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From the October 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 10)

Kostunica's Milosevic Complex

Presidents—Past and Present

Dusan Pavlovic, Reporter (Serbia edition), Belgrade, Yugoslavia, July 11, 2001

Is it possible that, after all, Petar Lukovic did not err when in his columns in Reporter early this year he gave [Serbian President] Vojislav Kostunica the nickname Voja/Sloba? As Slobodan Milosevic’s extradition to the Hague tribunal approached, Kostunica began more and more to resemble his predecessor. In his political confession on June 26 [Kostunica held a press conference that he called his “political confession,” at which he disavowed involvement in Milosevic’s extradition—WPR] he represented himself in the best Milosevic-type manner as someone who by no means was involved in Milosevic’s extradition to The Hague. Others were responsible: Americans and the rest of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) [the governing coalition], but by no means he himself. Like Milosevic, who did everything to save the former Yugoslavia, Krajina [an area of Croatia once populated by Serbs], Bosnia, Kosovo, democracy, economic reform in Serbia, etc., Kostunica did everything within legal bounds to organize cooperation with the Hague tribunal, but was prevented by Americans and the rest of DOS.

An attitude of bitterness, injustice, and shifting responsibility to others are characteristics that marked the ruling elite under Milosevic. It is quite possible that Kostunica’s bitterness is heartfelt, but it is almost certain that his insecure and defensive attitude was stirred up by his advisers and party colleagues, since they have been much more resolute than he about those issues.

The theory about “small and smaller parties,” the idea that the one with the greatest power has the right to dictate the rules of the game, was one of Milosevic’s favorite arguments in his bid to put communist Yugoslavia under his domination in 1988-89. One should also recall that Vuk Draskovic has regularly used the same reasoning within the Serbian opposition. In Draskovic’s intrepretation, it was reduced to a motto: “The river does not empty into a brook, but a brook empties into a river.” Such arrogance has for a long time prevented the Serbian opposition from creating an alternative political strategy and defeating Milosevic, while Draskovic himself paid the highest price for it in September and December’s elections.

Kostunica accepted the role of victim and loser even though in some instances he is the one who imposes and dictates the agenda, pace, and way of resolving political issues. The way in which our government has approached the Milosevic problem was formulated and worked out by Kostunica. Milosevic could have been extradited even in January when [the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor] Carla Del Ponte visited Belgrade for the first time. Of course, the aim was not to find a legal basis, but to prolong the whole process as long as possible. Despite the alleged constraints of his coalition partners, Kostunica managed to force the passage of a law on cooperation with the Hague tribunal, which, it is now clear, unnecessarily delayed the whole thing for five and a half months.

The tendency to procrastinate, stemming from a distorted perception of reality, is the greatest similarity between Milosevic and Kostunica. Milosevic was distinguished by pushing a futile policy that had no real chance to succeed. Starting with a bid to save, even more to dominate, the former Yugoslavia, then to gather all Serbs in one state, impose democracy, carry out economic reform, stop crime, defeat NATO, expose the Hague tribunal, etc.—Milosevic was a mastermind of aimless action. Analyzing the politics that Kostunica has practiced so far, one comes to a similar conclusion. His policies on Kosovo, the survival of the Yugoslav federation, cooperation with the Hague tribunal, and facing Serb responsibility in the wars in ex-Yugoslavia are, to put it mildly, futile. From each of these policies, nine months after he assumed the presidency, there are no tangible results.

Stretching an irrational approach to policy as far as possible is equally characteristic of Milosevic and Kostunica. But unlike Kostunica, Milosevic here and there managed to bring his policy to an end. Kostunica still does not understand that it is important not only to have some ideas, but that they be realized. Djindjic understands that better than Kostunica does—although, in his pragmatism, Djindjic is also a figure comparable to Milosevic.

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