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July 6, 1992
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 41
Milan Panic, a Candidate

Waiting for Uncle Sam

by Stojan Cerovic

Milan Panic, a candidate for the vacant post of prime minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, is expected to immediately retrieve all that was lost, revoke the terrible devastation, reestablish the reputation of the country the whole world has damned and bring Western rationality to those to whom all reasonable advice sounds like an infernal anti-Serbian conspiracy. The self-sufficient Serbia has been following its own path for years, heading in a direction opposite to the rest of the world, accepting the heavy burden of responsibility for a criminal war, which it lost. Today, it is all alone and exposed to the threats of a military intervention. The American Sixth Fleet has entered the Adriatic, and Dobrica Cosic has invited an American to assume power in Belgrade.

The Serbian regime and Cosic himself must believe that by calling Panic they are giving America a sign that they are ready to capitulate. Washington has offered to form a government in Belgrade. I fear, however, that this is just another misunderstanding. Hopelessly old-fashioned nationalists do not understand that they are not involved in a conflict with a stronger enemy, but with the generally accepted rules of behavior. They are not asked to capitulate but to observe the rules that apply to everybody else.

Dobrica Cosic says yes to what he himself believes is a puppet government, even though nobody forced him to do so. The ambitious businessman applied himself, or somebody in Belgrade remembered him, and Washington, at least in the beginning, opposed the idea and threatened to deprive Panic of his American citizenship, which is obviously worth more than PM's office in Belgrade. Cosic pleaded (in writing) for his candidate not to encounter any obstacles and the matter was apparently settled, but one should not bear any illusions that Panic received Mr. Bush' blessing and that there will be no more misunderstanding between Serbia and America. If he thinks that it is enough to proclaim himself America's ally, Cosic will be very surprised when a genuine change in attitude is still requested from there. Nobody, especially America, need allies like Serbia.

Panic is coming here to form a government of a non-existent country. His nomination will be discussed in a parliament whose legitimacy is not even being defended by the Socialists any more. Occupying the post of President of Serbia, he will find a man whose resignation he demanded as the precondition for his arrival. The other federal republic - Montenegro - is already very angry because - despite the constitutional guarantees - it was not given the chance to nominate its own man. Furthermore, Panic will have to put an end to the fighting in Bosnia, i.e. speed up the defeat of Karadzic's and Mladic's army - and justify all that before the nationalists in Belgrade. According to the local rules here, everything he does or says will be understood as plain national treason.

Not only will his professional experience gained in America be of no help to him, it will pose the biggest obstacle to understanding the domestic economic situation and customs, especially after the blockade.

The new prime minister will have to face the neglected Kosovo, where the ethnic Albanians do not see why they should give him any chance at all. He will have to face the nerve-wrecked and half-crazed country full of arms which are about to start "talking" any second. The prince without a throne and in need of a crown, will also wait for him, and in His Highness's eyes Panic is Milosevic's man. The opposition, the people in the streets, the workers on mandatory leave, refugees, angry students... they are also there. There is the army and the police, two powers left without self-confidence, which do not trust the old boss, but do not see who could replace him. None of them will have any sympathy for the American millionaire brought by Dobrica Cosic.

It is quite certain that Panic will not be welcomed by the ruling party either. It is not clear who, except Cosic, is behind his nomination, and he is threatening to remove or at least gradually phase out Milosevic. As if some kind of double government is being prepared, with Cosic and Panic on one side, and Milosevic and Bozovic on the other. Whoever thinks that it is six of one and half a dozen of the other, and that they will get along just fine ought to give them some time.

It is beyond any doubt that Panic is not able to imagine even one tiny part of what he will encounter here. He will be most surprised when he finds out that people here do not want to change or mend anything, least of all those who invited him. If the Serbs wanted to get down to some real business, they would never have chased away Ante Markovic and proclaimed him the nation's number one enemy. Panic is, therefore, involved in a strange "you try to save us and we won't let you" game. Will he understand that?

The reputation Panic enjoys in the States is far from impeccable, but that is not uncommon among the nouveaux riches. However, ambition, diligence and money are appreciated there. Who wants to be respected here must have and despise money; who wants power must prove that he does not want it; who gets involved in politics must always say that it was by pure chance and that it is just a temporary activity. Every success must look unintentional and undeserved. Will Milan Panic get used to that? In a nation which nurtures the cult of defeat and that has just been defeated, the new Prime Minister is supposed to generate an atmosphere of victory.

He will be advised to seek compromise, to talk with everybody and secure support from the Church, the Army, the Academy, the political parties... which is not enough, even if he gets it. They have all contributed to the Serbian defeat. The most successful, the most serious and the most responsible government the Prime Minister could form already exists: the Students' Protest '92.

I feel sorry in advance because nobody will take this proposal into consideration, since Cosic believes in experts like Panic. I do not know why then, having called in an American, he cared so much about his Serbian descent and his Serbian name. Apparently, blood guarantees patriotism. He had to make sure that the expert in him does not suppress the Serb, otherwise he could have called in a Japanese just as easily.

Finally, a word or two for those who fear the bombing of Belgrade. The fact that Milan Panic and the Sixth Fleet are coming at the same time is by no means sign of coordination or an American strategy for bringing Belgrade to its senses, as many here will think. Unlike us, the Americans have a habit of basing their actions on real estimates. Therefore, one should stop hoping that there is still time and that the Sixth Fleet will wait for Panic to put things in order, which does not mean that the decision is already made and that American can't wait to fire. But the Serbian strategists both in Belgrade and in Bosnia should finally realize that they became involved in America's election campaign, in a way which could land them into trouble. To bomb the Serbs has become so popular that soon Mr. Bush may not be able to resist.

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