Serbian leader Milosevic is victim of his own success

March 09, 1994|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Special to The Sun

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic sparked the Yugoslav wars with his vision of a Greater Serbia. But now that Serbs hold most of the land that would realize that dream, the vision is looking decidedly shaky.

"He doesn't like what he has created," one source said, explaining why the brooding Serb strongman has been silent for weeks.

The problem for him is that strong leaders have emerged among the Serbs in both Bosnia and Croatia who, in the words of one senior analyst, "are now more Catholic than Pope Milosevic" and who don't want to give up any territory, even for an end to the fighting.

"He has set up forces that go beyond what he wants," one envoy in Belgrade said. "Every day it is more evident that the different Serbs don't like each other. The people in Bosnia and Krajina [the Serb-controlled part of Croatia] are very different. Milosevic is now playing a very interesting but dangerous game with forces he doesn't completely control. But he can't stop playing."

Mr. Milosevic has tried to dilute their power and destroy those who challenge him.

But his methods, including a highly efficient intelligence and police network, may fail him at the moment when a peace plan for Bosnia is feasible but involves compromise the extremists may not be prepared to give.

There have long been tensions between Mr. Milosevic and his man in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic.

But Mr. Karadzic has said that he would relinquish a good part of the Bosnian Serb-held territory, emphasizing that it comprised the poorer towns in hills and mountains while their opponents hold the richer valleys and towns, including Sarajevo.

Many Bosnian Serbs do not want to give up an inch of the land they have fought for.

In particular, they want to keep their territory in and around Sarajevo rather than having it an internationalized city -- as the United Nations would like and Mr. Milosevic has accepted.

The extremists have a potential champion: the Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic. The crude but highly intelligent general already has gained notoriety for disobeying political leaders. He is far more popular than Mr. Karadzic for his bravery and uncompromising views.

There is a further problem: the Russians. Despite all the fanfare of them getting involved on the side of the Serbs, there is little love lost between the Russians and Mr. Milosevic.

The overriding reason seems to be that the Russians have narrow interests: They see Bosnia as a way to re-enter the international arena and prefer to deal directly where they have a greater impact, with the Bosnian Serbs.

But they also distrust Mr. Milosevic. His government was, after all, ambivalent about the coup attempt against Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin. And the long-standing links between Serbia and Russia in gold, commodities and other, more shady, ventures are channeled through Mr. Yeltsin's rivals.

The greatest nightmare for Mr. Milosevic would be for the Bosnian Serbs to turn against him in unison with Krajina.

The Krajina Serbs occupy a third of Croatia's territory, where U.N. peacekeepers patrol an uneasy truce.

Cooperation between the Bosnian Serbs and Croatian Serbs already is strong. There is no doubt that the Bosnian Serb planes shot down Feb. 28 by NATO F-16s in Bosnia took off from Krajina.

Mr. Milosevic has had a hard time suppressing extremists in Krajina and has had to resort to outrageous tricks to get the leader he wants elected. The problem for him is that the Krajina Serbs can never be part of Serbia if there is to be an overall

settlement in the region. Yet, inspired by him, that is what most of them want.

Mr. Milosevic's apparent game plan is to make a deal with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and discussions are well under way.

For one thing, a Serbian-Croatian rapprochement would mean the reopening of road links between Croatia and Serbian-controlled Yugoslavia which in turn would mean the end of U.N. sanctions on Yugoslavia since policing would be all but impossible.

A Milosevic-Tudjman deal would bring the whole situation full circle to the point in 1990, just before the wars in the former Yugoslavia began, when the two leaders met and publicly discussed how they would like to divide Bosnia between them.

This would have been a good, old-fashioned, horse-trading Balkan deal between the leaders of the region's two biggest groups, the kind the region was synonymous with before tribalism was repressed by Communist dictator Marshal Tito.

And this, in essence, is what the bloody wars in Bosnia and Croatia have been all about.

Mr. Milosevic is an old-style Balkan politician, prepared to use every trick to attain and remain in power.

He used nationalism as a means to an end. The problem is, for the people who have been fighting, nationalism has become the only end.

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