First, about the referendum. Slobodan Milosevic, president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, wrote on April 2 a letter to Milan Milutinovic, Mirko Marjanovic and Dragan Tomic, the presidents of Serbia, its Government and Parliament respectively, in which he proposes that a referendum be held (following the procedure given in the Constitution and laws, of course) to give an answer to the above mentioned question.
Milosevic wrote: "It is known that we have refused to accept the participation of representatives from abroad in the resolution of internal problems of our country, and especially in the resolution of problems in Kosovo and Metohija, which are an internal matter for Serbia. I am convinced that that position is essential for the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. Our country is in danger of again being exposed to all possible pressures... I believe that all the time during the crisis in the former Yugoslavia we have acted on behalf of our people, rather on behalf of our personal interests, or even interests of our political parties. I am convinced that the refusal to accept meddling of foreign factors in the resolution of an internal matter of the Republic of Serbia, Kosovo and Metohija, is also an expression of the will of the people, rather than my personal policy or the policy of my party. Only citizens can decide whether that is correct..."
The very same day, the Government of Serbia unanimously adopted the initiative of the Yugoslav president and decided to propose to the Parliament, in accordance with the legal procedure, to hold a referendum. Dragan Tomic stated that he "sincerely" supported Milosevic's proposal, because "as a sovereign, independent European state we are against any meddling of foreign factors in internal matters of our country in the situation when its territorial integrity and sovereignty are in danger... I am convinced that the referendum will be the most convincing confirmation that the people and the leadership are united in defense of freedom, independence, preservation of integrity, in one word, the future of Serbia." Milan Milutinovic announced that he "fully" supported the initiative of the president of FRY, and that "the citizens of Serbia already know that our country is currently under tremendous pressure because of the decision to preserve Serbia in its constitutional and historic borders, and develop as a state of equal citizens in which the rights of all ethnic minorities will be guaranteed according to the highest world standards..."
The Socialist Party of Serbia didn't miss the beat either. The Central Council "decisively supported" Milosevic in a statement, adding that his position represents "an expression of responsibility with respect to our vital national and state interests and protection of the state from external interference". All other parties with significant representation in the Serbian parliament, Serb Radical Party (SRS), United Yugoslav Left (JUL) and Serb Renewal Movement (SPO) also supported the referendum and called for the solution of the Kosovo problem within Serbia.
In a state which had not managed to elect a Government for six months after an election, what followed was extremely efficient. Milosevic revealed his proposal on Thursday. On Monday, the Serbian parliament convened and in 20 minutes, following urgent procedure, modified the law about referendum and grass roots initiatives, so that the minimum time between the decision to call a referendum and the date on which referendum is held was reduced from at least 30 days to 15 days. That was necessary to make the results of the referendum available before the next meeting of the Contact group, which on April 25 should make a decision whether to impose new sanctions against Serbia and Yugoslavia. The mentioned modification of the law is another indication that in this country laws only serve as cover for political decisions instead of being framework in which those decisions are made.
The following day, on Tuesday April 7, the parliament discussed the referendum itself. The discussion which turned into a competition in who can be a greater patriot, lasted the whole day and its final effect was to further cement (although that may seem impossible) the wall between Serbia and the rest of the world. In his introductory address, Mirko Marjanovic rejected "blind obedience to the world power brokers", drew parallels with April 6 1941 [when Germany bombarded Belgrade and thus started its attack on Yugoslavia], claimed that the citizens will this April confirm the strength of their spirit, warned that the Serb people is in danger of loosing its greatest national holy treasure, and that no one can make that decision but the people themselves. He asked why besides Kurdish, Corsican and and Irish problems, Kosovo is singled out for international intervention.
A Vice-president in the government and the leader of the Serbian Radical Party explained to the parliament that the same forces which had destroyed the Republic of Serb Krajina [Serb enclave in Croatia] now wanted to destroy Serbia, following Hitler's example. The duty of the government is to implement the constitution and protect ethnic minorities from terrorists. A Government minister, also a member of the Radical party, Aleksandar Vucic, also warned that a new loss of centuries old hearths similar to the one in Krajina, must not be tolerated. Tomislav Nikolic (Serb Radical Party) promised three soldiers to the state. Zarko Jokanovic (Nova Demokratija) said that the change of borders was absolutely unacceptable, and Milan Mikovic (Serb Renewal Movement) said that we cannot accept representatives of the international community who claim that the problem of Kosovo must be resolved within the framework of FRY rather than that of Serbia.
All together, the debate in the parliament smelled of war ("Do not touch the state, because it defends itself with swords and will defend itself if it is endangered," shouted at one moment Vojislav Seselj). War is, of course, an important factor for national cohesion, and that is the primary goal of the Milosevic's referendum: the nation is supposed to unite behind Milosevic as the defender of Serb state interests. There are several indications for that.
First, the referendum question, as formulated, is not very important for the Kosovo crisis (incidentally, it is not a valid referendum question, since it would have to address some problem within the jurisdiction of the Parliament, and the decision regarding the mode of negotiation is within the jurisdiction of the government). The essential problem is whether it is possible to find a sort of autonomy which would be acceptable to both sides, and Milosevic didn't ask the people about that. Besides, he has never asked the people anything of crucial importance since he started the wars in the former Yugoslavia and fundamental clash with the rest of the world, nor when he negotiated for peace. Not only that he didn't ask the citizens to approve his peace agreements in a referendum, he also failed to consult the Parliament, or the Government.
Furthermore, according to the Constitution, the president of Yugoslavia does not have it within his mandate to initiate referenda in one of the two constituent republics; nevertheless, he is not in this situation treated as a public official whose mandate is restricted by the Constitution, but as the leader. In that guise he can initiate whatever he likes, and then write letters to all the officials in Serbia (although the president of Serbia also has nothing to do with referenda) , and thus garner their support in the national business. His goal? Reaffirmation of a shaken national leader and raising of tension among the people in order to suppress unpleasant questions regarding the prudence of the leader's policy in Kosovo; Milosevic also wants to stoke up emotions because it is well known that nationalism feeds on emotions, not on intellect.
Milosevic must have realized that after everything experienced during the recent years the euphoria from the late eighties and early nineties can not be repeated any more, that the people won't rush to the streets to demand "We want weapons, Slobo-slobodo [freedom]"; consequently, he chose a referendum as the second best solution to confirm the "unity of the leadership and the people". That is the origin of the assertion in his letter (where he addresses himself with royal "we") that "all the time during the crisis in the former Yugoslavia we have acted on behalf of our people, rather than on behalf of our personal interests"; thereby incessant chanting by the representatives of JUL and SPS that the referendum will demonstrate that people thinks the same way as the authorities. Among the famous telegrams of support, which arrive from Varvarin, Zicevac, Pcinja district, Lajkovac, Svrljig, local council of the local council "Carina", organizing council of SPS, local council in Smederevo and organizing council of the Kosovo-Metohija brigades section in the city organization of SUBNOR [organization of anti-fascist fighters from W.W.II], the "association of the veterans of wars for the liberation of Serbia between 1912 and 1920 and their descendants", and the workers of the holding company "Bambi", according to Politika there is a telegram sent by the district organization of SPS in Apatin in which their message to Milosevic is: "in crucial historic moments for Serbia and Yugoslavia during the last decade you made courageous and wise decisions. Your most recent decision that the citizens of Serbia express their opinion about the defense of the territorial integrity of Serbia and Yugoslavia is another proof that you haven't neglected the will of the people..."
However, it is interesting to what extent Milosevic doesn't trust the mood of the people. When the Yugoslav leadership decided in 1948 to reject Stalin's pressure, which meant that the people had to reject overnight what they had been forced to swear on for years, there was enough courage to publish on June 30 1948 in Borba the Resolution of Inform bureau and the response of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, without commentary. Then, therefore, the authorities believed that the people would support its decision. Today, although one cannot talk about a spectacular change in policy, but on the contrary, an extension of for years nurtured attitude with respect to the world and Kosovo Albanians, the people are almost offensively being coached how to vote in the referendum.
Apart from shoring up Milosevic's position the referendum has a few more goals. It is becoming increasingly clear that it will be hard to avoid new sanctions because of Kosovo and there is no doubt that the impoverished population will find it much hard to bear the brunt of the sanctions than last time. After a successful referendum the authorities can simply say: "You asked for it!" ("We must clearly explain to the world that we cannot jump out of this skin and that we must fight for survival. We must bear everything they have prepared for us and we must let them know in advance that we will endure," Vojislav Seselj). In other words: why are you complaining about having no food when you said yourself that integrity and sovereignty are more important. Besides, the sanctions will again come handy to hide the causes of economic breakdown which with this sort of policy is, apparently, unavoidable, even without sanctions.
There is something which resembles a state reason for the referendum and was explained by, who else, Vojislav Seselj; he said that "the referendum can only be useful to Serbia; it will strengthen our negotiating position in the negotiations with the members of the Albanian ethnic minority, and those negotiation will have to start at some point". It is questionable, though, how much the Kosovo Albanians will be impressed by the results of the referendum (their top representatives have already characterized the referendum as "not serious" and "buying of time") when they receive even stronger support by the important world factors, while Serbia pulls further away from them because of the referendum? Let us even assume that the referendum will, by strengthening Serbia's negotiating position, really help the country. On the other hand, sanctions will certainly not be helpful. Long term, or short term, Serbia won't benefit from further worsening of relations within Yugoslavia; in Montenegro no one besides Momir Bulatovic has expressed support for the referendum, and their policy with respect to the rest of the world is already the total opposite of Milosevic's policy (the president of Montenegro, Milo Dukanovic will in April visit London, Paris, Rome, Bonn and Washington, and on April 6 Seselj stated: "We don't give a damn about the rest of the world"). Short term, only Milosevic will gain from the referendum; but, as someone has already warned: by buying time for himself, he looses time for Serbia.
The consequences of the referendum were summed up by the representatives of the remaining opposition parties in Serbia: "The Socialists intend, with the assistance of the Radicals and Serbian Renewal Movement, to obtain an endorsement for everything they have done in Kosovo in the past, as well as for the catastrophic consequences of their policy. The Democratic Party of Serbia predicts that either the sanctions will be imposed after the next meeting of the Contact group, or the regime will capitulate under foreign pressure following a well known Dayton scenario." (Democratic Party of Serbia) "Milosevic's position, and at the moment the position of the Radicals and the SPO, is: no one has the rights to get involved; I resolve problems in my own house, and that is my right; everyone else should leave me alone; even if I set my house on fire, my children will burn, but I won't allow firemen to help. That is the peak of political irresponsibility" (Zoran Dindic, Democratic party). "The referendum is another one in the series of political improvisations to which we have gotten used to and whose main goal is to extend the life of the regime, divert the attention of the citizens from economic and social problems, homogenize the people and seek an excuse for an unsuccessful political platform" (Vuk Obradovic, Socialdemocracy). "That is a pure swindle, because those who supposedly are supposed to organize the referendum had brought us into the situation where foreign involvement in the problems of our, unfortunately, ruined and wasted country is necessary" (Nenad Canak, Vojvodina League of Socialdemocrats). "Instead of providing bread and work for the people of Serbia, the government is again pushing them into a war. The authorities are demanding from the weary and impoverished citizens of Serbia to support a war against America, Russia, France, Germany, England, Italy and the whole world" (Dragan Veselinov, coalition "Vojvodina").
However, in this story a look at what the world actually demands from Serbia and Yugoslavia regarding Kosovo cannot be avoided; despite the will to prevent a dangerous regional conflict (which undoubtedly is an international concern) some elements of the approach of the International Community to the crisis are less than clear.
Let us consider the speech of the state secretary Madeleine Albright at the Washington National Press Club on April 2. She said, word by word: "Before the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo was an autonomous province. But, since the break up, Serb leaders from Belgrade have treated Kosovo more like a colony - the autonomy had been stolen, people exposed to the repression and the territory of Kosovo is essentially under the occupation of a foreign force".
Police of a legal state which acts in its territory (regardless of what the state and police are like) is a foreign occupier? Well, it isn't. Nor is it the same when someone kills in his territory soldiers of a foreign occupying force, and when someone kills from ambush state employees, and even ethnic Serb civilians. About that Albright says the following: "90 percent of the population in Kosovo are Albanians. Their anger has grown with their suffering. Most of them do not demand anything more than basic human rights - education, public services and full citizenship. The longer those rights are denied to them or reduced, the higher the risk that Kosovars will not see other alternative than to accept a small, but growing group of armed secessionists in their ranks".
Therefore, the Albanians are absolutely innocent and simply have no other choice than to support terrorists, whom then naturally, they cannot condemn. It is undeniable that human and civic rights have been denied to the Albanians and that they are exposed to repression. However, it is not true that most of them are "demanding nothing more than their basic rights". They are! And much more than their basic rights. An overwhelming majority of Kosovo Albanians demands separation from Serbia and secession from Yugoslavia (the latter, true, can be done a bit later, if not possible immediately), they are armed and will not flinch from massive use of arms if they find that conducive to their cause. From Madeleine Albright's speech, in which she neither mentioned the need to preserve territorial integrity of Yugoslavia nor the respect for its sovereignty, it can be concluded that a state must not react to a mass armed rebellion because, of course, it is an occupying force (as was the Yugoslav Peoples Army seven years ago).
At this point it is interesting to recall the evolution of the American attitude with respect to Kosovo. As early as 1992, the then American president George Bush threatened Slobodan Milosevic in a secret letter with an American military intervention in case he tried to resolve the Kosovo problem by force. During a visit to Belgrade, in February 1996, American state secretary Warren Christopher stuck to the formulation about "respect for human rights of Kosovo Albanians". With the special American envoy John Cornblum arrived the formulation about local self-rule for Kosovo Albanians, and with Gelbard the demand for autonomy. Now Albright and Gelbard take turns talking about "wide" and "strengthened" autonomy, actually pretty explicitly about the return of autonomy which was stripped away in 1989. Or, as Gelbard stated for Blic in March 28: "We demand that Kosovo be given wide autonomy. That doesn't mean that the Contact group supports the demand for the independence of Kosovo. Besides, that cannot be accomplished and is not appropriate in current circumstances". Maybe only because is "is not appropriate in current circumstances" there is no visible pressure from the West on Kosovo Albanians to give up their demand for the independence. Besides, minorities demand independence in most of the states in which they have rebelled (Basques, Irish, Kurds) but those aspirations are mostly kept under control by wiser policy of the states in which those minorities live, and also by the fact that no one in the world supports those aspirations.
Let us recall now year 1991 when the then secretary of state James Baker stated regarding the growing conflict in the former Yugoslavia: we support territorial integrity but are against use of force. Now the same words are spoken in connection with Kosovo. When in 1991 the conflict heated up, it turned that the support for territorial integrity was weaker than the resistance to the use of force by the Yugoslav People's Army. Who can claim that that won't be repeated in this case, despite the fact that the Albanians de facto have identical demands as Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia at the start of the last war - their own state?
Further, what do in practice mean calls by the German minister of foreign affairs Klaus Kinkel and OSCE that Milosevic cancel the referendum? Everyone in the world may dislike the idea about the referendum, that is certainly true of many in this country. Still, hopefully, it is undeniable that it is an internal matter of any country whether it wants to hold referenda or not - accepting of course all the consequences of such decisions.
Then, the representatives of the Contact group have almost lost their voices demanding "unconditional dialogue" about Kosovo. However, they haven't refrained from imposing numerous conditions. Robert Gelbard, special American envoy, during the most recent visit to Belgrade, at the end of March, said in an interview to Nasa Borba: "The insistence that the negotiations are led by the Serbian government rather than the federal government led by Milosevic means that Belgrade is trying to impose pre-conditions and prejudice the outcome of the elections. And that is unacceptable." Why is it less "imposition of pre-conditions" to demand that the negotiations are held under the Yugoslav framework? Negotiations within Yugoslav framework imply a solution within Yugoslav framework, and point in the direction of giving Kosovo the status of a third republic. That is exactly the current "compromise" demand of the Kosovo Albanians and the demand of Pascal Milo, Albanian foreign minister ("Kosovo should have the same status as Serbia and Montenegro in Yugoslavia"). As Beta and FoNet inform, the president of the OSCE Parliament Javier Ruperes on April 7 "endorsed the proposal by the Albanian minister of foreign affairs Pascal Milo that Kosovo receive the status of a republic within Yugoslavia" (he continued to say that "anything acceptable to both sides is acceptable to us as well", which truly reveals almost comical lack of understanding of the situation because none of the state bodies in Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro accepts that Kosovo should be given the status of a republic, and the same is true for an overwhelming majority of citizens).
All together, the demands that Kosovo crisis be resolved outside Serbia and within Yugoslav framework are essentially demands that this state changes its constitution, which is most direct meddling in the internal matters of the country and it is questionable to what extent it can be justified by the worry for human rights and peace in the region. There is more at stake here: Kosovo republic (even if it were stipulated that she doesn't have the right to secede, which is another Albanian proposal) means the change of external borders in the near or not so near future, which is supposedly condemned by everyone involved. It is a valid question whether the influential world factors really think that another Albanian state in the Balkan peninsula, even a step closer to that goal, would contribute to the desired stability in the region?
As if the position of certain international factors were aimed to further homogenize Serbian ranks; let us not even mention numerous examples of less than diplomatic behavior of foreign representatives who do not express even formal respect for the state of Serbia and for the position of that nation, because that position has some legitimacy after all, with all obviousness that Serbs will pay for the wrong policy of their leader.
Essentially, the main problem is that the objective interest of Serbs to have a peaceful and ordered state and the interest of Milosevic to stay in power are total opposites. Now, however, the question is whether those interests can at least partially converge when the imposition of a solution for the Kosovo crisis from abroad is concerned? Naturally, that has nothing to do with the international mediation - if the good services are offered. In general, it is uncertain whether in this case the international community is offering mediation or demands participation in the negotiations which ultimately means that they will determine the final solution in the guise of a minimum below which the sides cannot go: then this will become a "take or leave" solution, well known from other crises in the former Yugoslavia.
When at the conference in the Hague in September 1991 Serbia demanded "modern federation" and Slovenia and Croatia independence, lord Carrington issued an ultimatum in October 1991: loose confederation. Milosevic refused and the sentence was: Yugoslavia doesn't exist anymore. When in 1993 Vance and Owen offered their plan, Alija Izetbegovic refused to even consider the plan, and the USA took the position that they cannot force a victim to accept something like that. It all ended in Dayton in 1995, where we witnessed another arbitration by the USA. In the most recent arbitration case, the three member commission which deals with Brcko, the original idea from Dayton was that all three members of the commission, a Muslim, a Serb and a UN representative be equal and that arbitration follows the rules of the International Justice Court in the Hague, which for starters means that both sides must agree about the object of arbitration: in this case whether the arbitration deals with the border between the two entities or about the town as well. The sides never agreed about the object of the arbitration, nor can one talk about equality of the three commission members; rather, the solutions are imposed both on Serbs and Muslims and the arbitrator is not independent: he reports to the US State Department.
Can one then claim that Mirko Marjanovic is not mostly right when he predicts the following scenario: the International Community demands stronger and wider autonomy and special status; at first there is a demand for a foreign mediator who will offer a proposal for the solution; if the proposal is not accepted - sanctions will follow? Can one claim that Marjanovic is not right when he says that the mediation will affect the negotiating process and the referendum therefore deals with essential attitude with respect to the protection of sovereignty and integrity?
Indeed, who can tell what would remain of the Serbian sovereignty and Yugoslav territorial integrity after such a mediation. However, what will be left of the nation after new sanctions and a conflict with the whole world is at least an equally important question? Therefore, the essential dilemma is whether it is possible to avoid the choice between the survival of the state and the survival of the nation. Having in mind that Slobodan Milosevic, who now totally supports dialogue, has never explained why there hadn't been dialogue for the last ten years (and behaves with respect to Kosovo like an ill Serbian peasant who doesn't want to see a doctor, doesn't want to face his illness and hopes that it will somehow cure by itself) there is very little basis for hope. With Milosevic's political wisdom, unfortunately, the fear that both the nation and state will irretrievably be lost is absolutely justified.