June 29, 2001

FREE SLOBO
and try him in Belgrade

How much do I hate Slobodan Milosevic? Let me count the ways! He sold out his own people at every turn, presiding over the Dayton Accord and delivering Bosnian Serbs into the iron embrace of a UN/NATO dictatorship. To cowardice add stupidity: brave Slobo held out against NATO only until it became apparent that the Americans were getting ready to launch a ground war, surrendering at precisely the moment when the Kosovo war was becoming politically untenable, especially in the US. He regularly murdered and otherwise repressed his political opponents at home, while providing an inviting (and, in the end, irresistible) target for NATO-crats in search of a new "Hitler" to defeat. During the Kosovo war, he was the biggest liability of the antiwar cause. Every time opponents of the war were given a platform in the major media to state the case against intervention it would unleash the incubus of Albanian ultra-nationalism, lead to the destabilization of Macedonia, and establish a dangerous precedent we were confronted with the rather unappealing visage of a gangsterish autocrat, who looked and acted more like the head of a crime syndicate than the leader of a nation. The former strongman's misrule left Yugoslavia in ruins: the economy is a basket case, due not only to the NATO bombing but also to the gangster-style socialism that kept Serbians poor while Slobo's cronies lived high on the hog. When the Serbian people finally had enough of him, he sought desperately to stay in power in spite of getting trounced at the polls: the electoral fraud he tried to perpetrate was even more blatant than the one Al Gore tried to pull off in Florida. He failed, largely as a result of a Serbian version of the "Republican riot" that put a damper on the attempted Gore coup. In the end, the Serbian people took to the streets with a single demand: Begone! But it wasn't that easy.

GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

To begin with, he was gone from office, but not from the country and, unfortunately, Yugoslavia is not Japan, where such a record of monumental failure could only have ended in seppuku. i.e. suicide, as the one honorable way out. Naturally, the moment he was out of office he was out of luck politically: most of his followers abandoned him when the system of cronyism and outright embezzlement he presided over came to an abrupt end. His remaining nutball followers (mostly elderly) in the fragmented Serbian Socialist Party are not a significant political force, and are not about to retake power as a result of his being handed over to the "International Criminal Tribunal for War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia" (ICTFY) in The Hague. But the sheer stupidity and wrongheadness of US policy in the region is underscored by the remarkable ability of the NATO-crats to turn a third-rate gangster into a symbol of Serbia's national sovereignty and that, of course, is the point.

ENJOY THE SHOW

With Slobo in the dock, the NATO-crats and their kangaroo court can point to a "war criminal" as a rationale for their righteous Slavophobia. As the stream of testimony floods the Western media with stories (some true, some false) of Yugoslav atrocities, the Albanian amen-corner in the US and Europe will take up the cause of the "National Liberation Army" of Macedonia: no doubt we will be treated to another CNN-driven "humanitarian" intervention, as streams of Albanian "refugees" (who will actually be returning to their original homes in Kosovo) flee "repression" and "ethnic cleansing." As the background music for phase two of NATO's war of aggression in the Balkans, the trial of Slobodan Milosevic will drown out any doubts about the wisdom of such a course: the idea, at least in theory, is that the audience (Western public opinion, and especially elite opinion) will suspend disbelief, relax, and enjoy the show.

SHOW TRIAL BOOMERANG?

But the trial could provide a few surprises, and may turn out to be a mixed blessing for NATO and its cheerleaders. To begin with, there is the (admittedly slim) possibility that he could be acquitted of all or at least some of the charges. The rules of evidence in force at The Hague do not bode well for any defendant for example, the accused have no right to face their accusers, testimony can be submitted anonymously, and, if the court chooses, the proceedings can take place out of public view. But while the ICTFY is not a bona fide legal institution in the American sense, its function as a propaganda vehicle requires some level of credibility, even if it is only a fig-leaf of faux-legality. The whole propagandistic point of staging such a show trial would be lost if it were held in secret, and, besides, that would provoke too much suspicion that, just maybe, the proceedings were not entirely fair. But the minute the trial opens, and the charges are read out in court, the NATO-crats are going to have a big problem on their hands.

NATO's REALITY GAP

We all remember the prelude to the Kosovo war: those long months of hysterical fulminations on the part of the US State Department and its journalistic auxiliary that the Serbs were guilty of committing a crime of Hitlerian dimensions in Kosovo, and that we had to intervene in order to prevent a Balkan Holocaust. Well, now that the NATO-crats finally have their hands on this alleged moral monster, the supposed Serbian "Hitler," it turns out that the old devil is not to be charged with the crime of genocide, or even attempted genocide. Instead, the prosecution has filed lesser charges against the man they compared to the killer of 6,000,000 Jews. The Kosovo indictment accuses him of "persecution" and exactly 7 (yes, s-e-v-e-n) murders. All in all, the alleged victims of his perfidy total 340. That is such a looooong way from the charges made in 1999, when NATO was bombing some of the oldest cities in Europe, that even the war's most vociferously self-righteous supporters will have a hard time explaining the yawning gulf between reality and NATO's lies.

NATO's LIES EXPOSED

At the height of the war hysteria, CNN was estimating between a half- and a quarter-million victims of Serbian "ethnic cleansing." Even after the war, when little or no evidence of such a large-scale mass murder was uncovered, NATO and its pet journalists were estimating that as many as 10,000 had perished at the hands of Milosevic and such mediagenic personalities of the Serbian "paramilitary" movement as the late (and unlamented) "Arkan." But none of these numbers has panned out: the swarms of investigators and forensic specialists who poured into Kosovo to collect evidence for this trial found, not a holocaust, but approximately 3,000 bodies, including Serbs and other non-Albanian nationalities. Naturally, this was hardly reported at all in the Anglo-American media, but now these relatively paltry numbers will be spotlighted by the publicity accompanying Slobo's trial, providing fresh embarrassment for NATO's media handlers, not to mention the handled.

PLAYING THE NUMBERS

When the ICTFY announced these meager numbers, the reflexive "spin" of the War Party was, I thought, rather imaginative. Graham Blewitt, ICTFY deputy prosecutor, averred that we ought not to play a "numbers game" while alleging that the final number would be closer to 4,000 or 5,000. It is true that one does not let a murderer off because he has "only" killed 340 people, but the real question here is: do we go to war with every country that may be guilty of killing that many? It was the NATO-crats who started the "numbers game": tens of thousands were supposed to be perishing, and thousands more held in Serbian-run "concentration camps." We were told that to oppose intervention would be to countenance "genocide," a moral stance made possible by the evocation of some pretty high (and very wrong) numbers.

A LOTTA NERVE

Blewitt proffered one explanation that we're bound to hear during the trial: that We May Never Know how many were killed, because the Serbs systematically destroyed all the evidence. That's a pretty ingenious way to get around the glaring lack of evidence: instead of "the dog ate my homework," it's "Milsovic's dog ate the evidence." They couldn't get away with such a nervy display of disregard for truth in the American legal system, but with the ICTFY all things are possible. Even nervier was NATO spokesman Mark Laity, who stoutly maintained that: "NATO never said the missing were all dead. The figure we stood by was 10,000. If it's wrong, I'm prepared to put up with a little bit of egg on our face if thousands are alive who were thought to be killed." A little egg? More like several omelet's worth. Remember, way back in May 1999, when US Defense Secretary William Cohen told CBS News that 100,000 men of military age were missing? They "may have been murdered," he opined. Does anyone recall David Scheffer, US envoy for war crimes issues, continually reiterating that more than 225,000 ethnic Albanian men between the ages of 14 and 59 were missing? And now they're telling us that the victims of this alleged "holocaust" number 340?

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

I know a lot of American conservatives are going to point to this trial as evidence that there is a potential threat to American soldiers from such globalist institutions as the ICTFY, and that the next thing you know G.I.s will be sitting in the dock at The Hague, on trial for "war crimes." Relax. It'll never happen. Among the many crimes of William Jefferson Clinton, besides perjury, selling presidential pardons, and generally lowering the level of political (and cultural) discourse in his own country, certain war crimes stand out. The continual bombing of Iraq (and the murderous sanctions), the destruction of an aspirin factory in the Sudan (a night watchman died so that Monica would be off the front pages for a few days), and the killing of 700 Yugoslav civilians in the Kosovo war come immediately to mind. Instead of being dragged to The Hague, Clinton was feted in the capitals of Europe and assiduously wooed by American publishers for his long-awaited memoirs. Christopher Hitchens wonders why his bete noir, Henry Kissinger, has yet to be indicted by chief prosecutor Louise Arbour, but as a supporter of the Kosovo war he can't afford to look too closely at the legal niceties of the ICTFY: I don't know about him, but I wouldn't submit my worst enemy to such a spurious form of justice as is practiced by Arbour's Inquisition.

AN EXPERIENCED LAWYER

A lot depends on how good Milosevic's lawyer, Toma Fila, turns out to be. He certainly has plenty of experience: whenever the name of some alleged Serbian war criminal has been reported in the news, there, too, is Toma Fila, advocating for the defense. But his record is inconclusive, to say the least: one client had the charges dropped because he was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. The other one that I know of, the case of one Goran Lajic, accused of being a concentration camp guard who murdered and raped his charges, was a case of mistaken identity: the German authorities who picked him up and handed him over to The Hague simply had the wrong Goran Lajic, and, although it took the court three months to realize that a mistake had been made, Lajic was released. But a look at this weird case underscores the Orwellian flavor of the ICTFY system, which the US and its NATO allies want to impose on the rest of the world if not themselves.

LAJIC VS. ICTFY

Lajic stoutly maintained his innocence the whole time, and said he had never been anywhere near the area in which his alleged crimes occurred: zealous German prosecutors didn't bother checking. Of course Lajic was lying: isn't that just like a war criminal? He was held for 56 days before being handed over to the ICTFY. When Lajic appeared before the court he again said he was the innocent victim of a case of mistaken identity and that he did not even know where this so-called concentration camp was. The prosecution, however, wasn't going to be so easily fooled: this was the "real" Goran Lajic, they averred. In an American courtroom, such a matter would be quickly settled: just arrange for a lineup and ask the witnesses to identify the accused from among a randomly selected group. Ah, but ICTFY-style justice presented another solution: the judge decided that a photograph of the accused would be shown to the witnesses, alongside photos of a number of other individuals. But this gambit backfired badly when 9 out of 10 witnesses failed to recognize Lajic, and the tenth said he had seen Lajic, but not the crimes he was accused of. A shamefaced ICTFY let Lajic go on June 17, 1996.

CALLING JOHNNIE COCHRAN!

I don't think Milosevic can plead that this is a case of mistaken identity, however: the best he can hope for is a lawyer on a par with Johnnie Cochran, who doesn't come cheap. Mr. Fila doesn't come cheap either, from what I hear, but then he'll have earned every penny if he can get his client off the hook. The best way to do that is by turning this into a political trial or, rather, by realizing that this already is a political trial, and acting accordingly. A really good lawyer would immediately recognize that his client and the prosecution have certain things in common, politically, first and foremost their mutual hostility to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica.

WOULD YOU DIE FOR SLOBO?

Kostunica, the independent market nationalist, is equally disdained by the US government and Milosevic supporters. The former want to bring him down because they hate all nationalism, even the liberal democratic variety: and the latter hate him simply because he beat them in spite of everything: both would like to lay the responsibility for Slobo's plight at Kostunica's doorstep. But it wasn't the federal government of Yugoslavia that turned him over to the ICTFY in spite of the decision of the Constitutional Court to delay so they could rule on the legality of such a transfer: it was the Serbian provincial government of US sock puppet Zoran Djindjic that literally kidnapped poor old Slobo and bundled him off to The Hague. "My attempt to have our citizens put on trial in our country was prevented by two things" said Kostunica, in answer to critics, "pressure from Washington, and me and my party being a minority" within Yugoslavia's governing coalition. When pressed, he said that the passage of extradition legislation would be "the lesser of two evils," and in this he is absolutely right. At the "free Slobo" demonstration that took place in Belgrade recently, some in the crowd were reportedly shouting "We will give our lives for Slobo!" But the rest of Yugoslavia, unlike the few thousand die-hard militants of the Slobodan Milosevic Fan Club, is probably not willing to give their lives for Slobo and why should they?

DID THE SERBS SELL OUT?

The idea that the Serbs "sold out" their sovereignty and sacrificed their honor by handing over Milosevic is probably more popular in far-leftish Western circles than in Serbia. It isn't as if the Serbs have any choice: after all, they have been defeated in battle, and, while not subject to a military occupation, they don't have much more wiggle room in this matter than the Japanese did after World War II. Serbia is decimated economically, and is still being subjected to terrorist attacks from the US-sponsored Albanian guerrillas. Furthermore, the country is politically volatile, and it is this volatility that the NATO-crats are shamelessly exploiting.

TWO BIRDS AND A STONE

In the hours before Slobo was rousted out of his Belgrade jail cell and spirited off to The Hague, Kostunica declared that Milosevic could definitely not be extradited by Friday. "The decree," he said, "cannot be implemented in 48 hours, because that would mean that the defendant is deprived [of] his right to appeal and from some other rights." The resulting explosion in the coalition will blow the federal government apart and, not coincidentally, shift the power away from the practically nonexistent Yugoslav entity and toward the Serbian state government, where Djindjic rules as Prime Minister. Thus the NATO-crats kill two birds with one stone.

SERBIA ON TRIAL

In the attempt to prove the charges against Milosevic, several key military figures who served under the old regime will no doubt be called to testify, and the repercussions of this can only be imagined. The Tribunal claims not only the authority to compel the accused to show up at The Hague, but also the right to summon witnesses and compel them to testify: in this sense, it is not only Milosevic who will be placed on trial here, but the entire Serbian political and military elite. Serbia is to be treated like a conquered province, to serve as an example to those such as the Macedonians who still believe they can resist NATO's will.

THE TEST

Milosevic and his accusers have more in common than an authoritarian concept of justice and a penchant for crude propaganda: politically, both portray themselves as the only alternative to the other. They have a mutual interest in disproving the possibility of a third choice, a force that is neither NATO nor the nutty remnants of the Serbian Socialist Party, but a [classical] liberal nationalist alternative to foreign domination and domestic gangsterism. Whether this third force can withstand such a concerted assault will test not only Kostunica personally, but also the Serbian people.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

 


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