What's Going on in Yugoslavia?
Jude Wanniski
October 3, 2000


Memo To: General Colin Powell
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Milosevic and the Elections

On the assumption that George W. Bush values your opinion on matters of international diplomacy -- or he would not be signaling that you would be his Secretary of State -- I hope you are doing a little digging on the situation in Belgrade. Something very strange is going on there when the leader of the opposition party, Vojislav Kostunica, beats Slobodan Milosevic by ten points -- TEN POINTS!! -- in the presidential election last week, and then refuses to participate in the October 8 run-off election that is required under the terms of the Yugoslav constitution. Yes, I know Kostunica insists he really got more than 50% of the total vote, not 49.5% as determined by the electoral commission -- and that somehow President Milosevic stole just enough votes to force a run-off. But it sounds bizarre to me that if the election were rigged in favor of Milosevic, that he would lose by 10 points. If I were in the position to rig the election for myself, I would win, or at least run a close second and rig the run-off. Does that not seem logical to you?

You know, I think, that I have defended Milosevic in the past, not because I have any special admiration for him. If I were a Serb eligible to vote, I would tend to look for a new leader, given Milosevic’s less than successful record in keeping his country intact over the past dozen years. I do, though, understand that much of the damage done to Yugoslavia since 1989 was inflicted on Belgrade by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Our government has played a hand-in-glove game with these international financial institutions, which we really control for our economic and political objectives. So I see this kind of manipulation continuing in this electoral process. Yesterday, I received this missive from Professor Michel Chossudovsky of the University of Ottawa in Quebec, who is one of the closest students of the economic underpinnings of the distress in the Balkans since the IMF/World Bank began imposing their poisonous conditions on Belgrade in the late 1980s:

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More Money from Washington for the "Democratic Opposition of Serbia"
by Michel Chossudovsky

Washington is preparing for the run-off election in Yugoslavia. More money is scheduled to be wired to opposition groups’ bank accounts in Budapest, with fresh and "clean" dollar bills to be transported in suitcases across the border. And this time its big bucks: 105 million dollars…

Perfect timing: the House of Representatives approved on September 25, one day after the Presidential election, a bill "authorizing financial aid for opposition groups in Serbia. The bill authorizes $[105] million to help finance democratic forces in Serbia and Montenegro, … including $50 million to fund the activities of pro-democracy and dissident groups." (Los Angeles Times, September 26 2000)

In an ironic twist, while the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) receives big bucks from the bombers, it has also committed itself in its electoral platform to adopting "new laws" on the financing of political parties "in accordance with the generally accepted standards of democratic societies. Republican parliaments will be advised to adjust their legislation according to these principles." (Election manifesto of "Democratic Opposition of Serbia," 5 September 2000)

With opposition political parties on the enemy's payroll, the Western media have casually accused the Yugoslav authorities of electoral fraud. In any other country, receiving cash from a foreign government would lead to the immediate indictment of the political parties concerned. And their bank accounts would be frozen. It has not happened yet in Yugoslavia. Yet the media accuses the Yugoslav government of mistreating the "democratic" opposition. In the U.S., taking money from an unfriendly foreign power or a "rogue state" (e.g. North Korea) to finance campaign expenses would be considered quite rightfully as "un-American." But in Belgrade opposition forces say that they are patriotic, for them it is not "un-yugoslav" to accept 105 million dollars from the

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I think you would agree, General Powell, that anything goes in love and war, but the United States is not at war and there is no justification for our government to finance particular parties in foreign elections. The fact that both major political parties, including the Republican Party to which you and I belong, agree to participate in this kind of activity, is no justification for it. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and when we engage in the manipulation of elections in foreign countries -- as we did routinely during the Cold War through the CIA -- we are only corrupting ourselves, and eventually will have to take responsibility for the results.

The press corps is of no use in this situation, General. As long as our Political Establishment agrees to a course of action, the news media must fall in line. If you read the NYTimes “Week in Review” section on Sunday, you could not have missed the page one screed by one of its reporters, Blaine Hardin, “Serbia’s Emperor Runs Out of Clothes.” I’ve been reading this section of the Times for 50 years, since I was a 13-year-old freshman at Brooklyn Tech H.S., and I can’t remember reading such blatant propaganda by a NYT correspondent -- a front-page editorial of the kind you normally see only in the tabloids, and then on the editorial page:

Yet, whatever the outcome of the struggle to force him to accept electoral defeat, one thing was clear: the logic of Mr. Milosevic’s hold on the people of Serbia had been shattered. Much of the world had already taken to calling Mr. Milosevic a dictator, based on his manipulation of the apparatus of power. But many Serbs did not see it that way, since he did not terrorize them and could win elections on the fiction that he was protecting them from the sea of enemies. Now, by doctoring the results of last Sunday’s election, refusing to accept defeat and demanding a second round of voting, the populist demagogue revealed himself to his countrymen as a tyrant hiding behind the trappings of democracy.

Do you see what I mean? This is not respectable journalism. I don’t blame Blaine Hardin, the correspondent, whose opinion would be suitable if it were packaged as an op-ed. It is the editors of the NYT who contribute to the confusion by presenting this kind of bellowing as fact. Nowhere in the piece or, as far as I can tell, anywhere in the newspaper, is there any attempt to explain why American taxpayers should send $100 million to Belgrade to hand out to Milosevic’s political opponents, quite a tidy sum considering U.S. taxpayers have just handed out only $150 million to the presidential candidates here at home. One wonders if Milosevic’s opponents are boycotting this weekend’s elections, stalling in order to get their hands on this pile of cash. I’m in no position to do anything but wonder, but you might be able to get to the bottom of the mystery. If you find out, I don’t expect you to tell me, but I would hope you would inform Governor Bush.