Milosevic is dead. What next?

MOSCOW. (Pavel Kandel, chief of department of ethno-political problems of
the Institute of Europe, for RIA Novosti.)
Epitaph is befitting a funeral, but useless at the trial of history. Facing
it now is Slobodan Milosevic, who has settled his score with the Hague
Tribunal. He died the death of a martyr in a prison cell of causes that are
not quite clear. This is the best excuse for coining a myth about an
unflagging fighter for the interests of his country, who managed to pass a
verdict against his foes even at his own trial. This is exactly how the
charismatic leader wanted to go down in Serbian history. His goal was to
justify himself morally and politically at least in the Serbian eyes, if
not before world public opinion.
But only successful rulers can expect forgiveness for "too much". The
losers should not hope for mercy. Politically, Milosevic went bankrupt in
2000, when the wave of popular anger swept his 13 yearlong authoritarian
regime in a matter of hours. It was no surprise that Yugoslavia ceased to
exist shortly after his downfall. A former president of a non-existent
country is the worst-case scenario for any political leader. His death will
change little in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans.
However, now that the deceased has exacted his revenge against the Hague
Tribunal, it will not be easy for the Serbian authorities to fulfill the EU
ultimatum on the extradition of Radovan Karadzis and Ratko Mladic to the
Hague before the end of this month. If the Hague Tribunal sought justice
instead of justifying the consistently anti-Serbian policy of the West, the
defendant Milosevic would have been tried on a par with the Croatian
President Franjo Tudman and the head of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija
Izetbegovic, who were allowed to quietly pass away, and with the
ringleaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who are now respected
Massive war crimes and violation of the standards of law and humanity is a
feature of any civil war. All confronting sides showed much zeal in this
respect. Treating them differently means undermining the very foundations
of law. Although the legal and extreme political bias of the Hague Tribunal
does not whitewash the criminals, further cooperation with it under the
circumstances is a big headache for the Cabinet of Vojislav Kostunica, who
may happen to be the last democratic leader of Serbia.
The new context makes even more dangerous the hasty attempts of Washington
and Brussels to achieve an early proclamation of Kosovo's "independence"
from Serbia. This intention is difficult to explain in the context of the
UN-proclaimed goal to create a democratic multiethnic society there. After
all, the Comprehensive Review of the Situation in Kosovo, drafted for the
UN Security Council, may be qualified as an unambiguous verdict to
international peacemakers for their efforts in the last five years.
The Review's diplomatic formulas of the situation in Kosovo change for
"thugocracy" when the NATO officers, who served there, describe the
situation off the record. The facade of the current government institutions
conceals the mafia clans, which enjoy the patronage of the leading Kosovo
politicians from among the former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The majority of the Serbs (about 220,000 people), who left Kosovo after
June 1999, have not come back. More Serbs fled the area in the wake of
anti-Serbian pogroms in March 2004. Ensuring good neighborly relations
between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs has proved to be an unfeasible task.
Having yielded to the blackmail of the Kosovo Albanian nationalists and
drug dealers, the Western patrons of Kosovo independence encourage them to
continue these politically advantageous tactics. If these patrons prevent
them from translating the ideal of a "pirate republic" into reality, they
will come under pressure as well. The "entry ticket" to the EU seems to be
an effective instrument for controlling the Kosovo elite from Brussels. But
why should they give up their bad habits? The Kosovo criminals already feel
quite comfortable in Europe without any "ticket", and control a big portion
of the black market of drugs, weapons, and prostitution. It may well happen
that Kosovo's projected integration into Europe will be even more divorced
from reality than its "independence".
The Belgrade authorities will not accept Kosovo's "independence". In olden
times Kosovo was the cradle of Serbian statehood, and is a shrine of
national history, religion, and culture. Its monuments - ancient Orthodox
churches and monasteries are still there, although in ruins. Kosovo is the
site of a legendary battle, which is described in a Serbian epic. Nor will
the influential Serbian Orthodox Church allow the government to give up
this national heritage. Kosovo's independence is an encroachment on a sense
of national identity, and is tantamount to a political suicide for any
Serbian leader.
In the long term, preservation of "paper" sovereignty over Kosovo will cost
Serbia too much. The "African" birth rate among Kosovo Albanians is a
breeding ground of demographic expansion, which threatens to change the
ethnic makeup of Serbia. A backward agrarian territory, overpopulated and
lacking jobs, is a burden, which the Serbian economy will not be able to
bear. As part of Serbia, Kosovo is a source of endless conflicts. For these
reasons, the Serbs would have probably accepted the loss if they were able
to keep the holy sites, and would have been adequately reimbursed for
everything else. But the decision was to make Serbia accept the loss by
hook or by crook in exchange for one carrot - agreement on stabilization
and association with the EU. But even this carrot may be taken away now
that the future agreement has been linked with the destiny of Mladic and
The weakness of the Belgrade authorities generates the hope that they may
be forced into a deal. But the first consequence of Kosovo's independence
will be the ultimate exodus of Serbs from the area. If Serbia refuses the
deal, it won't save it from a political crisis. Early elections will bring
to power the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, whose leader Vojslav Seselj
is now spending his time in a cell of the Hague Tribunal. A non-velvet
divorce of Serbia and Montenegro may become more likely. It is possible
that inter-ethnic tensions will grow in Voivodina and three southern
communities of Serbia. All these events will force more people to leave
their lands. The nationalist leaders will probably not dare to have a power
confrontation with the EU and the U.S. but democracy in the Weimar Serbia
will be thrown far back, and its European prospects will become vague. It
is sheer guesswork to try and predict what effect Kosovo's independence
will have on the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia.
The advocates of Kosovo's independence are stubbornly reluctant to admit
its broad repercussions on international law and politics. But once talk on
this subject has started, it has instantly generated tensions in
"unrecognized" post-Soviet state formations - Transdnestr, Nagorny
Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. People are now talking about Kosovo's
potential precedent even in the Crimea and Transcarpathians. Georgia,
Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova have rushed to warn that any solution of
the Kosovo issue should not create a precedent. But it would be more
logical to assume the reverse - the echo of Kosovo's independence will roll
from the Basque Country to Kurdistan.
Speaking at a news conference in the Kremlin on January 31, Russian
President Vladimir Putin stressed that dual standards are inadmissible in
settling ethno-political conflicts, and that there is a direct link between
the Kosovo settlement and the destiny of the unrecognized post-Soviet
states. Representatives of Russia were upholding a universal approach in
this context at the session of the UN Security Council and the Contact
Group on Kosovo. Conversely, the Western spokesmen insisted on the
situation "being unique", but this approach is incompatible with
international law or common sense. After all, such a "unique" situation may
develop in any other place, and "no less unique" conflicts may be settled
in the same "unique" way as in Kosovo. It is a question of expediency and
price. -0-