|DISSENSION IN SERBIA|
July 9, 1999
JIM LEHRER: The demonstrations against Yugoslav President Milosevic. Charles Krause begins our coverage.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Slobodan Milosevic came to power more than a decade ago promising to restore Serb power in the province of Kosovo. Now, that dream has failed. And after a devastating war that turned Kosovo into a NATO protectorate, there appears to be growing anger and outright opposition to Milosevic's continued rule. The first anti-government demonstrations began in the Town of Cacak, on June 29. Then, by the end of that week, there were two more demonstrations in the northern city of Novi Sad, which was heavily damaged by NATO bombing. This week, antigovernment protests spread to the southern town of Leskovac, where a television technician interrupted coverage of a basketball game to urge his countrymen to take to the streets. Thousands heeded the call every day this week. But on Wednesday, the demonstrations turned violent as demonstrators clashed with pro- Milosevic police. Still, the protests spread to the town of Uzice, and it was there that a major Serbian opposition leader -- Zoran Djindjic -- emerged from hiding to try to rally opposition to the Milosevic government. But Djindjic is only one of several Yugoslav politicians trying to claim the mantle of leadership. And so far there's been little unity or even cooperation among the various rival opposition figures. Despite the lack of coordination, yesterday the demonstrations spread to another town, Prokuplje, which has the reputation of being a pro-Milosevic stronghold. There, the anti-Milosevic demonstrators were greeted with taunts and objects thrown by Milosevic supporters. And so far, there have been no demonstrations in Belgrade, Yugoslavia's capital and largest city. That's in sharp contrast with the situation three years ago, when it was the capital that was the center of anti-Milosevic demonstrations. Those protests went on for weeks, yet ultimately did nothing to weaken Milosevic's grip on power. But ever since the NATO air campaign began in March, and Milosevic was indicted as a war criminal by the international tribunal in The Hague, there's been a drumbeat of speculation as to whether he could survive Kosovo's loss and a Serbian defeat. Some opposition politicians had suggested that in order to get rid of Milosevic, the charges might have to be dropped, or Milosevic might have to be given asylum by another country. But today, Defense Secretary William Cohen rejected any notion of a deal along those lines. "He is an indicted war criminal," the Secretary of Defense said. "If there is any place to which he seeks sanctuary, perhaps I would recommend The Hague where he could face a trial on the merits of the case." Meanwhile, in Yugoslavia today, opposition leaders promised to continue daily antigovernment protests for the next several weeks culminating in what they said will be a massive anti- Milosevic protest in Belgrade by the middle of next month.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner takes the story from there.
MARGARET WARNER: For perspective on the demonstrations in Serbia and what they may mean, we turn to Dusko Doder, a former Washington Post correspondent who has reported extensively from Yugoslavia. His biography of Milosevic will be released in October. He was born in Bosnia to an Albanian mother and Serbian father, but raised and educated in the U.S.; James Hooper, executive director of the Balkan Action council-- he was deputy director of Eastern and Yugoslav affairs at the State Department during the Bush Administration; and Stacy Sullivan, who reported from the Balkans for NewsWeek International, the Times of London, and the Associated Press. She's now a consultant at Harvard University's Human Rights Initiative. She recently returned from Serbia and Kosovo. Welcome all. Jim Hooper, how serious, how significant are these demonstrations?
JAMES HOOPER, Balkan Action Council: Oh, I think these are very significant, Margaret. These are like political calisthenics by the opposition. They're warming up, they're building up their strength. We're seeing it all over the country, not just in Belgrade, as the setup piece pointed out, where three years ago these demonstrations took place there, but we're seeing it in the North, in the center of Serbia, and in the South, in cities which have democratically-elected city councils and mayors and in cities where there are - where the Milosevic regime supporters are in power. At the same time, army reservists in parts of the South have been supporting some of these demonstrations. They've been blocking roads. This has been going on off and on for the past several weeks. The Serbian Orthodox Church has also come out and called for Mr. Milosevic to sign. So I think what we're seeing is a growing coalition between these towns, the democratic parties, some elements of the military and others who are working to build up their strength so they can move against Mr. Milosevic or replace him with a democratic government if those in the military or the security services move themselves.
MARGARET WARNER: Dusko Doder, do you see a serious groundswell here, a major groundswell?
DUSKO DODER, Author/Journalist: Oh, I think this is the most serious challenge to Milosevic since he came to power. And I think that he is -- my guess is he probably will not be able to survive for very long. But the question is that -
MARGARET WARNER: That's a bold prediction.
DUSKO DODER: The opposition is not organized and it's fractured. Mr. Milosevic's technique has been to fracture the opposition. I mean, the first free elections he had 104 parties running, and more than 50 percent of those parties were created by his own party to fragment the vote and so forth. I think that -- but this time I think the combination of force is such that it's very difficult to see how he can survive for very long.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Stacy Sullivan, a serious threat to him?
STACY SULLIVAN, Journalist: I agree that it's a serious threat it him, but I don't think that we can underestimate Milosevic's savviness. I mean, back in the winter of 1996 and the spring of 1997, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets, not just for weeks, but for three months. 103 days they did it, through the snow, through the sleet, every single day without exception. And Milosevic withstood it. So we've seen pretty impressive displays of civic resolve on the part of the Serbs in the past, and, you know, then it looked like Milosevic's end might be near as well. So I think we should predict his downfall with caution.
MARGARET WARNER: Milosevic did ride out '96 pretty well. What makes this different, Jim Hooper?
JAMES HOOPER: Well, a couple of things. First of all, he's just lost the war in Kosovo. Unlike the earlier wars, against Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia, these were losses for Serbia - Serbia didn't lose any territory. Yugoslavia lost territory. In this case, while Kosovo is still technically under Serbian sovereignty, Kosovo is in effect lost to Serbia. The Serbs understand that, the Serbian people I believe understand that. This is a loss of territorial heartland. Secondly, there is now -- it is very unlikely that the international community, led by the United States, will play footsy with Milosevic, will play political footsy with him. Remember, after the Dayton Peace Agreement we regarded him as the peacemaker in the Balkans. We treated him that way, and he took advantage of that. We weren't working with the democratic opposition. Now what we have is an indicted Slobodan Milosevic, we're unwilling to work with him, in fact, the administration has a destabilization program with the CIA working against him. So I think this is going to give confidence and hope to the democratic opposition within Serbia that this time Milosevic will not receive the backing of the international community.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see -- do you agree those two factors, Dusko Doder, weaken Milosevic as compared to '96? Do you see others?
DUSKO DODER: Absolutely, I think what Jim said was absolutely true, because in 1996, '97, if you follow what the State Department was saying was we deplore this, but we took no action to support the opposition at that time, actively. And I think this really makes a difference that he cannot use the foreigners as props to show that he is a big enchilada, that he's still playing - and you know, that he cannot go anywhere. He's trapped in Yugoslavia. But that also makes him more difficult and dangerous, because I think he's fighting for his life.
MARGARET WARNER: Stacy Sullivan, what's your sense of the opposition? Is this at all organized? Do they have an agenda, or is it a lot of spontaneous frustration coming out?
STACY SULLIVAN: Well, I think there is a lot of spontaneous frustration coming out. I also think that we have to look at the nature of the complaints that emerge from the spontaneous frustration on the demonstrations on the streets. We don't have Serbs demonstrating saying we are appalled by the actions that were committed in our name in Kosovo, we are finally taking a stand against the ethnic cleansing, the burning down of houses and the murder of 10,000 people. What we hear the demonstrators saying is I fought in Kosovo and I haven't been paid for it, I want my money. I want my pension. My life is now miserable because I live in an impoverished country that's been made a pariah state. So I don't think - you know -- getting rid of Milosevic is going to be the answer to all of our problems. I think we have a real problem inherent within Serbian society and within, that includes all of the opposition politicians, some of which are far more nationalistic than Slobodan Milosevic himself. So I think we should be very cautious in just attributing the problem that we see in Serbia to one man.
MARGARET WARNER: What about that point, Dusko Doder, I mean, she's right, they aren't out there saying this was an outrage.
DUSKO DODER: I think that this nation has been battered for about 12 years, psychologically, emotionally and physically, that's one thing. Two, Milosevic was brought to power against a class. He has destroyed all the institution. I think the demonization of the Serbs not going to talk about something else but their immediate problems is kind of unfair in a sense because you're talking about people in the villages and small towns. I think that intellectual opposition to Milosevic has been very strong; from the very beginning all the best and brightest people have left. And I think the way now is to kind of help politically organize this. And I think the United States can play a role, but not a direct role in this.
MARGARET WARNER: What's your view of the opposition? In other words, address Stacy Sullivan's point, if you would. Would it mean a change in policy or mentality?
JAMES HOOPER: We have to take into account that in Serbia it's very different than most countries, in virtually all other European countries. This ultra nationalist ideas of a greater Serbia have been very deeply implanted in the country by Mr. Milosevic but also by Serbian culture. And the political spectrum is skewed toward the ultra nationalist side. You have a politician, for example, one of the major opposition parties, who would be regarded as an extreme nationalist if he were politicking in a West European country. In Serbia, he's a centrist. That's just the way it is. But I think what we are going to see is probably not Jeffersonian democracy established first, it's going to come through stages, and I think it's important -- the most important thing is to work with them, for us to work with them for the international community to work with him, for the political party institutes here in the United States and in Europe to work with them.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you - let me just interrupt you here - would you - you know, President Clinton has said no aid for reconstruction as long as Milosevic is in power. Does that policy strengthen the opposition, or undermine it?
JAMES HOOPER: Well, in principle, as long as the assistance would go to Mr. Milosevic I think that's the right idea. In principle, I support Mr. Milosevic. But I think we need to have --
MARGARET WARNER: You don't mean that.
JAMES HOOPER: With Mr. Clinton, excuse me, I'm sorry, Margaret. I support the President's policy, but I think we need to have some flexibility on that. For example, it would be helpful if the United States provided some assistance for reconstruction to maybe three or four or five of these cities on small pilot projects, to show that we're prepared to work with them when they do the right thing. If Mr. Milosevic blocks that assistance or tries to control it, they can then use that against him.
MARGARET WARNER: What's your view of that, Stacy Sullivan?
STACY SULLIVAN: I agree that it's going to be financial assistance that is going to be the -- those are the purse strings here. I think that all financial is assistance should be made contingent upon the rhetoric that we hear coming from these parties. You know, one of the biggest parties, one of the biggest opposition parties is far more nationalistic than Milosevic. I don't think we should be giving any money to them and to the other right-wing politicians in Serbia. If they're willing to tone down their rhetoric and say the right things, then I think we can support that, use the purse strings to do that, to get a more moderate political base.
MARGARET WARNER: Dusko Doder, we can't get inside the head of Milosevic, but lay out for us, what do you think are his options here. One, if he wants to ride it out as he did in '96 and '97, or two if he wants to bail out?
DUSKO DODER: Well, he cannot bail - you know - in 1991, huge demonstration against Milosevic and the people used to say Slobodan -- which means Slobodan by the by, Ceaucescu is waiting for you.
MARGARET WARNER: Meaning the Romanian dictator.
DUSKO DODER: Yes. I think you have a sense of Milosevic sort of losing touch with reality. I mean, his son is opening a theme park now after a war.
MARGARET WARNER: Bambi Land.
DUSKO DODER: Bambi Land. And, you know, he's engaging in reconstruction. How is this going to be done without funds? I think that, you know, he's fighting for his life, this a time when he's dangerous, and he's at his best in terms of maneuvering, and it's going to be difficult to dislodge him. But I think winter is coming, when people realize that there's no food, that there's no fuel, so forth, I'm personally very skeptical about giving money to anybody. I think what we have to do is we have to help the Serb nation to find its own way and face up to the crimes that have been committed in its name. And I think the only reasonable solution so far that has come up in the press was this alliance for change, which involves the American businessman Milan Panic and Montenegrin President and a couple of other politicians. I think they have to face up to this. It cannot be done without that. And I think the present leaders there are not really capable of uniting the opposition.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think Milosevic's options are here?
JAMES HOOPER: Well, he might try to move against Montenegro. Montenegro is providing crucial support for the democratic opposition within Serbia. They've been very courageous. They did not oppose the NATO bombing. It is -- they're part of the federation with Serbia. They make -- Montenegro and Serbia together make up the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. So he could move against Montenegro. It's very important, I think, that we give the Montenegrins a security guarantee.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Stacy Sullivan, what do you see as Milosevic's options here?
STACY SULLIVAN: He could move against Montenegro, but he could move against Voinivodino, which has a significant Hungarian community.
MARGARET WARNER: It's the area to the North.
STACY SULLIVAN: That's right. Or he could just step down quietly and go to his villa and go the way of Radovan Karadzic, the indicted Serb leader in the Serb half of Bosnia. And I think he'd probably be best off to do that, to just step aside and watch the opposition do what they can.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you all three very much.