(E) Balkan ghosts By Jeffrey T. Kuhner
By Jeffrey T. Kuhner
January 05, 2004
The Washington Times, Commentary
The recent victory by radical nationalists in Serbia's parliamentary
elections signals that Belgrade will likely once again seek to forge a
Greater Serbia. Neighboring states and the West need to revise their
foreign policies in order to prevent another Balkan war.
The neo-fascist Serbian Radical Party, led by Vojislav Seselj, won
nearly 30 percent of the vote. More moderate parties, such as the
Democratic Party of Serbia and the governing pro-Western Democratic
Party, finished a distant second and third place respectively. Although
the Radicals did not win enough support to form the next government,
their strong showing indicates that Serbian politics will become more
nationalistic and anti-Western.
Mr. Seselj ran his party's campaign from a prison cell in The Hague,
Netherlands. He is indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for
the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia during
the Balkan wars of the 1990s. His Radical Party is based directly on the
methods and structure of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party. Mr. Seselj is a
virulent ultranationalist, who champions the creation of a Greater
Serbia and the expulsion of all non-Serbs from Serbian lands.
The Radicals' strong showing is likely to trigger regional
instability, reawakening fears among Serbia's neighbors of a possible
new round of ethnic fighting. Moreover, even if Belgrade's bickering
pro-democracy parties can put aside their differences and form a ruling
coalition, the next government will be weak, unstable and most likely
short-lived. The result: that Serbia will continue to slide toward
deeper political and economic chaos. This will only strengthen support
for Mr. Seselj and his policies of national socialism.
Outgoing Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic has equated the
widespread anti-Western feeling among many Serbs with Germany's sense of
betrayal after World War I. "Even Hitler came to power through
democratic elections," Mr. Zivkovic rightly points out.
It is vital that Western governments and neighboring countries such
as Croatia and Bosnia take immediate action to prevent Mr. Seselj's
Radicals from coming to power in the near future. Washington and
Brussels need to make it clear to Belgrade that the West will not
tolerate any attempts to alter borders through the use of military
force. The Bush administration would be wise to announce to the Serbian
electorate that the consequences for resurrecting the project of a
Greater Serbia will be very severe: diplomatic isolation, economic
sanctions and a U.S.-led military response.
The administration should also adopt a policy of containment toward
Belgrade. Serbia is the sick man of the Balkans. As in the final days of
Weimar Germany, Serbia today is a political and economic basket case. It
has also refused to give up its imperial dreams of national expansion
and ethnic revanchism. Hence, Washington needs to restrain Belgrade's
growing assertiveness by establishing a strategic regional defensive
The first step is to formally recognize Kosovo's de facto
independence from Serbia, while preserving Pristina's status as an
international protectorate backed by NATO and the United Nations. This
will give a clear signal to Serbian nationalists that their desire to
re-annex the predominantly Albanian province will be resisted by the
West. Furthermore, the United States should spearhead an initiative to
foster a security alliance between Zagreb and Sarajevo. The reformist
governments of Croatia and Bosnia should increase their countries'
military cooperation and publicly pledge to defend one another's borders
in the event of a future attack by Serbian forces.
Most importantly, the Bush administration needs to reach out to
Croatia's new neo-conservative government led by Prime Minister Ivo
Sanader. Mr. Sanader, along with his pro-American Foreign Minister
Miomir Zuzul, have openly called for closer U.S.-Croatia relations. Mr.
Sanader is the only major politician in the former Yugoslavia to have
supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq. His government also backs
Washington's position on the need to sign a treaty exempting U.S. troops
from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
A stable and secure Croatia is pivotal to long-term stability in the
region. It was the Croatian army - trained and supported by the United
States - that in a 1995 lightening military offensive smashed Slobodan
Milosevic's forces, effectively ending the conflict in Croatia and
Bosnia. Croatia's military is the strongest and most closely aligned to
Western standards in Southeastern Europe. Should a regional war break
out once again, it is most likely that Croatian troops will serve as the
West's ground forces in any campaign to stop Serbian aggression. The
administration should insist that Zagreb's bid to join NATO be put on
the fast track.
Moreover, Mr. Sanader needs to propose a strategic partnership with
Washington, in which the United States and Croatia establish a formal
military alliance. The benefits for Zagreb would be that such a treaty
would act as a significant deterrent against Serbian expansionism. The
administration, on the other hand, would gain by having Croatia play the
role of the region's policeman, assuming the brunt of the responsibility
for military security and cooperation.
Besides forming a network of strategic allies, Washington also needs
to more actively support the pro-democracy reformers in the former
Yugoslavia. In particular, Mr. Bush should end the United States'
foolish policy of blindly supporting the ICTY. The tribunal's chief
prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has issued weak indictments against both
Serbian and Croatian generals. Serbia's pro-Western leaders have
repeatedly said that Mrs. Del Ponte has done more than any other
individual to strengthen the popularity of radical nationalists.
Her bogus indictment of Croatian patriot, Gen. Ante Gotovina, has
not only been severely criticized by Hague tribunal experts and senior
Bush administration officials, but more importantly it threatens to
destabilize Croatia. Most Croatians rightly view Gen. Gotovina as a war
hero who is the victim of a politicized witch hunt by Mrs. Del Ponte.
She is openly reviled by reformist leaders in the region. The
administration should insist that Mrs. Del Ponte be replaced, and the
ICTY only focus on a few high-profile cases, leaving the domestic courts
to handle the rest.
Mr. Seslj's stunning rise to political prominence reveals that the
Balkans is still a volatile area, susceptible to ideological fanaticism.
The West needs to take a bold, pre-emptive approach if it wants to
prevent a repeat of the ethnic extremism that plunged the region into
bloodshed for much of the last decade. If Western leaders fail to nip in
the bud Mr. Seselj's evil appeals to blood and soil, they will come to
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a historian and a contributing writer for The Washington Times.