Comment: The war is over, but has anything changed?

Belgrade seems to have shrugged off the bombing as though little has happened

TOMORROW IS a big day for Serbia. Marko, the son of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav President, is opening Bambi Park, his sporting amusement centre for young people in the Milosevic home town of Pozarevac. Mr Milosevic Jnr, who also owns Madonna, the largest disco in the Balkans, said that Nato's 11-week bombing campaign had not disrupted construction work at Bambi Park. It was proof, he said, that "we care for younger generations."

On Tuesday, I dodged a police checkpoint that was set up to prevent foreign journalists and Serbian political activists from attending the first anti-Milosevic rally in the country since the end of the bombing. There were about 7,000 people present at the demonstration in the provincial town of Cacak. In Belgrade, life appears bizarrely normal. Apart from the ruined buildings hit by Nato which, in the centre, are mostly concentrated on one street, the city seems to have shrugged off the bombing as though little had happened. Shops are full, cafes are buzzing - and all young people want to do is to leave Serbia as soon as possible.

So, what are we to make of this picture? The first point is that there is little doubt that Serbia has become the black hole of Europe. It is utterly isolated and with seemingly little prospect of recovery. Or, at least that's what our Western leaders keep telling us. That is, that Serbia has no future while Slobodan Milosevic remains at the helm. But, could Mr Milosevic, the greatest political Houdini of modern times, slip his chains yet again? He might.

Watching that rally in Cacak, I was struck with an appalling sense of ennui, of having seen it all before. It is true of course that this time things are different - or are they? After all, Mr Milosevic has now presided over the loss of the Serbian "holy land" - Kosovo - and his people endured 78 days of bombing for nothing. No one believes the official line that Serbia has won the war in Kosovo. They do believe, however, that Serbs are the true victims of the war. After all, the official media here said nothing about the "cleansing" of Albanians during the bombing so most people believe that, first they were victimised by Nato, and now Serbs are being "cleansed" by Albanians while Nato troops do nothing.

Can the opposition make something of this? In the short run, probably not. People are tired and confused, but it is summer and life is not so hard. So, say the analysts, look to the autumn.

There are several possibilities. The rallies planned by the small and faction-ridden Alliance for Change, which organised last Tuesday's demonstrations, might take off into mass protests. Others may join them too. On Thursday, for example, the centre of Belgrade ground to a halt when 2,000 or so pensioners plus parasols took to the streets shouting "thieves" at government buildings and complaining that they could not live on their pensions.

If demonstrations do take off then Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the largest opposition party in Serbia, could throw his weight behind them. On the other hand, they might just fizzle out.

If that happens Mr Milosevic and his allies - the party led by his wife, the United Yugoslav Left and that of Serbian extreme nationalist Vojislav Seselj - might well strike some new deal and continue governing. At the moment, Mr Seselj is in a semi-detached position. His party resigned from government, but the president did not accept these resignations.

Another scenario involves Mr Draskovic who, politically speaking, has had a good war. He preserved his patriotic credentials but kept open his channels to the West. His party strategists are currently mulling over what is being called the "Kurt Waldheim" scenario. As its name suggests, it would follow the model of the isolation of Mr Waldheim as president of Austria following the revelations that he had lied about his Nazi past.

To get to this point, however, the opposition would have to be powerful enough to bargain from a position of strength. Essentially, Mr Draskovic in alliance with Milo Djukanovic, the anti-Milosevic president of Montenegro, would take over the Yugoslav government while Mr Milosevic would be left as president of Yugoslavia, ignored by all, until his term expired in 2002.

Neat though the "Waldheim" plan may be, no one should have any illusions that any such thing is a certainty. The political commentator Zarko Korac also believes that the end of the war marks the beginning of the end for Milosevic, but admits that he cannot yet see how he will go. But he argues that authoritarian leaders don't just fade away a la Waldheim. "I cannot see Milosevic as a pensioner walking his grandchildren in the park."

Meanwhile, Milisav Pajic, Yugoslavia's assistant deputy foreign minister, makes a trenchant case in defence of his president. He points out that his country still has leverage. "Calls for Milosevic to go are unrealistic," he says. Cacak's opposition rally was tiny and he adds that the Church, which has also called for Mr Milosevic to step down, has little influence.

So, in Yugoslav politics there is everything left to play for. And as Predrag Simic, one of Belgrade's sharpest political analysts, says: "We won't see the Ceausescu scenario here because, even now, we are not in such a bad shape as Romania was in 1989. But, neither will see a velvet revolution." And of course, quite possibly, we'll see no change whatsoever.

The author's `The Serbs: History, Myth & the Destruction of Yugoslavia' is published by Yale University Press

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor