“I like carrots, not sticks,” said former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panić when asked if parties to protracted civil conflict sometimes need more than just economic rewards—in fact, military threats—to bring them to the bargaining table. “We do too much bombing, not enough talking. Bombing usually just makes things worse.”
In his recent appearance at USC’s Ronald Tutor Center, Panić recalled the Dayton Accords of 1995, an intensive negotiation overseen by the U.S. that finally ended the bloody, three-year Bosnian War. “I had been pushing President Clinton to do this since my time as Yugoslav Prime Minister,” said Panić. “He finally did it, and we stopped the bloodshed. And it’s the same approach that could stop the fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists. Ukraine needs its own Dayton.”
Particularly fascinating to the largely student audience was the story of how an American pharmaceutical pioneer became Yugoslav Prime Minister in the first place.
Professor Robert English, Director of USC’s School of International Relations, reviewed Panić’s biography—from a childhood in interwar Serbia, to service with the anti-Nazi Partisans in World War Two, up through his emigration to America and enrollment at USC in the mid-1950s. “You don’t realize what a land of opportunity you live in,” Panić told the assembled students, emphasizing that while technology changes, a combination of creativity and extremely hard work still bring success. For Panić, after building a basement laboratory into the global pharmaceutical concern ICN, that success brought a most unexpected opportunity in 1992: an invitation to return to his native Belgrade and become Prime Minister.
“What CEO has not fantasized about running an entire country?” Panić asked. “For a businessman, the greatest glory is to take over a bad company and turn it around. And with Yugoslavia at that dark time, I had a really bad one.”
Panić already had experience doing business in countries where communism had recently collapsed, including Serbia, and so he was confident in his plans for reviving the economy. What he did not foresee was that those plans would be blocked by the nationalist ambitions of Serbia’s then-president Slobodan Milošević,“not just a dangerously unstable leader, but a well-practiced and exquisite liar.”
Panic’s plans depended on halting the inter-ethnic fighting in neighboring Bosnia and getting United Nations sanctions against Yugoslavia lifted. But Milošević continued to fan extreme Serbian nationalism and fuel the conflict.
Panić sought support abroad—in France and the UK, at the United Nations—but even his stirring address before the General Assembly in September 1992 could not change the equation so long as Milošević clung to power. Thus Panić decided to confront Milošević directly and take him on in the presidential elections of December 1992. Polls showed Panić with a large lead in popularity—and large crowds greeted wherever he campaigned in Serbia—but Milošević’s cronies controlled both access to TV and the counting of ballots.
Panić today is philosophical about the lack of Western support he received for his peacemaking bids of the early 1990s, efforts that he says could have ended the carnage much earlier. “What’s important is that we finally did Dayton, which serves as a model for US leadership to negotiate an end to other conflicts.”
Panić recalled his 1991 meeting with an aide in the Leningrad Mayor’s office responsible for encouraging Western investment—a certain Vladimir Putin. “I don’t think he’s crazy at all,” said Panić. “With American leadership we can find a deal that serves everybody’s interests and stops the fighting in Ukraine. We need another Dayton” Panić closed by encouraging those students intending on diplomatic careers to bring a fresh perspective to the State Department and Foreign Service. “Bombing is easy, diplomacy is hard, but it is worth it to get a lasting peace.”