An open letter to:
Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic

Dear Mr. Milosevic,
I am compelled to write this letter to you because I think (pardon my frankness) you are a very stupid person. Bluntly put, your handling of the situation arising out of Kosovo has been inept, amateurish and utterly foolish.

I am from Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is an independent country situated in the Indian Ocean – I need to spell this out to you because you evidently don’t know anything about our country. If you knew about us, and more significantly about our recent history, you would not have gotten yourself into the mess you are in now.

Just about a month ago, you were in a situation very similar to the one we were in about 12 years ago. In fact it was exactly the same.

We are a country of 17 million people (you have 11 million) of which about 3.5 million are of a different ethnic group called Tamils who live in an area they call Elam. These people are very much like the 1.9 million Albanians who live in the Kosovo province of your country. The uncanny similarities between the two groups extend from kinsmen having statehood elsewhere (Tamil Nadu state of India, and Albania in your case), to wanting separate states and to armed insurrections.

We feel exactly as you do about these 'minority people' wanting their own countries. Unfortunately for you and for us outsiders have been trying to tell us how we should run our respective (sovereign) countries, and in particular, how we should deal with our minorities.

What I want to tell you today is how well we have managed our case, as opposed to how you have bungled yours, and then go on to give you a few helpful hints.

We did get into a difficult spot about 15 years ago, by doing what you have been doing to the Kosovars (actually a bit more than you), to keep them restrained. But, unlike you, we have managed to extricate ourselves from foreign criticism. We have done so well that today there is not a country in the world that is critical of Sri Lanka. As a matter of fact, many countries have come down hard on the (Tamil) rebels of our country, and there are several who are helping us crush these insurgents, including your enemy the USA.

You, on the other hand, have the most powerful nations of this world joined together, hell-bent on destroying you. No one supports you. Think about it.

We also had a nationalistic president just like you, Junius Richard Jayewardene – popularly called JR in our country. He was a champion of the Sinhalese nation, just as you are to the Serbian nation. But when in our case, a powerful foreign power wanted to intrude on us, JR knew how to manage them.

In 1987, India, the regional superpower in our vicinity, flexed its superior military muscle to tell us what we should do, just as the US is doing to you right now. At that time, JR also protested the foreign interference in our country, but he knew when to back down.

He, unlike you, invited the Indians over and signed an agreement with them, which he knew he will never have to implement. Then he got their army to fight our rebels, and in due time sent them back without losing an inch. How clever! You should have learned from him!

I can write volumes about how clever JR was, but his cleverness pales in comparison to our current leader – Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunge Bandaranaike. You could learn a lot more from her. Let me elaborate...

You have to realize that you are the leader of an entire nation (Serbia) that is fully aware of the nature of oppression. Your people, like ours, have had the experience of being oppressed. They have seen how their oppressors have benefited from their actions. They instinctively know what to do. They don’t need your help or your leadership to fight the Albanians in Kosovo.

Look at the street demonstrations in Belgrade. Look at the Serbian musicians, artists and the intellectuals, who have taken to the streets to protest against the NATO. Do you think that they would be doing this if they disapprove of what your army is doing in Kosovo? Do you think they need your help?

You have to give them credit. They want to do exactly what you want to do with the Albanians in Kosovo – "Out of Our Country." We Sri Lankans want the Tamils out too – except that our leader knows how to handle the foreigners! Ask our President and she will teach you.

By your actions you are actually doing harm to the Serbian cause. By your assuming exclusive and centralized leadership for Serbian nationalism you are providing these foreigners an identifiable solitary target. Your enemies are able to marshal all their resources and focus them on a single target – YOU.

Let me help you here. Please listen to me.

First of all you need to back down a little – Your fellow Serbians will do what is necessary to deal with the Kosovo Albanians and their leaders. There are Serbian journalists and intellectuals who can do it better than you, and they will do it superbly, whether you want them to or not. They don’t need your input, supervision or your leadership. You need not have any qualms about this. Our intellectuals and journalists in Sri Lanka are doing a marvelous job against the Tamils.

Give your army a little elbow-room. Pretend, if you have to, that you don’t have full control. Your armed forces (all Serbian, I hope) will do everything that you want them to do to these bloody Albanians living in your country, without your direct order. After all they share with you the same Serbian nationalistic fervor and sentiments.

Then start making public statements about how badly you feel about the Albanians in your country. Believe me, you will come to no harm. Your stature will actually improve. You will achieve immediate international recognition and praise. Nations and their leaders will fall over each other in praising you as a true statesman!

You won’t lose local support either, as long as you handle it well. Our President has done it and so can you. It is somewhat of a delicate task, I must admit, but you can do it.

You have to, first of all, make it very clear to the important nationalists (privately, of course) that there will be no significant concessions to the Kosovars. There will always be, as in our country, a segment of ‘nationalists’ that will try to rise against you, but you can manage and marginalize them, in fact quite easily.

You may want to produce a ‘Peace Package.’ This is actually a brilliant lesson that you can learn from our government. You don’t have to concede anything significant at all. A Serbian nationalist opposition to your proposals, if any, will actually be a good thing. You can then call them radicals, extremists, etc., and take for yourself the moral high ground, without having to concede anything at all to the Kosovars. You will be perceived as a moderate. The majority of Serbs will understand you and support you.

You may even want to rename the military operations inside Kosovo as "war for peace". You don’t need to change the nature of the military operations, just the name. Believe me, this has tremendous PR value.

You may also find a few Kosovars to go along with you on this, as you already found out yesterday. All nations have opportunists amongst them and you can use them to your advantage. Some will cooperate believing that they are helping their people (they don’t need to know what you have in mind) and the true mercenaries amongst them will help you regardless.

More significantly, you can be sure that the Kosovar leadership will oppose your "Peace Package" because after all they will not be getting anything from your proposals. You can then go around calling them ‘intransigent’ or whatever other adjective you want to use. Trust me, the whole world will believe you and support you.

If you still want to continue with your present strategy there is another option – tell the world that you are not alone in what you are doing. Tell them that there are others who are doing exactly the same thing, but that they are doing it differently (Sri Lanka, for example).

Perhaps then, the world will understand your position.

Sinha Laya

2nd April 1999


PS: Sinha Laya is a nom de plume.