Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Butcher of Belgrade..?


...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.

International justice?

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.

9 comments:

Michael Farris said...

Yes, it's not black and white, mostly very dark grey all around. I too thought that Slovenia and (especially) Croatia and then Bosnia were recognized by western countries far, far too soon (thank you Germany!) almost as if Western Europe were daring all concerned to go to civil war (and then stupidly surprised and unable to act in any coherent fashion when they did).

Be that as it may, his appeals to and manipulation of the apparently endless wellspring of Balkan (in this particular case Serbian) grievances were a definite factor in others wanting out of Yugoslavia.

Charging him for Srebrnica is definitely stupid. Charging him with stealing his country blind is more like it. Still (I repeat) I'm glad the SOB's dead, if he were I alive I wouldn't put a comeback past him. That's sort of out of the question now.

Renegade Eye said...

Again an even handed post. Writers who dare to say that conflict had no heroes, face ostracism as Diana Johnstone. If you are even handed, you're accused of supporting one side or another, in a simply narrow nationalist struggle.

beatroot said...

Actually Renegade, if you are even handed about the Balkans war you get called a Serbian sympathizer...which, to the New Liberals, is about as bad as being a child molester.

Michael Farris said...

A kind OT but interesting point:
I've often been surprised at how little Polish people (or the government) supported the Croats, their supposed co-religionists in the conflicts (to the extent that any of the sides were religious which was not very much).
If anything there almost seemed to be a kind of latent support for Serbia (though tempered by the ghastly nature of most Serb leaders then).

The closest explanation I heard was that the Croats were on the German side in WWII (but then so were Hungary and Slovakia two countries Poland has mostly good relations with).

In 93 or so I was browsing in a giant bookstore in the states and saw a book whose thesis was that the whole Yugoslav civil war mess was the result of an emergent robber baron capitalist class who was basically dividing up the territory and using nationalism as a convenient cover. I never learned enough about the conflicts to decide if that was accurate but I did notice some connections between nationalist politicians and business people that I might not have otherwise.

beatroot said...

I thought that Poles were 'conflicted' about the Balkans war and who to support.

Serbs are slavs - like them.... but there again, so are Croats.... Bosnians were the underdog - and Poles instinctivly support the underdog, as they were often were.....But Serbs are Christians!...but Serbs are also Orthodox,like the Russians!!!....

roman said...

Yugoslavia with its five culturally diverse states was always a very loose confederation.
Even Marshall Tito, a Croat, had to act like a brutal dictator to keep it all together. Some of his actions would have easlily been considered crimes against humanity and currently he would be tried and probably executed. All this effort just to keep his unique Democratic Socialist union from falling apart.
Slobo took up the same role as unifier but from the Serbian perspective. His actions pale in comparison to Tito's efforts. Both men probably saw themselves as modern day Abraham Lincolns but in these modern times, brutal acts are readily exposed as "crimes against humanity" (as they should be) and the perpetrator is readily identified as a criminal and not a national hero. (Thank God)

beatroot said...

Tito did have a little bit of ideological content to what he was doing in Yugoslavia...Slobo was a pragmatist in the mould of Lukashenko in Belarus...

That's why Tito could hold the whole tuing together. Since the end of the Cold War all that leaders have to fall back on is petty nationalisms...and other cultural 'identities'...and that leads to conflicts, like in former Yugoslavia.

I am not saying bring back the cold war (that would be silly) but I am argueing for some sort of beliefs and ideology that can bring us together across cultural and national lines (maybe humanism?), and not divide us up into imagined cultural units.

roman said...

beatroot,
Humanism sounds good to me. Yes, it is the issues of division that give petty dictators the fuel for their campaigns. Take away the fuel and the campaign sputters to a halt.

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