April 2, 2001

He should fall on his sword.

It was hardly a heroic last stand. Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian strongman who presided over the destruction of Yugoslavia, had vowed never to be taken alive. Unfortunately, he failed to deliver on his promise. After a 26-hour stand-off, in which Yugoslav police twice stormed the villa in which he was holed up, Milosevic finally surrendered – but not before receiving assurances that he would not be handed over to the self-styled "International Tribunal" at The Hague. According to Steve Erlanger, writing in the Sunday New York Times, old Slobo was waving a gun around during the negotiations, threatening to kill himself. Too bad he didn't follow through.


Imagine if Milosevic had done the honorable thing, and taken his own life: in one stroke, he would have eliminated a major threat to Serbian sovereignty, and handed a big defeat to the NATO-crats, the evil Carla Del Ponte, and the Albanian lobby in the US Congress. American supporters of the Kosovo "Liberation" Army, such as Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, and Rep. Eliot Engle (D-NY), among others, were quick to announce that Milosevic's arrest wasn't enough: $50 million in US aid would not be released unless Milosevic takes a one-way trip to The Hague. While the New York Times on Thursday reported that the decision had already been made to disperse the funds, this is no longer so certain. For the arrest of Milosevic has now brought the issue of the ICTY's authority to center stage, and given the enemies of Serbia another pretext to continue their relentless onslaught. The sainted Colin Powell, our allegedly "isolationist" secretary of state, has put off making a decision on the aid, and is under intense pressure to withhold the funds. It would be "premature," say pro-Albanian lawmakers, to assume that Serbia lives up to the high standards of "human rights" required of US aid recipients – this from the same people who reward Israeli brutality with hundreds of millions of your tax dollars. This – from the same congressional cretins who "certified" Colombia as having lived up to these vaunted "human rights" standards. As Murray N. Rothbard used to exclaim, in exasperated fury at the carnival of human folly: "Are we to be spared nothing?"


And it isn't just New York Democrats with large Albanian constituencies who form the spearhead of the "Hate Serbia" caucus in the US Congress: Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is among the most militant Serbia-haters in Washington: "My personal view is that aid ought to be cut off until Milosevic is handed over to the international tribunal,'" McConnell told Fox News Sunday. "If it's clear they're not going to do that, then I think the secretary of state has a pretty tough call." Echoing the protests of Slobo's Serbian (and American left fringe) defenders, McConnell bizarrely claimed that Milosevic cannot get a fair trial in Yugoslavia: "I don't think they have the infrastructure there in Yugoslavia to put on a free and fair trial," he said. Oh, but the proper "infrastructure" is already in place at The Hague, where all the accouterments of a kangaroo court are in place: secret indictments, secret witnesses, and the not-so-secret anti-Serb bias of the judges, whose salaries and perks are paid largely by Islamic nations such as Pakistan and Indonesia.


John Simpson reported in the [London] Telegraph that "news that the arrest would take place was announced by radio and television stations in Belgrade at 8pm on Friday, six hours before the riot police moved in. There were rumors that all this had been skillfully planned by someone senior to humiliate the government and give Milosevic's supporters the chance to gather and protect him." As to the identity of "someone senior," the swirling intrigue of Serbian politics tends to obscure him from view, but it is unlikely that it was anyone sympathetic to old Slobo per se. For the upcoming trial of Milosevic will take place against the backdrop of the struggle between the heroic President Kostunica, the patriotic savior of his nation, and the slimeball Zoran Djindjic, formerly Madeleine Albright's favored lapdog who spent the war hiding in Montenegro. MSNBC had an interesting spin on how the Kostunica-Djindjic divide split the government in two over the Slobo issue, setting the federal level against the Serbian state government:

"On Saturday the tensions between the two erupted into public view when Djindjic made his move against Milosevic while Kostunica was at a conference in Geneva. As Serbia's leader, Djindjic controls the local police, but Kostunica commands the Army, which at first refused to allow the arrest to proceed. Milosevic's hard-core supporters actually began to cheer Kostunica as the police backed off."


A tense, three-hour meeting between Kostunica and Djindjic followed, in which the attempted seizure of Milosevic – the police had stormed the villa twice, and still Slobo thumbed his nose at them! – was presented as a fait accompli. Kostunica, after all, had been in Geneva, fighting off Serbia's enemies on the international front. Back home, meanwhile, those same enemies had struck. It is notable that, as of last Thursday, the $50 million in US aid was being reported as a sure thing – not only in the New York Times, but also in the Christian Science Monitor – with or without Slobo in the brig. Suddenly, however, that old bogeyman was thrown into the spotlight, as news media around the world covered the minute-by-minute drama of Slobo's Last Stand – but of course, to think this was anything other than the purest coincidence would amount to a "conspiracy theory," and we wouldn't want to be accused of that, now would we?


If allowed to pass quietly by, without big headlines – except, of course, right here on Antiwar.com – the resumption of nearly normal relations with the former Yugoslavia would have been a foregone conclusion – or would it? The Bush administration, after all, had pledged to pull US troops out of the Balkans, and even though they reneged on their promise shortly after Inauguration Day, one would have thought that at least the hostility to Serbia that characterized the Clinton White House would have passed permanently from the scene. No so. Here is Bush burbling on the subject of Milosevic's arrest and the possibility of Serbia's rehabilitation:

"His arrest represents an important step in bringing to a close the tragic era of his brutal dictatorship,'' Bush said in a statement Sunday. ''We cannot and must not forget the chilling images of terrified women and children herded onto trains, emaciated prisoners interned behind barbed wire and mass graves unearthed by UN investigators. Milosevic's arrest should be a first step toward trying him for the crimes against humanity with which he is charged."


What is truly chilling is that George W. Bush is living up to his reputation as a dunce – the sort who can parrot the lessons of his teachers, without understanding or even caring what he is saying, as long as he can get at least a grade of C-plus or even a B-minus out of it. Dubya is totally dependent on his evil advisors for information, and obviously – even pathetically – doesn't realize that there were no mass graves unearthed by UN investigators in Kosovo, in spite of strenuous efforts to discover them. As reported in the [London] Times waaay back in 1999, and since widely discussed, the "mass graves" alleged to be at the Trepca mines were a complete fabrication, and all the other claims turned out to be hot air as well. Stratfor.com, a private foreign policy research group, estimated that the total death toll of the Kosovo civil war might very well be in the hundreds. According to Spanish forensic surgeon Emilio Perez Pujol, the number is closer to 2,500 – not the tens of thousands claimed by NATO and the Clintonistas a few months earlier – and that includes both sides. As the Times reported:

"In an outspoken interview, Pujol complained he had been sent to head a large investigation team attached to the ICTY, consisting of pathologists and police specialists, to work in the north of the country. But he found that what was publicized as a search for mass graves was 'a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one – not one – mass grave.'"


Kostunica loyally defended the treachery of his scheming allies by pointing to the one principle that seems to define him as a political figure and a human being: a consistent, almost Hayekian devotion to the rule of law. "For the state to survive no one can be untouchable. Whoever opens fire on the police must be punished, whoever is summoned before an investigative judge must respond, whoever breaks the law must suffer the consequences no matter what their rank, service or function," Kostunica declared. Although the trial of Slobodan Milosevic is likely to give him more than his fair share of political trouble, Kostunica has all along declared that the proper venue to dispense justice in this case is Belgrade – and nowhere else.


Remember how the Yugoslav President bitch-slapped Carla Del Ponte on her visit to Belgrade, making it clear that he would never deliver Slobo to her untender mercies? Now she crows that she has won: "The arrest is a positive sign on the part of the Yugoslav and Serbian authorities. It will facilitate his delivery to The Hague and Yugoslavia's respect of its international obligations," she is quoted by her spokeswoman as saying. But Agence France Presse reports that same spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, as "dismissing" statements by the Yugoslav Interior Ministry that they would not hand over Milosevic. These were mere "heated declarations," she said, which the Serbs would soon come to regret. "If they do not do that within a reasonable time period we will complain to the United Nations Security Council and launch all the legal proceedings in our power to prevent the obstruction."


This is the dilemma that Vojisalv Kostunica faces as he steers his nation between the Scylla of the NATO-crats, and the Charybdis of economic and political turmoil at home. Besieged by Albanians to the South, the specter of an aid cutoff and even the renewal of economic sanctions if he refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the UN Tribunal, he must balance the dangers posed by Serbia's external enemies against the very real possibility of a Serbian civil war – which at least two major factions, the Djindjic gang and the Milosevic Fan Club, are doing their best to provoke. The former because that would lead to NATO intervention, which they have every reason to hope will install them in power, and the latter because they are imbued with the passionate attachment to martyrdom that is a distinguishing feature of Serbian nationalism, especially the most violent and unreasoning strains of it.


The Serbian national myth is based on the exemplar of the patriotic spirit, Prince Lazar, who went down to defeat on the famous Field of Blackbirds, fighting off Muslim invaders. But it seems that the purity of Serbian heroes, these days, is not quite up to snuff: whereas the historical Prince ("Tzar") Lazar gave his life for his country, his would-be emulator, Tzar Slobo, lacks the heroic profile of the original. Instead of going down in a blaze of glory, or even committing ritual suicide in the manner of the Japanese, he meekly surrendered – and, in sparing his own life, failed to spare his country from a perilous and uncertain fate.


But it isn't too late. Think of the vast sigh of relief that would go up – and the gasps of disappointment heard in The Hague – at the news that old Slobo had been found in his cell, felled by his own hand, alongside a short note regretting that he had but one life to give for his country. In this he would follow his parents, dedicated Communists who both committed suicide when he was young – but, unlike theirs his own self-immolation would burn his image in the memory of Serbs at least as long as Prince Lazar. He would not only reenact but also redeem their deaths, and cover himself in glory.


Now, I don't know that they'll let Slobo have Internet access in the Serbian hoosegaw, but I do know that some of his closest pals check out this site pretty regularly, and it is to them that I make my appeal: see if you can talk him into it. Think of the possibilities: not only will the pressure be taken off Serbia to surrender its sovereignty in this matter, but you will become the guardians of the Slobo Myth. You can sell commemorative coins and pen revisionist histories of his incompetent, disaster-laden misrule, whitewashing his crimes – the murder of political opponents and stealing large sums of money – and defending his socialist policies as some kind of lost Golden Age. When you talk to Slobo, emphasize that he'll go down in Serbian history as a hero who gave his all, instead of a loser who dragged his nation down to defeat – and tell him what you're telling the dwindling ranks of the Slobodan Milosevic Fan Club: that his arrest is but a prelude to his delivery to The Hague. In short, build him up, and then scare him to death, convincing him that there's no real alternative: you can use Slobo's martyrdom to build your own careers, while also contributing to the creation of a new national myth. Think about it.


Finally, I was charmed by the news, in the Erlanger piece, that Milosevic will face "various charges of financial irregularities, misusing customs duties, abusing his powers and causing 'damage to the Serbian economy,' including colluding in hyperinflation in the early 1990's that cost the nation more than $600 million." Certainly this is going to be a precedent-setting trial in a fashion any libertarian such as myself could not fail to approve: here, for the first time, the ruler of a nation is being put on trial for the great war crime of inflation – one of the worst and most deadly weapons in the arsenal of a government which is constantly at war with the economy and the people. Inflation, as libertarians know, is the government's most lucrative racket, ripping off ordinary working people in order to benefit the bankers and wealthy industrialists and financiers who reap profits before the inevitable bust. For this aspect of the upcoming trial alone – an indictment alleging economic crimes against a socialist ruler – I not only want to join but to lead the outcry: Arrest that man!

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