No Matter How Serbs Vote, Milosevic Will 'Win'

  • Share
  • Read Later
How's Milosevic's reelection campaign going?

It's the dirtiest campaign I've ever seen. There are vicious personal attacks on opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica, and intensive harassment of opposition activists. The authorities have been surprised by Kostunica's popularity, and they've mounted a near-hysterical propaganda campaign to stop him. There's a big opposition rally scheduled for Belgrade on Wednesday, but Milosevic won't be around. He's going to Montenegro to hold his first rally there since the Montenegrin government began moving toward independence.

Tactically speaking, the campaign is over for both sides. People have already decided who they're going to vote for on Sunday, and we can be sure that on Monday there'll be two winners. Opposition leader Kostunica will get a majority of votes and declare himself the winner, but Milosevic will declare victory anyway. And from that moment on, nobody knows what might happen.

Why is Kostunica so popular?

It's not simply that he's not Milosevic; unlike many opposition candidates he's never had anything to do with Milosevic. He's a moderate, center-right nationalist, but his appeal doesn't lie in his program. It lies in his integrity. He's untainted by any past relationship with the regime, but has also been fiercely critical of NATO's policy toward Serbia. And unlike many opposition and government politicians, he's never been linked with any Mafia activities. So he has an image of being incorruptible.

The West has promised to lift sanctions against Serbia if Milosevic is voted out. How does this weigh on Serbian voters' decision?

It plays no role, neither positive nor negative. Most Serbs see these elections as their chance to remove Milosevic, but that doesn't mean they're thinking about the West. In fact, the pattern has been that any direct support from the West, especially if its loudly advertised, actually hurts the opposition. But that's not a big deal in this election.

It's more worrying that the U.S. and Europeans have no clear policy about what to do if violence breaks out after the election in Montenegro, Kosovo or Serbia itself. Once again, the West will find itself reacting to Milosevic's move. When NATO went to war against Milosevic, they really weren't sure what they were getting into. When he suddenly agreed to withdraw from Kosovo, NATO was left in a situation of not knowing what to do about Kosovo or about Milosevic. And now as the situation threatens to escalate, once again they don't know what to do. But they may have no option except to sit and wait and see how the situation develops. The most important thing is not to do anything that gives Milosevic a pretext to declare a state of war and claim the country's under attack. Lack of a clear policy has painted the West into a corner. Right now, the best thing may be to wait for the paint to dry.