go to The Hague?

Like the rest of this political history lesson, it is a game of wait and see; however, it seems less and less likely that Serbian leaders will make the push to act on International War Crimes Tribunal's demands to extradite the fallen leader. What is clear is that Koštunica has not made any significant gestures that he will hand over Milošević or in any way be overtly connected to such an action.

What is also clear is that it was never part of the March 31 deadline that if Slobodan Milošević were arrested domestically, it would be enough to comply with conditions attached to the granting of foreign aid. What remains to be seen is whether the US government will make good on its word.

Susan Abbott, 2 April 2001

Moving on:


Wojtek Kość
The Polish Right

The Balkans Heat Up
Heather Field
Going for Broke

Magarditsch Hatschikjan
Crisis to Crisis

Omer Fisher
The Road to Independence

Sam Vaknin
Balkan War III

Roma Culture
in Hungary

Dan Damon
Liszt and the Roma

Rhoda Dullea
The Roma Question

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Romani Theater

Behind Bars!
Susan Abbott
Slobo's Support

Brian J Požun
Slovenia's Opportunity

Sam Vaknin
A Prelude to Death?

Catherine Lovatt
"We will never
give you up!"

Stanisław Lem

Peter Swirski
Look to the Future

Stanisław Lem
An excerpt from Okamgnienie

Štěpán Kotrba
Sow and Reap

Brian J Požun
Shedding the Balkan Skin

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Oliver Craske
Big in Albania

Czech Republic

CER eBookclub Members enter here