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February 21, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 126
The Front Page

The Departure

by by Dejan Anastasijevic

Those who claimed on Saturday evening that they had positive information that "NATO was bluffing again,'' and that "nothing would happen,'' grumbled the next day that "these guys aren't kidding.''

This was the effect that the State Department wished to achieve when it ordered its diplomatic staff to leave Serbia and Montenegro on February 12, and issued a short notice to its citizens to do the same. The notice did not say why American citizens could be endangered, and by whom. There was, however, a brief reference to the "conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and possible repercussions.'' The US Embassy has not issued an official statement except to say that it has "followed orders.'' The British left before the Americans quietly, with dignity, and without a fuss. Then the Dutch left, to be followed by the Japanese (66 persons), even though Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic had said a few days earlier, "that is was a good thing that Yakushi Akashi was Japanese,'' because the Japanese were "objective and positively disposed towards the Serbs.'' The French were the last to leave. They missed the big anti-French demonstrations in front of the statue of Thanks to France, organized by the ultra-nationalist "White Rose" organization.

Unofficially, no one denies that the reason for the evacuation was fear from repercussions after threats made by some domestic political factors, to the effect that in the event of air strikes, they would take revenge on foreigners. It is difficult to say to what extent such threats are realistic. It is a fact that, considering the current political situation and the xenophobia generated in Belgrade, US diplomats have had relatively few problems. Two years ago someone shattered the windows of the US Library, while a hand grenade was thrown at the embassy gate last year, causing negligible damage. But, this is all. The  "White Rose'' and similar organizations, have, on several occasions, called on the citizens to stage peaceful demonstrations in front of embassies, but the attendance was not great. Before leaving, the dependents of the diplomatic staff were not really convinced that it was necessary. The wife of a diplomat who has lived in Belgrade for years, said that she found it hard to explain to her child why they were moving just now when everything was ready for a birthday party, and the children had to be enrolled in a new school... and all this in order that the Serbs might take us seriously. Even though it remains a mystery as to what lengths "patriotic forces'' are prepared to go, from the point of view of the security of the diplomatic staff, it would have been logical to carry out the evacuation in silence, and in several goes, without direct TV coverage.

The Foreign Ministry also reached this conclusion, and said that it had received the departure of the families of the diplomatic staff with "surprise and regret'' and concluded that the matter concerned "political-psychological pressure with the aim of damaging Yugoslavia's reputation.'' As far as the pressure is concerned, they are probably right. But as far as Yugoslavia's reputation, there is not much that could damage it any further.

However, not all have left. The German and Austrian embassies said that they had already reduced their diplomatic staff to a minimum, and that the families had returned home. There is only one diplomat in the Albanian Embassy and he says that he is here to "strengthen the friendship between the two countries, and not to flee before threats of bombing,'' and that he has no intention of leaving, since it is "NATO that is doing the threatening, not Albania.'' The Bulgarian Embassy said that ``there was no need for concern,'' adding that there was still time before the "deadline ran out.'' After meeting with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias said that Greek citizens in Yugoslavia were safe and "in a state of spiritual peace." This is more that can be said of their Belgrade neighbors.

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