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.