Slobodan Milosevic’s delivery to a NATO airbase in Tuzla marks the end of an era—but which one? It appears to conclude the period in which the Serbian people tried to find leaders who would not accept that their national interests should be defined either by a socialist Yugoslavia or by the great powers. Their willingness to elect Vojislav Kostunica probably depended on the notion that he was more of a patriot than his predecessor and that he would keep his promise not to accept the jurisdiction of a foreign court created as an instrument of propaganda by Serbia’s enemies. Zoran Djindjic might have been unelectable. But even he was not an overt anti-nationalist, and it was possible to imagine that the foreign policy of the victorious coalition would combine Kostunica’s patriotism with Djindjic’s pragmatism. It could have produced a stable policy—based on legal self-respect and technical cooperation with The Hague War Grimes Tribunal (ICTY)—which most of Europe would accept because Europe is more interested in stability’ and democracy than in the project of Serb submission prescribed by Zagreb and Washington. We now know that this has not happened. Serbia could not have experienced a more humiliating surrender to IGTY than to watch its ministers defy their constitutional court on their high holy day, Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day). The people did not vote for it; the law did not permit it; and the highest court—whatever its composition—had ordered otherwise.

By the time Milosevic was sent to The Hague, Kostunica had already conceded the essential principle and agreed that extradition should be made possible by law or by federal decree. The foreign aid America might have withheld in June would, no doubt, have been available slightly later, after Belgrade had sorted out its lingering scruples. The decision to submit and to take the money had already been internalized. The sudden rush to Tuzla airfield was designed, above all, to break the will of a stubborn Serbia.

The Vidovdan capitulation was the moment of truth between the Serbian people and the anti-nationalist section of the intelligentsia. The political venom of the action, the wild impatience at Serbian pride, and the reckless contempt for Serbian democracy, law, values, and self-respect were all perfectly deliberate. They represent the rejection of everything that Serbia has done and stood for: defiance of the “international community,” the illusions of sovereignty, the possibility of patriotism in arms. The theory that the will of the international community’ is the supreme law of the land has been imposed like a lash on the back of every citizen.

This capitulation did not need to happen. Milosevic might have been on trial in Belgrade by now, facing charges which had not even been laid against him at The Hague when the Vidovdan abduction took place. If such a trial had been under way—with everyone gripped by new testimony—no one would have dared to interrupt the proceedings with an illegal kidnapping on behalf of The Hague’s chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte. Those responsible would have ended up in prison. Now, a probing, discursive, and surprising trial of Milosevic will never take place. What we will have is a much more technical, sterilized, and evasive legal process. There were people who wanted a real trial in Belgrade, but they were willing to be overruled by those with stronger convictions. For President Kostunica (perhaps the biggest loser in the affair), there may be a story of covert pressure from countries he wanted to trust. There was also a moment of self-understanding: that the era of crisis should not be prolonged by any choice of his. He might have defied the United States with sufficient backing but not, ultimately, against a nominal political majority. Somehow, he found himself grudgingly agreeing with his interlocutors that the preference of the Serbian people could be set aside.

Why has the party of Serbian inadequacy been so effective? It may be the energizing tonic of foreign patronage. But the true explanation is probably long-term. The belief that submission to Europe is essential is, at bottom, an economic theory that unites extreme free-market liberals—the sort who will impose free-market solutions before there is a market—and ex-communists looking for jobs in economic administration. The theory satisfies the bureaucratic need for an orthodoxy.

The Yugoslav economy was ruined long before 1991. It was in shambles when Tito died. But the invocation of Europe is simply implausible. Europe never really wanted to deal with Yugoslavia —and it still doesn’t. It did not impose defeat on Serbia—Milosevic did that —and it did not try to overthrow Milosevic. It left the Albanian problem to the Americans. The only European policy decision was to let German dislike of Yugoslavia take its course. There is no European reconstruction policy today. Much of the money that is available is intended to help Balkan countries pay the interest on their loans and continue publishing glossy material about free markets.

What Serbia needs is economic discipline for the managerial class as severe as that long imposed on ordinary working people. Just as Britain was ruined as an industrial power after 1945 by large soft loans that permitted middle-class life to erode sweetly for two decades while Britain’s industrial base was eliminated by an overvalued currency, Balkan states that depend on global or E.U. financial institutions will never flourish. Branko Horvat has warned Croatia that the European Union will not admit the Balkan states in the foreseeable future. The Austro-German borderland—Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Poland—may get in soon, but even the admission of Hungary is doubtful. The rest will get little money and less attention. The only chance for impoverished Eastern Europe is regional cooperation and the creation of new, internal sources of finance.

The Vidovdan abduction represents a genuflection to great powers whose longterm behavior it will not influence. Unfortunately, it explodes the self-respect and patriotic solidarity that is indispensable for slow, self-financed economic revival. The miserable condition of the people calls out for redress, and if the Serbian people had demanded extradition, no one would have blamed them. But it was not the common people—the sufferers—who demanded the fire sale of their dignity to secure U.S. aid.

Modern states need a doctrine of government; they cannot be managed on the basis of pragmatism alone—unless they are to be dependencies. Serbia is committed to the quest for dependency. The governing instinct in Belgrade is to look good to the powerful, to sing their song. A period as the valued client of Germany, or even America, might make sense, but is it possible? There is little evidence yet that Milosevic’s abduction is even the preamble to such an arrangement. But the taste of Western flattery is undoubtedly sweet.