Was the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic a true revolution?
Or just the liberation of a people from a despot who put them through four wars and shrunk their economy by two-thirds?
Knowing the difference between the two will make all the difference for Serbia - and for finally creating a peaceful Balkans within Europe.
The real revolution will require a wholesale transformation of most of the institutions that Mr. Milosevic corrupted for his political survival. That's only begun with moves this week to elect new lawmakers. (See story on page 7.)
And what of Milosevic himself?
This man, whose warmongering led to the deaths of 200,000 people since 1991, was the anvil on which the US was forced to hammer out its role in the post-cold-war world. Yet he remains free from being tried in an international court for crimes against humanity. And he's still a hidden hand in Belgrade's political struggles.
A revolution it wasn't.
Rather, the outraged people of Serbia only liberated themselves from his direct rule, and did so rather smartly, nonviolently, and courageously.
They voted their conscience against Milosevic on Sept. 24, and then with proper restraint, stormed the parliament and the government TV station on Oct. 5 to show him again that he had lost.
The hundreds of thousands of voices on the street forced the Army to show Milosevic the door. It was the biggest event in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But only now can the revolution of a government begin.
Reconstituting a nation
Fortunately, it's being led by a low-key constitutional lawyer, Vojislav Kostunica, who was elected president. He has a deep understanding of democratic principles and a moral commitment to peace - two qualities that Serbs need most to reject their past tendency for ethnic dominance and war.
Institution by institution, Mr. Kostunica will try to remove officials not aligned to his principles and to rewrite the rules of government that were used for suppression or corruption under Milosevic.
He has the task of overturning a system that was in place for a half-century - first created by Communists, and then used by Milosevic to whip up a jingoist fervor for war against the other parts of the old Yugoslavia with the dubious goal of creating a Greater Serbia.
Opening the past
Most of all, in order for the Serbs to join Europe, a revolution must take place in their view of the wars many of them supported.
The Serbs were not allowed to know of the atrocities their forces committed in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. And many of them blame Milosevic for failing to win the wars and bringing NATO bombs down upon them.
Claiming moral responsibility for the wars will require more than just blaming one man.
The new president plans to set up a South Africa-style "truth commission" to bring some sort of justice and closure on the Milosevic era. And it's a good sign that television stations are finally airing scenes of Serb war crimes committed in the Balkans.
The new president also wants Serbia, and not the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, to deal with Milosevic. For now, the United States will go along with that and not hold up economic aid, for the sake of rebuilding the nation and avoiding a nationalist Serb backlash against foreign interference.
But a true revolution in Serbia would require a fair judicial forum to hold Milosevic accountable.
What the West can do
The West's role in this revolution will begin by lifting the economic sanctions and then providing financial aid. (Those sanctions helped tip the balance of Serbian opinion against Milosevic.) The aid is necessary to rebuild the bridges and other infrastructure hit during the NATO bombing in 1999 over Kosovo.
The West will also need to help Serbs deal with Kosovo and Montenegro, two pieces of Yugoslavia that have sought independence. Until demo- cracy is more firmly cemented in Serbia and the economy begins to improve, the West will still need to play a constructive role in resolving those potentially dangerous disputes.
In choosing democracy, Serbs have chosen the path out of ethnic conflict.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society