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September 12, 1998
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 362
Stojan Cerovic’s Diary

Not Even a Fly Taking Off

by Stojan Cerovic

Thus, our airplanes will no longer be allowed to fly to Europe.  What’s so strange about that?  Well, first of all, where did we get airplanes?  Are there such things in our time?  Judging by what we are doing, by how we live and what our national leaders are saying, it appears that the Right Brothers have yet to be born.  In this sense a ban on JAT flights appears only logical: we are being denied something that does not belong to us.  The condition for flying an airplane is that you live in the twentieth century.  The ban will be lifted once we demonstrate an intention to get back into this century, which would have to happen before it runs out.

It seems to me that JAT accepted this measure somehow meekly, almost with understanding, even though they have ample reason for being bitter because of discrimination.  Why should only airplanes be subject to the ban, and not, let us say, the railway?  At least, from the perspective of travelers, such a criticism would be quite justified.  The last time I flew with a JAT airplane, it was full of flies.  It could be that in the meantime this problem was noted, so that attendants are informing passengers that fly swatters are “located on the seat in front of you.”  And in the business class, probably there is that sticky tape hanging from the ceiling.

However, I am ready to say that trains are no better, and are no less responsible for the war in Kosovo and for the absence of dialogue.  But the ministers of countries in the European Union evidently do not think this.  I don’t know why the ban is only limited to airplanes, but as I did not hear that they mentioned hygiene as an issue, the only remaining explanation is that there is no progress in Kosovo.  Or rather, there is progress, but in the wrong direction.  Well, the ministers believe that this will change immediately, now that the European Union dealt Milosevic the hardest blow through JAT.

I am not a principled opponent of any kind of sanctions in international relations, nor do I think that they are necessarily inefficient, and that is why this ban appears to me to be scandalous.  It gives sanctions a bad name and compromises the European Union just as much as the international community.  Neither has the European Union taken a clear, unified stance on the Kosovo crisis, nor has it upheld the objectives and methods of the UCK, nor has it placed any demands on Milosevic, assigned deadlines, or stated under what conditions the ban on flights could be lifted, nor what at all is expected from this measure.

If every decision by European ministers were like this one, EU would fall apart as quickly as you could say Kinkel.  Supposedly, Germany needed this kind of gesture leading into the elections, while everyone else is more or less ambivalent.  It could be the Kohl and Kinkel will really get a few more votes because of this “hardline toward the Serbs”, but the real interest of Germany is to somehow reduce the number of Albanian asylum seekers in Germany who hail from Kosovo.  However, every one of them can now refuse this with more ease, pointing precisely to this measure as added evidence that Serbia is dangerous, especially for Albanians.  But who knows, perhaps there they believe that Albanians only refuse to go back by JAT, but are willing to be transported by Lufthanse.

Thus, the European Union has concluded that it is better to do something foolish, than nothing at all.  That is a dilemma which I would not like to comment on loosely, and will merely note that folly, once it takes root, has the property of spreading and multiplying quickly.  Thus a decision by European ministers became even more foolish in the very same day on which it was adopted, after England announced that it will apply it, effective one year hence.  They certainly have good administrative reasons for this, except that this does not discredit the European Union any the less.  The aborted sanctions have become half-sanctions.

This ban on flights merely shows that Christopher Hill is right when he says that Europe, busy with its currency, is not paying much attention to Kosovo.  Were it not so, European ministers would certainly have tried to come up with something better than this shabby alibi.  But I am not sure that America is trying very hard either, even though it does not have to worry about its currency.  But that’s why there is Miss Lewinski’s dress.

Of course, there is no sense in fretting over the fact that Europe and America are paying little attention to us, or that they are paying too much attention, or even paying the wrong kind of attention.  They only pay attention to us as much as they want and as they know how, and can certainly not do more harm or be more foolish than our own government.  In this regard, all of their statesmen put together can hardly wield the sort of punch that is to be expected from Milosevic and Seselj.  Today’s generation of western politicians was never prepared for dealing with something of that kind.  Who, in any case, can be blamed for the fact that we are not spending time dealing with our currency or that women’s dresses, but are instead dealing with corpses and refugees?

It is interesting that this time there will not be any reciprocity and that European planes will continue to land in Belgrade.  Previously Europe also did not counter in the customary way to our decision to deporting several foreign journalists and our refusal to issue visas.  Thus it turns out that Serbia is deporting their journalists, while they are deporting our airplanes, and now it merely remains to see who gained and who lost what.  But, turning our back to reciprocity has a positive and rational effect in either case, at least at first sight.  Only if there were not any malicious evidence of genuflexion by this state.

When last time it earned sanctions because of Bosnia, Serbia still used to think that it could carry its head high and to behave like a subject.  Now, it evidently does not think this way any longer and is not attempting to maintain even seeming equality, nor is anyone in Europe willing to counter Serbia tit for tat.  Back then Serbia got the treatment of a serious and dangerous menace, while that same menace has now become merely miserable, too local and negligible.  At least there would be some dignity in reciprocity, which has become a luxury in the meantime.

The fact that Montenegrin airplanes (grand total of two) have been excluded from the ban is hardly likely to cause Milosevic and Seselj to think hard, except when it comes to the issue of grounding Djukanovic.  What business does he have waving his hand at them from an airplane?  How is it possible that Montenegrins can fly, while Serbs are walking?  This exclusion is the only serious and important element in the decision by the European Union, because with it a difference is being underlined abroad between Belgrade and Podgorica.  However, the question is whether EU is ready to accept the possible consequences of this difference, and to decide to support Djukanovic’s flight toward Europe even if Milosevic’s tries with all his might to keep him grounded?

In Serbia itself, Milosevic has become practically invincible, especially ever since he has been joined by Seselj and Draskovic.  Montenegro remains his only weak spot, and there he is far more sensitive than on Kosovo, where he can always hide behind national sentiments, and where the conflict is unfolding within national parameters.  However, in Montenegro the very nature and foundation of his policies has been brought into question, along with his idea of authority and his relation with the world.  That is why there, a defeat would be strictly personal, absolute and well earned.

The exclusion of Montenegro must have hurt a lot more than the ban on JAT, and he only hurts there where he has a healthy limb.  But I fear that the EU has only accidentally hit upon this weak spot and that it will hesitate to press him there further.  And it is precisely now that Djukanovic ought to be given powerful support, so that Milosevic would be forced to go with him or to let him go, which is equally as difficult for him.  Then Serbia would realize what is the meaning and the cost of muddying one’s boots in Kosovo.

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