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LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEW : Milan Panic : From Orange County Businessman to Leader of Troubled Yugoslavia

October 04, 1992|Robert Scheer | Robert Scheer is a national correspondent for The Times. He interviewed Milan Panic during the prime minister's visit to Newport Beach last week

A: I think that we and the rest of the world should be concerned about the father whose son is blown up by the democratization of the country. What do they think of democracy? They lived reasonably well. There was no killing on the streets. They didn't have enough freedom, of course. Maybe some of them even ended up in political jails. But not that many. Not that many were shot. Look what's happened now with our democratic system blown up. How many people died in the name of democratization? In the name of freedom?

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Q: Whose fault is that?

A: I think tremendous responsibility lies with the Western world, which was not prepared for the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. We were prepared to destroy communism with our "Star Wars" of Mr. Reagan. We are lacking a "Star Wars" of peace. We are lacking plans of how to convert this communist society, or any other society, into a peaceful, democratic society. There was no recipe, so the people took it on themselves, and that's the birth of nationalism. I think nationalism is a disastrous concept. Hitler ran that lie.

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Q: \o7 Well, there was a recipe. And it was this laissez-faire model for all of Eastern Europe--you just get rid of the yoke of communism and then people spontaneously develop a market economy and democracy.\f7

A: Oh, what a dream!

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Q: \o7 But this was the recipe.\f7

A: That's a recipe? That's a utopia. There is a practical aspect of that. You need to establish institutions. There was no judicial system to suit a democracy. There was no accountability, no understanding of democracy. This is a dream world: Disneyland, American-style.

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Q: \o7 Well, what should the U.S. have done? This country has long claimed a commitment to self-determination. Should we now deny self-determination for the Croatians and Bosnians?\f7

A: Absolutely not. But self-determination under democratic processes and not self-determination by guns. You cannot change the borders by shooting. The borders are changed at tables. They started shooting for territories. That was the beginning of disaster.

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Q: \o7 What can you do to prove to the U.S. that you have clout? That you are in charge?\f7

A: I don't want to prove anything. What choice do they have--I am the one who is working for peace. The lack of support from the United States is chipping my power away, along with the possibility of democratization of Yugoslavia and of free enterprise. I have proved that my motives are clear. I have proved point by point. I worked on opening Sarajevo airport. Sarajevo airport opened. On opening roads from Belgrade to Sarajevo. On opening airports in Belgrade for humanitarian help.

I opposed ethnic cleansing as a terrible thing which takes over in civilians in these kinds of wars. I dismissed the undersecretary of interior who was for ethnic cleansing. I am the one for peace--which is why the polls show me with the greatest support.

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Q: \o7 And troops?\f7

A: I happen to be minister of defense. I am involved with the army which needed leadership. They were disgraced, but before they were a very professional army. I think now we have a unified army of what's left. And it is a powerful army, because they pulled a lot of weapons and everything from everywhere into Serbia. So I have excess weapons.

I have repeatedly and publicly called for placing under U.N. control all heavy weapons--to a point where a lot of batteries of big guns are under U.N. control. I repeatedly have given public support for relief supplies for Bosnia and Herzegovnia. I have actually sent them from Yugoslavia. I have rejected changes of border by force. I'm not going to use force, even though I have it. I have ordered that neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia should finance the people in Bosnia. I have ordered no interference in Bosnia by the Yugoslav army, and no flights of planes. I want to evolve an American way in the political life of Yugoslavia.

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Q: \o7 What about the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic? At what point are you expendable to him?\f7

A: I put that differently. You know I am far more aggressive than he ever dreamed I would be.

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Q: \o7 What do you mean by that?\f7

A: Well, in the London conference, in front of all the people--not intentionally, cross my heart--I told him to sit down if he wanted to talk. I don't know if that maybe gives you a little feeling of who is in charge. And he sat down.

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Q: \o7 The cynics say you were picked by the Serbian strongman to provide a base of support in the West.\f7

A: Well, that could be destiny, too, because I just may eliminate him. Maybe I was the only one who could do that. But I won't do that. I am not an enemy of his. He does his job, I do mine. No, but listen, he has a constituency. Sanctions are helping him. This isolation is undermining my ability to put the thing in the proper perspective for the world and for them. The children are not going to have heating oil. That is terrible for the United Nations to have done.

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