All Quiet on the Serbian Front?
All Quiet on the Serbian Front?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 81 / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

All Quiet on the Serbian Front?

As 1999 nears a close two questions about Yugoslav Strong-man Slobodan Milosevic stand out: How did he stay in power after the NATO action, beginning on 24 March 1999, and will he opt for bloodshed in Montenegro, at least before the end of January 2000?

Executive Summary

As 1999 nears a close two questions about Yugoslav Strong-man Slobodan Milosevic stand out: How did he stay in power after the NATO action, beginning on 24 March 1999, and will he opt for bloodshed in Montenegro, at least before the end of January 2000?  In this analysis, ICG argues that Milosevic managed to stay in power for several key reasons, despite factors which prompted some to speculate about his downfall in the wake of his bloody war in Kosovo.

In the first place, and despite some early predictions, the opposition failed to unite against Milosevic.  Even a tragedy involving a key opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) did not cement the kind of unity needed to pose a challenge to the dictator.

Secondly, Western resolve to deal decisively with the dictatorship has played into Belgrade’s hands, making the corrupt and Hague-indicted power elite continue to feel themselves players in regional politics.  It is in fact that continuing disunity, now coming to the fore in public, that may be giving Milosevic grounds for optimism in the sense of allowing him to think he will be a regional player for some time to come.

And as for Montenegro, signs suggest there will be no violent clashes this year, although it is not possible to maintain that conclusion will be valid for the long term.  For his part, Montenegro’s reform-minded President, Milo Djukanovic, continue to remind the international community that with Milosevic in power, one must never assume violence is safely out of the picture.

Firstly, it may be that Western resolve to take Montenegrin independence so far and so far only, meaning failing to take the step of sanctioning de jure independence, does allow Belgrade to believe a final break is not imminent. 

Moreover, the measures taken thus far may actually be playing into Milosevic’s hand.  For example, the introduction of the German mark as a parallel currency in Yugoslavia’s tiny sister republic may provide black market opportunities for the dictatorship that might permit a partial way around sanctions.

The conclusion of this report, which begins with a journey through recent history, is that an effective strategy vis-à-vis Milosevic must be predicated on a much better understanding of how the dictator plays politics.  In the absence of international resolve to liquidate his tenure and his leadership, the first and last recommendation is linked to the observation that the international community IC become more adept at deciphering the dictator’s political chess game.

From there, the IC must have a clearer picture of how it wants to cope with the dictatorship.  If the aim is merely to unseat him, and to enhance the chances of the reformist opposition, then concrete steps must be taken to avoid open and public linkages with the opposition that will yield only propaganda dividends for the dictatorship.

Secondly, if the IC is bent on moving Montenegro towards de facto independence, it must be aware of the potential for Montenegro as a member of the mark zone to provide black market dividends for Belgrade.  Thus the IC must seek to identify measures now that will keep Belgrade away from the cash.

Finally, the IC may be steering itself towards a strategy of supporting reformist politicians in and around the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).  This encirclement, whether thought through or not, is fraught with unique pitfalls.  If Montenegro goes its own path, what does the future hold for regions such as Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina?  What of the majority ethnic Muslim population of Sandzak, who live in an area which straddles both Serbia and Montenegro?  And with this proliferation of states and quasi or pseudo-states, thought has to be given to their long-term viability, both political and economic.  If the resolve is not there to back them for many years to come, their mere existence will allow whatever is left of Serbia to thrust up politicians dedicated to raising the issue of political unity.  Rather than stamping out the regional menace of Serbian ultranationalism, what has to be asked is the hard question of whether or not existing developments aren’t in fact giving it a very long lease on life, and saddling Europe with a Serbian Question for at least a generation?  In order to stave off the possibility that the Balkans may re-experience the disastrous consequences of a reawakened Balkan nationalism, it is imperative that the IC support political leadership that is dedicated to democratic values, and that irrespective of whichever way the FRY may or may not fragment.

Belgrade - Podgorica, 30 November 1999

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