Monday, January 09, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [4]

Chapter 2: Belgrade, March 1991: Dress Rehearsal--Serb Eat Serb

The first several pages of this chapter are a well-written summary of Milosevic's rise to power--the betrayal of Stambolic, the utilization of nationalist sentiment, the exploitation of Kosovo, the manipulation of the mass media and the popular masses--a story which is surely all-too familiar to regular readers.

Glenny also shows that while Milosevic was using the rising nationalist tide for leverage in his political machinations within the Yugoslav Federation, he was hardly a committed nationalist (Milosevic, it's safe to say, never believed in much of anything other than getting power and holding on to it), nor was he able to resist calls for multiparty elections. He managed to win these, but not by an overwhelming majority and even this victory was accomplished through some degree of fraud. The opposition--which was divided, and heavily dominated by nationalists, to the point where even liberal parties had to make accommodations to nationalist sentiment--led by Vuk Drashkovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement--organized a massive demonstration in Belgrade.

Glenny draws a brief sketch of the Serb/Yugoslav capital; a vibrant and cosmopolitan (if architecturally unimpressive) city being slowly swamped with ugly nationalism. This was the setting for Milosevic's sudden, draconian crackdown, in which many people were hurt, violence and vandalism were rampant, and many were arrested, including Drashkovic and many other prominent opposition figures. The fighting was intense, as these protesters were largely committed nationalists rather than liberal-minded peaceful types.

This only spread the discontent; to sum matters up, the protest spread but became more peaceful and settled as thousands of mostly students took over public spaces and for a time seemed to gain the upper hand; the police slunk away, and most of their well-articulated demands were met. One demand was not met, however--Milosevic did not step down. Rather, he stayed out of the public eye and offered up plenty of disposable sacrificial lambs to sate the demands of the public.

And then, ultimately, the opposition sputtered, gave up the streets, and went home feeling that they had won. But Milosevic was still in power; and what's more, he was able to use the mess that was Yugoslavia's constitution to his own benefit, as the man who had and would again use the legalisms of the Yugoslav Federation for his own ends bluntly announced that Serbia would no longer be bound by the Yugoslav Presidency, and that the Serbian Territorial Militias would be mobilized.

All the while, behind closed doors the alliance between the Serbian leadership and the Yugoslav Army was cemented. The last chance for peace--namely, by getting rid of Milosevic--had been squandered.


I apologize if the review of this chapter seems rather perfunctory, but the events here are all pretty well known by now, as I noted already. There is also less personal color here, as Glenny was mostly just observing events and learning about them second-hand. His description of being in the middle of the attempt by the students to cross the bridge over the Sava against police barricades, and of being subjected to tear gas, is effective, but other than than any more detail would simply be rehashing the same cynical schemes we all already know all too much about.

It is worth noting that while Glenny acknowledges the depth of nationalist sentiment among the larger Serb population, he doesn't examine it as deeply as I wish he had. We will see if this becomes problematic in later chapters.

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