By Adam LeBorSerb peaceniks offer a better way
May. 11, 2000
I met a group of interesting and brave people last week in, of all places, the lobby of a luxury Budapest hotel: Serbs opposed to the Milosevic regime.
They had come to Budapest to draw up a blueprint for their country's eventual - hopefully - transformation to a civil society.
Bussed here by the New Serbia Forum, a British Foreign Office-funded initiative, they included a former Colonel in the Yugoslav National Army, a former vice-president of Interpol, journalists, academics and assorted thinkers.
They were a personable bunch, this middle - and later - aged Yugoslav opposition elite-in-waiting. Puffing on pungent Drina cigarettes, knocking back wine and coffee, voluble, articulate, wry and war-weary, they embodied an old Tito-era dream of a peaceful confederation of south Slavic nations.
Many had held senior posts in the old Yugoslavia before the country began to implode in the 1991 Croatian war of independence. Their refusal to take part in Slobodan Milosevic's nationalist drive had forced them out of their jobs. Now that same decade of marginalization was their best credential to help rebuild their country.
They brought back memories of another Belgrade, a cosmopolitan and educated city that under a different regime, could have developed into the economic hub of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
And perhaps could still do so, with enough Western support for the post-Milosevic era, and the return of the many tens of thousands of the young, educated Serb liberal elite that have understandably uprooted for more sympathetic parts of the world.
The New Serbia Forum is an encouraging example of a foreign policy for Yugoslavia that for once is pro-active, rather than reactive. Europe's record in the wreckage of the former Yugoslavia is pretty dismal, sending a procession of grey yes-men such as Lord Owen to try and negotiate a deal with Milosevic.
Those demanding some kind of actual action to stop the slaughter, such as the foreign press corps covering the war, were cynically condemned as "laptop bombardiers".
Yet it was we journalists who helped lead the way for the genuine ones. In both Bosnia and Kosovo, air-strikes achieved what Lord Owen could not: An end to the killing and ethnic cleansing by Milosevic's paramilitaries.
The New Serbia Forum draws on the experience of post-Communist countries like Hungary in moving from a dictatorship to democracy. Too much time was wasted in 1989 arguing over flags and anthems, said the Forum's Sir John Birch, former British Ambassador to Budapest.
But between Budapest and Belgrade there is one key difference. Many fear, and some expect, the end of the Milosevic regime to be protracted and bloody.
Internationally isolated, its domestic support crumbling, riven by factions and threatened by the armed forces of organized crime it unleashed during the Bosnian war, the Milosevic regime is likely to end not with a whimper, but a Serb Goetterdaemmerung.
As one Serb delegate bleakly predicted, "Unfortunately I don't think the transition can be peaceful, because there is too much at stake for government circles and they have no way out. They will fight until the last drop of our blood."
PS: Sajnos Nincs banned in Gdansk, Poland.
I read with interest in the Guardian newspaper that a Polish businessman has banned his employees from using the following phrases: "There isn't any", "I cannot do that" and "Unfortunately it is not possible".
Gdansk was the birthplace of the Polish Solidarity movement that eventually helped topple Communism. Could it now herald the start of a capitalist consumer service revolution? Here's to a trickle-down effect, all the way from the Baltic coast to the Balkans.