Yugoslavia: Bombing the Baby with the Bathwater

ditorial by Veran Matic, a former editor of Beograd's alternative media Radio B92:

Belgrade, March 30, 1999


NATO's bombs have blasted the germinating seeds of democracy out of the soil of Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro and ensured that they will not sprout again for a very long time

by Veran Matic

The air strikes against Yugoslavia were supposed to stop the Milosevic war machine. The ultimate goal is ostensibly to support the people of Kosovo, as well as those of Serbia, who are equally victims of the Milosevic regime.

In fact the bombing has jeopardised the lives of 10.5 million people and unleashed an attack on the fledgling forces of democracy in Kosovo and Serbia. It has undermined the work of reformists in Montenegro and the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and their efforts to promote peace.

The bombing of Yugoslavia demonstrates the political impotence of US President Bill Clinton and the Western alliance in averting a human catastrophe in Kosovo. The protection of a population under threat is a noble duty, but it requires a clear strategy and a coherent end game. As the situation unfolds on the ground and in the air day by day, it is becoming more apparent that there is no such strategy. Instead, NATO is fulfilling the prophecy of its own doomsaying: each missile that hits the ground exacerbates the humanitarian disaster that NATO is supposed to be preventing.

It's not easy to stop the war machine once its power has been unleashed. But I urge the members of NATO to pause for a moment and consider the consequences of what they are doing. Analysts are already asking whether the air strikes are still really about saving Kosovo Albanians. Just how far are NATO members prepared to go? What comes next after the "military" targets? What happens if the war spreads? All of these terrifying questions must be answered, although I suspect that few will want to live with the historical burden of having answered them.

The same questions crowded my mind as I sat in a Belgrade prison on the first day of the NATO attack on my country. Whiling away the hours in the cell I shared with a murder suspect, I asked myself what the West's aim was for "the morning after". The image of NATO taking its finger off the trigger kept coming to mind. I've seen no indication so far that there is a clear plan to follow up the Western military resolve.

My friends in the West keep asking me why there is no rebellion. Where are the people who poured onto the streets every day for three months in 1996 to demand democracy and human rights? Zoran Zivkovic, the opposition mayor of the city of Nis answered that last week: "Twenty minutes ago my city was bombed. The people who live here are the same people who voted for democracy in 1996, the same people who protested for a hundred days after the authorities tried to deny them their victory in the elections. They voted for the same democracy that exists in Europe and the US. Today my city was bombed by the democratic states of the USA, Britain, France, Germany and Canada! Is there any sense in this?"

Most of these people feel betrayed by the countries which were their models. Only today a missile landed in the yard of our correspondent in Sombor. It didn't explode, fortunately, but many others have in many other people's yards. These people are now compelled to take up arms and join their sons who are already serving in the army. With the bombs falling all around them nobody can persuade them - though some have tried - that this is only an attack on their government and not their country.

It may seem cynical that I am writing this from the security of my office in Belgrade - secure, that is, compared to Pristina, Djakovica, Podujevo and other places in Kosovo. But I can't help asking one question: How can F16s stop people in the street killing one another? Only days before the NATO aggression began, Secretary-General Solana suggested establishing a "Partnership for Democracy" in Serbia and the other countries of the former Yugoslavia to promote stability throughout the region. Then, in a rapid U-turn, he gave the order to attack Yugoslavia.

With these attacks, it seems to me, the West has washed its hands of the people, Albanians, Serbs and others, living in the region. Thus the sins of the government have been visited on the people. Is this just? There are many more factors in the choice of a nation's government than merely the will of the voters on election day. If a stable, democratic rule is to be established, and the rise of populists, demagogues and other impostors avoided, the public must first of all be enlightened. In other words there must be free media. NATO's bombs have blasted the germinating seeds of democracy out of the soil of Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro and ensured that they will not sprout again for a very long time. The pro-democratic forces in Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity, have been jeopardised and with them the Dayton Peace Accords. NATO's intervention has also given the green light for a local war against Montenegro's pro-democracy president, Milo Djukanovic.

The free media in Serbia has for years opposed nationalism, hatred and war. As a representative of those media, and as a man who has more than once faced the consequences of my political beliefs, I call on President Bill Clinton to put a stop to NATO's attack on my country. I call on him to begin negotiations which aim at securing the right to a peaceful life and democracy for all the people in Yugoslavia, regardless of their ethnic background.

As a representative of the free media I know too well the need for people on all sides of the conflict to have information. Those inside the country need to be aware of international debate as well as what is happening throughout this country. The international public needs the truth about what is happening here. But in place of an unfettered flow of accurate information, all of us hear only war propaganda - Western rhetoric included. Of course truth is always the first casualty in wartime. Here and now, journalists are also being murdered.

Radio B92 is continuing its work as much as the circumstances of war permit. It is continuing to broadcast news on the Internet at http://www.b92.net, via satellite and through a large number of radio stations around the world which continue to carry its programs out of solidarity.

VERAN MATIC is editor-in-chief of Belgrade's banned Radio B92 and a leading peace activist. He has won many international awards for media and democracy, the latest being last year's MTV Europe "Free Your Mind" award. Early this year he was named one of this year's hundred Global Leaders for Tomorrow by the World Economic

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