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Jewish World Review Oct. 10, 2000 / 11 Tishrei, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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O freedom: The scenes from Serbia -- NOT SINCE the late unlamented Soviet Union was shaken to its rotting foundations have there been such inspiring scenes from a tottering tyranny. A proud and valiant people was throwing off its chains, freeing itself from the palsied grip of a dictator whose time had come and should have gone years ago.

A Communist in everything but name, Slobodan Milosevic wasn't the only evil influence in the Balkans, but he may have been the chief one. Now his days, his hours, in power may be numbered as the real Serbia, which is not be confused with the aggressive regime he imposed on it, rises in exhilarating revolution. It would take a classic filmmaker on the order of Eisenstein or D.W. Griffith to produce the kind of scenes out of Belgrade, as hundreds of thousands took to the streets and then took their parliament back.

The Serbs themselves did what the West never had the simple courage and good judgment to do all during the late unpleasantness over Kosovo: take out the state television station. That is the real capital of any totalitarian power and, once it was liberated, the issue may have been decided. By the time these words appear in print, even Slobodan Milosevic may realize it's all over. Then the challenge will be to let a self-governing and self-respecting people rise out of the mob that spearheads every revolution.

Not that his whole career wasn't a mistake, but Comrade/President Milosevic's fatal one was to risk a free election and then, having lost it, get his packed court to annul it. That was his final provocation, or at least one can hope it was. At last, after a long train of abuses and usurpations, the Serbian people arose to take what was always there by right. Their victory will be ours, for where freedom triumphs, so does America, so does the West.

What a great pleasure -- and opportunity -- it will be to welcome Serbia back into the community of nations as another land of the free and home of the brave. The downfall of this despot must not prove only another opportunity squandered. Let's hope the tide of freedom now sweeping Serbia will make all the Balkans more secure -- not just Serbia but Kosovo and Montenegro and Bosnia and Macedonia, too.

With the aggressor-in-chief gone, the rights of all in that part of the world may be respected. It might even be possible to reconstruct a loose Yugoslav federation or at least confederation -- a house of many mansions in which all could live and trade in peace, perhaps even in trust once again.

No time should be wasted in extending the hand of friendship to a new Serbia that all can now respect, for the Serbs themselves always deserved the world's respect. By rising against the despot, they have earned it anew. Once Slobo is gone (but not forgotten, certainly not by the international tribunal that still has a warrant out for his arrest), the barriers erected against Serbia should be dismantled as if they never were.

With free institutions restored, free trade should be revived. Rather than sending troops to contain an aggressive Serbia, how much better to send instead loans and grants and reap the results of investment in a free and industrious people.

When I said that these scenes out of Belgrade were the most stirring since the last days of the Soviet empire, I'd blocked out another shining memory. For there is another, later picture that still sticks in the mind: that of one single man standing alone and unafraid before a long column of tanks in Tiananmen Square.

China's revolution never came to fruition. It was put down while the West squirmed. It is almost forgotten now as Western statesmen scurry to line up sweet deals with the regime that managed to throttle its people's hopes in that lost but unforgettable confrontation between freedom and slavery, humanity and faceless might.

Now the usual statements will be heard from the usual Western statesmen about how they've always sided with a brave people struggling for its rights (at least while that people is winning). One would like to think that someday these encouraging statements from Washington, London and Paris will be directed not just at the Balkans in a people's hour of victory, but at China, where a great and ancient people still struggles toward the light.

The rousing scenes from Serbia remind that the tide of freedom still runs in the world and runs deep. Who knows what tyrants it may sweep away next? There's an island only 90 miles from the Florida shore where a bearded old despot still holds sway over another proud and valiant people. Milosevic is going, going -- and there's no telling who might follow. Keep the good thought.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate