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Saturday, 30 June, 2001, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
Brave new Kosovo
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic has gone, but in many ways life is unchanged
By BBC's Jacky Rowland

The luggage carousel at the main airport in Kosovo lurched into motion. I became transfixed by the rotating bags and packages. Every now and then, a case would be expelled violently from the conveyor belt. After a time, the bags starting piling up into a huge obstacle, until the whole process shuddered to a halt.

Slobodan Milosevic was not surrendered out of remorse for crimes committed in the name of the Serbs - he was handed over in exchange for hard cash

The carousel, I realised, was a metaphor for the Brave New Kosovo created by the international community.

The reason for my visit was a trip by the entire UN Security Council to assess progress in Kosovo since Nato forces took over the province two years ago.

I would have thought certain conclusions were obvious - ethnic Albanian rebellions flaring in Macedonia and southern Serbia, another wave of ethnic cleansing from the province - this time of Serbs.

Supporters of Slobodan Milosevic protest against his extradition
Mr Milosevic still has support in Belgrade
But I was curious to see what the UN ambassadors would make of it.

My international friends who have been working in Kosovo for almost two years have long given up on the international blueprint for the province. Dreams of a multi-ethnic community have been replaced by the reality of a mono-ethnic, intolerant state-in-the-making.

And the hostility towards Serbs and other ethnic minorities has now extended to Westerners working in the province. My international friends blame this on events across the border in Macedonia.

"The Kosovars assumed the West would always support Albanians, whatever they did," reflected one of my friends. "So they were shocked when Nato countries condemned the uprising in Macedonia."

West in Kosovo

Efforts by the international community in Kosovo are now directed towards elections that will be held in November. At the same time, a constitutional framework for the province has been drawn up. The Kosovo Albanians see both developments as further proof of their de facto statehood.

I went to see the man responsible for the elections - the head of the OSCE in Kosovo, Daan Everts.

Poster of Milosevic
Mr Milosevic's legacy lives on in Balkan politics
Mr Everts twittered blithely about how the elections were going to be a big success and how he was sure that the Kosovo Serbs would abandon their opposition to the vote and take part. I became aware of another blithe twittering in his office: two budgerigars, one blue and one green, in a cage on his filing cabinet. The various twitterings merged into each other.

So back to the UN ambassadors. I toured the province with them far and wide, by helicopter and by bus. Amazingly they flew from one end of Pristina to another - a distance of only a few kilometres - but presumably helicopters look more important than buses.

I found a city much changed since I left in January - the euphoria has gone

Now these ambassadors are not stupid men - even if the Americans seemed uncertain about where the US troops in Kosovo were stationed. So I had to smile ruefully when they came out with confident-sounding assertions of optimism. Only the Russian ambassador dared suggest that the international emperor had no clothes.

Having "done" Kosovo, the UN ambassadors headed north to Belgrade. And I travelled with them, back to my old territory. A city where I had lived through bombing and revolution with my Serbian friends.

Mood in Belgrade

After Kosovo - where international dreams have turned to disappointment - I wondered whether Belgrade would offer more cause for optimism.

I found a city much changed since I left in January. The euphoria has gone - and the assorted, disorganised characters who once made up the opposition to Slobodan Milosevic are now enjoying the flavours of power.

I headed to the Writers Club restaurant, the inevitable venue for a reunion with my friends. My friends are disappointed with their new leaders. President Vojislav Kostunica, who was greeted like a saviour last September, tries to hover in the stratosphere of statesmanship, as if he does not want to dirty his hands with politics.

Meanwhile other democrats are getting dirty right up to their elbows. Ordinary people have been surprised at the ease with which these one-time intellectuals have settled into cosy relationships with gangsters and dodgy businessmen.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica
Kostunica has tried to stay above politics
I went to see an artist friend of mine. We once joked about being twins, although she is younger, taller and blonder than I. Over coffee and, in her case, cigarettes, we looked back over a long, wistful, romance she had never quite savoured with a revolutionary student leader, Cedomir Jovanovic.

In his hey-day, young women had worn badges reading, "Ceda, Marry Me!" But that, too, has changed.

"I loved a revolutionary," my friend said. "But now he drives around in a car with tinted windows, followed by jeeps full of bodyguards."

Others added to her testimony. Ceda the Revolutionary has a wardrobe full of designer suits, has received a racehorse as a gift, and hangs out with turbo-folk singers. Some of his oldest protectors are now disowning him.

So the faces have changed, but the system remains much the same. The police and the army have been largely untouched by the change of government - and the people in power are not above benefiting personally from their position.

Even the surrender of Slobodan Milosevic leaves a sour taste in the mouth. The new government has shown that it is just as willing to overlook constitutional niceties as was the former president.

"This is not justice and law," one of my friends said. "This is expediency."

Slobodan Milosevic was not surrendered out of remorse for crimes committed in the name of the Serbs. He was handed over in exchange for hard cash.

It will be some time before Western leaders can really celebrate the dawning of a new age in Serbia.

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