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Slobodan Milosevic and The Tragedy of Yugoslavia

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History is a set of lies agreed upon. – Napoleon Bonaparte.

Slobodan Milosevic who died on 11th March 2006 in Hague had the dubious distinction of being the only European Head of State (ex-president of Yugoslavia) to be charged with genocide and war crimes at the specially constituted International Criminal Tribunal at Hague. ‘From 1991 to 1999,’ says the Guardian in its obituary, ‘he presided over mayhem and mass murder in south-eastern Europe.’ ‘He left a legacy of more than 200,000 dead in Bosnia’ continues the Guardian, ‘and 2 million people (half the population) homeless. He ethnically cleansed more than 800,000 Albanians from their homes in Kosovo.’ The evil that men do is catalogued by the Guardian for the benefit of mankind ‘Milosevic was first indicted for war crimes in Kosovo by Louise Arbour, the Canadian chief prosecutor in The Hague, in March 1999. Arbour’s successor, the Swiss campaigner Carla Del Ponte, extended the charge sheet to include indictments on Croatia and Bosnia, in the latter case accusing him of genocide for his alleged collusion in the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim males at Srebrenica in July 1995.’

[ADBLOCKHERE]It must be admitted that the Guardian’s obituary of Milosevic is in strict conformity with the official story put forth by NATO and US Government to justify the US led NATO bombing campaign of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999. The case against the Serbs and the arch villain Milosevic is aptly summed up by Diana Johnstone ‘ Yugoslavia was a “prison of peoples” where the Serbs oppressed all the others. It was destroyed by the rise of an evil leader, Slobodan Milosevic, who set out to create a ‘Greater Serbia” by eliminating other peoples in a process called ‘ethnic cleansing”. Those other people sought to escape, by creating their own independent states.

The Yugoslav army, actually Serbian, invaded them. In Bosnia, the invading Serbs tried to drive out the Muslims, who wanted to perpetuate an exemplary multi-ethnic society. The Serb ethnic cleansing killed 200,000 unarmed Muslims… At Srebrenica, the United Nations allowed the Serbs to commit genocide. Only the US bombing forced Milosevic to come to the negotiating table at Dayton. In January 1999, Serbian security forces massacred defenseless civilians in the Kosovo village of Racak. The Serbs were summoned to peace negotiations in Rambouillet, in France. Milosevic stubbornly refused to negotiate.

NATO had no choice but to start bombing Yugoslavia. Masses of Albanians were deliberately driven out according to a preconceived plan called “Operation Horseshoe”. Milosevic gave in, and NATO liberated the Kosovars from their oppressors.’ Finally, popular revolt over threw Milosevic’s government. This fairy tale ending of the Balkan crisis was widely praised in the Western media as one of beneficial effects of cruise missile humanitarianism.

The official story of the Yugoslav crisis received a severe jolt by the publication of the book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions written by Diana Johnstone who was the European editor of In These Times from 1979 to 1990 and press officer of the Green group in the European Parliament from 1990 to 1996. Relentlessly and courageously, Johnstone rescues the tragic events of Yugoslavia from disappearing into the black hole of deception and NATO propaganda.

Ms Johnstone fired the salvo at the NATO version of the story and challenged the accusation that the Serbians were primarily responsible for the mass killing of Bosnian Muslims and other non- Serbs incited by Milosevic. Concealed from public discussion were the facts that the Serbs themselves were subjected to ethnic cleansing. In September 1991, some 120 Serbs were abducted from the Croatian town of Gospic and brutally massacred. The western press never reported this massacre as ethnic cleansing of the Serbs who were frightened into moving out of Croatia. This crime was perpetuated on the direct orders of the Croatian Interior Ministry but never investigated and bought before the International Criminal Tribunal at Hague.

Examples abound exposing the double standards of the US and NATO in selectively focusing on Serb atrocities while ignoring the horrific bloodbath of Serbian civilians by the Croatians and Bosnian Muslims. For instance, in 1995 hundreds of Serb civilians were killed in ‘operation storm’ and several hundred thousand Serbs were ethnically cleansed in Krajina, which was one of the biggest ethnic cleansing operations in the Balkan wars. One of the Croatian officers who led the attacks on the Serbs was Agim Ceku, an Albanian, who was trained by retired U.S army officers on contract to Croatia.

Between May 1992 and January 1994 over a thousand Serbs were killed and their houses burnt. Nasir Oric, a Bosnian Muslim officer, ran these operations against the Serbs and he invited Western Reporters to his apartment where he presented his war trophies: videocassettes showing mutilated bodies of Serbs. Nasir Oric was also not charged of any war crimes. Serbs were forcefully removed from Srebrenica and slaughters were carried out in Serb towns. The media version of the events suggested that the Serbs were the aggressors and not that the Serbs were victims of non-Serb violence which led to the endless cycle of violence and massacres.

A more balanced view to emerge was that of Lt General Satish Nambiar (Retd.) who was the First Force Commander and Head of Mission of the UN Forces in the former Yugoslavia. According to Lt General Nambiar, ‘Portraying the Serbs as evil and everybody else as good was not only counterproductive but also dishonest. According to my experience all sides were guilty but only the Serbs would admit that they were no angels while the others would insist they were. We did not witness any genocide beyond killings and massacres on all sides that are typical of such conflict conditions. I believe none of my successors and their forces saw anything on the scale claimed by the media.’

Slipshod media reporting and biased coverage was also responsible for the vilification of Slobodan Milosevic as the demon who started the process of the disintegration of Yugoslavia by his nationalist quest of Greater Serbia and his view that non-Serbs had no place in Yugoslavia. The media campaign against Milosevic focused on his speech delivered at Kosovo Field in 1989 at the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo allegedly fanning hatred against Muslims and Albanians. Robin Cook, then the Foreign Minister of the UK, made the following accusation: “Milosevic used this important anniversary not to give a message of hope and reform. Instead, he threatened force to deal with Yugoslavia’s internal political difficulties. Doing so thereby launched his personal agenda of power and ethnic hatred under the cloak of nationalism. All the peoples of the region have suffered grievously ever since.”

If the actual text of Milosevic’s speech is examined then a different picture emerges. For instance, Milosevic said, ‘Equal and harmonious relations among Yugoslav peoples are a necessary condition for the existence of Yugoslavia and for it to find its way out of the crisis and, in particular, they are a necessary condition for its economic and social prosperity’. In the words of Francisco Gil-White, Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, “The speech is not devoid of a certain poetry and, given what I had been led to believe about Milosevic, I was amazed to find that it was *explicitly tolerant*. In other words, the entire point, structure, message, and moral of the speech — in all its details — was to promote understanding and tolerance between peoples, and to affirm the unity of all those who live in Serbia, regardless of their national origin or religious affiliation.” After a through review of the text of the Kosovo speech made by Milosevic, Professor Gil White concluded ‘This powerfully suggests that the Western media and the highest officials worked together in a campaign to sell the public a falsified version of this speech, in order to justify war.’

The barrage of negative flak against Milosevic portrayed as Hitler and the Serbs as neo- Nazis reduced the complex forces behind the unraveling of Yugoslavia to a Manichean struggle between NATO representing the forces of Good and Milosevic/ Serbs as representing the forces of evil.

For a balanced perspective on Yugoslavia it would be necessary to go back in times when post Tito Yugoslavia lost its strategic advantage with the West. Considered as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism under Tito who pursued an independent path steering clear of the Soviet influence, Yugoslavia lost its importance for the West when USSR crumbled at the end of 1980’s. With access to easy credit cut off Yugoslavia went into a tailspin. As debt crisis enveloped Yugoslavia it was forced to adopt austerity measures dictated by IMF, which meant that it had to cut social spending and jobs. The richer republics of Slovenia and Croatia resented the sacrifices that were required and both the republics did not want to pay for the poorer ones. The economic crisis had the effect of destroying national solidarity and intensifying nationalistic resentment among the Croatians. The fracturing of Yugoslavia strengthened capitalism and soon secession pressures of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina traumatized the besieged country.

Milosevic inherited a tortured legacy of Yugoslavia, a nation torn by nationalistic forces and deepening economic crisis. To add to his tale of woes, he could not push through the economic reforms suggested by the IMF/World Bank as he encountered resistance from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia. Even though Milosevic favoured the structural adjustment programmes initially he was forced to abandon it as it became increasingly clear that it would lead to mass unemployment. The political costs were untenable and soon his party was perceived by free market ideologues as being opposed to the reform process which meant that the socially owned assets would not be replaced by privately owned capital.

During the late 80’s and early 90’s most western governments had right wing governments that viewed East Europe as the last bastion of Soviet style communism trapped in the ‘prison house of peoples’. There was unanimity of views binding U.S under Bush Sr. Britain under Thatcher and Germany under the Christian Democrats that something ought to be done about Yugoslavia. The concerted action of these right wing parties was to foster ethnic tensions within Yugoslavia and dub Milosevic as a dictator who oppressed the people of Yugoslavia. Thus there was a community of interests, which not only included the conservative parties of Britain, U.S, Germany, and Austria but also conservative clerical factions in the Vatican and right wing militaries in Latin America. Arms were sent to Croatia to create conflicts and armed violence. Anti- Milosevic factions grew in Yugoslavia supported and financed by the West. The U.S Congress funded Radio Free Europe, which spread the disinformation campaign about Milosevic.

The role-played by Germany and U.S in dismantling of Yugoslavia require special mention, as there is very little discussion or debate in mainstream media.

Serbia was attacked by Germany in the First World War and again during the Second World War. Croatians and Kosovo Albanians were allies of Germany. Under the fascist Ustashe rule in Croatia about 700,000 Serbs were massacred after Hitler invaded Yugoslavia. Germany followed the same strategy of dismembering Yugoslavia by stoking the flames of ethnic minorities. In 1991 when Yugoslavia began to crumble there was a vicious media campaign orchestrated by Bonn accusing the Serbian-communist power of Belgrade trampling the rights of the Slovenes and Croats. ‘Bonn’, writes Joan Hoey, ‘ began by leading the campaign to recognize the secessionist republics, Croatia and Slovenia. Yugoslavia has provided the opportunity not only for Germany’s rise to power but also for Bonn’s strengthened strategic alliance with America.’

The U.S under the Clinton administration supported the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs with the intention of building bridges with the oil producing Middle East and Turkey. The cynical exercise of supporting Albanian Kosovars also served the long-term interests of U.S. in setting up of Camp Bondsteel, a permanent army base, in Kosovo. This base is strategically located in a strategic corridor in Kosovo and close to Thessalonika, an important Greek port. Camp Bondsteel is a high tech camp where electricity, transport and basics are supplied by Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, whose CEO was Dick Cheney.

The death of Slobodan Milosevic in Hague has raised issues about his tragic role in Yugoslavian politics. Though he was venal, opportunistic and power hungry, he was no worse than the other politicians lionized by the West. Franjo Tudjman who sought the support of the Ustashe fascists in Croatia and Izetbegovic, a high profile Muslim Bosnian politician, who wanted Greater Muslim rule in Bosnia and whose idea of perfect society was Pakistan, were greater threats to multiethnic Yugoslavia. Perhaps history would be less harsh in its judgment of Milosevic than the obituary in the Guardian suggests: His place in the twilight years of former Yugoslavia would be that of a man who lost the battle to prevent the dissolution of Yugoslavia whether in Kosovo or elsewhere and when that dissolution happened he tried to protect the Serb minorities in new states by allowing them to remain in Yugoslavia or obtain autonomy in new rump states.

Only then the tragic past of former Yugoslavia should be finally laid to rest.

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About Socrates

  • marko

    incredibly good read…. bravo

  • Albanesse

    wow… took a while to come up with this one, from March to September. I can agree that all sides have some blame. Croatia was very eager to divide Yugoslavia from the begining. Muslims were actually the least eager to divide the country. And Albanians had a history of being oppressed from the Yugoslav kingom days, Rankovic period and then Milo. And I have rarely met a serb who will say “oops, we messed up” Usually they complainm how much they suffered. Even though they were the ones cheering Arkan as he paraded around with his tigers. Milo built his career on making people hate and fear each other. I am suprised you didn’t quote his “no one shall beat you” speech… where they bussed in protesters from Serbia and Montenegro to chant about made up stories of crimes created by Albanians. History is written by the winners.. just the way it is, but he was never a winner and was bound to lose at some point. BTW Gen. Ceku is at the Hague awaiting trial. bye and bye

  • marko

    Speaking of past oppression, how about the oppression the Serbs had to deal with under 500 years of Turkish Muslim rule. Where every first born son would be ripped from their parents arms and raised up a Muslim Turk, forever hating the people that actually hold him dear.

    Tito also welcomed Albanians into Yugoslavia with open arms. He declared that he would be god father to the 10th child in an Albanian family.

    The Serbs feel victimized more so from the media than anything else. That is why they overcompensate when stating their claims. You put anyone in a room full of antagonists and you see how they react.

  • Klokanovic

    ..’and when that dissolution happened he tried to protect the Serb minorities in new states by allowing them to remain in Yugoslavia or obtain autonomy in new rump states.”’

    Oh dear, that comment inadvertently describes the root cause of the Yugoslav conflicts – the Serb’s desire for a Greater Serbia.

    Milosevic’s place in history has been carved in stone, as a meniacal power-hungry war-monger who sought to occupy lands that were historically never Serbian.

  • Bob Filipovich

    Actually, while Slobodan Milosevic may have intended to protect the Serbian people, he indeed did much more harm to his own people than good. Perhaps because he believed more in Yugoslavia than in Serbia as a state. He was certainly less of a nationalist than either Franjo Tudjman of Croatia or Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia.

    Your article is well balanced and covers most of the relevant points.
    One thing missing is the mention of the fact that Al-Kaida was welcomed and present in both Bosnia and Kosovo on the side of the Islamists and fighting the Infidel Serbs. Osama Bin Laden received honorary Bosnian citizenship and passport from Alija Izetbegovic for his contribution to the Islamic cause in Bosnia.

    Unfortunately, Al-Kaida first attacked the Serbs and only later the US and the West. Had they attached the US earlier on, the history of Yugoslavia and the Serbian role in it all would have been quite different in the Western eyes.

  • Bob Filipovich

    Sloba may be dead, but another former Yugoslav/Serbian President is still in the Hague Court – Milutinovic, along with five top Serbian generals and politicians under S. Milosevic.

    It is a victors’ privilege to charge the losers with war crimes, so that the victors would be spared any embarassment for their own war crimes. If and when Milutinovic et al are eventually found guilty of any war crimes, it would whitewash any of NATO collateral damage and thus war crimes.

    The Hague indictment against the top 6 Serbian officials states that they are charged with the expulsion of 800,000 Kosovo Albanians between 24 March 1999 and June 1999. No mention anywhere that the NATO bombing of Serbia (including Kosovo which was most heavily bombed) started on 23 March 1999 and lasted until early June 1999, and that it was the real cause for the huge displacement of hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians, Serbs, Gypsies, Turks, Croats etc.

    On the other hand, the Hague Court has refused to admit any charges in connection with the so-called Racak massacre of the Albanian civilians – which was the main trigger for the NATO bombing.
    Obviously, either they were not civilians or they were not killed as alleged by the Serbian forces, but by the Albanian forces.

    When the former NATO Chief Solana, now the EU Foreign Minister, recently visited Israel to warn them about the excessive use of military force and the widespread civilian collateral damage in the bombing of Lebanon, he was told -in no uncertain terms- by the Israeli PM and Foreign Minister that Israel was not doing anything more than what NATO did in 1999 in its bombing of Kosovo and Serbia.

  • toni

    Well, isn’t this a lovely story. Sadly, it is full of lies, but who cares!
    Yes, yes, Milosevic was a hero and Serbs were victims in the same way as Hitler and Nazi Germany in the 1940’s. The war went one on Croatian soil and on Bosnia-Hertzegovina soil! Not a single granade fell on Serbia.
    And you have the nerve to say that Franjo Tudjman, or Izetbegovic for that matter, was a bigger nationalist than Slobodan Milosevic?
    It sounds like a ver very bad joke. But, forgive me for not laughing. I had to spent 4 years of my young life in shelter in the center of Zagreb, a middle European town, at the and of 20th century! My friends and relatives died in front of their homes in Croatia, not in Belgrade or Nis. So please, stop with those horrible lies and look in the mirror.

  • panter

    listen… the serbs are the evil people!!! i studied them sinc i was young boy for almost 20 years now (neutraly and cool wile eating an ice cream) i know every greem mace & gesture of them precisely what it means. they are sick-liers. I don’t know how, the western world, are so stupid especialy those on power and media that that you’d think their ego stands on some thing (but truly on nothing), this people that couldn’t tel truth from lie! interviews of miloshevic and all other serbs including the above texts is a blatend lie is writen all ower, the way is writing bell bell. But rest ashure thera are many peopel with their dors of perception wide open….. No one in europe, at those times, would have suported a Nazi regim like Miloshevics for that long! unles very big majority about 80% of serbs at least suportet strongly the ethnick cleansing!!! serbs hade dominant control ower YUg, they wanted it all & more till Tokyo. serbs allways talk shit when it comes to politicks and nationalisms they dont know who they are and where they come from( russ gypsis for shure) lost in Scizofrenia. theyr neve’r ben to Kosovo and they talked like they know how the life was ther(ordinary serbs).Yes you proved it that you are Kanibals.

  • I can tell that the guy in the post before mine has the IQ of a Cornish Hen. With that out of the way I’d have to say that most of the comments on here are inaccurate and anti Serb biased, Croats and Muslims alike have blood on their hands more than any other ethnicity PERIOD. It wasnt Serb’s who declared independence from Yugoslavia (although it should have been) but even if Serb’s did declare independence the world would have blamed Serbia anyway and all this nonsense would have happend. Funny how no one mentions the 280,000+ Refugees from Krajina or the 300,000+ refugess from Kosovo, Not 1 word, not 1 bomb dropped, not 1 story in the news by Cristianne Amanpour, not 1 American president/Secretary of State up in arms over the fact more than a half a million people are displaced and will never go home. Hypocracy is definatly at play here people, Serbia defends itself against Terrorists who fire on Police and military personnel, who burn down churches and decapitate priests and nun’s, the Kosovo Albanian deligation admitted in Ramboulles and on CNN that yes they tried ver hard to provoke Serbia into going to war, even admitting to Terrorism. So to all the terrorists and Anti Serb’s I can only say that history has a way of dealing the destined cards to those that deserve them, in the name of those who cant go home or have been killed for being Serbian, I pray their revenge comes soon.

  • STM

    To the author: You are in grave danger of unleashing more than one nest of hornets here … I live in Australia, where we have many migrants of various ethnic backgrounds from the former Yugoslavia.

    While most are peaceful and hardworking and have embraced their new country, there are some extreme elements, even among second- and third-generation Australians.

    I have witnessed, too, some quite savage violence between rival ethnic groupings of Serbs and Croats over something as simple as a disallowed goal at a soccer match.

    Be careful … this stuff is not about Milosevic and the tragedy of the former Yugoslavia: it goes back centuries, and won’t ever be solved.

    I have learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut about it, having once had someone shut it for me with a well-placed first or 10 – univited, and seemingly over nothing.

    Dangerous ground, indeed.

  • Clavos

    Be careful … this stuff is not about Milosevic and the tragedy of the former Yugoslavia: it goes back centuries, and won’t ever be solved.

    Sadly, that’s exactly the case…

  • Peter

    Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia spilt without any genocide. Russian could have also used thier army to crush other former Soviet states but they did not. The Serbs on the other hand committed genocide and ethnic cleansing. There are Russians living in former Soviet states of Estonia and Kazakhstan in peace with local population. Serbians would also be living in peace in Croatia and Bosnia today if only Serbia would have acted in civilized manner. The Srebrenica massacre will continue to dictate World’s attitude towards Serbia.

  • srpski

    srbija will always be strong and soon republika srpska will unite with srbija after koosovos independance so ha srbija will never be defeated

  • socrates

    The International court of justice in Feb 2007 ruled-‘Serbia has not been complicit in genocide in violition of its obligation under the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide.’

    This verdict has posthumously acquitted Milosevic for genocide in Bosnia.

  • moi

    Serbs are a narcissistic race of people and if you know anything about narcissists you know that they never tell the truth its the nature of their sickness. I just hope that not all of them are evil.

  • Socrates, (CR)

    I just read this excellent article today (a mere three years late), noticing it because of the unfortunate comments of “moi” immediately above. I noticed that you quoted Dr. Francisco Gil-Wright in your article. I thought that this article from his website would be helpful to you. Go check it out and see just how unbiased scholarship is in the United States these days.

    All the best,

  • Ruvy,

    You know, I’ve always been puzzled about U.S and NATO’s action against the Serbs – and even more, by the absence of any opposition from the Left. And if there’s anything I fault the Clinton Administration with it’s not the stupid sex scandal but the extent of U.S involvement in that conflict.

    I understand that something had to be done to prevent barbaric acts from either side, but for the U.S to have taken such a one-sided view of things – of a conflict, mind you, which was centuries in the making – this I always considered unconscionable. And of course, I didn’t understand it.

    It wasn’t until recent, however, that I finally did, once I started thinking about and wrote a piece on the American Left.

    I’ll always regard the nature of U.S. involvement in the Kosovo affair with suspicion and as a black mark.

  • Roger,

    Socrates is very clear about the motives and Dr. Francisco Gil-White is even clearer.

    The breakup of the Yugoslav Federation was an event staged by western powers because Yugoslavia was an inconvenient reality for them, a country held together by language, industry and an enmity towards outsiders, particularly Russians.

    Six or seven small states would be far easier for a country like Germany (the real driving power behind the EU) to control and dominate than a federation like Yugoslavia.

    This is not an issue of left or right, it is an issue of imperial control. The bombing of Serbia was not merely a tool to stop the “ethnic cleansing” of Albanians in Kossovo Mitojan, it was also a shot above the bow at Israel.

    “Do what we tell you or else” was the message, and at the time, Yeltsin and two drunken buddies were wandering the Kremlin with one three ruble bottle of vodka, so NATO was to be the force of the future.

    That has changed, thanks to Mr. Bush’s profligacy with American money. NATO takes its orders these days from the blackbelt in the Kremlin, the graduate of the KGB and the Spetsnaz, Vladimir Putin.

    Of course, this does not address the fact that Slovenia and Croatia were for years under Catholic control, Serbia and Montenegro were under Orthodox control and much of Bosnia Hercegovina was composed of Slavs who had converted to Islam so that they could be bureaucrats in the Moslem Ottoman Empire. Nor does it address the fact that Kossovo Mitojan is the homeland of the Serbian Orthodox Church and of Serbia generally.

    The area known once known as Yugoslavia was as close to India in terms of the plethora of its ethnicities crowded into a small area, and it is no surprise that Socrates, an Indian himself, would pay attention to what happened there.

  • Americki Plakari

    Milosevic’s wife played an enormous role in his success as a politician. However, evil tongues say that Slobo was constantly staying under the thumb of his wife. Those tongues called Mira Markovic Lady MacBeth of the Balkans,” whereas the political system of Serbia was often called “one-bedroom.” Rumor has it that Markovic would often hold unofficial meetings of the government at home.

  • socrates

    There are unconfirmed rumours that even Blair was under the thumb of his wife.