‘Most Humbly Yours…’

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australia’s John Howard may have a reputation in their respective countries for being the lapdogs of the American president – in Blair’s case, two of them so far. But no national leader in the world has demonstrated such sycophancy to the Emperor as the recently elected Boris Tadic, the president of Serbia. And he’s only been in office for three months.

Favorite Son

Tadic has long been the Empire’s fair-haired boy. He first worked as a defense minister in the federal government of Serbia and Montenegro, helping dismantle the Yugoslav military under the guise of "reform." In January 2004, he succeeded the Machiavellian Zoran Djindjic as the leader of the Democratic Party, taking over from Jacobins who established martial law in the country after Djindjic’s assassination – for which they were punished by being thrown out of office in the December 2003 elections. In June this year, he emerged as the favorite candidate of the West in the presidential poll, easily beating the ruling coalition’s nonentity Dragan Marsicanin and defeating the Radical candidate Tomislav Nikolic in the runoff by an eight-point margin.

Though Tadic supporters celebrated this as a "decisive victory for democracy," the poll was less stellar in reality. Less than half the eligible voters bothered to cast their ballots, perhaps disappointed by their choices. The media sold the election as a choice between the bright future of Tadic and the violent darkness of Nikolic, who was relentlessly demonized. There was also fierce and quite open pressure on the government from both Washington and Brussels to throw its support behind Tadic.

Clear Priorities

Within days of his inauguration, laden with symbolism adopted from the United States, Tadic was in Washington. The timing of the visit suggested he had come to give both gratitude and homage to the Imperial Court. Tadic’s public statements did nothing to dispel this impression:

"I came to the United States so early in my presidency to deliver a single message: We stand ready to take our place in the constellation of Western democracies." (The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, July 22, 2004)

He spent eight of his first thirteen days in office visiting the U.S. Over the next several months, however, he stayed out of the international affairs limelight, leaving it to federal Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, an embarrassing blowhard who has advocated that Serbia drop its lawsuit against NATO over the 1999 bombing. But around the anniversary of Black Tuesday, as he was recovering from a "mild ailment" in a Belgrade hospital, Boris Tadic wrote a supposedly personal letter to Emperor Bush. Within a day or so, the letter was leaked to the press, and published on Sept. 19 in the daily Kurir. In an open letter to Kurir the following day, Tadic admitted the purloined letter was authentic, but defended it as an effort to further Serbia’s national interests.

Perhaps his intentions were honorable. It is hard to say. But the tone of the letter, and its implications, are just downright embarrassing for both Tadic and the Serbian public, which reacted to the letter’s publication with what could only be described as apathetic indifference. But judge for yourself: here is the text of the letter, translated back into English from a version posted on Beograd.com:

"Dear George"

“On that day [9/11] I was in Belgrade, sitting with my friends, former Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks star Sasha Danilovic, when Vlade Divac – then a Sacramento Kings player and a basketball legend in Serbia – called to give us news of the tragedy. It was early afternoon local time, and Sasa and I went to my parish church to join the faithful and light a candle to the innocent heroes who perished in the act of senseless terror. This act of war, I thought, will not go unpunished. The people who did this and those who support them will hear from America and her friends soon. And so it was, and so it shall be until the job is finished.

"Mr. President, your words and deeds since that horrible morning three years ago have united the men and women in your country, and in the rest of the world, around a just cause: a war against terror. America did not choose this war, it was forced upon her. Either we will defeat the forces of darkness, or they will succeed in extinguishing the candlelight of civilization. As the terrorist attack on children in Beslan reminded us clearly, terrorists show no respect for borders, age, or religion.

"While I lie in a hospital bed recovering from a minor ailment, I pray that the United States continue to lead this war to wipe the terrorist plague off the face of the Earth. I also hope that our two countries will forge an even closer relationship in the months and years ahead of us, and that the two of us – leaders of our nations – will stand together against the forces that aim for the destruction of us all.

"We are both men who seek to strengthen the hand of justice in this world. I vow to you, Mr. President, on this sad anniversary, that I will do everything in my power to strengthen the forces of freedom, so all may be able to pursue their happiness in peace and safety.

"Serbia faces many challenges that we wish to overcome as soon as possible. These challenges include finding and arresting Ratko Mladic, accused of war crimes. We must do this, not only because it is our international obligation, but because if we want our society to move ahead, we must take responsibility for our past. If Mladic is in Serbia, we will catch him!

"Still, our greatest challenge is the southern Serbian province, Kosovo-Metohija, which has been administered by the international community according to a UN mandate since June 1999. Throughout this province, Mr. President, Christian holy places are in grave danger, as are those who wish to worship therein. Indeed, in March this year, during just three terrible days and in spite of the presence of several thousand members of international security forces, extremist Kosovo Albanians torched 35 churches and monasteries, and thousands of Serb homes.

"These acts of terror could have been much worse had it not been for the shining leadership of Admiral Gregory G. Johnson, commander of NATO forces in southern Europe, whose friendship I treasure, and who intervened personally so that NATO forces energetically stopped the organized terrorist attacks on Serbs and other non-Albanians.

"I believe you are not insensitive to the suffering of my people and its churches in Kosovo-Metohija. Together, we can take specific steps to help them rebuild their lives and communities, just as Americans, and especially New Yorkers, rebuilt their lives and communities in the three years since evil men decided to attack your homeland. We can make sure that orchestrated violence is denied any political reward. Indeed, as we make progress in the talks about the future status of Kosovo-Metohija, I believe we will work together and constructively on reaching a lasting and just solution to this complex challenge.

"My July visit to Washington, just a few days since my election as the first non-Communist president of Serbia, has strengthened my conviction that we are bound by common threads of fate. My talks with Vice President Cheney, State Secretary Powell, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and numerous Senators and Congressmen (such as Senators Frist, Lugar, Brownback, Lieberman and Voinovich, as well as House members Hastert, Blunt, Goss, Hyde, Burton, Tancredo and Emanuel) were honest, productive and useful. I hope that I will soon return to America to show my people once again that a close friendship with America is in our national interest – as our eventual membership in NATO would be – and that it agrees with our values and our dreams for a better life for our children. The American people are fortunate that you are their leader, as the people of Serbia are fortunate to have your support and friendship, and the support and friendship of your nation.

"Boris Tadic, president"

Communicator, He Ain’t

Even as most of the world condemns Emperor George’s aggression in Iraq, which has absolutely nothing to do with the lost and forgotten "war on terror," Tadic sends him a flowery letter fully supporting America’s "just cause . . . until the job is finished." Were Washington actually fighting terrorism, it would have started from the occupied Kosovo, which Tadic so heartrendingly laments. Who brought these "extremists" into position to torch Serb homes, churches and monasteries for the past five years, if not the U.S. and NATO? True, Kosovo 1999 was "Clinton’s war" – but what exactly has the Bush administration done to undo any of its effects? A big fat nothing, is what. If that counts as "friendship and support," what’s hostility like? Should one now give thanks to the Emperor that one’s hometown has not yet become Fallujah?

It’s hard to say what is more bewildering: the fact that Tadic wrote a letter like this to the Emperor, or that no one in Serbia has felt the need to upbraid him for such demonstrable stupidity. For crying out loud, the man thought it was "honest, productive and useful" to meet with Senator Joseph Lieberman, an outspoken advocate of the very Albanian "extremists" Tadic decries, who enthusiastically supported the 1999 attack on Serbia and even co-sponsored a bill to send weapons to the KLA!

Wrong Turn

During the presidential election season earlier this year, a Serbian TV producer came up with a brilliant idea: have the country’s leading politicians drive a specially-outfitted taxicab, and film their interaction with passengers. Taxi became an instant hit, so much so that it was brought back for the local elections this fall.

Tadic’s turn at the wheel, earlier this year, was one of the show’s most disappointing episodes. He got lost, and seemed unable to chat up his passengers. It doesn’t surprise, then, that he’s capable of such political wrong turns as the letter to Bush.

"There’s nothing worse than a politician who doesn’t know how to start a conversation with ordinary people," the show’s producer, Dragan Ilic, told the International Herald Tribune last week. Well, there just might be. He could be elected president.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.