My Serbs: 'How Did This Happen to Us?'
SRDJA POPOVIC is regarded in Europe as the leading legal champion of human rights and democratic ideals in communist Yugoslavia. In 1965 he became a household name in Belgrade by defending a man imprisoned for starting a democratic party. Mr. Popovic has defended hundreds of students, artists, intellectuals, professors, and others jailed or persecuted by Yugoslav authorities. In 1981 he defended now-President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, and in a celebrated 1982 case defended the current top aide to Bosnia n president Alija Izetbegovic.Skip to next paragraph
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In 1987 Popovic organized petitions protesting communist laws. Opposition grew from 13 original signers to 60,000 in a 1991 petition asking Serb President Slobodan Milosevic to resign over policies that "make the international community an enemy of the Serb people." A co-founder of Vreme, the only opposition weekly in Belgrade, Popovic, a Serb, emigrated to America in 1991 to escape the fascist regime of Mr. Milosevic. He recently granted an interview to Robert Marquand of the Monitor's editorial page.
What is your view of efforts in Geneva to get a resolution on Bosnia?
The UN process has collapsed. Diplomats now try to get the Bosnian government to accept all Serb conditions. That is what it boils down to. There are attempts to save Sarajevo as a symbol of civilization. But the Bosnian Serbs have had all they want for two years and now they want Sarajevo. Lord Owen is now asking Izetbegovic to give up part of Sarajevo.
What about NATO air strikes?
If pressed the Serbs will withdraw as far as they need to from Sarajevo. They want to avoid air strikes at any cost. They are now pestering, creating problems. But politically they don't want to risk a confrontation. Any real intervention would show how weak they are. They will do what they always do - withdraw and wait for the West to lose interest. Serbs really want Sarajevo; it is symbolic for them too. They have to walk into Sarajevo on a white horse. So much effort has been expended by President Mil osevic that losing it would harm him; without Sarajevo he is in trouble.
Some say the Yugoslav crisis is due to ancient feuds. Others argue a "Greater Serbia" push. Yet you have steadily blamed one man - Milosevic.
Milosevic disrupted Yugoslavia two years ago with the intention of starting what we now see. He claims to have nothing to do with the war. He blames others. He blamed the Yugoslav Army in Croatia. He blamed Yugoslav president Markovic. He blamed the paramilitary, Croatian Serbs, Bosnian Serbs. But he is at the center of it all! He makes and breaks. He made Cosic the president, then broke him. He's had 150 ministers in three years. He's replaced over 100 generals. He moves them around so that no one is in
place long enough to claim any authority.
Milosevic is misunderstood. A "Greater Serbia" is not so important to him. The reason for the war was to get the Army. He pushed Slovenia and Croatia out to get the Army. That was his motive. Tito ruled by the Army all his life. Milosevic knows where the power is; he who controls the Army controls everything. He doesn't care about issues; he first opposed Greater Serbia. But as communism fell Milosevic needed the Army to survive. He could not allow Markovic's liberal Yugoslav reforms.
You've watched Milosevic since '87.
His basic strategy is to do what he likes until he meets real resistance. Then he pulls back and tries to make everyone believe he has come around. Then he goes on. The international community is slow to catch up with these tactics. They are always late. By the time they see what he is doing, he is ready to stop. He knows the French, British don't want to do anything. So he backs off. Then they say, "Wait, lets give Milosevic a chance." Soon the momentum is lost. Where are your air strikes?
Why is it so easy for Milosevic?
He has an advantage. He is one man and makes all the decisions. On the other side are the allies, 15 players with separate plans. Milosevic easily outsmarts them.