"a question of sequencing"

Green Left Parramatta glparramatta at SPAMgreenleft.org.au
Thu Oct 12 17:07:49 MDT 2000

The 'collateral damage' of yesterday are heroes today

By Robert Fisk

8 October 2000

Last year we hated them. Now we love them. The bestialised Serbs who
to "support" Slobodan Milosevic were "collateral damage". Now they are
saviours of Europe's "newest democracy". Less than 18 months ago, I saw
beheaded corpse of the local priest at Varvarin, the blood of a young
mathematics student smeared across the road, the body of Milena
in the grounds of the Surdulica hospital, all victims of Nato, all
that Nato dismissed as the regrettable side effects of war, all killed
Nato pilots. But now their relatives have, most of them, voted for
Kostunica - and so they have become our allies and friends, our partners
the soon-to-be reconstructed Balkans.

Is it healthy, this amnesia of ours? I doubt if the Serbs share it. I
think the people of Surdulica are going to smash the war memorial in
village to the dead of one of Nato's last air raids. And, given his
record, I doubt if Mr Kostunica is going to share it. What was it that
George Robertson, our  former secretary of state for defence and now
Secretary-General of Nato, said about Kosovo scarcely a year and a half
ago? "Serbs out, Nato in, refugees back." Only after the "ethnic
of the Kosovo Serbs began under Nato's eyes - at the hands of the Kosovo

Albanians - did Mr (now Lord) Robertson choose to explain that he meant
only Serb paramilitaries. Too late. What is Nato going to say if our
favourite, moderate president of the new Serbia demands the return of
Serb refugees to Kosovo?

And what of the Serbs who were in Kosovo during the war? The
war criminals butchering and expelling the Albanians may have been too
drunk to vote. But we are assured that most of the army's conscripts
for Kostunica (which is why Milosevic allegedly sent them home before
proposed second round of elections). Were these not the same army
conscripts who served in Kosovo during Nato's bombardment? Were they not

the same conscripts who watched - if they did not participate in - the
massacres? So do we hate them still? Or do we love them?

All civil conflict ends messily. The two biggest thugs in Bosnia -
Karadzic and Ratko Mladic - are still at large. In post-war Lebanon, all

bar one of the men with blood on their                hands ended up in
government. And on Friday night there was an intriguing comment from the

State Department's James Rubin, who last year was so keen on a war
trial for Mr Milosevic. Asked if the Serbian dictator would be heading
the Hague war crimes tribunal, Mr Rubin paused for a moment, and then
- note these words - that it was "a question of sequencing".

Sequencing? Who invented this word? Where does it come from? Well, it
that Serbia - once it is back in the family of nations - may have to
address Mr Milosevic's guilt, but only (I quote Mr Rubin again) in "some

legal process". The Americans, it seems, are going to let the Serbs do
they wish with Mr Milosevic, just as long as he accepts that Mr
is president. Which he does. So perhaps he's got away, our Beast of
Belgrade; perhaps he's not heading for the Hague, after all.

Can it be - can it possibly be - that the man we once reviled as the
"Butcher of Belgrade" (he was actually referred to in that form by BBC
World Television on Friday) is also going to be turned into a lamb, an
intriguing relic who will occasionally give us an interview or two,
recalling his negotiations with Richard Holbrooke at Dayton and
how misunderstood he has been?

We will not love him, of course. But perhaps we may just ignore him.
as we will ignore all those friendly conscripts who witnessed the
of the Kosovo Albanians and - at the least - did nothing, but who have
loyally voted for the opposition parties that Nato nations funded.

Yes, it is true that we always said we were fighting only Mr Milosevic,
the Serbian people. We said the same before we bombed Libya in 1986 and
Iraq in 1991 (and, by chance, Egypt in 1956). But we killed the Serbs
ever greater impunity as Nato's targets became more and more
civilian-orientated. Now they are our heroes - just as they were in two
world wars. For the sake of reality, one can only hope the Serbs feel
same way about it.


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