Home > 1997-1999 from the Balkans, Kosovo, Serbia, Yougoslavia > Observers see little choice for Milosevic

Observers see little choice for Milosevic

February 19, 1999

byline: GUY DINMORE The Financial Times

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — “We love you, our fatherland. With your name on their hearts, our army is marching.”

Greeted by this stirring jingle, several million Serbs tune in daily to state television news to be shown military propaganda reminiscent of the cold war. Serbian jets, helicopters and troops splashing up beaches, interspersed with images of Orthodox churches in Kosovo province.

Serbia, say Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, and the country’s newsreaders, will not give in to NATO bombing threats. No foreign troops will be allowed into Kosovo, fabled heartland of the first Serbian kingdoms.

By noon Saturday, the “final” deadline set by Western mediators for the conclusion of peace talks in France, the people of Serbia should know whether to man the ramparts against NATO jets. If, however, they should learn that Milosevic has once again given way at the last moment, he can expect little backlash.

Commentators say the last hope for Milosevic, with backing from Russia, is to exploit differences among NATO members over the use of firepower to wring out further concessions. But if the hard line of the U.S. and Britain prevails, then analysts believe he has little choice but to accept a foreign peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

“Milosevic is still partial to stories of future heroic resistance by the Serbs if NATO troops come to Kosovo, but many more reasonable people within the regime, and most of the public, realize the hopelessness and impossibility of resistance against a superior enemy,” said a Belgrade newsletter. “If nothing else, Milosevic’s wife, Mira Markovic, an ideological utopian but also a very pragmatic person, will probably warn her husband that their family may personally suffer in case of NATO strikes.”

While Western embassies evacuate families and staff ahead of Saturday’s deadline, the mood on the streets of Belgrade is one of indifference.

In October, when NATO came close to launching airstrikes, the authorities urged people to familiarize themselves with long-forgotten air raid shelters.

This time, there is no such sense of alarm. On overcrowded buses and trams, conversation turns instead to ever bigger electricity and telephone bills and which supermarket has a fresh consignment of scarce sugar and cooking oil.

“Are you going to bomb us or shall we paint the house?” asks graffiti scrawled on one dilapidated building.

Should Serbia’s strongman for the past decade submit to NATO’s demands, his next challenge would be to sell his policy turnaround to his people without diminishing his stranglehold on power.

Snjezana Milivojevic, with a doctoral thesis on manipulation of the public by Serbia’s official media, says RTS, the state broadcaster, will have no trouble in changing track and still persist with the “myth” of national consensus.

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