Serbia After Milosevic

When - not if - Slobodan Milosevic departs from power, Serbia will finally have a long-awaited opportunity to achieve democracy. It will not be automatic. Policymakers in the West can play a key role. Specifically, they can convince Serb opposition leaders that democracy - genuine democracy - is not simply a question of replacing Milosevic as an individual but also of rejecting the destructive policies he has crafted and implemented.

Ordinary Serbs deserve democracy - a better life, responsible government, an end to bloodshed, a tolerant open society, and stronger ties to the West. However, this is not compatible with the pursuit of a Greater Serbia or with relegating non-Serbs at home to second-class status. Chasing after a Greater Serbia can only lead to more violence, instability, and isolation. Similarly, at home, Serbia cannot be governed as an ethnically exclusive state. Like it or not, Serbia is already a multinational society ,with 40 percent of its population non-Serbs - Albanians, Roma, Muslims, Hungarians, and others. Within a generation the Serbs may themselves become a minority. The opposition has to recognize these realities and act accordingly.

Many of the leaders of the opposition Zajedno coalition have a questionable human rights history, and the international community needs to be reassured they are committed to genuine democracy. Vuk Draskovic, Zoran Djindjic, and others have backed the concept of Greater Serbia entailing territorial expansion and the displacement of non-Serbs. Draskovic at various times has also called for the mass expulsion of Albanians from Kosovo, has steadfastly opposed an independent state in Bosnia (preferring an 85-to-15 partition between Serbia and Croatia), and has demanded that non-Serb minorities in Serbia relinquish their identities. Djindjic very noticeably supported Radovan Karadzic to the last in pursuit of an ethnically pure Serb state in Bosnia.

The West has a right to point out that such policies run counter to true democracy and to ask opposition leaders to reject them. Now is the time, at this formative stage, for the international community to urge opposition leaders to make a firm commitment that would clearly distance them from Milosevic's dismal record. While being anti-communist is a step forward, it is not enough today. This is the opposition leaders' opportunity to show they are serious about democracy and different from Milosevic, not a pale alternative with similar policies.

That means full restoration of Kosovo's earlier autonomy at the very least. In Vojvodina and the Sandzak, too, the political equality and distinct identity of those provinces must be guaranteed. And opposition leaders need to formally renounce the goal of a Greater Serbia. In concrete terms, this means no annexation of any territories in Bosnia. Finally, there must be cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.

Expecting the opposition leaders to shed the negative burden of the recent past is not demanding something unreasonable. It is only asking them to conform to what is normal international practice. This is also good for the Serbs. It will shore up international support for a post-Milosevic government, give a boost to Serbia's domestic economic and political progress, and bring Serbia into line with the standards set by most of its neighbors. Most of all, this will promote the regional stability and peaceful political change which Western policymakers have found so elusive otherwise.

* Norman Cigar, author of "Genocide in Bosnia" (Texas A&M University, 1995), is on the faculty at Marine Corps University, Quantico, Va. Paul Williams is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

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