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

Is it healthy, this amnesia of ours? I doubt if the Serbs share it. I
don't
think the people of Surdulica are going to smash the war memorial in
their
village to the dead of one of Nato's last air raids. And, given his
track
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
cleansing"
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
all
Serb refugees to Kosovo?

And what of the Serbs who were in Kosovo during the war? The
paramilitary
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
voted
for Kostunica (which is why Milosevic allegedly sent them home before
his
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 -
Radovan
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
crimes
trial for Mr Milosevic. Asked if the Serbian dictator would be heading
for
the Hague war crimes tribunal, Mr Rubin paused for a moment, and then
said
- note these words - that it was "a question of sequencing".

Sequencing? Who invented this word? Where does it come from? Well, it
seems
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
what
they wish with Mr Milosevic, just as long as he accepts that Mr
Kostunica
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
explaining
how misunderstood he has been?

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

Yes, it is true that we always said we were fighting only Mr Milosevic,
not
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
with
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
the
same way about it.

Independent










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