Stojan Cerovic

What has just finished has probably been the most bizarre military intervention in history. The way it was conducted, its aims, moral justifications and the outcome, in which all sides claim to have won ensure that. Nato, the KLA and Milosevic all claim victory. In terms of the general balance of power, the air strikes on Serbia were for Nato nothing more than a large fashion parade of modern weaponry and equipment and were certainly less risk than some complex exercises. Nor was the deployment of ground troops in Kosovo any more dangerous, although landing of US troops on Greek beaches were staged for television audiences with scenes strikingly similar to those familiar from Normandy. The troops jumped from helicopters, assuming combat positions, looking around and acting cautious and tense as if they had no idea there was no enemy in the vicinity.

Blair and Clinton achieved their great moral victory against the forces of evil, against "the Milosevic military machine" and thus became earned their places in Heaven in the cheapest possible way without being exposed to any temptation. Nor does God demand much more. He probably realises that, at the end of this century, everything has lost its value, especially courage, morality and other things once considered human qualities.

Nato is deploying troops throughout Kosovo, thus achieving its original goal, the one over which the intervention began. Formally, everybody has agreed that Kosovo remains an autonomous province within Serbia, but Nato has actually conquered this territory and there is no question of Serbia having any jurisdiction in Kosovo. Kosovo Albanians will quite certainly never again serve in the Yugoslav Army, they will not pay taxes to Belgrade, they will not take part in the political life of Serbia. Kosovo will soon have some kind of currency of its own and economic relations with Serbia in the near future will be non-existent. The protectorate stands a good chance of lasting a long time and no one will consult the Serbs about any future status for Kosovo. It is Nato which will discuss this issue, when it feels like and only with Albanians.

It would be as well if this whole incident can be regarded as absolutely extraordinary, and not as a precedent which would give Nato the right to exert its will in the future to conquer territories and establish protectorates whenever it consider moral standards somewhere to have fallen below an acceptable level. The West has yet to discuss this, to examine the consequences and draw the necessary conclusions, which I hope it will do when it recovers from the current paralysis of thinking. The Western public is, at the moment, harmlessly cheerful about the victory while at the same time it is shocked by this enormous outbreak of superficially justified violence.

As for Serbia, Kosovo is the least of its losses in the war against Nato. The province, with its ever-larger Albanian majority, has never been successfully integrated into Serbia and has been held for the past few years only by a brutal police force. The problem of preserving Serbian monasteries and churches remains, however, and there is also the tragedy of the Serbian refugees who are now leaving Kosovo forever, despite the Serbian authorities attempts to return them and thus mitigate the impression of a catastrophic defeat.

This is however, as I said, the least of Serbia's losses. Thousands of people were killed in air strikes, many bridges and factories were destroyed and these are still not the greatest loss. The West is now telling Serbia that there will be no assistance as long as Milosevic is in power. And he will give up power about as easily as he would give up life. Particularly now that he has been indicted for war crimes and when it seems that his only choice is between the presidential throne and the prisoner's dock. So unless some miracle, in the shape of a coup in Belgrade, happens, Serbia's prospects will remain forgotten under the rubble for a long time to come.

This is still not the end of the Serb misery. Many Serbian writers and intellectuals, even ten years ago, were wallowing in descriptions of Serbian national tragedy. These became the platform of the Milosevic war policy and created an image of a people which mourned for itself and attacked others, burning other peoples' villages and conquering territory. Such self-victimisation was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Serbs have finally, as a people, as a whole, become tragic victims. Having wept over their fate in advance, no one believes them now and no one feels any need to be compassionate, even when they are fleeing Kosovo en masse and are subject to Albanian reprisals. The impression of the collective Serbian guilt has been multiplied during the Nato intervention as the media built support for the air campaign. Images of the Albanian refugee disaster and stories of atrocities in Kosovo were covered in such a way as to create an image of Serbs as natural born killers. In the beginning, the Nato spokesman occasionally apologised for collateral damage, but as time went on everything in Serbia simply became a legitimate target.

Thus the refugees from Kosovo are now pouring in, hot on the heels of those from Krajina and Bosnia. The country is in ruins and there is no hope for reconstruction. Its own regime has already thoroughly plundered it. The people have been poisoned by lies on television for years and much as they have tried to rid themselves of this regime, it has been in vain. We are dealing here with a particularly malign form of modern dictatorship by television and there is no precedent anywhere in the world for fighting against it.

In any case, no one wants to go any deeper into it. Serbs are guilty of everything that has been done to others in their name, guilty of having the regime they have and of having the ruined country they have. The Nato bombs were presented as a way to help them, as a medicine which the ungrateful Serbian organism rejected. And, after all, Milosevic is still there, he's still talking about victory and he's still promising reconstruction of the country. This proves that Nato hasn't finished the job, but as Nato can't be less then perfect and certainly not guilty of anything, this has also been added to the catalogue of Serbian guilt.

It has become uncommonly easy and pleasant to demonstrate this collective guilt and any denial of it requires a kind of moral masochism. I myself would feel much more comfortable were I able to calmly agree with this assessment and adapt to the mainstream of Western opinion. This would give me consistency, as for years I have not failed to notice the crimes originating in Belgrade and have never taken much issue with Western opinion on the reasons for the disaster of the former Yugoslavia. So I can always exempt myself from this collective guilt. Finally I can always play the card of being Montenegrin, as there is already a belief in the air that this is very different, and much better, than being a Serb. But these are all cheap and selfish ways out.

The real problem is that the situation in Serbia has become absolutely desperate and that very few people whose words can command serious attention or belief have remained in the country. Whatever the extent of Serb guilt, it seems to me that the punishment for it has become too heavy, even intolerable. There are no longer even any Western embassies in Belgrade where young people can queue to undergo humiliating procedures in order to get visas for some of the promised lands in which they are ready to take any job to support themselves. Now, with the bombing and Milosevic's "victory" behind them, more and more people are finding the simple solution in suicide. This is neither difficult nor original, but it solves the problem.