Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Milosevic - "officially" Not Guilty!

Yesterday’s ruling of the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague that the Serbian state was not directly responsible for any genocide in Bosnia has a very clear implication.

Had President Slobodan Milosevic not died in custody he would have been acquitted, and found not guilty of the charges brought against him.

As Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize laureate for Literature 2005 said: “The US/NATO court trying Slobodan Milosevic was always totally illegitimate. It could never be taken seriously as a court of justice. Milosevic's defense is powerful, convincing, persuasive and impossible to dismiss.”

The probability of Milosevic’s acquitall had already been noted, even by some who supported the show trial, despite the fact that in the highly politicised context of this trial the presumption of innocence had already been discarded. In July 2004, James Gow, an “expert” on war crimes, and a cheer-leader for the prosecution told BBC Newsnight that he thought it would be better if Milosevic died in the dock, because if the trial ran its course he might be sentenced for only relatively minor charges.

As reported in the Spectator: “Since the trial started in February 2002, the prosecution has wheeled out more than 100 witnesses, and it has produced 600,000 pages of evidence. Not a single person has testified that Milosevic ordered war crimes. Whole swaths of the indictment on Kosovo have been left unsubstantiated, even though Milosevic’s command responsibility here is clearest. And when the prosecution did try to substantiate its charges, the result was often farce. Highlights include the Serbian ‘insider’ who claimed to have worked in the presidential administration but who did not know what floor Milosevic’s office was on; ‘Arkan’s secretary’, who turned out to have worked only as a temp for a few months in the same building as the notorious paramilitary; the testimony of the former federal prime minister, Ante Markovic, dramatically rumbled by Milosevic, who produced Markovic’s own diary for the days when he claimed to h ave had meetings with him; the Kosovo Albanian peasant who said he had never heard of the KLA even though there is a monument to that terrorist organisation in his own village; and the former head of the Yugoslav secret services, Radomir Markovic, who not only claimed that he had been tortured by the new democratic government in Belgrade to testify against his former boss, but who also agreed, under cross-examination by Milosevic, that no orders had been given to expel the Kosovo Albanians and that, on the contrary, Milosevic had instructed the police and army to protect civilians. And these, note, were the prosecution witnesses.”

It has been very hard to follow the story of Milosevic’s trial in the British press. Is that because the narrative provided by the evidence did not support the cosy but mendacious case that the Serbian state were responsible for war crimes, while NATO’s allies were as pure as the driven snow. The myth of the innocent Bosnian Muslims was dealt a blow when Eve-Ann Prentice, a journalist who has written for the Guardian and the Times, testified in court that in November 1994, while she was waiting in Izetbegovic's foyer both she, and a journalist from Der Speigel, saw Osama bin Laden being escorted into Izetbegovic's office.

The popular perception of Serbia being the villain in Yugoslavia remains unshaken. Yet it has recently been established that the first war crime in modern Yugoslavia was the illegal execution of three prisoners of war (two Serbs and a Croat) in Slovenia in 1991, yet the Slovenian government declines to prosecute, and is feted as a model democracy by the EU.

It should be noted that the Serbian state has been found guilty of failing to prevent genocide at Srebrinica in 1995, where perhaps 7000 Muslims were murdered by Bisnian Serb militias. These are serious charges, but note that Milosevic is widely credited with having had the dangerous Serb fascist Arkan assassinated due to his role in Ethnic cleansing (he was too powerful to have dealt with by lawful process), and General Farkas, chief of the Security Dept. of the Yugoslav Army in 1999, gave testimony in The Hague that when Milosevic learned of crimes committed by reserve policemen who had associated with Slobodan Medic "Boca," he became extremely angry. He demanded an explanation of how the Skorpions commander could have been active in Kosovo, then he demanded that the perpetrators be prosecuted and that nothing like that be permitted to happen in the future.

The people really guilty of failing to prevent genocide in Srebrenica were the craven cowards of the Dutch UN peacekeeping force. Yet Dutch Colonel Tom Karremans was not in the dock in The Hague. Around 5000 Bosnian Muslims had taken sanctuary in the UN base, protected by 600 Dutch troops, but Colonel Karremans handed them to Bosnian Serb militiamen, indifferent to their almost certain fate, in return for safe conduct for himself and his men. They even left their weapons behind.

Milosevic may have been guilty of many things. But he was not a war criminal. The Jugoslav state was broken up over a period of years because that suited the interests of the western powers. Serbia stood against that disintegration and also sought to defend parts of its planned economy. That is why there has been a propaganda war to paint the Serbs as the villains. (The wider context of this is explained quite well by Richard at Lenin’s Tomb.)


badmat said...

This is a completely repellent apologia for Stalinst boss turned nationalist demagogue and political gangster. I'm saddened and depressed to see it here.

AN said...

I don't see how this is an apologia. Which ever way we characterise the Milosevic government, the NATO war against Serbia was orchestrated around demands in the Rambouillet agreement that no Serbian government could accept (stationing of hostile NATO troops in Serbia, at Serbia's expense), and the show trial of Milosevic has a clear political purpose to legitimise the war and the dismanting of Yugoslavia, and what is more to legitimaise NATO's supervision of Yugoslavia by whisking Milosevic to The Hague, instead of facing trial in Serbia for whatever crimes the Serbian state felt he had committed.

I would agree with you completely that Milosevic was a political gangster, but I am not sure he was an uncomplicated nationalist demagogue, in so far as there was a countervailing tendency for his government to defend the integrity of the multi-racial Yugoslav state, as much as promoting Serbian nationalism. It is interesting that the non -Slavic minorities in Serbia, - for example the magyars in Vojvodnia stayed loyal to the Serb state - as a non ethnically defined state.

(I cannot see that your calling him a Stalinist adds anything to the analysis except guilt by association, and it is an ambiguous term that doesn't prmote understanding.)

In the complex cauldron of the disentangling Yugoslavia there were certinainly forces of Serbian nationalism set loose that were as appaling and distrurbing as their Croation, Albanian and Bosnian Muslim equivelents. It is also true that Milosevic fanned those flames occaassionally.

But the war crimes charges were specific that there was a direct chain of command responsibility by Milosevic for the massacres of civilians on ethnic grounds, in Kosavo and Bosnia.

The evidence presented in court showed no such direct responsibility by Milosevic, nor his government.

It matters that NATO's case for intervention in Yugoslavia was based upon false premises.

Nor should we accept that becasue Milosevic was guilty of political gangsterism that he was automaticaly also guilty of war crimes.

His trial was victor's justice, and he shoudl only have been in thr dock if Clinton, Tudjman and Blair were chraged as well.