Back to the Future: Milosevic Prepares for Life After Kosovo
Back to the Future: Milosevic Prepares for Life After Kosovo
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Back to the Future: Milosevic Prepares for Life After Kosovo

On 28 June 1989, Slobodan Milosevic stood on the site of the ancient Serb battleground of Kosovo Polje and delivered the speech that was to propel him to prominence and the leadership of Yugoslavia.

Executive Summary

On 28 June 1989, Slobodan Milosevic stood on the site of the ancient Serb battleground of Kosovo Polje and delivered the speech that was to propel him to prominence and the leadership of Yugoslavia.  Ten years on, Milosevic remains firmly entrenched in power.  He has survived three Balkan wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, economic sanctions, 78 days of NATO air strikes, and an indictment on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Milosevic managed to survive the recent NATO onslaught in part by parlaying resentment against NATO into a wave of public support for his dictatorship.  Adept at manipulating popular culture, the regime used such fortuitous events as the timing of the NATO action, coming only weeks before the anniversary of the Nazi bombing of Belgrade in the Second World War, to link the Western alliance with fascism in the public mind.  Television programming gave prominence to heroic tales of WW2 partisan fighters, suggesting to the public how they might interpret NATO action.  Any Western popular culture, from film to music to television, that degraded Western values or painted the West in a negative light also received wide play, and was clearly aimed at showing the decadence of the Alliance.

Now with the war over, Milosevic continues to use the media to his advantage.  While the rest of the world learns about the appalling atrocities committed in Kosovo against ethnic Albanians and recoils at images of torture dungeons and mass graves, the Serbian media continue to play up stories claiming that the Serbs were the real victims, brutalised as they were by both NATO aggression and Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) terrorism.

The Yugoslav leader uses the media not simply to promote his spin on the Kosovo war, but also to splinter public support for potential right-wing rivals.  To keep the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party and its leader, Vojislav Seselj from sweeping the right, that segment of the electorate is now being urged to consider the alternative – Vojislav Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia.  Western observers ought not to be surprised if upcoming elections give the DSS a marked boost.

Milosevic’s "divide and conquer" technique and his skillful manipulation of the media are directed toward entrenching himself in a permanent position of power in Belgrade.  While he may formally leave office when his current presidential term is up as the FRY constitution prescribes, he clearly intends to remain a player, perhaps as an elder statesman and power behind the throne.

Milosevic's clear intention to retain his grip on the FRY, in or out of office, guarantees the continuation of a highly destabilizing, siege atmosphere in Belgrade, with or without the officially declared "state of war."  He has already signaled that he may turn against the democratically elected Montenegrin government of President Milo Djukanovic.  Further crises, confrontations, and possible conflict lie ahead.  Given all of the aforementioned, ICG recommends the following:

  • That the international community continue to offer unmitigated support for the democratic opposition now led by Milo Djukanovic and Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic;
     
  • That the international community grasp the opportunity to make use of the windfall of NATO’s presence in Kosovo.  With the Kosovo Force (KFOR) firmly on the ground and in principle committed to providing security for the inhabitants of Kosovo, directed efforts must be made to bring in or support the recreation of surrogate media there which could also be aimed at the Serbian market. Broadcasting should not simply take the form of news and informational programming, which would be seized upon by Milosevic’s state-run media and discredited as transparent Western propaganda.  Instead, Milosevic’s control of the collective public consciousness through his manipulation of popular culture must be fought on equal terms, with an entertaining media campaign aimed at the tastes of the population which could evolve into a forum where objective news and information might be introduced;
     
  • Milosevic’s moves must be carefully tracked.  As long as he remains in office or in power, he may undertake a variety of means for upsetting regional security. He may use his own paramilitaries and interior ministry forces not only, as argued in this paper, to spearhead a campaign in Montenegro, but also to undermine the precarious peace in Kosovo. He may also rely on allies and confidantes in Moscow or Beijing to offer up diplomatic and political stumbling blocks as the international community goes about creating the conditions for a lasting peace.

Belgrade-Podgorica, 28 June 1999

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

In this conversation, we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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