Serbia's Peace Faction Ignored as Hotter War in Kosovo Looms

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

In a basement where rock 'n' roll plays and peace slogans cover the walls, Aleksandar Olujic waits by a phone that rarely rings.

"It's been slow this morning," says Mr. Olujic, a twentysomething activist in the Belgrade-based Anti-War Campaign. "There's not much we can do right now. We have no money, and in three days we'll lose our office. I think we're finished."

Such is the life of a peace worker in Serbia, the dominant republic of Yugoslavia that is on the brink of a war in its southern province of Kosovo.

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Since Serbian forces launched a crackdown in late February aimed at separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Kosovo, dissent has been barely audible in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade.

"This campaign made people think, which is good," says Olujic, whose organization handed out some 700,000 fliers. "But we did not change policy. That's impossible to do in this country."

Unlike other issues for which Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic draws constant fire from his opponents, Kosovo is a political taboo in Serbia.

"It would be suicidal for any of the major opposition parties to say they would give up Kosovo," says a Western analyst in the Balkans. "Whoever did that would be considered a traitor."

Calling Kosovo the "cradle of Serbian culture," Mr. Milosevic has argued that the impoverished region is not the concern of the international community. He has said he would discuss autonomy for Kosovo, but his offers are vague and he seems more inclined to prolong the conflict.

But as it becomes apparent that Milosevic's isolationist policy in Kosovo is leading toward all-out war, opposition leaders are slowly distancing themselves from his hard-line stance.

"The main problem in Kosovo is the same totalitarian politics of Milosevic that we have been fighting all these years," says Vesna Pesic, president of the Civic Alliance of Serbia.

This week, Ms. Pesic and other opposition politicians from Belgrade visited Kosovo and concluded that international intervention may be the only way to stop the fighting.

"We need observers from the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] in both Kosovo and the rest of Serbia, and we need them fast," says Serbian Democratic Party President Zoran Djindjic. "And if [they] say our internal forces can't manage the situation, then international forces should be used."

Although Yugoslavia was kicked out of the 54-nation OSCE in 1992 for its role in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, OSCE representatives were in Belgrade this week to explore the possibility of reinstating the country.

A coalition of Mr. Djindjic's and Pesic's parties is also calling for a cease-fire, echoing the demands of the international community, which does not support independence for Kosovo but favors broad autonomy.

Since February, close to 300 ethnic Albanians and scores of Serbs have died fighting in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians account for about 90 percent of the 2 million population.

An ethnic Albanian guerrilla movement, the Kosovo Liberation Army, claims to control 40 percent of the region. And Kosovo Albanians in Pristina, Kosovo's provincial capital, yesterday inaugurated their own parliament. Serb security forces reportedly stormed the building in response.

While some Serbian civilians are taking up government-issued arms, others have denounced the quick-trigger policy of Milosevic. Among the Kosovo-based critics are the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian Renewal Movement, both of which advocate international mediation.

"Milosevic is in power nowadays, but Milosevic is not Serbia, and he is not democracy," Renewal Movement leader Vojislav Mihajlovic told reporters during a recent visit to Washington. "There are other forces in Serbia which can help solve the Kosovo problem in a democratic way."

Nevertheless, the Serbian opposition's support of gradual autonomy for Kosovo is far from the overwhelming ethnic Albanian demand for independence.

Two of the top opposition vote-getters in last summer's presidential elections - radical Vojislav Seselj and monarchist Vuk Draskovic - are now hard-line partners in the ruling coalition.

A year-and-a-half ago, when the opposition joined students in a united front called "Together," Belgrade was full of optimism. But infighting broke down unity.

"Everyone is tired of protests," says activist Olujic. "People don't want to know how serious the situation is in Kosovo. They just don't want to think about it."

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