- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

In a recent trip through Belgrade, Montenegro and Albania I saw firsthand the result of NATO's and American policy's failures in the Balkans. The scars of 78 days of "humanitarian" bombardment are visible all over the land: young men and women drift aimlessly from coffee shop to coffee shop; policemen in blue uniforms direct traffic in towns and cities of Montenegro while camouflaged-draped paramilitary units roam the streets with no particular purpose.

The consensus among Montenegrins is that their land is being groomed as Slobodan Milosevic's "next victim" that would need NATO's "humanitarian" intervention. Keen local observers are puzzled by the presence of scores of foreign "businessmen" huddling with paramilitary warlords and doing no visible business. The "human rights industry," too, is well represented in Podgorica. With minimal resources expanded, activists of this "industry" are busy co-opting and corrupting elites for as little as a paid trip to Washington and a platform to recite anti-Milosevic grievances.

Montenegro is rapidly becoming the next flash point that could silence George W. Bush's criticism of the uses and misuses of American power and could serve as the October surprise in an election year.

This tiny republic of 600,000 people is neither a democracy nor a state, although is treated as one by our architects of the Balkan quagmire. Its government behaves as an aspiring victim and seems eager to make the most of Mr. Milosevic's villainous image in an election year. Madeleine Albright's latest model of Balkan democrat, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, presides over a smuggling enterprise, not a government. The Italian mafia, roving Russian gangsters, and Albanian drug and gun dealers, all share the benefits of Montenegro's anarchic environment that Western observers confuse for freedom.

The Albanians take the prize as poster boys for post-Cold war Balkan capitalism. Besides drugs and guns, they also control a multi-ethnic prostitution ring that literally buys and sells desperate women, lured to their brutal underworld from as far away as Kiev. Profits from this lucrative "business" are visible in the Albanian-inhabited town of Tuzaj, a few kilometers from the Albanian borders. Walled villas and late models of Mercedez Benzes compare favorably with estates in Potomac, Md.

A few miles from Tuzaj, Motentenegrin grandmas sit silently behind makeshift benches trying to sell contraband items procured by smugglers with the right connections.

There is no success of American policy in Kosovo or anywhere else in the Balkans, no matter how loosely one defines success. Yet, our government continues its ostrich-like policies and refuses to come to grips with reality: i.e. that NATO failed in the Balkans and that it would make little sense to repeat last year's folly in Montenegro. Kosovo is not a safe place for its inhabitants, or our troops for that matter.

The Serbs have been ethnically cleansed by yesterday's "victims," and members of the Roma, Egyptian, Turkish and Macedonian communities are routinely brutalized by Kosovar Liberation Army elements, who now wear police uniforms, thanks to the initiative of Sens. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat. Eighty-one churches and monasteries (among them several listed by UNESCO as part of Mankind's Heritage) have been torched in Kosovo since NATO set up there, and Serb civilians are murdered by KLA goons with impunity.

A year after NATO's humanitarian intervention this region, still Yugoslav sovereign territory, has been transformed into a safe heaven for Europe's largest drug cartel. It also is a place where Islamic fundamentalists drift in and out with little hindrance.

But judging from its escalating rhetoric, the Clinton administration seems itching for another Balkan war in defense of self-proclaimed victims. The Bosnia-Kosovo pattern is now being fine-tuned and Slobodan Milosevic, our favorite villain, could be tricked to provide the pretext.

Part of the fine-tuning is a myth currently perpetrated by the "mainstream" Western media: i.e. that Montenegro's population wishes to break free from Belgrade's grip and go its own way. That is a myth. Internal polls conducted by Montenegro's own government (confirmed by an informal poll by this writer) show a solid 70 percent of the population favoring the Federation, even though the same percentage also oppposes Mr. Milosevic's authoritarian rule and Mr. Djukanovic's corruption.

Sensing the likely outcome of such a referendum for independence, the family-centered government of Montenegro passed several opportunities to hold one. Instead, under apparent Western tutoring, it has opted for the well-tested "victimhood model." Verbal and other provocation against Belgrade have intensified and a paramilitary force resembling KLA in its formative years is used to "solve" the unemployment problem. The scenario most often talked about by idle "coffee shop" analysts is a staged hot incident and disproportionate reaction by the entrenched Yugoslav Army.

Ironically, in a land of suffering and more than 40 percent unemployment, Mr. Djukanovic builds a paramilitary force with unexplained resources and highly paid foreign mercenaries as trainers. This force resembles in more ways than one the KLA in its formative years; and in the heat of American presidential elections, it could provide an October surprise.

Nikolaos A. Stavrou is a professor of international affairs at Howard University.

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