Serbia without Cosic

June 04, 1993

The ouster of the writer Dobrica Cosic as president of federal Yugoslavia abolishes a year-long effort to end Serbia's isolation. Whether it was window-dressing or real moderation, he was supposed to bridge the chasm between Serbia and a disapproving West. The West's failure to mount a coherent policy to deter aggression told Serbian militants that the Cosic gambit wasn't necessary, while the shambles of Serbia's economy after U.N. sanctions told them it wasn't helpful either.

Other revolutions devour their children; Serbia's dismissed its parent. Mr. Cosic was a renegade from Tito's communism who rekindled Serbian nationalism with powerful novels on the nationalist theme, set amid the destruction of World War I. Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's president, was a Communist functionary who used Cosic ideas to obtain supreme political power as a neo-nationalist.

Making Mr. Cosic president of the Yugoslav federation, which consists only of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, was Mr. Milosevic's idea. Making Milan Panic, an emigre businessman in California, the federal prime minister, was Mr. Cosic's. It lasted from July to December.

Now the forces in Yugoslavia's parliament that toppled Mr. Panic have solemnly found Mr. Cosic to have violated Yugoslavia's constitution. A reasonable interpretation is that Mr. Milosevic, head of the Serbian Socialist Party (the old Communists), dumped his mentor, Mr. Cosic, to appease the upstart head of the Serb Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj.

Now nothing is left in the Serb-Yugoslav power structure to restrain Mr. Milosevic's worst instincts. The remaining opposition, rallying behind Mr. Seselj, is even more extremist than he is. Any real force for moderation is in the streets of Belgrade, where democracy demonstrators protested the ouster. Their leader, Vuk Draskovic, was arrested and beaten by police. Mr. Cosic described his downfall as a coup and called his former protege, Mr. Milosevic, "an ideological pupil of Stalin's."

The fall of President Cosic coincided with renewed Serbian shelling of Muslim civilian centers in Bosnia. It also coincided with an effort by Mr. Milosevic to persuade fragile Macedonia to keep any American embargo-keepers away from its border. Serbia under Mr. Milosevic is completing its conquests in Bosnia and preparing for the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, which may engulf Macedonia.

The only message the West has sent Serbia that has gotten through is that Serbia need not worry about the West. This made Mr. Cosic superfluous.

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