The Dead Don't Care About Kosovo

Anti-war protesters in southern Serbia have argued that Serb lives are more important than Serb control over Kosovo.

The Dead Don't Care About Kosovo

Anti-war protesters in southern Serbia have argued that Serb lives are more important than Serb control over Kosovo.

The wives and mothers of Yugoslav soldiers mobilised to fight in Kosovo who have vented their frustration in street protests are motivated by fears for the safety of loved ones and not politics. But their actions are likely to have political repercussions.

The demonstrations were launched three weeks ago without any coordination or broader organisation in the southern Serbian towns of Krusevac, Aleksandrovac and Cacak. But they have put the lie to official propaganda about the willingness of all Serbs to endure all manner of suffering in order to ensure that Kosovo remains an integral part of Serbia.

The reasons that have motivated ordinary people to defy authority vary. But the message from the various demonstrations has been identical--namely that the war should be ended as soon as possible and the priority must be human lives, not the political future of Kosovo. As one placard said "The dead don't need Kosovo."

Faced with this spontaneous outpouring of anger at the war and mounting casualties, Belgrade has been put on notice that it cannot rely indefinitely on appeals to patriotism and the defence of Kosovo to maintain authority at home. Without presenting a single political demand, the protesters have effectively challenged the entire ideological construction on which the Milosevic regime is based simply by asserting that they care more about the lives of their nearest and dearest than they do about Kosovo.

The conundrum is this: these Serbs are suggesting that they are more concerned about the preservation of Serb lives than maintaining Serb rule over Kosovo. But if this is so, then the Milosevic regime, which from day one has made the defence of Serb interests in Kosovo the cornerstone of its platform, loses its political raison d'etre. Since coming to power in Serbia in 1987 Milosevic has managed the conflict in Kosovo by invariably resorting to force rather than pursuing dialogue.

As long as the enemy was only a poorly armed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and Serbs living in Serbia proper were spared any fall-out from the conflict, this approach yielded results. But by choosing to take on the most powerful military alliance in the history of the world, Milosevic may have miscalculated. No matter how harmless the protesting mothers and wives appear at first sight, their stance is more damaging to Milosevic's longer-term prospects of survival than any overtly political challenge to his rule.

By charging into a conflict with NATO, Milosevic has brought home the reality of war to Serbs in Serbia proper and placed the very survival of both his country and its citizens in danger. As the casualty toll--a figure which is never mentioned in official media--mounts, more reservists abandon their positions in Kosovo refusing to die for a conflict which is not of their making.

That said, the protesters and deserters do not wish to see Serbia surrender Kosovo, nor do they wish to topple Milosevic. They just want Belgrade to seek a political solution and agree to a settlement as soon as possible, no matter how humiliating the terms.

The problem for Milosevic is that the only deal on the table--NATO's five points, or their reformulation in the G-8 plan--effectively amounts to capitulation. If, therefore, he does sign on to such an agreement, his room for manoeuvre will be severely limited.

Many in the opposition fear that Milosevic will use the breathing space offered by a peace agreement to revamp authoritarian rule with a clampdown against the internal enemy, whom he will attempt to hold responsible for the country's woes.

Since the only political party to condemn the anti-war demonstrations outright is the Serbian Radical Party, many fear that its leader, Vojislav Seselj, may play a decisive role in the immediate post-war period.

By tirelessly uncovering "traitors" and proposing ever more original ways to eliminate them, Seselj and his Radicals may be fighting a rear-guard action on behalf of extreme Serb nationalism. But it is a losing battle. Ordinary people cannot stomach much more.

The author is an independent journalist from Belgrade whose identity has been concealed.

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