SCMP Saturday, October 7, 2000
Peace rests on new way to solve old problems
With its complicated ethnic, geographical and historical problems it was never likely to be easy to find a solution to Yugoslavia's troubles.
The country was a time bomb in which simmering hostilities were kept under the lid only by the iron hand of dictator Josef Tito. His death in 1980 lifted that lid on the melting pot that is the Balkans and allowed the whole country to boil over into crisis.
But years of violence have not ended in victory or offered any solutions - the removal of Slobodan Milosevic is unlikely to change that. The disjointed attempts at enforcing peace by the West have been hampered by the desire of local politicians to gain power by exploiting ethnic hostilities. Milosevic was the best known of the Balkan nationalists as he made use of his waning power over Yugoslav institutions to seize national assets on behalf of the Serbs.
There were many others - in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro - who contributed to the multi-sided nationalist struggle that has engulfed the Balkans for more than a decade.
For Bulgarian Balkans expert Professor Andrei Raichev, it is as difficult to explain the past as it is to predict the future in the region.
"Soviet communism and Western capitalism may have once been joined together in the former Yugoslavia, but they have had a painful divorce. The marriage of the two opposite ideals so briefly joined under Tito was always destined to end in a painful divorce, and the world is [still] waiting to see how the Balkans will develop," the academic said.
More than a change of leader, he said, the region needed "peace and economic re-creation". Both would give its peoples a chance to decide what they wanted.
Professor Raichev said the new Yugoslav government of Vojislav Kostunica, once it is formed, should not follow the common mistake of Balkans governments of blaming their predecessors when the first difficulties appear.
"They should avoid playing the ethnic card to distract people's attention and should concentrate instead on solving the real problems," he said.
The West is still looking to the past, with a chorus of leaders this week reiterating the need for Milosevic to be tried by the international war crimes tribunal for war crimes he allegedly committed in Kosovo - although British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook hinted that a trial in Yugoslavia could also be an option. "It's an option if they [the Yugoslavs] believe he has committed offences under Serb law," Mr Cook said.
But if Dr Raichev's advice to turn a page on the past implies pardoning Milosevic, then, despite the displeasure this would cause in the West, it might prove timely advice. Milosevic's star may have waned but it is still not out. He has powerful friends, and even allowing for his vote-rigging, at least one in three Serbs probably cast their ballots for him.
Recognising that Milosevic is still a force, Italy has suggested he be offered asylum, something Belarussian Prime Minister Viktor Yermoshin said yesterday his country would consider - if the fallen leader asks for it.