Sharp reactions of Belgrade to Djukanovic's apology to Croatia

Challenge for the Bosses

Teofil Pancic

SAT, 15 JUL 2000

Belgrade (July 07) - The recent public apology – or "expressing regret" – of Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic to the citizens of neighbouring Republic of Croatia, especially to those of the region of Dubrovnik and Cavtat, because of the suffering inflicted on them by "Montenegrin citizens – members of Yugoslav People’s Army" caused numerous and contradictory reactions both in Montenegro and in Croatia, but it is interesting that the sharpest reactions to the unconventional and at least symbolically far-reaching act of Montenegrin president have come from a "third country" – from Serbia. More precisely, the reactions arrived from Belgrade as the seat of federal administration of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the extent to which this administration still operate.

Almost immediately after publication of the content of the public statement of Montenegrin president registered during his official visit to Croatia and talks with president Stjepan Mesic, in Belgrade state media raised a hue and cry against Djukanovic, and a race to ruin him started among spokesmen and prominent officials of parties of the ruling tripartite coalition (SPS-JUL-Radicals), various "patriotic alliances", "veterans’ associations" and other pro-regime organisations which comfortably live off the state budget just in order to "offer support" whenever need arises to those who pay them and in order to "sharply, in the name of the people, condemn" all those the regime points its finger at. For days the lynch in the media went on, dragging Montenegrin president in the mire by the media loyal to the regime, but all that was not very serious and unusual – since paid spokesmen of Milosevic’s regime have been entrusted with the task to use every opportunity for routine "striking at" Djukanovic – until the general Staff of the Army of Yugoslavia did not thunderously enter the campaign.

In a longish article written with pathetically unskilled "analytical" aspirations – which is the recognisable style of the current author of statements of the army leadership, whoever he may be – various alleged Djukanovic’s sins of legal, political and statesman’s nature, are listed and "interpreted", among which the significant one is the fact that he "apologized to Croatian instead to apologize to Montenegrin people". In its banal political pamphlet, the Army could not pass over in silence Djukanovic’s recent appearance which had already been exploited by almost all public protagonists, institutions and individuals which are endlessly loyal to the regime. This is how the campaign against "traitor Djukanovic" acquired an "additional quality" and the Army of Yugoslavia proved once again that there is no trite and shallow petty political manoeuvre that it would not use to confirm its blind loyalty to Dedinje. In view of the fact that this loyalty is awarded by express promotions in the hierarchy, enormous apartments in the prestigious parts of the city and acceptance in the caricatured "elite" of ruined and grotesquely dilapidated Serbia, this should not be a surprise to anyone.

However, not even the statement of the Army leadership so pleasant to the ears of the Court marked the climax in defaming Montenegrin president; vice-president of Seselj’s Serb Radical Party and high government official Tomislav Nikolic joined at this party’s press conference the attacks against Djukanovic because of his "illegal behavior" by "raising the stake" as follows: "It has become customary for Milo Djukanovic to draw moves for which he should be arrested. (…) If Milo Djukanovic apologizes to Ustashe evil-doers for the atrocities they committed against the Serb people and for armed secession by which Croatia, having occupied the Republic of Serb Krajina, seceded from Yugoslavia, if when Holbrooke does not allow the legitimate representative of FRY to speak in the Security Council, Milo Djukanovic sends his so-called foreign minister as a member of the Slovenian delegation and in this way ignores the federal state, if Milo Djukanovic invites the self-proclaimed prosecutor of the so-called Hague Tribunal to visit Montenegro, although Carla del Ponte knows very well that she should visit FRY if she should ever be permitted to do so, then this is a sign that FRY must react and Milo Djukanovic must be arrested".

Of course, Slobodan Milosevic has just as much chance to arrest Milo Djukanovic as Djukanovic has to arrest him and "extradite" him to the Hague – very little. This is, however, a clear sign of extreme straining of relations the probable consequences of which are still impossible to predict.

The campaign of defaming Djukanovic for his apology to Croatia is without doubt a part of the general showdown with the independent policy of Montenegro, a part of "legal" consolidation and "fortification" of Slobodan Milosevic on the federal throne. Djukanovic’s effective gesture itself which is yet another proof of the extent to which this politician superiorly uses his skill of self-promotion, but also promotes the new civilised image of his country, is one of (important) details in his policy of opening Montenegro towards the world, its reintegration into international community and acceptance of its major principles and standards. This is, indeed, "by definition" a challenge for Belgrade isolationist leadership which has made the state it rules, irresponsibly and without any control, into some kind of a "fortress under siege". And it is, therefore, a state without laws and outside law – an ideal ambience for all its political, financial and other foul dealings.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Djukanovic’s gesture would have been sharply criticised by official Belgrade and its allies even if it had not come at the time of the highly sensitive phase of Milosevic’s crackdown with his probably most threatening and most skilful internal opponent. Djukanovic’s apology or "regret" directly and profoundly questions the "official version" of Yugoslav history of the nineties, the version according to which all the republics of former SFRY except for Serbia and Montenegro "pursued nationalistic and separatist policy" and illegally seceded from Yugoslavia - which as a state and as a concept does not cease to exist even when majority of South Slavic peoples leave it – while Serbia and Montenegro pursued an altruistic policy of "protection of the Serb people", and not at all an expansionistic war campaign aimed at "redefining" (by force) the borders among the (former) Yugoslav republics in order to enable "all the Serbs to be in one state". And Montenegrins with them, as "Serb Spartans".

These nationalistic delusions about "unification" started much evil and created numerous illusions which Milosevic’s regime and a significant part of the opposition were addicted to. At the time, of course, Djukanovic himself, who was at the post of Montenegrin prime minister at the time, visited soldiers ("combatants for freedom of ham and video-recorders" as at the time rare independent journalists called them) at the battlefields around Dubrovnik and encouraged them not to give up in their noble task…

Djukanovic, however, learnt his lesson, but Belgrade regime stubbornly persists in its usual behavior, aware that – especially after the Hague indictment – it in fact has no honorary and safe way to withdraw. That is why this almost hysterically angry reaction to Djukanovic’s gesture is a specific "struggle for history" with serious not just moral but also practical consequences. There hardly can be a worse and more dangerous "treachery" for Belgrade regime than when someone who used to be a part of the "team" publicly renounces the "liberating" nature of the war undertakings of Belgrade. In this way the unquestionable dogma of the official Serb policy on "not participating in the war" is devalued and nullified, and the political and army leadership from Belgrade is, although apparently just indirectly, proclaimed an aggressor and participant in an expansionist war. And this strengthens the foundation of the Hague indictments which is the last thing Dedinje might wish to see.

That is the reason why not even a part of Serbian opposition welcomed this gesture with special inclination: some because of their consistent nationalistic orientation (like Democratic Party of Serbia of Vojislav Kostunica), and others because their leaders have themselves once participated in these wars (like general Momcilo Perisic, the current president of the Movement for Democratic Serbia, who was sentenced to several years of prison in Zadar for his artillery activities during the war). And the lukewarm – or even unconcealed surly – reaction of some of those who have aspirations to succeed Milosevic and his bankrupt regime shows the profundity and seriousness of the problems Serbia will have to face sooner or later, although it is skilfully evading it: it is a problem of responsibility. Many are involved in this story – even as just onlookers and rabble-rousers – and they certainly will not like having their roles re-interpreted like this some day which will put them in a situation to have to apologize to somebody. And it is well known, from a song by Djordje Balasevic if not from anywhere else, that the words "I am sorry" are in these regions "difficult, foreign words". Without saying them, however, Serbia will not be able to pull out of the mire even when Milosevic’s catastrophic regime definitely becomes horrible past. Not because somebody will want to "torture" Serbia in this way, but because it is – at least after the Second World War – a part of global political bonton. And rules of civilised behavior, however hypocritical it sometimes may seem, are one of the unavoidable "skills" which make human life pleasant. In the end of the eighties, Serbia has deliberately chosen organised "flight from civilisation" and got – hell and hopelessness. Its "re-convalescence" road towards return of hope will certainly pass through certain unpleasant confessions. Djukanovic has proved that it "does not hurt" and for that he has earned "damnation" of a leadership which has such a high opinion about itself that it thinks that it carries History and Truth in its pocket, toying and shuffling them as it pleases. Djukanovic has in fact sent a challenge to entire political Serbia to – grow up. It seems that what lies ahead at the moment is tumultuous puberty.

Original article