SALON Daily Clicks: Newsreal

The opposition may have won one, but Milosevic is not finished yet. And the U.S. could have a crisis on its hands.


Jonathan Broder
February 6, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)

after 77 straight days of street demonstrations and political unrest, opponents of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic have won. Or have they?

Milosevic announced Tuesday that he would call on Serbia's parliament to pass emergency legislation recognizing opposition election victories in the capital of Belgrade and other Yugoslav cities. His refusal to accept the November election results aroused international as well as local protests that had begun to undermine his regime.

Advertisement:

Despite the cheering in the streets, opposition leaders have reacted cautiously, saying they would continue the demonstrations until those responsible for the violent police crackdown earlier this week are punished and until the media are freed from state control. U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the Clinton administration was waiting to see if opposition politicians actually took their places on the city councils and if the councils themselves retained their powers.

Is Milosevic playing another trick? Is he playing for time or has he suddenly got democratic religion? Either way, has his time run out? Salon talked with Warren Zimmerman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1989 to 1992 and is author of the recently published "Origins of a Catastrophe: Yugoslavia and its Destroyers" (Times Books). Zimmerman is now a professor of diplomacy at Columbia University.

Some see Milosevic's move as a capitulation. Others see it as a smart way of drawing the opposition's sting. What do you think?

Advertisement:

I think it simply confirms the overall trend -- that he's on the way down and out.

Milosevic is nothing if not a survivor. Could this concession, however late, put off the inevitable?

In the near term, it may. But in the long term, it's yet another cut into his power base. He's already losing support in the army; a number of officers have been out on the streets with the demonstrators, including a member of the general staff. A month or so ago, the military high command issued a statement, which people believe to be authentic, saying they would not take action against the demonstrators. Also, he's lost support in the church; that's critical because of the church's influence on the rural people -- who are Milosevic's major supporters. Now, he's got local governments, including Belgrade, which are not going to be subject to his demands any longer. Belgrade in particular will become a focal point of opposition to him. So he may have bought himself a little time, but he can't stop the trend in the long run.

Advertisement:

The police didn't seem to crack heads of the demonstrators the other day.

Yes, the police are much more loyal to him. After all, he created this massive police force and, most importantly, he pays them. The government unions also have remained loyal. So he's got some things on his side. But he's lost something that total rulers really need, which is the appearance of total invincibility. I think people now see that they can hurt him and maybe even kill him politically.

Advertisement:

Is that why the opposition is saying this concession does not go far enough and that they now want accountability for the violence over the past few days?

I think that it shows that the opposition knows this fight is not just about getting the people who won elections into their seats. It's about who is going to run Serbia, and I think they're smart to stay on the streets.

So are we seeing some sort of endgame being played out here?

Advertisement:

It could last months, but yes, I think it is an endgame.

There has been speculation that Milosevic might use the concession to argue that he has taken heed of the international criticism and to press for badly needed foreign loans. Could that work?

He wasn't going to get the loans before these elections, so why would he get them now? While the basic sanctions against Serbia came off at the time of Dayton, there has remained something called the "outer wall" of sanctions, which is essentially designed to keep Serbia as a pariah state, keep it out of the U.N., keep it out of international organizations and keep the international lending organizations from dealing with Serbia. It's very strong and will stay on as long as Milosevic is in power. For this outer wall to be erased, there would have to be much more serious democratic action from him than what he did yesterday.

Advertisement:

The U.S. says it wants to be sure that the victorious opposition actually take their seats and that Milosevic doesn't take steps that strip these local councils of their power. Is that a valid concern?

Absolutely. Milosevic operates in an environment where he makes the laws or has his own people make the laws. So it's entirely possible that his next line of defense will be to try to make sure that the people coming into power can't do anything substantial. It's typical of Milosevic to try to nickel-and-dime every new concession he makes, to cut back these concessions with salami tactics.

Is there still a potential for violence in Serbia?

I think there is a major potential for violence, particularly if Milosevic sees that his own rule is threatened. Then he would be prepared, I believe, to use whatever violence it takes. And the obvious place where he would look would be Kosovo. It's the issue with which he's most identified; it's the issue on which he's made no concessions at all. It's the issue which unified Serbs and brought him to power nine years ago, and it's still very volatile. And it's diversionary.

Advertisement:

In Kosovo, the Serbian minority essentially runs the show while the majority Albanians have set up their own parallel, extra-legal institutions. It's really a classic colonial situation. What he could do is provoke an incident that could result in the killing of maybe several Serb policemen, something big enough to escalate into serious communal violence. Then he would call on the Serbian people to rally around while he got the army and the police to put down this Albanian "terrorism." He's already talked about Albanian terrorism in the past week. The press recently ran a picture of him congratulating his security officials for their actions against Albanian terrorism. So he seems to be setting the stage for some kind of diversion in Kosovo.

How would the U.S. react to that? Haven't we drawn our own line in the sand there?

That's right. If Kosovo goes up in flames, that is very big stuff. At the beginning of his administration, Clinton wrote Milosevic a very sharp letter, in which he said that if Milosevic tried anything in Kosovo, there would be a forceful reaction from the United States which would not necessarily be limited to Kosovo itself. In other words, it could extend into Serbia proper. It was a repeat of a letter than Bush had written to Milosevic and it is a much stronger commitment than we ever made in Bosnia. And you've got tremendous congressional interest in Kosovo as well. During the Bush administration there were innumerable non-binding resolutions arguing for Albanian civil rights in Kosovo. So if people got killed there on a large scale, I think you'll see a tremendous reaction on the Hill.

Is this a U.S. foreign policy crisis in the making?

Advertisement:

It very well could be. But that's assuming that Milosevic can get away with it. It's not clear that he could get the Serbian army and police to go along with what might seem to them purely an effort to keep himself in power. In using violence, he always has to worry whether he's going so far that he may get a reaction from the people that are powerful enough to overthrow him.


IN OTHER APPLE NEWS...

Choosing the heart of its new operating system is the real story in this week's episode of the battling computer company.

Advertisement:


BY DAN SHAFER

in the midst of Wednesday's reorganization and layoffs at Apple Computer -- which are sure to trigger more "Apple is Dead" wailing in the press -- it is worth noting that the company has been moving with surprising alacrity on the all-important technical front.

Apple quietly announced to developers last week that it will build its next-generation system software, called "Rhapsody," on top of the central core currently at the heart of the NeXT system. Ending weeks of speculation among technology insiders, Apple said it will use the Mach "microkernel" as the basis for its oddly dubbed "Modern Operating System," which it plans to introduce early next year.

Microkernels are all the rage in the esoterica of computer design these days. Few people understand them; fewer can build or properly evaluate them. They derive their name from two characteristics: their small size relative to the much more massive operating systems that are built on them, and the central role they play in the design and use of operating system software.

The company will standardize its new OS around Version 3.0 of the Mach kernel. That version is still in development but has been in the works for several months. Knowledgeable engineers to whom I've talked are largely positive about the Mach design, which was originally developed by Avi Tevanian, named to head up Apple's OS development effort when Apple acquired NeXT. While many -- me among them -- remain skeptical about Apple throwing in its lot with Steve Jobs and NeXT, I think this technical development gives Macintosh owners reason to breathe a tiny bit more easily, because it:

  • gives developers a clear indication of where the future lies rather than leaving them twisting in the wind as Apple has so often done in the past;
  • signals Apple's seriousness about joining the world of existing computer standards (Mach is a Unix-based design) rather than continuing to try to promote its own proprietary system software;
  • indicates that Apple's engineering team has sufficient confidence in the NeXT technology to agree to replace their languishing microkernel work code-named Copland with the Mach microkernel;
  • demonstrates that the "new Apple" under recently appointed R&D Veep Ellen Hancock can make major decisions in time periods that are measured in weeks rather than quarters.

According to what I've been able to piece together, once Apple decided to acquire NeXT and rethink its OS strategy, it faced a choice among several microkernels: It could finish Copland, adopt a Sun microkernel reportedly optimized for Java, go with the planned new Mach release, or take a real leap of faith and use the real-time microkernel design on which it has recently applied for patents.

The old Apple, saddled with a bad dose of NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome and an almost obsessive need to be "cool," would almost certainly have stayed with Copland or jumped on the new real-time kernel. The fact that the company opted for a proven microkernel whose new version's design it can still influence shows how far the company has come.

Rumors and dire predictions to the contrary, there seems to be some life in the bruised fruit after all.
Feb. 5, 1997


Q U O T E O F T H E D A Y


The Pariah

Everybody's sick of his problems. We love O.J., but we don't need O.J. We need jobs.

(From "Court Crowd Cheers, Tame Reaction Elsewhere," in Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle.)

He will be the Frankenstein of celebrities, but he will be a celebrity and people will pay to see him.

Howard Rubenstein, a New York public relations executive, on O.J. Simpson's earnings potential. (From "Award May Constrain Lifestyle, but Big Earning Potential Remains," in Wednesday's Washington Post.)


Jonathan Broder

Jonathan Broder is Salon's Washington correspondent.

MORE FROM Jonathan Broder



Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •