...or the Butcher of Bosnia – Slobo has been called many things. But in reality, he was just a ‘c’- list dictator, pragmatist, nationalist and looser, desperate to stay in power.
Slobodan Milosevic’s body arrived back in Serbia today and will be buried Saturday in his hometown of Pozarevac. A few of his old cronies from the Socialist Party were there on the tarmac to greet the coffin, and a few held banners saying ‘Slobo the hero’.
Not a popular view, even in Serbia, these days. Many in the West seem to think that he was one of the most odious dictators Europe has seen since the end of WWII.
For instance, in Slate magazine, Christopher Hitchins writes under the headline, No Sympathy for Slobo:
‘During his ignoble presidency, Serbia became a banana republic, and his predecessor, Ivan Stambolic, was later "disappeared" and found in a shallow grave. Serbian death squads were used against fellow Serbs and also "deniably" deployed in Bosnia and elsewhere. By the end of it, the Serbian minorities in whose name he had launched a regional war had been ignominiously expelled from their ancient homes in the Krajina region and in Kosovo itself. Only a Serb can truly feel the depth of the cultural and political and economic damage that he did…’
He has also been blamed for the break up of Yugoslavia and for loosing his country several civil wars, many, many lives and completely ruining the Serbian economy.
But his influence was wider than that. For many liberals his actions resulted in a change of view about intervention by western powers in the business of sovereign states. The UK Guardian wrote in its comment section:
‘His actions helped establish the idea of liberal intervention that emerged in the 90s after the first Iraq war and in response to the Rwandan massacres and the Balkan conflicts.’
His untimely death, before a verdict could be given at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia at the Hague, where Slobo was on trial for genocide and much more, has frustrated many. But what would have been the court’s verdict?
Not that simple
Well, for sure, Molosevic would have been cleared of the main charge – of being responsible for the massacre of 7,000 Bosnian Muslims at the town of Srebrenica, in 1995.
In 2004, Dr Cees Wiebes, a professor at Amsterdam University, released a detailed report, including eye-witness accounts, secret service files, statements from key diplomatic sources, etc, which concluded that Slobo might not be a very nice guy, but we can’t pin the charge of genocide on him. Dr Wiebes said back then:
‘In our report, which is about 7,000 pages long, we come to the conclusion that Milosevic had no foreknowledge of the subsequent massacres. What we did find, however, was evidence to the contrary. Milosevic was very upset when he learnt about the massacres [as he wanted at that time to get some sort of deal with the Bosnians and end a war which he was beginning to loose].'
The report was given over to the international court as evidence but was rejected.
'What I heard from good sources in The Hague is that [chief prosecutor] Miss del Ponte thinks that we're too nuanced and not seeing things in black and white,' said the Dutch professor.
Remember: for many in the West, the Balkans wars were black and white - and the Serbs were very much the Bad Men.
No evidence has come to court since then to pin the massacre on Molosevic, however. So one of the main charges against the man would have failed, if he had lived long enough to have heard his sentence.
The charge that Slobo was responsible for the break up of Yugoslavia is a gross overstatement. The West is forgetting the ignoble role it played in the process, which really picked up steam after the EU recognized Croatia (after much dirty dealing between Germany and the UK) in January 1992, quickly followed by the US a couple of months later. This gave the green light to all the countries in the region to declare their independence. After that, civil war was inevitable.
And what of the hapless International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia at the Hague, set up by the UN Security Council at the behest of the United States? Was it really an objective, impartial judge of the many crimes committed in the Balkans in the 1990’s?
I think not. Nor has it pretended to be. In 2000, David Chandler wrote in the New Left Review:
'[T]he Serb leader Milan Martic has been indicted for the use of cluster bombs on the Croatian capital Zagreb in May 1995, in which seven civilians were killed and an old people’s home and children’s hospital damaged. NATO’s own use of cluster bombs in its attack on Niš in May 1999, which killed fifteen people and damaged the city’s main hospital, was naturally in another category altogether […]
James Shea, NATO spokesman during the conflict…replying to a question at a press conference on 17 May 1999 as to the possibility of NATO leaders being investigated for war crimes by the Tribunal: ‘Impossible. It was the NATO countries who established the Tribunal, who fund it and support it on a daily basis.’
Indeed. The court was never intended to try leaders and states on an equal basis.
So while Slobo the Sad was truly a nasty bit of work, and should have been given over to the Serbs to deal with, he was not the Great Dictator and personification of evil that many think. And the West – and its liberal ‘humanitarian interventionists’ - should not be finding a reason to feel good about themselves buried in a icy grave in a small town, one hour south of Belgrade, this Saturday.
The guilt about what happened in the Balkans should be evenly spread.