Leadership matters. It’s almost in the nature of those leaders who have steered their people through turbulent times that their contributions may be almost invisible. In the inaugural post, I said that part of the purpose of this blog would be to acknowledge public figures who steered away from poor choices when it really counted. For his success as both a revolutionary and a statesman, for working to rebuild his country rather than re-mobilize it, and for loudly repudiating his vile predecessor‘s murderous irredentist policies, Serbian President Boris Tadic deserves recognition.
Secretary of State Clinton just visited this Eastern European rump nation-state of 7.3 million, meeting with President Tadic on Tuesday, as reported in the Washington Post. She praised Serbia’s “great progress,” a term which is accurate and pertinent, but still strangely tone-deaf considering she was speaking from the capital of the country making the progress. Tadic for his part thanked the Secretary of State and Vice President Biden for showing the interest in that country which allowed Serbia’s leaders “to build our relations with the United States on new ground after many years of misunderstanding.”
Circumspection without obfuscation. The Liberal Ironist doesn’t know how his words sounded in the original Serbo-Croatian, but he really likes the way they translate.
While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has simultaneously denied the Aghet (the genocide of Armenians during World War I) and taken the bizarre, disgraceful step of threatening to expel Armenian guest workers, Serbian President Boris Tadic acknowledged back in April that the mass murder of 8,000 Bosnian males in Srebrenica in 1995 was a war crime. In addition to a formal public announcement, Tadic acknowledged the event and its significance in Western media, including in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Leaders of nation-states rarely state the obvious where matters of right and wrong are concerned; that institution tends to punish it. 15 years after the fact is pretty good turnaround; it took only 28 years for David Cameron to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and publicize a report that the Bloody Sunday shootings in Northern Ireland in 1972 were in effect a massacre of civilians–and to apologize in Parliament.
Now that I think of it, let’s acknowledge David Cameron for airing-out and acknowledging the UK government’s responsibility for that massacre. After all, apologizing for the massacre of 8,000 people after 15 years or of 14 people 28 years after the fact don’t seem so absurd, in comparison to defensive denials of a genocide of 1.5 million people 95 years after the fact.
In any case, Tadic’s condemnation of the Srebrenica massacre helps us to recognize him not just as a (small-d) democrat but as a liberal (in the broader sense). Even where popular pressure compels Mr. Tadic to take a more-adversarial stance (as in Kosovo’s vote for independence or the ICJ’s summer declaration that its secession “was not illegal”), he has shown that combination of pragmatism and a moral compass most-needful in the leader of a transitional democracy still scarred by the 2 nationalist civil wars waged by the preceding government in the previous decade. As discussed in the Post article, while Tadic has said his government cannot recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state, last month it committed to open relations with Kosovo’s government on issues of common interest. Clearly Tadic is serious about courting European Union accession; 95 years after the Armenian genocide, talks between Turkey and Armenia on normalized relations have stalled out.
Kosovo wasn’t a one-off, either. Following its May 2006 vote for independence in a high-turnout plebiscite, Montenegro was received gracefully as a new country by Tadic. Entirely without displays of temper, conspiracy-theorizing, a diplomatic embargo or so much as passive-aggressive insinuations of corrupt special interests or portents of state failure, Tadic announced that the people had spoken, and that “Montenegro will always have in Serbia a reliable partner and friend.”
Following that, he quietly declared the Federation of Yugoslavia defunct and hoisted the Serbian flag–not at a rally at which he called on the next generation to wage war for a pan-Serbian empire the size of the State of Georgia, but among the other flags at the UN Building.
For not arbitrarily dismantling his country’s democratic institutions the way his predecessor or Boris Yeltsin did, for having the courage to call mass murder mass murder (a considerable feat where nationalist sentiment is concerned), for seeking good relations with a country that twice made war on his, for bringing war criminals among his countrymen to justice, and especially for renouncing the genocidal impulse to create a “Greater Serbia” on lands long-since settled by non-Serbs and returning to normal political relations with its neighbors, Boris Tadic gets a salute from the Liberal Ironist. That’s right, he gets loud applause, just for not committing serious crimes, or saying incredibly stupid things, and fancying himself a leader for it: The Balkan Peninsula has had no shortage of unworthy dictators who rallied others to kill and die for their private political objectives; the people of Serbia are truly fortunate that the leader of their democratic revolution would unerringly elevate their needs above his own vanity.