Serbia Sells Slobo

Serbia Sells Slobo

Serbia Sells Slobo

What the foreign papers are saying.
July 3 2001 9:00 PM

Serbia Sells Slobo

Slobodan Milosevic's appearance before the war crimes tribunal in The Hague Tuesday was something of an anticlimax after the weekend's hyperbolic coverage of his extradition. On Friday, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic overruled a Yugoslav decision not to send its former prime minister to The Hague, citing a clause in the Serbian constitution that permits the Serbian Cabinet to override the Yugoslav federal government if its decisions go against the interests of the Serbian people. The Serbian interests clause was written by Milosevic to allow him to control Yugoslavia when he was prime minister of Serbia, an irony the Hungarian paper Nepszabadsag found irresistible. It said Djindjic "has done nothing else but carbon-copy 'Milosevicism.' He beat the dictator with his own creation. …  This is the way the mummy strikes back!" (Translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.) Djindjic's actions threaten to exacerbate tensions between Serbia and Montenegro, the two republics that comprise the federal state of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav prime minister, a Montenegrin, resigned in protest at the assertion of Serb supremacy. According to the Irish Times, if Friday's actions stimulate the Montenegrin secession movement, it might also "raise the hopes of those Kosovo Albanians who want an independent state and, in turn, increase tension in Macedonia and Bulgaria."

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With Milosevic ensconced in the Scheveningen detention center, the United States pledged $182 million in aid to Yugoslavia. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said it was "not noble, but good" that Djindjic was motivated by material interests: "People have a tendency—in matters both great and small, after dictatorships and in everyday life—not to focus on their darker sides, indulging instead in self-deceptive justifications. … So it is not reprehensible but good when self-interest helps insight to its feet. ... There is thus nothing indecent about the democracy dividend. It is the best means of cultivating the moral capacity that does indeed unexpungeably slumber in all of us." Le Temps of Switzerland was less convinced; it announced that Milosevic's handover was the result of "extraordinary financial pressure on the young Belgrade government. It is no exaggeration to say that the former dictator's extradition has been purchased." Canada's National Post concluded:

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

The exchange of Mr. Milosevic for cash has set an unsavoury precedent. … Instead of encouraging newly democratic countries in the Balkans to abide by their laws and to administer justice within their own borders, the West has encouraged them to regard justice as an external matter and source of funds. This is no way to build lasting democratic institutions or to ensure stability in a region that badly needs both.

Writing in Britain's Sunday Telegraph, author Noel Malcolm asserted that growing press freedom in Yugoslavia led to the extradition. This year, the Serbian media began to publish details of the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, diminishing grass-roots loyalty to Milosevic. In June, Serbian TV broadcast the grisly exhumation of a mass grave in Belgrade. Milosevic had transported the bodies from Kosovo "because he wanted to claim that the absence of bodies in Kosovo proved that no massacres had taken place ... [but also] because he feared the activities of the International Tribunal and its forensic experts. The irony is that his very attempt to evade their investigations has helped create the conditions that made it possible to surrender him to them."

Despite some dissenters, notably Slate's "Foreigners" columnist Anne Applebaum writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the consensus favored sending Milosevic to The Hague. The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong said the tribunal will "not only try someone who knowingly imposed a murderous and criminal regime on a misguided public … it will also serve as a warning to others. Any political leaders who use the emotional appeal of fervent nationalism to mask thuggish and corrupt rule should take note; no regime, however dictatorial, can last forever and their turn could be next." Britain's Observer declared:

[T]he trial, which will be beamed live to Belgrade, must not only persuade the Tribunal of Milosevic's guilt. It must also persuade the ordinary Serbs who once supported him of that same truth. … Now the Tribunal and the international community must show the same good faith with a trial that is a model of fairness, no matter that most believe Milosevic to be guilty.

The Mao of business: This weekend, in his role as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, President Jiang Zemin announced that business owners should be allowed to join the party. The South China Morning Post said Jiang had thus "soothed the nerves" of current CCP members who had accumulated personal wealth. "Today, they remain uneasy with their status because the party still theoretically despises private property. They are fearful of possible persecution should the political winds take a nasty change of direction." A piece in the Financial Times described the intricate connections between "private" ventures and the government, which owns a majority stake in most listed companies. Every large firm has a party secretary "whose agenda can be just as important as that of the board," and with 65 million members, the party "provides an indispensable network outside of which promotion is impossible, bank credit inaccessible and permission to list a company unattainable." An editorial in the official China Daily celebrated the party's 80th anniversary: "To imagine a China without the Communist Party at the helm is nightmarish."

Simile of the week: A Globe and Mail editorial about the latest problems for the rapidly disintegrating official Canadian opposition party began, "The Canadian Alliance is a bit like popcorn. You never know which kernel will explode next."

Trend of the week: According to the Independent, Britain's hottest holiday package is the "scalpel safari." Taking advantage of South Africa's weak currency and its pool of well-trained doctors, an enterprising travel agent is offering round-trip travel from London to Johannesburg, cosmetic surgery, a wildlife safari, and accommodation in a five-star hotel for just $8,500. The owner of Surgery and Safari is planning to expand her repertoire, adding hip and knee replacements to the facelifts and tummy-tucks, and supplementing the safaris with trips to Soweto and Cape vineyards.