July 6, 2001

He won't defend himself or Serbia

It was a performance worthy of . . . well, of Slobodan Milosevic. The former Serbian strongman, now a prisoner at The Hague, swaggered into the courtroom and refused to cop a plea. Instead, he grandstanded, playing to an imaginary crowd back in Belgrade, in effect refusing to defend either himself or his people. When the chief magistrate, Richard May, a Brit, noted that he chose to show up at the first session of the court without any legal counsel, old Slobo swung into action: "I consider this tribunal to be a false tribunal," he averred, "and this indictment a false indictment. It is illegal not being appointed by the UN General Assembly so I have no need to appoint a counsel to an illegal organ." In watching this spectacle, the old saw that a man who insists on being his own lawyer has a fool for a client came immediately to mind.


Here he had the whole world listening, and instead of denying the accusations that Serbia, in defending itself, was engaged in a policy of "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" he quibbled over a purely formalistic matter: whether or not the Tribunal has "legal" standing. Apparently he didn't realize that the judges were elected by the General Assembly, as they have been since the Tribunal's inception in 1993. Not that this legitimizes the Tribunal except, of course, in Slobo's eyes. For what organization with the audacity to claim suzerainty over the entire earth could possibly be anything other than a fraud?


Asked whether he wished to have the lengthy indictment read aloud, Milosevic brought down the house by quipping: "That's your problem." But the question of how to answer the indictment will be his problem as soon as the trial gets rolling, and one that will not be solved by dramatic gestures. Under the Tribunal's rules, the failure to enter a plea amounts, in effect, to a plea of innocence: from a public relations point of view, however, this aloof disdain cannot be maintained without making Milosevic (and, by extension, all Serbians) look guilty as hell. For if he is innocent if Serbians did not commit the kinds of horrendous war crimes that required a "humanitarian" military intervention then why doesn't he defend himself? Why does he fail even to deny it? Is this kind of pride a mask for guilt? These are questions that any ordinary person will ask: Milosevic's self-dramatizing performance didn't give them any answers.


Even Ramsey Clark would have been better than appearing up there with no one at his side, enclosed in a bullet-proof glass cube like a fly in amber, physically as well as politically isolated. But the tone-deaf Milosevic, perhaps a bit unhinged if not quite mad by this time, seems oblivious to the judgment of world opinion, and largely indifferent to his own fate. The tragedy is that he is not just failing to defend himself, but the entire Serbian nation; for in spite of what chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte may say, clearly it is Serbia and not just Milosevic that is on trial here.


Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica denounced the action of Serbian authorities in handing Milosevic over as"neither legal nor constitutional," and described it as "seriously jeopardizing the constitutional order of our country." He was furious that the rule of law had been undermined, perhaps fatally, and thundered:

"The legal state which was the policy not only of the Democratic Party of Serbia but of the whole of DOS, cannot be built on injustice. Now the most undemocratic elements of Milosevic's own policy, which was really pestilential for the state and the people, have been used here: lawlessness and careless, humiliating steps which have not even been asked for directly by anybody from the international community. Cooperation with The Hague, which was of course necessary, has come down to the mere extradition of the accused without any protection for the citizens and, in the end, without any protection for the interests of the state itself. Even basic procedures were not respected, as though somebody here, rather than somebody abroad, was in a hurry to meet, as soon as possible, an obligation undertaken who knows when and who knows to whom."


That "somebody" in a hurry is the hugely unpopular Zoran Djindjic, Serbian Prime Minister and a slick operator who has been described by the Chicago Tribune as little short of a gangster. It isn't just that "he likes to run around Belgrade gangster-style in a convoy of black, bulletproof Range Rovers with a passel of bodyguards," although it doesn't help that "often it is hard to distinguish the young-looking Djindjic from the bodyguards" because "they all wear the same sharp Armani suits over black T-shirts." Djindjic not only looks the part, he acts it as well. His ties to organized crime networks that virtually took over Yugoslavia under Milosevic are the subject of much speculation, and, far from denying it, he seems to revel in the role. In an interview with an Austrian newspaper, Djindjic boasted that, as the battle to overthrow Milosevic reached its crescendo, three of Belgrade's biggest gangsters called him and pledged to stay neutral when the showdown came.


For a while it looked as if he was willing to coexist with Kostunica, content to let the stern constitutionalist and legal scholar play father to the nation, just as long as he, Djindjic, got to play the role of the Godfather. But the two men are opposites in every respect, personally as well as ideologically. Djindjic once told a friend that his aim in life was to amass as much money as possible in order to "do interesting things," and certainly he is succeeding: Djindjic is not only one of the richest politicians in the country, but his latest project is all-too-"interesting" the complete destruction of the Yugoslav federation. On the other hand, Kostunica is an austere academic: one Belgrade wag noted that "Kostunica drives a beat-up Yugo, he has three ties and two suits, a $50 watch and a 13-cent pen. Djindjic's pen is worth more than Kostunica's car." Djindjic is a ruthless opportunist, the antipode of the consistently principled Kostunica, whose conscientious loyalty to the [classical] liberal ideal has provoked the (professed) admiration of the US government, even as US officials work day and night to undermine his leadership.


Before entering the realm of politics, Djindjic was involved with another sort of gangsterism: he was a Marxist ideologue, a devotee of the Frankfurt School of Theodore Adorno, and left Yugoslavia to study under Jurgen Habermas in Germany. There he hung out on the fringes of the Baader-Meinhoff gang and boogied with the Red Army Fraction. Perhaps he ran into Joschka Fischer, that street-fighting Red who later rose to become Germany's Foreign Minister. Djindjic's 1979 doctoral thesis, "Marx's Critical Theory of Society and the Problem of Foundation," posits an epistemological basis for Marx's theory that a crisis must be generated before the capitalist order is destroyed and socialism emerges triumphant. This theory of "crisis" was applied perfectly, and with great effect, in the Milosevic affair: with one blow, the ruthless Djindjic split the ex-opposition (DOS) and drove the Montenegrins out of the government coalition, threatening the nation itself with a split. That this maneuver might also abolish Kostunica's office, the Yugoslav presidency, is hardly a coincidence.


Before Djindjic is allowed to join with his fellow ex-New Leftist ministers of the EU, and surrender Serbia's sovereignty to the United Socialist States of Europe, he must perform certain services, first and foremost disposing of Kostunica and expunging all the varieties of dreaded nationalism from Serbian soil, especially the liberal market-oriented nationalism of Vojislav Kostunica. One way to do that is to revive the old Commie-oriented nationalism by making Milosevic into a rather unlikely "hero": don't think they don't know that by persecuting poor old Slobo they valorize him in the eyes of his people. But if Milosevic is a hero, then what is Kostunica, the man who overthrew him?


Another way to get Kostunica out of the way is to drag him down to Djindjic's level. A crude attempt at his has been made by the forces surrounding Djindjic, who have released an alleged "transcript" of a phone conversation between the Yugoslav President and the Serbian Prime Minister. It is a strange "transcript" that consists of only a few lines of what certainly seems like a much longer conversation, but then there is no need to be too delicate about these things. A crude fabrication will do, in a pinch. Leaked to a Belgrade newspaper, "and confirmed by sources close to the Prime Minister's office," UPI solemnly informs us, the transcript reads in its entirety as follows:

Djindjic: "What shall I say to [US ambassador] Montgomery?"

President Kostunica remains silent...

Djindjic: "Very well then, in this case I will resign, and you rule alone!"

Kostunica: "Come on, don't rush, we need no quarrels."

Djindjic: "All right, but what shall I say? Yes or no?"

Kostunica (after a pause): "Yes."

Are you convinced yet?


What's interesting is that Madeleine Albright, when asked on the PBS News Hour if she thought Kostunica knew about the extradition before it happened, smiled knowingly and indicated that she did indeed: naturally the architects of America's Balkan policy are eager to implicate Kostunica in the crimes of their yes-men. No less eager than some of Kostunica's other critics, such as our very own columnist Nebojsa Malic, who writes that if Kostunica did not know then he "should have known. Even if he did not, he should have acted afterwards. Instead, he stood by and washed his hands like Pontius Pilate." I am sure this concordance of opinion between Albright and Malic is only temporary, but it is telling nonetheless. It would naturally make no sense to inform the object of a political conspiracy that he is about to be knifed did Brutus confide in Caesar? yet clearly Malic thinks this is not only possible but likely. However, this business about Pontius Pilate is really too much. Does Malic really mean to imply that Slobodan Milosevic is the modern-day Serbian equivalent of Jesus Christ? All I can say to that is: Jesus H. Christ!


Malic thinks that Kostunica should have "acted afterwards" but "acted" how? Should he have started a civil war by having Djindjic arrested? Perhaps the suggestion here is that Kostunica should have called out the Yugoslav Army against the Serbian police under Djindjic's command. But with a nation exhausted by war and bled dry by official corruption, this is hardly an auspicious time to initiate an internal bloodletting. Besides, who knows but that this would have led to NATO intervention in the name of preserving peace, of course, just like in neighboring Macedonia. Obviously, Kostunica had no foreknowledge of Slobo's kidnapping, and just as obviously could do nothing to prevent it.


If anyone is Christ-like in his suffering and his devotion to his country, then surely it is Kostunica. It is the President of Yugoslavia who is fighting against all odds to preserve the territorial integrity and spiritual dignity of his beleaguered country, in the face of opposition from Washington as well as from the followers of that buffoon in The Hague. He towers so high above the pygmies that seek to overthrow him that they can only do so by reducing him to their level: that's what this effort to link him to the illegal extradition is all about. Talk about blaming the victim!


But it won't work. The Zoran Djindjics and Slobodan Milosevics of this world are a dime a dozen: one falls, and another will rise to take his place. But a man like Kostunica almost majestic in his selfless devotion to the nation and its welfare is a statesman on another level entirely, and the Serbian people know it. That is why they elected him, and why they will continue to support him: On the other hand, Djindjic, for all his slickness, is riding for a fall and the sooner the better.

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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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