X-Archive-With-Date: Fri, 26 Nov 1999 12:00:32 -0500
mstainsby at SPAMdojo.tao.ca
Wed Jun 28 23:06:12 MDT 2000
THIS IS ONLY A SEGMENT OF A DIANE JOHNSTONE ARTICLE
What Was Really Wrong With Milosevic
What was really wrong with Milosevic is indeed closely related to what
was really wrong with the Serbian people as Yugoslavia began to come
apart at the seams in the 1980s. What was really wrong with the Serbian
people is that they were extremely divided. They were, of course,
geographically divided between Serbs in Serbia and Serbs in Bosnia and
Croatia. They were divided between two identities, Yugoslav and Serb.
They were divided, historically, in several ways, and most painfully
between World War II Partisans and Chetniks (respectively, the
Communist and Royalist guerrilla movements opposing Nazi occupation...
and each other). They were sociologically divided between rural and
urban inhabitants. And finally, in the wake of Titoism, they were
politically divided between left projects to reform socialism
and "centrist" projects to revive the parties and political traditions
of the pre-Communist past.
When a nation is deeply divided, the leader who can succeed is the one
whose ambiguity can create a semblance of unity. The ability to be "all
things to all men" is often the key to political success. What was
really wrong with Milosevic was what was also his biggest political
asset: his ambiguity. He appeared, when he rose to prominence, won the
power struggle in the Serbian communist party, turned it into the
Serbian Socialist Party and won the first pluralist elections in Serbia
in 1990, to be able to square all the circles. He was the political
magician who could get rid of communist "bureaucracy" but maintain a
reassuring continuity, defend both Serbian interests and Yugoslavism,
combine reformed socialism with economic privatization.
Because Serbs lived not only in Serbia, but also in Croatia and Bosnia,
the disintegration of Yugoslavia was bound to cause a crisis of Serb
unity and disunity. The Yugoslav Army wanted to preserve Yugoslavia;
Milosevic, at the time Slovenia declared its independence, was ready to
let Slovenia go and settle for less. That less might, perhaps, be
called "Greater Serbia", but Milosevic himself did not
proclaim "Greater Serbia" as his goal. Rather, this was the desire of a
large part of the Serb population in Croatia and Bosnia who feared
being cut off from Serbia by the secession of those two Republics. In
1991, Serbs in Croatia were being attacked by Croatian nationalist
militia openly proclaiming their allegiance to the tradition of the
fascist Ustashe, thus provoking both the Yugoslav National Army, with
its Partisan tradition, and Serbian fears of a revival of the genocide
of which they had been victims in the Ustashe-run "Independent Croatian
State" set up by the Axis powers during World War II. For a short time,
in 1991 and 1992, when events moved faster than people's understanding,
it was unclear where defending Yugoslavia left off, and creating a
hypothetical Greater Serbia began.
The slogan "all Serbs in one State" applied to Yugoslavia, and implied
a security which many feared losing if they became minorities in
hostile Croatian or Muslim States. Serbs in Serbia were theoretically
sympathetic to Serb brethren in Croatia and Bosnia, but far from united
as to what, if anything, to do about the problem. Milosevic gave the
impression that he might work out a solution with Tudjman. In the
crucial years 1990-92, he managed to give the impression either that he
was doing everything possible to preserve Yugoslavia, or else that he
was ready to give up Yugoslavia and salvage a Serbia comprising Serb-
inhabited lands from the wreckage. The Yugoslav National Army was ready
only to defend the former project; for the latter, rival paramilitary
groups were formed, in utmost confusion, as some 200,000 young men left
Serbia to avoid fighting in a fratricidal civil war. This was a nation
in disarray, not a people united in an "eliminationist project" fired
up by "burning hatred".
By mid-1993, when the Yugoslav National Army formally pulled out of
Bosnia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was proclaimed
comprising only Serbia and Montenegro, but excluding the two "Serb
Republics" in the Croatian Krajina and in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it was
clear that "Greater Serbia" was not on Belgrade's agenda, however much
Serbs in the Croatian Krajina or in Bosnia-Herzegovina might want to
stay attached to Serbia. This became even clearer in 1994, when
Belgrade went so far as to proclaim an embargo against the Bosnian
Serbs for failing to accept a Western peace plan.
During the period of Yugoslav breakup, Milosevic did succeed in co-
opting Serbian nationalism, without ever himself espousing an extreme
nationalist ideology. What made Milosevic's "Serbian nationalism" so
unbearable to so many critics (foreign and domestic) is not that it was
more "extreme" than any other -- it definitely was not -- but that he
played the nationalist card not to get rid of socialism, but to hang
onto it, or at least scraps of it, not the least being the party
apparatus, its patronage system and its control of key institutions
such as the police and state media.
Serbian nationalism had been such a total taboo in Tito's Yugoslavia
that it took very minor references to "Serbian interests" on the part
of a communist party apparatchik like Milosevic to thrill some and
scandalize others. Yugoslavs still respecting that taboo have done a
lot to denounce Milosevic to the world as an "extreme nationalist", a
term that has quite different connotations in other countries.
Through all this, as can easily be verified by reading his published
speeches, Milosevic continued to preach a mixture of Yugoslav
multinationalism and reformist economic optimism . After Milosevic
abandoned entirely the Bosnian Serb leadership in order to reach the
Dayton settlement, the official ideology was increasingly influenced by
the avant-garde "Yugoslav United Left (JUL)" party sponsored by his
wife, Mirjana Markovic, whose doctrine is a compendium of modern
leftist "politically correct" progressive thought and praise of the
virtues of multi-ethnic society. There is no trace of the "dehumanizing
beliefs" attributed to Milosevic and the Serbs by Goldhagen.
Milosevic's ambiguity enabled him to win elections, but not to unite
the Serbs, who through everything have remained so divided that a
strong and not implausible argument for retaining the existing
government has been simply that the alternative could be civil war.
Some fear that the fall of Milosevic would profit the real extreme
nationalist, Vojislav Seselj, while the United States' ostentatious
declaration of political and financial support to unidentified
opposition leaders only confirms the widespread impression that such a
favorite of Western media as Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic is
a NATOland puppet -- a role to which he unabashedly aspires.
Much more could no doubt be said about what is wrong with Milosevic. If
using criminals for dirty tasks makes him a criminal, then he is no
doubt a criminal -- as are President Tudjman of Croatia and President
Izetbegovic of Bosnia... but then, so are a whole line of U.S.
Presidents. Milosevic is one of a world full of unsavory leaders. But
he has never preached an "eliminationalist project" of "racial hatred"
and the Serbs who voted for him could not have thought that that was
what they were voting for. Like other voters elsewhere, whatever they
thought they were voting for, that is probably not what they got.
Kosovo Before the Bombing
Louise Arbour's case against Milosevic is based on the presumption that
by virtue of his position as "superior authority" over Federal Yugoslav
and Serbian forces and agencies, he is "individually responsible" for
war crimes committed in Kosovo during the war started by NATO bombing.
Such a rigorous standard would be perfectly acceptable if applied
universally  . However, coming when and as it did, Ms Arbour's
accusation could scarcely be distinguished from the flow of wild
accusations kept up by NATO spokesmen against the Serbs, and which
later, when public attention had turned elsewhere, turned out to be
grossly exaggerated or untrue.
It is significant that, except for the highly controversial "Racak
massacre" on January 15 , all the crimes against ethnic Albanians
in Kosovo charged against Milosevic took place after the start of NATO
bombing on March 24.
Before NATO bombing, there was no "ethnic cleansing", much
less "genocide", in Kosovo. From early 1998, when Serbian police began
their belated if brutal crackdown on armed "Kosovo Liberation Army"
(KLA or, in Albanian, UCK) rebels, Western journalists went out on
daily safari from Pristina in armored vehicles looking for the "Serbian
atrocity" story sought by their editors. They never found anything to
beat Waco, Texas. There was some brief excitement in August when German
reporter Erich Rathfelder filed a story of a "mass grave" with 567
bodies in Orahovac. The story, based on a single ethnic Albanian "eye
witness", turned out to be an invention. Two weeks later, a real mass
grave of 22 civilians found in the village of Klecka failed to arouse
media interest; the victims were apparently Serbs and the killers the
KLA. Nor was there any interest in the three dozen civilian corpses
found in the Radonjic lake canal a fortnight later. Even though the
victims included ethnic Albanians, they were of no interest because
they had been killed by KLA gunmen, not by Serbs .
Finally, on September 29, 1998, reporters led to the village of Gornje
Obrinje found 16 bodies of ethnic Albanian civilians, murdered several
days before. It was reported by Reuters that none of the victims, which
included a baby, had any connection to the KLA. Western media
immediately accepted Albanian accusations that the killing had been
carried out by a "special unit" of Serbian police, ignoring Serb
denials as usual.
Whoever actually did the killing in Gornje Obrinje, it would be
preposterous to suggest that this crime was approved by the Serbian
people, for two reasons. One is that there is not the slightest
expression of approval to be found. The other is that very many,
perhaps most, Serbian people would strongly suspect that this crime was
committed by the KLA, perhaps eliminating Albanian civilians who failed
to support them (as they were known to have done on other occasions),
precisely in order to provoke a NATO war against Yugoslavia. Why would
Serb police murder a bunch of innocent civilians just when U.S. leaders
were looking for exactly such a pretext to launch NATO air strikes
The Gornje Obrinje incident found its way quickly to the cover of the
October 12 international edition of Newsweek, which featured a photo of
the killed child and the triple headline: "War By Massacre - Will NATO
End Kosovo's Grief? - Serbia: Europe's Outlaw Nation" . The
eagerness to use this unclarified crime to call in NATO air strikes
against Serbia was evident.
Many Serbs, notably clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church, strongly
condemned the brutality of the police operations against the KLA. The
division of opinion within Yugoslav society on this question was
largely similar to the division of opinion one would find in any modern
society; some considered the police operations foolishly exaggerated
and almost certainly doomed to failure, others thought the police had
to do what was necessary to restore order, and many simply worried
about the outcome of a seemingly hopeless and endless conflict. But
there was no preaching of "racial hatred" or campaign to drive all
ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo. Milosevic and his Serbian Socialist
Party consistently stressed the virtues of "multi-national" society in
Serbia. This hardly merits comparison with Hitler, who spent his entire
career ranting against Jews and proclaiming the racial superiority of
The Kosovo policy of Milosevic was "nationalist" insofar as it aimed at
keeping Kosovo within Serbia and preventing the Albanian majority from
driving out the Serbian minority. There is no evidence of any plan to
drive out the Albanian majority, a project that would never have been
approved by a majority of Yugoslav voters. Milosevic's great fault was
to pretend to know how to solve the Kosovo problem when in fact he
didn't; a fault now being committed by NATO.
I cut this out for the importance of the basic premise- Milosevic was
neither Red nor Blue, or both if you prefer. Such pragmatism was the
intolerable fact as far as the West was concerned.
THE REST OF THE ARTICLE IS AT:
*This was NOT attached by the Tao collective*
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