Montenegro Diarist

I was in Niksic on my preelection tour of Montenegro, drinking slivovitz with the mother of the most famous son of this land when the telephone rang. My host picked it up. The caller, it appeared, wanted to speak with "Nada"-- the Serb version of the woman's name "Hope." "No, you've got the wrong number, " answered Madame Jovanka Karadzic without missing a beat; "There is no Hope here. I tell you: We have no hope in this household." She hung up and winked at me.

To my surprise and confusion, I instantly liked this 75-year-old woman, who is the mother of today's most notorious indicted war criminal. Madame K. said she would rather not talk with me about Radovan--who, having led Bosnian Serbs to mass killings of their Muslim brothers, is now a fugitive--because she cannot speak ill of her own son, and I probably would "not entirely agree" with her assessment of him.

I respected her wish, but, later, over coffee, she raised the topic herself, asking me if I had ever spoken with her boy. I had. And did I think that he behaved like a war criminal? I could not bring myself to inform the old woman that I thought her Radovan should be swinging from the gallows, so I mumbled something about how his vision of a Serb-run state did not take into account the well-being of other ethnic groups. I was glad none of my colleagues from the Sarajevo team of the International Crisis Group were there to see me--my reputation as the office loudmouth would have been shattered.

To cover my embarrassment, I changed the subject, asking my host about the nearby village of Petnica, where her son was born. In a biography--or rather hagiography--by Djuro Zagorac (Dr. Radovan Karadzic: The Fanatic of the Serb Idea, second edition, Belgrade, 1996), I had read that his actual birthplace " was not unlike the stable where Jesus Christ came to this world."

"No, nothing remains of it, only a few stones, but they are overgrown with weeds," said Madame Jovanka. "Radovan used to come back because he loved the countryside here," she added. (This, too, had been noted in the biography, along with a detailed description of Karadzic's goat-herding days, especially of his fondness for a certain goat named Lepesha. "Little Radovan was a shepherd to the small flock," the book continues. "The great Radovan, many decades later, will become the great shepherd of another great flock.") "But he hasn't been to Petnica for many years now," Madame Jovanka volunteered, anticipating my question. This is what nato says, too, when asked whether their number one fugitive travels freely.

I had already stopped over in Petnica earlier that day and had been received with exemplary hospitality--and excellent homemade slivovitz--by local residents, all of whom proudly carry the name Karadzic. Nobody in Petnica, in nearby Savnik (where the Karadzic family moved when Radovan was five years old), or in Niksic, where Madame Jovanka now lives, seems to believe there is any justice in the international tribunal's indictment of Karadzic for genocide and crimes against humanity. In the run-up to Montenegro's parliamentary elections, Karadzic's image, boldly emblazoned on posters for the Serb Democratic Party of Montenegro, was plastered all around Niksic.

But, in his home village of Petnica, all of Radovan's cousins seemed to be planning to vote for the coalition led by Milo Djukanovic, the current president of Montenegro and the most outspoken critic of Yugoslav president-- and onetime Karadzic champion--Slobodan Milosevic. Serbia and Montenegro are the sole remaining members of the rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and there are signs that tiny Montenegro is beginning to chafe under the leadership of its far larger partner. Ultimately, Djukanovic's coalition got 49.5 percent of the votes. The bloc led by Milosevic's favorite, Momir Bulatovic, whom he had anointed prime minister of Yugoslavia just a week earlier, garnered only 36 percent.

If their intent was to express their resentment of Serbian meddling, Montenegro's voters certainly succeeded. But it's hard to understand why such ardent admirers of a person like Radovan Karadzic would vote for a coalition led by a politician as pro-Western as Djukanovic. The rally closing his coalition's electoral campaign began with a stirring film presentation on a giant screen showing the Montenegrin president on a world tour through London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Moscow, Brussels, and Washington (where he appeared with Madeleine Albright and William Cohen), all set to the tune of "America" from West Side Story.

But it's possible that the Montenegrins sensed that there are limits to Djukanovic's allegiance to Western values. At his rally there was plenty of railing against "sanctions and hyperinflation," and there were plenty of vows that "we will not give Milosevic the Montenegrin police; we will not tolerate his dictating to us how to run our republic." But there was little condemnation of Serbia's massive military attack against Albanians in the neighboring Kosovo province of southern Serbia and no concern expressed for the ethnic Albanians who were being slaughtered just miles away as Montenegrins went to the polls.

Among the Djukanovic supporters, only ethnic Albanians from Montenegro (just seven percent of the total population here) have an interest in the fate of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo (90 percent of the population there). Those percentages may change because the ethnic cleansing being carried out by Milosevic's police and army has increased the number of ethnic Albanians in Montenegro by some 7,000 refugees in the last two weeks. But, for the moment, Milosevic's foes in Montenegro would rather criticize him for domestic sins (clamping down on the media and on the university) than for dragging them into another war, even if this will cost them more sanctions and more ostracism.

They are aping their brothers from Serbia. Back in December 1996 Serb protesters marched through the streets of Belgrade every day for three months in loud demonstrations against Milosevic. Yet they hardly complained about Serbia's war in Bosnia or apartheid-style rule in Kosovo. Instead they waved Serb flags, made the three-finger Serb nationalist symbol--somehow failing to acknowledge that it was in the name of this flag and these three fingers that Milosevic had led them into the war whose consequences they were now so aggrieved about, and which, incidentally, also led to the slaughter and rape of thousands of people. Madame Jovanka Karadzic is right: There is no hope here.

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By Anna Husarska