October 6, 2000
Yugoslavia's highest court declares opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica the winner in last week's presidential election.
JIM LEHRER: President Milosevic actually went on television to concede defeat and to congratulate the winner. Now, three perspectives on what's happened: Lawrence Eagleburger, was Secretary of State in the Bush administration. He also served as Ambassador to Yugoslavia in the 1970's. Retired Army General Wesley Clark, was NATO Supreme Allied Commander during the Kosovo bombing war, and Warren Zimmermann was the last U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia; he's author of a book about Yugoslavia's breakup called Origins of a Catastrophe. Secretary Eagleburger, is he finished?
|Milosevic concedes defeat|
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: Yeah, I think so. He may play some games. He may try to do some things, but yes, I think he's finished in terms of being able to run Serbia. He may be around for a while, which could cause some problems, but he's finished.
JIM LEHRER: Does it surprise you that he would in fact concede defeat?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: To a degree, yes. And I'll tell you why. Until today, I thought he would be very careful to find some place to go. He is, after all, an indicted war criminal. You heard President Clinton talk about that.
JIM LEHRER: So where could he go?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: Well, I had thought Russia, Azerbaijan, you name it, Moldova, someplace. Maybe he has cut a deal that we don't know about, but I'm really a little bit surprised by this -- that apparently he has decided that things were so bad that he had to give up the office, even though he may not have any guarantee about his future. And if I were he, I would be very worried about the fact that six months from now the administration in Serbia may decide they want to turn him over. I don't care if they promise him today that they won't. He won't ever be able to leave Serbia without somebody wanting to pinch him. And so I think either he has cut some sort of a deal or he is just taking his chances.
JIM LEHRER: General Clark, had you a lot of dealings with Milosevic; how do you read what he has done and what he may have on his planning book at this point?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I say it's a strategic withdrawal, but he still would hope to be able to - to use a military analogy - counterattack at the appropriate time. I think the intervention of the Russians was important today. They not only persuaded Milosevic to go ahead and concede defeat apparently - but attempted to some way preserve his legitimacy in political life there. At least, that's the way it appears from the outside. And so I think Milosevic believes that he has some way to exercise some influence as head of the Socialist Party there, which is really the old Communist Party. Now one of the things that hasn't been receiving much attention is the fact that when we pressured Milosevic to privatize the economy in 1996, he essentially gave it away to his 200 closest friends and family members, and those people are still out there; so the new President will have to worry about not only taking over the government but what is going to happen with the economy. We're receiving reports already of people fleeing Yugoslavia with suitcases of dirty money, and if financial sanctions are lifted on Monday, that will all be done electronically; what little wealth remains in Yugoslavia could easily disappear.
JIM LEHRER: And those people...
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: There's always some challenges.
JIM LEHRER: Those people with the suitcases are supporters of Milosevic?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I would assume they would be.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Ambassador Zimmerman, how do you interpret what Milosevic did? How do you interpret the fact that he conceded defeat today?
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: I think it was the best option from his point of view that he could have used, Jim. He wouldn't be received abroad -- at least it would be dangerous if he went abroad that he would be turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal. So I think he decided to stay in Serbia to play the political game, the game of democracy. And that is bad news for Kostunica and for the future of democracy in Serbia, because Milosevic still has -- as Secretary Eagleburger and General Clark have said -- he still has a constituency of sorts in Serbia. A lot of people voted for him. He has at least a nominal majority in the parliament. We're not quite sure about the loyalties of the army and of the police. He may feel that he can play the democratic game in order to get back to power, then close off democracy again. He is a natural born dictator. He has no understanding and no commitment to democracy.
JIM LEHRER: What do you base that on?
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: The whole history of the man. Ever since he was in law school, Belgrade University, he was an authoritarian. He is a man who wants power. He is a man who has defined himself by power - to get power and to hold power. And the difficulty he had in giving it up I think is a testament to his desire to hold on to it. He had to give it up in the end because I think he was told by the Russians, probably by the army, that he had to. But the fact he's prepared to fight on in a democratic mode is bad news.
JIM LEHRER: Bad news?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: I'm not sure of that because I think we missed one factor here. I think the vision of Ceaucescu and Mrs. Ceaucescu in Romania where the mobs dragged them out and shot them probably had to have some impact on Milosevic. And I think one of the critical factors in the last few days was, in fact, the thousands of people that got out in the streets and stayed there. So, I think that -- if anything told Milosevic it was time he leave, I think that, more than anything else, did, that plus the more or less neutrality of the police and the unwillingness of the army to act. Now he may or may not stay around. I think - I think it's at least questionable whether, when this all settles down he is able to carry on much political activity. But maybe he does -- but if he does, so what? The real problem Kostunica has, the new president has, and anybody who follows is that Milosevic has left the Serbian economy in such a shambles, that under the very best of circumstances everybody is going to pay a terrible price for a long time to try to rebuild that economy. And that can make it tough for the new president. And maybe Milosevic can play on that. But I'm inclined to think that he probably had it.
|Western economic responsibility to Yugoslavia|
JIM LEHRER: General Clark, does the U.S. and the West have a responsibility to help the opposition put the country back together economically?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Oh, I think that there will be many, many offers to help do that. And I would hope that we would see immediately various missions going in from organizations like the European Union or contact group member nations to help survey what is actually happening in that economy. We need to go in and look at the finance ministry, look at the industries, see really where the ownership is, where the money is, where the products are, because as long as Milosevic is there with his own power structure in the SPS he is going to be draining those resources. I'm very concerned that we put western help in there as rapidly as possible, and in so doing will not only help the economy, but will limit the mischief making that Milosevic is capable of.
JIM LEHRER: But, General, what do you say to those who say wait a minute, the West ought to stay back a little bit because the Yugoslavians, the only people they like less than Milosevic may be the Americans, or the other way around.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think that these are matters that the diplomats can resolve. And obviously no one is going to go in there unless they're invited in. But I think Mr. Kostunica is going to be anxious to receive assistance and recognition in the West.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Ambassador Zimmerman, what can you tell us about the opposition and its ability to take this country now, in as bad shape that it's in, and make it whole?
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: Well, they're not very well prepared. They're almost all intellectuals. Most of them have academic backgrounds. Almost none of them has run anything.
JIM LEHRER: Have they not been in past governments?
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: Not at all. Zero. So it's going to be very hard for them. And plus the economic problems, plus the problem of corruption, plus the fact that Serbia is a totally economic basket case. They're going to have a lot of problems, and they're going to need a lot of help. And I would go even farther than General Clark and say not only should we move in with massive assistance and early assistance, it has to be very visible because there is euphoria on the streets of Belgrade now. That's not going to last forever.
JIM LEHRER: You don't think -
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: People are going to start blaming Kostunica for a bad situation that he inherited from Milosevic.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think the people from Serbia will accept help from the United States -
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: I have no doubt at all, no doubt at all.
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: Let me just say, Jim, they will accept help from the United States, believe me. That is not an issue. The issue to some degree on our part, I think, has to be I hope that our Western European friends and allies have finally come to the conclusion that Yugoslavia is in Europe, and that therefore the fundamental responsibilities for providing assistance, not that we shouldn't provide assistance, but that the fundamental responsibilities ought to rest with our West European friends who for too long thought of Yugoslavia as our responsibility not theirs.
JIM LEHRER: General Clark, Ambassador Zimmermann used the term "basket case" you spoke in economic terms. Give us a feel for what that means. How bad is the economic situation in specific terms?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, the per capita income is probably 10 percent of what it was a decade ago. It's gone down dramatically. There's high inflation. People have used up their life savings and their meager resources just to stay alive there. The key state industries have been maintained. There is still a functioning health system to some degree. Apparently the electric power industry was put back in some kind of shape after the bombing. There is still a communications industry there. But all of these functions have been controlled by Milosevic and his cronies. He has also controlled the police and regulated the black market economy that's been supporting so many of the activities there. So he's got lots of funds. And at every level there will be problems trying to put a normal economy together. People have got to learn how to do normal commerce. They've got to not cheat. They've got to not use bribes. This is a long-term process to correct the deformation of the economy, which Milosevic has caused; and it's one of the reasons why one of the first orders of business has to be to get a grip on what the actual situation is there. Now, Jim, if I could just say another thing that hasn't been discussed yet, is the role of the armed forces. General Pavkovic was appointed for his political loyalty.
JIM LEHRER: Now he's the head of the army, right?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: That's right. And he has congratulated the President as the new commander and chief of the armed forces. But he is related by marriage to Milosevic's wife, and he was appointed for purposes of loyalty. This is a Communist Party system in which the armed forces are politicized....
|A corrupt Yugoslav government|
JIM LEHRER: Is he a professional... would you consider him a professional army man.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: He came up through the ranks but he got his real boost and sudden acceleration and promotions due to politics.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: This is a danker to democracy.
JIM LEHRER: A danger, do you agree, Ambassador Zimmermann -
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: -- that die has not yet been cast?
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: Has not been cast. The army is funny because the top generals are all Milosevic appointees and may or may not be loyal to him. We don't know yet. But the enlisted men are draftees; they're a part of Yugoslavia, they're members of the Yugoslav population. They're Yugoslav people, and presumably they have the same feelings as the Yugoslav population in general. So, the army is a real question mark. And I think you can't forget this special police force that Milosevic created - sixty or seventy or eighty thousand people very well armed who are loyal and have been loyal to him.
JIM LEHRER: And they're still functioning, right, as far as we know?
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: They're still functioning as far as we know. Where are they going to turn?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: Jim, I am both more optimistic and more pessimistic, I think, than the other two gentlemen here. First of all I think Kostunica's biggest single problem is the economy. And I think Ambassador Zimmermann is right. He can be blamed here six months from now when things have not turned well. So I think that's a big problem. I am inclined to believe that Milosevic is now, and I hope I'm right, much less of a problem than I think the General and Ambassador seem to indicate. Yes the military is a bit of a problem, but I really do think that what's happened in the course of the last week has demonstrated such an antagonism toward Milosevic-and by the way that's a real turnaround. We should never forget that for a very long time Milosevic was the most popular politician in Serbia.
JIM LEHRER: As reflected in votes?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: In votes and the way he was embraced by the people and he could not have continued on in those early years, particularly, if it weren't that he was popular. You were there, Ambassador and I have been there off and on. The liking for -- the love in some cases of the hard-line nationalist Serbs for Milosevic was great. Serbian nationalism is going to be another problem. Kostunica is himself, I think, something of a Serb nationalist. He is not going to roll over and play dead for all of the outside influences that are going to try to talk to him about how Serbia needs to deal with Kosovo, et cetera. Those are all going to continue to be problems. In that sense, I think the new administration has problems. I am inclined to believe that Milosevic himself is less of a problem now and is not likely to be this - but and again - the General mentioned this, the cronies. They can be a very serious problem. Number one, a number of them are very unpleasant people who should be classified as war criminals as well. They've gone around killing people for a very long time. Now how are they going to be dealt with by the new Serbian government, and how is the international community going to deal with the fact that these people are running around Yugoslavia with blood on their hands? Milosevic's biggest single problem I think, is the question of whether somebody insist he be tried as a war criminal and somebody gets him one way or the other and takes him off to the Hague.
|The effectiveness of the NATO bombing|
JIM LEHRER: Before we go, beginning with you, General Clark, and I realize you're an interested witness here, but should the American people say hey, look, this is a good result from the NATO bombing?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think the NATO bombing contributed to this in an important way because it brought home to the Serb people the consequences of Milosevic and his leadership. It was the fourth war in a decade, and the chickens came home to roost there in Belgrade and elsewhere in scene. I think the bombing deepened the contradictions in the Serb society. Milosevic said he wanted to be a Democrat and yet he was more are repressive. He said he wanted to build the economy. He destroyed it and he said he wanted to create a greater Serbia and it was disintegrating around him. So I think the deepening of those contradictions hastened Milosevic's departure from power. In that sense, I think that the bombing served a purpose in that regard, even though that wasn't the intent of the bombing.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about that, Mr. Ambassador?
WARREN ZIMMERMANN: I agree. Milosevic fought four wars. The West prevented him from winning the Bosnian war in the way he wanted to and it certainly prevented him from winning the Kosovo war; it defeated him in Kosovo. General Clark, by the way, in my mind was the great hero of that war. Had Milosevic won all four of those wars, I'm not at all sure he would have lost this election. So I think it's actually -- the West played an enormously important role.
JIM LEHRER: Secretary Eagleburger?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: I look like the grump here tonight but I don't know that I think the bombing... well, in a way, it made a difference yes in the sense that it did prevent Milosevic from winning in Kosovo. In that sense, yes, he didn't win and that I think has cost him something politically. In terms of bringing home to Milosevic, on the other hand, the lessons of that war, I'm not at all sure it did that. I do think, however, in the sense that he lost, it did make a difference. I think Milosevic might well have been in the same trouble today with or without the bombing assuming that the Kosovo things have gone against him.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We'll leave it there. Thank you all three very much.