In her book Fool’s Crusade, a powerful exposť of the West’s anti-Yugoslav propaganda war, journalist Diana Johnstone explained how the European media in the 1990s had collectively invented a fictional character bearing the name “Slobodan Milosevic”.
Johnstone’s statement was no exaggeration. Over the ten years of Yugoslavia’s dismemberment, Slobodan Milosevic was repeatedly described as the man who ‘started the Balkan wars’ by appealing to a rabid Serbian nationalism and bankrolling ‘separatist’ uprisings throughout Yugoslavia. Here was the man who championed his ‘Greater Serbia’, attacking Slovenia and Croatia, going on to ignite a civil war in Bosnia, and finally ‘ethnically cleansing’ Kosovo.
Or so we are told.
In fact, a look at the actual record turns all this on its head. Far from causing the break up of Yugoslavia, Milosevic did his best to preserve it. Since this implied his opposition to the unilateral and illegal secession of the Yugoslav republics, Milosevic could falsely be accused of inciting regional rebellions in the Serb-inhabited parts of the former Federal Republic. By April 1992, however, the Yugoslav Parliament had voted to recognize the secessionist republics within their existing borders. And whilst the Belgrade government did provide material support to Serbs living outside the new, smaller Yugoslavia (consisting of only Serbia and Montenegro) its prime role in the Croatian and Bosnian conflicts was that of a mediator pushing for the quickest possible resolution. This fact is borne out by the support that Milosevic gave to each and every one of the five peace proposals tabled for Bosnia (including the 1992 Cutileiro Plan, sabotaged by Washington).
But to read the latest outpourings of the corporate press, one would imagine that Milosevic, found dead in his cell at the Hague on Saturday, in which he had languished for 4 years, really were the ‘Butcher of the Balkans’ as his Western opponents had dubbed him. It seems the propaganda war, begun in 1991 by Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, will not abate.
Press coverage of the Yugoslav wars reveals a depressing and almost total absence of independent thought amongst our opinion formers. Journalistic ‘research’ in this case has consisted of little more than searching out and then parroting the statements of Western leaders, as if the latter were somehow not protagonists in the unfolding events. Spain’s EL PAIS, true to its elitist credentials, believes that Milosevic’s miserable death alone in a cell, after having been denied medical treatment, provides a “positive lesson”. His ‘crimes’ they say, have not gone unpunished, and simultaneously serve as dissuasion to potential emulators (clearly not thinking about the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan).
Meanwhile, the UK Guardian, one of the biggest cheerleaders for NATO aggression in Yugoslavia, claimed in its online site that Milosevic, by dying, had ‘cheated justice’. In fact, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, an ad-hoc formation lacking any basis in international law, has nothing to do with justice. With no clear separation between prosecution and judge, no appeal body, admittance of hearsay and anonymous testimony, it violates, as Ed Herman has pointed out, virtually every standard of due process. This was evident from the very beginning of Milosevic’s ‘trial’ when two new indictments (for Croatia and Bosnia) were brought against him. As John Laughland wrote in the Spectator, this was “in direct contradiction to one of the most fundamental principles of customary extradition law, namely that a defendant may not be tried for a crime other than the one for which he was originally sent for trial” [i.e. the alleged abuses in Kosovo]
But since Milosevic was kidnapped and not ‘extradited’, extradition law here has no relevance. Laughland continued “there is only one conceivable explanation for this judicial shenanigan… these last-minute indictments over Croatia and Bosnia were issued to cover up the weakness of the Kosovo indictment the very indictment which constitutes the moral justification for the 78-day war that Nato fought against Yugoslavia in 1999.” 1
As the ‘trial’ progressed over the following years, the prosecution was continually thrown into disarray as Milosevic, representing himself, easily refuted the fraudulent charges levelled against him. Since the prosecution was undoubtedly only familiar with the fictional Milosevic of newspaper legend, this must have come as quite a shock. Perhaps the defining moment came when the Prosecution’s star witness, Rade Markovic, Milosevic’s former head of State Security, testified that, while in custody, he had been tortured to provide false testimony against his former boss. Defying the tribunal, Markovic testified that “the Yugoslav army and Serbian police had strict orders to protect Albanian civilians during NATO bombing… I never got any order, nor did I hear about any order or plan to expel Albanians”.
This is entirely consistent with Milosevic’s own testimony before the tribunal:
“For ten years since the time you claim Serbia “seized” control of its own territory, there were no murders, no expulsions, no plunder, no arson, no arrests in Kosovo. We did not have a single political prisoner in Yugoslavia – not one. Kosovo had 20 newspapers and other publications in Albanian, which one could buy at every street corner. Not a single issue, not a single copy, was ever banned. Albanian political parties, even separatist ones, worked freely. Someone here said we tolerated them. No, our view was that everything should be permitted – except violence.” 2
But given that these are the words of the monster himself, and our scepticism is inevitable, it is worth citing the words of Canada’s ex-ambassador to Yugoslavia:
“I am convinced that the Tribunal was established to make Milosevic and the Serbs guilty of all the crimes committed in the Balkans. His guilt is essential if the Germans and the Americans who played such a critical role in causing much of the bloodshed and the violence in the Balkans are to be let off the hook.” 3
Surveying the prevailing opinions on Yugoslavia shows us just how successful the Tribunal has been in this regard. But even a cursory examination of man’s life and career gives the lie to the accepted view. Brought up in the internationalist tradition of the Partisans, Milosevic consistently opposed the trend of Serbian nationalism, describing it as a “serpent in the bosom” of the Serbian nation. According to Konstantin Kilibarda “The enemy of the West never was Balkan chauvinism as such, but multiethnic Yugoslavia… that clashed with the interests of global capital flows… and the geostrategic designs of NATO in the region.” 4
Now, the defender of multinational Yugoslavia, after claiming to have been poisoned, has died in miserable conditions. Whether the poisoning claim is ever verified (5) is probably redundant. The NATO-funded Hague Tribunal is responsible for his death, just as surely as its patrons are for the deaths of thousands of Yugoslavs over the past 15 years.
Slobodan Milosevic was a humanist and a statesman. And whatever his genuine faults, he was perhaps the only regional actor in the Balkans to have consistently worked in favour of peace. Now that the real Milosevic has died one can only assume that the false Milosevic, the caricature drawn by the mass media, will quickly follow suit.
1. The Spectator: February 9, 2002
David Montoute studies naturopathy in Madrid. He can be contacted at email@example.com