In the land of hope, a pol­i­tics of fear

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Mi­lan Panic

WHEN I served as Yu­goslavia’s prime minis ter 24 years ago, at a time when my home­land was frac­tur­ing into sep­a­rate republics, I of­ten found my­self sur­rounded by na­tion­al­is­tic politi­cians who cyn­i­cally traf­ficked in fear and hate. Now, when­ever I hear Trump stok­ing fear and at­tack­ing mi­nori­ties and for­eign­ers, I feel a sick and fa­mil­iar sen­sa­tion in the pit of my stom­ach. To fuel his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions, Trump is ex­ploit­ing the same malev­o­lent forces once made Yu­goslavia an eth­ni­cally di­vided war zone and are on rise again across Europe.

What is wrong with Amer­ica that it needs to be “made great again”? Well, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Trump, Mex­i­can “crim­i­nals” and “rapists” — “the worst el­e­ments in Mexico” — are “pour­ing across the bor­der,” steal­ing jobs and bring­ing drugs and disease. Be­cause “Is­lam hates us,” Trump has promised a “to­tal and com­plete shut­down of Mus­lims en­ter­ing US.” He has sug­gested that those al­ready here — which in­cludes mem­bers of my fam­ily — would be sub­jected to in­creased sur­veil­lance, war­rant­less searches and even a spe­cial ID.

Even af­ter be­com­ing the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, Trump has con­tin­ued to stoke fear and at­tack mi­nori­ties and for­eign­ers. He has re­peat­edly tried to di­min­ish an Amer­i­can judge by dint of his “Mex­i­can her­itage.” Af­ter the mass shoot­ing in Or­lando, he not only dou­bled down yet again on fear­mon­ger­ing, he also im­plied that Pres­i­dent Obama was in league with ter­ror­ists. On Sun­day, he said on CBS that “pro­fil­ing is some­thing that we’re go­ing to have to start thinking about as a coun­try.’’

Sadly, I have seen all this be­fore. In Yu­goslavia, the Big Bully was Ser­bian Pres­i­dent Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic, who never missed a chance to turn peo­ple against their neigh­bours. In the speech that made him a po­lit­i­cal force, Milo­se­vic promised Serbs an­gry about the Al­ba­nian ma­jor­ity in Kosovo that “no one will ever dare beat you again.” He sounded this same note through­out his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, al­ways warn­ing of en­e­mies at the gates and “NATO lack­eys and traitors” un­der­min­ing the moth­er­land.

I worked hard to un­seat Milo­se­vic in 1992, first by en­cour­ag­ing him to re­sign, later by run­ning against him for pres­i­dent. I wanted to bring peace and prosperity to the Balkans, not wal­low in eth­nic en­mi­ties. I was pleased when the weekly mag­a­zine NIN, once firmly in the dic­ta­tor’s corner, fea­tured the head­line “Milo­se­vic — ‘ Fear;’ Panic — ‘Hope.’ ” Alas, Milo­se­vic’s al­lies still con­trolled much of the news me­dia and, in the end, they counted the votes. Fear won out, doom­ing my home­land to an­other decade of op­pres­sion and dev­as­ta­tion.

We Amer­i­cans should not make the same mis­take in 2016. A can­di­date who pur­pose­fully in­cites fear and ha­tred as of­ten as Trump has de­mands the high­est level of scru­tiny. But our na­tional news me­dia have too of­ten en­abled Trump’s rise, and ex­ac­er­bated his worst im­pulses, through un­ceas­ing yet un­crit­i­cal cov­er­age. Instead of a watch­dog, they have served as a bull­horn.

My ear­li­est mem­o­ries are of the hor­rors that hate can un­leash. As a boy, I fought to lib­er­ate Yu­goslavia from Hitler’s fas­cist armies. As a young man, I came to the United States as a refugee be­cause I have al­ways be­lieved that this na­tion is ex­cep­tional, a bea­con of hope to the world where any­one can work hard and achieve the Amer­i­can Dream.

Amer­ica has al­ways been great be­cause it is a coun­try founded in hope. We must not suc­cumb to the fear, anger and de­spair that scarred so much of Europe. We must not ful­fil the po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions of Don­ald J Trump. The writer, a Cal­i­for­nia busi­ness­man and the for­mer prime min­is­ter of Yu­goslavia, is re­cently the au­thor of Prime Min­is­ter for Peace: My Strug­gle for Ser­bian Democ­racy.

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