The Washington Touch

Warren Zimmermann was the last American Ambassador to Yugoslavia (from 1989 to 1992), and his memoir is of historical interest, but not for reasons the author intended. When Warren Zimmermann arrived in Belgrade in 1989, Yugoslavia was still a federation of six republics with a federal cabinet and government. Because of the changes brought about by the new constitution of 1974, the centers of power had shifted from the federal to the republican administrations. Thus the new ambassador presented his credentials not only to the federal president, but called upon the presidents of all the republics, the sole exception being Serbia. It took nearly a year—halfway through a normal diplomatic tour—before he could get an appointment to meet Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president.

This extraordinary delay could only be construed as a calculated insult. But why would the Serbian president want to antagonize the ambassador of the most powerful country on earth, a country that had through the years extended economic aid and worked continuously to maintain good relations with Yugoslavia? It is clear from his account that well before his arrival in Yugoslavia, Ambassador Zimmermann was deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians were in the majority and felt abused by the ruling Serbian government. After his arrival he expressed his concerns about the Albanians to a number of highly placed...

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