More slaves today than were seized from Africa

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Sep 10 06:43:15 MDT 2003

National Geographic, Sept. 2003
21st Century Slavery
By Andrew Cockburn

There are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four 
centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The modern commerce in 
humans rivals illegal drug trafficking in its global reach—and in the 
destruction of lives.

Sherwood Castle, headquarters to Milorad Milakovic, the former railway 
official who rose to become a notorious slave trafficker in Bosnia, 
looms beside the main road just outside the northwest Bosnian town of 
Prijedor. Under stucco battlements, the entrance is guarded by 
well-muscled, heavily tattooed young men, while off to one side 
Milakovic's trio of pet Siberian tigers prowl their caged compound.

I arrived there alone one gray spring morning—alone because no local 
guide or translator dared accompany me—and found my burly 54-year-old 
host waiting for me at a table set for lunch beside a glassed-in 
aquamarine swimming pool.

The master of Sherwood has never been shy about his business. He once 
asked a dauntless human rights activist who has publicly detailed his 
record of buying women for his brothels in Prijedor: "Is it a crime to 
sell women? They sell footballers, don't they?"

Milakovic threatened to kill the activist for her outspokenness, but to 
me he sang a softer tune. Over a poolside luncheon of seafood salad and 
steak, we discussed the stream of young women fleeing the shattered 
economies of their home countries in the former Soviet bloc. Milakovic 
said he was eager to promote his scheme to legalize prostitution in 
Bosnia—"to stop the selling of people, because each of those girls is 
someone's child."

One such child is a nearsighted, chain-smoking blonde named Victoria, at 
20 a veteran of the international slave trade. For three years of her 
life she was among the estimated 27 million men, women, and children in 
the world who are enslaved—physically confined or restrained and forced 
to work, or controlled through violence, or in some way treated as 

Victoria's odyssey began when she was 17, fresh out of school in 
Chisinau, the decayed capital of the former Soviet republic of Moldova. 
"There was no work, no money," she explained simply. So when a 
friend—"at least I thought he was a friend"—suggested he could help her 
get a job in a factory in Turkey, she jumped at the idea and took up his 
offer to drive her there, through Romania. "But when I realized we had 
driven west, to the border with Serbia, I knew something was wrong."

It was too late. At the border she was handed over to a group of Serb 
men, who produced a new passport saying she was 18. They led her on foot 
into Serbia and raped her, telling her that she would be killed if she 
resisted. Then they sent her under guard to Bosnia, the Balkan republic 
being rebuilt under a torrent of international aid after its years of 
genocidal civil war.

Victoria was now a piece of property and, as such, was bought and sold 
by different brothel owners ten times over the next two years for an 
average price of $1,500. Finally, four months pregnant and fearful of a 
forced abortion, she escaped. I found her hiding in the Bosnian city of 
Mostar, sheltered by a group of Bosnian women.

In a soft monotone she recited the names of clubs and bars in various 
towns where she had to dance seminaked, look cheerful, and have sex with 
any customer who wanted her for the price of a few packs of cigarettes. 
"The clubs were all awful, although the Artemdia, in Banja Luka, was the 
worst—all the customers were cops," she recalled.

Victoria was a debt slave. Payment for her services went straight to her 
owner of the moment to cover her "debt"—the amount he had paid to buy 
her from her previous owner. She was held in servitude unless or until 
the money she owed to whomever controlled her had been recovered, at 
which point she would be sold again and would begin to work off the 
purchase price paid by her new owner. Although slavery in its 
traditional form survives in many parts of the world, debt slavery of 
this kind, with variations, is the most common form of servitude today.

(Unfortunately, the entire article is available only to National 
Geogrpahic subscribers, a pleasure I have not experienced since the age 
of eleven or so. I might try and track it down from the library.)


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