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May 23, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 139
Point of View

How To Sell The War

by Stojan Cerovic (The author is a regular VREME columnist, currently in the U.S.A. as a recipient of the Nieman Fellowship)

The fact that Serbia and Montenegro are still under sanctions does not mean that they don't cost much, but that they soon won't cost anything at all. For the time being, while we are able to produce news for the papers, we are turning a small amount of moneyat least in America. Someone is willing to pay, and a certain number of people are earning money thanks to this nonsense.

Some ten odd books have been published, and there will be more. There will be Ph.D. thesis which will mention not only Bosnian Serb Commander General Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, but also paramilitary leader turned politician Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan and private banker Dafina Milanovic, the names of villages in Bosnia, give detailed descriptions of destroyed mosques, analyze the results of mortar fire in an inhabited settlement... We have entered university programs and serve as a good, or rather horrible, but useful example to professors talking about the causes of war, nationalism, post-Communism, the history of the Balkans, mediation in the resolving of conflicts, self-determination and secession, war criminals, the media and propaganda.

This in fact, answers questions, such as: Why are we such fools? Have we always been this way, only nobody ever noticed, or do we have some special reasons now? Is this an original contribution to the world history of silliness? Are crimes here committed more out of hatred, lies or stupidity? Are we all the same? Does someone somewhere wish to follow our example? Is there any point in talking to us, or must we just be beaten, and how long?

The professors take their work seriously; some of them know our history and current circumstances very well, and they react to events with the speed of journalists. It isn't at all unusual if a professor at Harvard University reads and analyses the latest report from the ``New York Times'' on the trouble over Gorazde, including the US Government's statements.

Such analyses however, usually contain deep, important and serious reasons, which give this nonsense of ours a certain dignity. I sometimes even feel good, as if they are flattering us involuntarily, when they say that this is a continuation of World War Two, that the matter concerns religious intolerance, a lack of democratic experience, the problem of minorities and mistakes made by world diplomacy. Is it possible that someone like Arkan had all that in mind?

Practically all these serious explanations of the war have been discovered subsequently. It was important to start, and one can bet that a lot of convincing arguments will soon be found for either side in Bosnia. But for the beginning it was enough for Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to conclude: ``If we don't know how to work, at least we'll know how to fight,'' which is supposed to mean that Serb laziness is to blame for all. Milosevic has obviously only developed former Yugoslav President Dobrica Cosic's wellknown idea of Serbs as losers in peace, so that it follows that war is the Serb's greatest natural resource. Milosevic then decided to use this comparative advantage and set his people doing that which he believes they are best at.

We can think what we like about this, but the product is finished and must now be sold; and this is what Milosevic has been doing for some time. The problem lies in the fact that, even though he is the man who thought of it in the first place, he isn't the only owner and can't set the price and sign the deal. The main producers--Mladic's and Karadzic's creators of ruins believe rightly, that they will have the final say, so that differences over this particular point have been present for some time. Milosevic thought that he had been given a good price with the Vance-Owen plan, but the Assembly in Pale (Bosnian Serb political centered.note) was adamant. The latest offer from Genevapeace and the lifting of sanctions in return for 20% Bosnian territory, has a great chance of faring like the previous offer, but this time with a greater clash between Belgrade and Pale.

The problem obviously lies in the fact that sanctions are irritating Milosevic, and those 20% don't mean much to him, while Mladic on the other hand, can bear the sanctions in Serbia and Montenegro, but regards the returning of territory as an admission of defeat after victory. Talking of war, Mladic is probably more insulted than impressed by the promise of peace. He is the man who will say enough is enough, not some civilians in Geneva.

The war was supposed to bring about the unification of all Serbs, but the peace is starting to separate them, because the matter concerns a delicate business deal in which some Serbs would have to renounce their claim to something in order that other Serbs should breathe more easily. It is possible that this test of solidarity will be resolved when both sides renounce each other. Mladic and Karadzic are probably in much less of a hurry than Milosevic, who must take advantage of the fact that the world still takes this war seriously, and is trying to stop it. If something bigger crops up in the East soon, this domestic nonsense will devalue overnight, and the world will forget us. This would be very convenient from the Bosnian Serbs' point of view, but what if they forget to lift sanctions in Serbia? On the whole, this war has turned out to be a bum investment. Compared to the two previous wars after which there was a period of good life, this one will have to be worked off. In the best possible outcome, if an exchange of sanctions and territory is achieved, the final balance will be negative. Without a doubt, the worst in Serbia's recent history. But, when he started off at Gazimestan (Kosovo), Milosevic was inspired with history; and on entering into conflict with the whole world, unconsciously headed towards another famous defeat. Something worse happened. It seems that he has been allowed to achieve a disgraceful victory. No one in Serbia was prepared for such an outcome, and it is obvious that no one knows what to do now.

Someone will say that Milosevic should be left to cope as best he knows how, and bring the war to an end. But, since no one is threatening him, he will do what he has to. Of course, it would be much better if someone else were to conduct a different policy. It would look more like democracy, and things could be patched up with the world somehow, if this is believed to be important. Otherwise, who knows what Milosevic can still do, and does anybody believe that he would agree to peace if it would cost him his authority? What if he goes on searching for his famous defeat?

As far as the world is concerned, especially America, our affair is slowly being taken off the list of priorities. Clinton has refrained from conducting a foreign policy, and the prevailing belief is that this case is too complicated and not very important. The arguments against us are mostly moral, which means that unless we distinguish ourselves in some way in Bosnia, they will just postpone our case. We will gain in time, more time than we need, and be able to meditate in solitude if, apart from waging war, we are capable of doing something else.

Apart from Dobrica Cosic, does anybody else know something about the Serbs?

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