- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

'I need no boss'

He had opened every door in Washington. His government was ignorant, and he needed no boss because the rules were not meant for him.

That is the attitude, expressed in his own words, that led to the dismissal of Yugoslav Ambassador Milan St. Protic in one of the most public and bitter diplomatic disputes that Embassy Row has seen in its eight years of publication.

While Washington was surprised by the sacking of Mr. Protic, his removal shocked no one in Belgrade, where rumors of his dismissal had circulated for weeks before he was fired on Aug. 23.

Here he presented the image of a popular Yugoslav politician, outspoken anti-communist and street fighter for democracy.

At home, too many of his colleagues considered him arrogant, unruly and undisciplined not a good recipe for diplomacy.

Even some of his aides at the Yugoslav Embassy declined to defend him when they were contacted by this column on the day of his dismissal.

Now, a former U.S. diplomat has provided Embassy Row with a translation of some of Mr. Protic's provocative comments that were previously little known outside Yugoslavia.

Mr. Protic, who lasted six months as ambassador, demeaned his government, belittled his superiors and bragged about his influence in an Aug. 16 interview in the respected Yugoslav newspaper Vreme, a week before his was fired by Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic.

"I don't think that everybody should be expected to act according to the same rules," he said. "In my case, obviously I need no boss. I need nobody to lecture me what I must do."

Mr. Protic challenged Mr. Svilanovic to "remove me from Washington" if he disagreed.

Mr. Protic said the government of President Vojislav Kostunica doesn't have "any kind of policy."

"We don't even know our territorial borders, nor do we know who is responsible for what or who is responsible for particular policies or where that person is located," he added.

"We gained power on the streets," said Mr. Protic, one of the leaders of demonstrations that forced former dictator Slobodan Milosevic from power.

"We contain elements of a revolutionary government, and such a revolutionary government incorporates an understanding requiring it to behave just a little differently in all spheres," he said.

Mr. Protic, the first Yugoslav ambassador here since the NATO war of 1999, noted that he reopened the embassy and renewed contacts throughout the U.S. government.

"We are respected, and all doors are open," he said. "There are no doors in Washington that I have not opened."

Mr. Protic said he did not mind that some Yugoslav politicians found his comments threatening.

"They are threatening me, too," he said.

However, Mr. Protic rejected calls for him to stop criticizing his government.

"Can you imagine Milan St. Protic giving up his political influence, as long as he is performing some public function?" he asked. "As long as I am here, my word will be heard."

Threats to democracy

Poverty and debt threaten the stability of the developing democracies in the Western Hemisphere, the dean of the South American diplomatic corps has warned.

Guyanese Ambassador Odeen Ishmael predicted that the poor in many countries in Central or South America or the Caribbean could rise up unless international lending institutions ease the "unreasonable" conditions for removing or reducing the debt.

The financial burdens, often incurred by Latin American dictators, are crushing the young democracies that are unable to provide adequate services to the poor, he told the Organization of American States in a recent speech.

"We cannot have sustained democracy, if we do not tackle the problem of poverty," he said. "How long can the poor … continue to listen to our political leaders … debate countless suggested proposals to ease poverty?

"By not being able to deliver quick development for the benefit of their people, the entire fabric of democracy becomes threatened because impatient people may turn against the very democracy that sympathizes with their problems."

In a biblical reference, he warned, "The poverty-stricken people living in our countries may be as poor as Job but not as patient."

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