Summary of the East European Studies seminar and book launch with Louis Sell, former U.S. Department of State, International Crisis Expert on the Balkans, and former Wilson Center Fellow.
During his presentation, Louis Sell focused on six key moments from Slobodan Milosevic's rise to power in the 1980s until his forceful removal by mass demonstrations in October 2000. 1) Kosovo Polje on April 24, 1987; 2) Kosovo Polje on June 28, 1989; 3) the summer of 1991; 4) the summer of 1995; 5) Belgrade in March 1999; and, 6) October 5, 2000.
1) Kosovo Polje on April 24, 1987 - Milosevic first rose to national prominence by publicly embracing the cause of the beleaguered Serb minority in Kosovo, which was at that time controlled primarily by ethnic Albanians.
2) June 28, 1989 - Milosevic addressed a huge crowd of over one million Serbs at the site of their 1389 defeat by the Turks, which destroyed the medieval Serbian empire, at the 600th anniversary commemoration.
3) The summer of 1991 - Milosevic took the primary role in engineering the destruction of the old Yugoslavia, which led to the declaration of independence by Slovenia and Croatia, and the start of the war in Croatia.
4) The summer of 1995, which witnessed the hostage taking of UN peacekeepers, the slaughter of several thousand Muslims at Srebrenica, and the NATO bombing of the Bosnian Serbs, which led to the end of the war and the Dayton Peace talks.
5) March 1999 in Belgrade, which marked the culmination of U.S. and allied efforts to get Milosevic and Yugoslavia to agree to a peace settlement for Kosovo, Milosevic's rejection of that plan, and the subsequent eleven week bombing of Yugoslavia by the NATO allies.
Mr. Sell emphasized that in each of these pivotal moments it was Milosevic and his unique personal characteristics and internal contradictions which set the tone for events and their outcome. Sell argues that the collapse of Yugoslavia came wholly from internal rather than external considerations and that Milosevic bares the lion's share of the responsibility for the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Early on in his rise to power he demonstrated an ability, unique in the gray politics of the post-Tito area in Yugoslavia, to move people through his rhetoric and personal dynamism. Later, during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and especially Kosovo, Milosevic abandoned this dynamism and became much more reclusive and secretive. Sell emphasized the many contradictions and complications in Milosevic's psychological makeup. Milosevic was initially the devoted communist, but also the opportunistic nationalist; he was the tactically clever, yet strategically challenged leader; he was a man with a tragic dysfunctional family history, yet virtually inseparable from a very domineering wife. In the end, he was a man completely separated from reality and from his own people.
Mr. Sell also addressed the implications of the ongoing trial of Milosevic at the Hague and the current situation in Kosovo, which Sell has just visited. Sell emphasized that the War Crimes Tribunal is a necessary part of the peace and reconciliation process in the former Yugoslavia. But he noted regrettably that so far the trial is not having the desired effect in either Serbia or Kosovo because of Milosevic's successful efforts - based on Serb public opinion - to cast himself in the role of the defender of Serbian historical interests. Sell remains confident that Milosevic will be convicted for his crimes in Kosovo (the trial over the problems with Bosnia comes later), but thinks that full closure can only come with the establishment of a South Africa type peace and reconciliation commission.
The situation in Kosovo itself remains very unstable, the result of both the Kosovar Albanians' inability to effectively organize themselves as well as of the failure of the international community to provide effective goods and services to the people of Kosovo. Sell believes that in the end analysis, Kosovo remains key to peace and stability in the wider Balkan region and that eventually the issue of the status for Kosovo - officially still part of Serbia, but effectively now under UN trusteeship - must be effectively addressed.