A thousand editorialists have described Vojislav Kostunica, Yugoslavia’s new president, as a “moderate nationalist.” In fact, Kostunica is no more “nationalistic” than Jacques Chirac or Vaclav Havel. He is a self-described Serbian patriot, who says he wants for his people no more—and certainly no less—than he is prepared to grant to others. That is enough to make him suspect to those who want Serbia to remain a black hole in the heart of the Balkans.

During a decade-long acquaintance with Kostunica, I have had ample opportunity to hear his views on the way Serbia should develop its relations with the Western world in the post-Milosevic period. Those views were summarized in his presentation at a conference organized by the Lord Byron Foundation in Belgrade last January (at which several Rockford Institute representatives spoke, including Christopher Check, Thomas Fleming, and myself.) His remarks, made months before his rise to international prominence, reflect his real views, frankly stated, unburdened by the requirements of diplomatic niceties.

“The question of what the Serbs have to agree to in their future relations with the Western world, and what they must never accept, is central to our future,” Kostunica said, warning that “democratization”—as applied to the Balkans from Washington—does not necessarily mean the creation of democratic institutions as such:

No, this entails finding obedient, pliant people who will assume power. . . [They] provide the prime example of the relativization of “democracy” . . . Whether it is elections, the media, or the functioning of elected bodies, the will of the people is irrelevant. What matters is the will of the authorities in Washington.

As one of his country’s most prominent legal scholars, Kostunica was scathing about the lack of respect for the rule of law in the emerging Pax Americana. Washington “introduced into the rule of law everything that is opposed to the rule of law: voluntarism, insecurity, arbitrariness.” The countless revisions of the Dayton Agreement, which settled the war in Bosnia, are a clear sign he said, but he drew further proof from American diplomat Christopher Hill, who in 1998 insisted that the U.S. plan for Kosovo “must be worded so as to provide different interpretations of the same provisions by the opposing sides, without undermining the agreement in the process.”

While condemning Milosevic’s ineptitude in foreign affairs, he was equally critical of the “excessive cooperativeness” of some of his colleagues in the opposition:

Communist apparatchiks, young and old, have replaced one form of Newspeak with another. They are well aware of what can be said and what is forbidden. One must not talk of the NATO bombing and the subsequent conditions in Kosovo, while one has to talk about the Serb “culpability” and The Hague tribunal. In the aftermath of the bombing, this was the basis for institutionalized relations between the European Union, the United States, and the democratic opposition in Serbia. Before that time, those relations were based . . . on the triangle formed by the U.S., the E.U., and Slobodan Milosevic; then it was reduced to the United States dealing with Milosevic.

The focus of Kostunica’s remarks was on the need for the Serbs to find a third way “between the extremely uncooperative position of Milosevic and the excessively cooperative position of some of his political opponents.” But for the new strategy to be successful, the Serbs have to retain their national identity:

In order for a nation to survive, it has to know what is its national interest. In order to define its national interest, it has to have a strong national identity. This is a special problem since some Serbs have lost their national identity by becoming “Yugoslavs,” “Europeans,” “anti-nationalists,” globalists, or else sub-national regionalists.

Kostunica warned that, even if future Serbian political elites succeed in “avoiding the many traps that await them as they sail between the Scylla and Charybdis of the modern world, between confrontation with the outside world and a subservient attitude to it,” the country will confront the distorted and prejudiced picture of the Serbs that has been created during the past decade. But the truth will come out in the end: “It is now quite clear that factually, politically and legally, the so-called humanitarian intervention by NATO against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was not justified, that it was the intervention itself that caused the humanitarian catastrophe, the consequences of which will be felt for a long time.”

The lesson of that war is that the Serbs cannot count on any “allies,” in the old sense, among the great powers;

They can count, however, on covert and overt allies in the West, in Europe, and on the diffuse but ever more prevalent resistance all over the world to what has come to be known as “benevolent global hegemony.” They can count on the growing awareness that the NATO war against Serbia was mediated in the West by lies and manipulations, by the creation of a twisted and false picture about the Serbs that justified their punishment by sanctions, bombs, and politically driven indictments at The Hague.