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Airstrikes Dismay Milosevic Opponents

March 31, 1999

by Guy Dinmore
Special to The Washington Post

BELGRADE, March 30 – From President Clinton to fast-food restaurants, icons of American culture are taking a rhetorical – and often physical – beating here in the Yugoslav capital, which is about to enter its second week under NATO bombardment.

Two McDonald’s in central Belgrade were closed today, boards covering windows that had been shattered by angry crowds – the same fate that had befallen the U.S. Embassy and Cultural Center.

Clinton was also the object of Belgrade residents’ ire. At a “music against the bombs” concert that today drew the biggest crowds of its three-day run in the central square, listeners passed around a Clinton “death certificate.”

Hard-line Serbian nationalists have harbored hatred for the United States through most of this decade, as Washington opposed their involvement in wars in three former Yugoslav republics and spearheaded economic sanctions that remain in place against Yugoslavia – of which Serbia is the dominant republic. But many Western-leaning opponents of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic say they have been pushed into the hard-liners’ embrace by the NATO attacks, which aim to coerce Milosevic into ending repression of Kosovo Albanians and accepting a peace plan for the Serbian province.

Svetlana Djuric, 48, a former journalist who stresses she is a Yugoslav Jew and not a Serb, says NATO’s decision to attack has had disastrous repercussions for the very segment of Serbian society that Washington had pledged to support.

“This time Milosevic needs no propaganda!” she said by e-mail to an American former colleague. “I am and have always been a professional, a political analyst, and I tell you that this action killed all the opposition here and all the free media for good. Milosevic doesn’t even need to use any force against them.”

“Compared with Clinton and NATO, Hitler was a decent person of integrity,” she said.

Aleksa Djilas, a prominent Yugoslav historian and an outspoken critic of Milosevic since he rose to power in Serbia in 1987, said Serbia may lose Kosovo, but it will not rid itself of Milosevic.

“This is a situation in which he almost cannot lose. He’s either Napoleon or says, ‘I lost against the devil incarnate armed with superior technology,’‚” Djilas said in his Belgrade living room as unseen jets flew overhead and his little daughter cowered in a hallway.

“As such, Milosevic is not very powerful, but circumstances are in his favor – a weak opposition and foreign intervention,” he said. “He does not control all of parliament, and before NATO acted [he] had the support of just a third of the country, but he is stronger than anyone else.”

With their nation at war, few Serbs are willing to criticize Milosevic publicly. Newspapers that have preserved some independence from his regime do not dare voice criticism. Even Djilas, a former research fellow at Harvard and the son of Milovan Djilas – the most celebrated Yugoslav dissident jailed by former Communist leader Tito – acknowledged that he felt “uncomfortable” criticizing the president while Yugoslavia is under attack.

Djilas, who is only part Serb by birth and has always declared himself a Yugoslav, said the conflict embroiling his country is beginning to reorder his outlook on war and peace.

“In the war against Bosnia, I would have avoided the draft. I would never have shot a Muslim,” Djilas said. “But now if I was drafted, I would probably not resist.”

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