January 18, 2001

Out of the Shadows

History has a tendency to happen whether anyone watches or not. In fact, significant developments more often occur in the shadows of secrecy, leaving their flashier but less important brethren to occupy the limelight.


Much has been made, for example, of NATO's use of depleted uranium over the past five years. Completely ignored ten years ago in Iraq, barely mentioned five years ago in Bosnia, depleted uranium seems to have finally burst out in the open this year, after the effects of its use in Kosovo became too hard to ignore. The factual argument is actually pretty simple. Uranium of any kind is a cancerous pathogen if it makes its way into the human body. Depleted uranium – such as the one used in M1 tank armor and armor-penetrating munitions of the US army and many of its NATO allies – is highly toxic when it explodes against a target. And yet, a constant stream of denials both of the science and the effects has come out of NATO over the past few weeks.

Granted, confessing to harm is hard to do. Since the days of King James I in the 1600s, people have claimed that tobacco was harmful. Only recently did the US medical community admit this was a fact. Soon thereafter, lawsuits and greedy government bureaucrats forced the tobacco companies to do the same. So it should not surprise anyone that the Pentagon and NATO are less than eager to blame DU for the "Gulf/Balkans War Syndrome." After all, someone will have to foot the bill to compensate all the American and Allied soldiers who came down with cancer – not to mention the civilians those soldiers bombed, though for them restitution may never materialize.

Therein, then, lies the answer to the seemingly irrational ravings of some eager allies and clients or NATO, who rushed to blame the furor over DU on Milosevic, Serbs, and even Russians, grasping for straws in order to suck up to their patrons and masters.


The stark difference between private and public agendas is perhaps best embodied by the bandits who had invaded the border zone between sovereign Serbia and NATO-occupied Kosovo last October. Two weeks ago, they publicly announced their demands to the Serbian authorities: international military intervention, no less, and full NATO occupation of their designated "Eastern Kosovo." Such a demand would be completely unacceptable to any government, anywhere. A handful of Americans at Waco was attacked by tanks and torched alive for much less. But because of what NATO propaganda claimed about the Serbs in 1999, any move to crush the bandits would run into public condemnation by foreign journalists who have become quite friendly with the so-called Presevo Liberation Army.

Far from the public's (selectively) prying eyes, these same "rebels" have found it necessary to hijack a truck transporting money for teachers in Kosovo. Somehow, the fact that teachers in Kosovska Kamenica were about to get their pay was a major threat to the security of Albanians in Presevo. Then again, the teachers and the children in Kamenica were Serbs, and the money was Yugoslav dinars – currency outlawed in Kosovo by NATO's occupation authorities – so it is no wonder that the matter went largely unnoticed. NATO troops did make some noise, but action of any kind remains but a distant possibility.


It is no doubt helping the Albanian bandits that the government of Serbia currently has more pressing problems – most of all, the ever-increasingly separatist tendencies of Montenegro's ruling regime, led by America's golden boy Milo Djukanovic. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Djukanovic is determined to separate Montenegro from Yugoslavia and finish its makeover into his personal fiefdom. In mid-December it seemed Zoran Djindjic's victory in Serbia's governmental elections might further his plans; analysts openly speculated that Djindjic was planning to make a deal with Djukanovic and leave his chief political rival, federal president Vojislav Kostunica, out in the cold. In recent days, however, Djindjic has moved away from Djukanovic, supporting Kostunica's proposal for a new federal Constitution.

Kostunica's proposal, by the way, envisions Yugoslavia the way the United States once were – with a small, limited and efficient federal government and extensive powers for the states. The alternative, offered by Djukanovic's regime after it rejected Kostunica's proposal, is a confederacy even less workable than the neighboring NATO protectorate of Bosnia. But that was just a pro forma gesture on Djukanovic's part, for public relations purposes only. He is frantically working to hold a referendum on a declaration of independence, regardless of what Belgrade does. The little-noticed fact that Djukanovic's government recently had trade talks with Albania – even though official Tirana is refusing to re-establish diplomatic ties with Belgrade – further illuminates the situation.


Though seemingly acting in concert over Montenegro, Serbia's ruling circles are hardly united on anything else. Their behavior can be described only as "a mystery inside a riddle, wrapped in an enigma." For example, Yugoslavia's foreign minister Goran Svilanovic recently visited Washington and met with Madeleine Albright – a woman still considered the embodiment of evil by most Serbs who were bombed at her initiative almost two years ago. They reportedly discussed the possibility of having Slobodan Milosevic tried for war crimes in Belgrade. The Hague Inquisition promptly demanded Milosevic's head. Its head inquisitor, Carla DelPonte ( the woman who obediently indicted Milosevic to help the NATO war effort) will reportedly bring up the issue during her visit to Belgrade in late January.

President Kostunica, however, refused to meet with her, sending a signal that Belgrade is by no means willing to do the bidding of Albright, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), or anyone else. Further ruffling lots of feathers, Kostunica met with Slobodan Milosevic on Saturday, and discussed with him the current situation and the future of Yugoslavia. Apart from the usual foul language of the ICTY, this meeting also provoked loud criticism from some members of Kostunica's coalition. Part of their criticism was also aimed at Kostunica's publication of the new constitutional proposal, which apparently was not discussed in the coalition's ruling committee.

Zoran Djindjic – not yet Prime Minister, since electoral irregularities are holding up the formation of the new government – also criticized Kostunica's meeting with Milosevic, but supported the constitutional proposal. Djindjic's mysterious ways are no mystery to those who know him. He lacks vision, says Yugoslavia's new ambassador to Washington, Milan St. Protic. Political commentator Aleksandar Tijanic adds that Djindjic's other favorites are money, power and shortcuts through the system. No man is better suited to operating in the dark shadows of Serbian politics these days, though what is good for him is by no means good for the rest of the country.

Text-only printable version of this article

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo, and had contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specialized in international relations and the Balkans, Malich has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, which were published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Thursday.


Past Articles

Out of the Shadows

With a Grain of Salt

Crusade's End

The Worst of Times

Moments of Transition

Déja Vu

The Crucible

Bandits on the Border

It's the Spelling, Stupid

Zoran Djindjic: Serbia's Richard III

Wheels of Injustice

The Tragedy of Bosnia

The Suspended Castle

Hand Of The Empire: Decision in Kosovo

Introduction: The Balkans Babylon

ITN: Case Closed


Seemingly less mysterious is the sensational surrender of the former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic to the Hague Inquisition. She was secretly accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity last year, and decided to turn herself in last week. A veritable forest of articles, analyses and breaking news failed to explain why Plavsic went voluntarily or if she was promised a deal by the prosecution in exchange for incriminating her colleagues. One source has even claimed that Plavsic went in order to defend the Bosnian Serbs as a nation in the court of law, however laughable that last bit about the law may sound. Some have suggested, more rationally, that her surrender served the West by legitimizing the Hague Inquisition. No one even bothered to comment on the charges themselves; vague, full of assumptions and shaky theories, they accuse Plavsic of being the Bosnian Serbs' Hermann Goering. She pleaded not guilty, but the outcome is already known. It will take about two years before she is sentenced.


It is difficult sometimes to retain a proper perspective on events, when coverage of the Balkans revolves around Milosevic's possible trial, Zoran Djindjic's personality, the kangaroo trial of Biljana Plavsic, Bosnia's sham attempts at democracy, or waiting for Montenegro to secede. But the interference of the Empire into Balkan affairs has yet to develop to its most malignant extent. Depleted uranium will keep poisoning the bodies of local residents as well as occupation troops, while the depleted logic of Imperial decision-makers continues to reverberate among the nations of the region. Just last week, the Rumanians of Transylvania warned against several measures undertaken by Bucharest that would foster separatism in that province – with a significant Hungarian presence – and said they could potentially cause a "new Kosovo."

The limelight this weekend will be on George II, as he assumes the mantle of the Empire amidst unprecedented security. History, however, will not be made in the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, but in the deep, dark shadows all over the world, wherever the Empire of Bush's predecessors – now his to rule – has established its ever-expanding frontiers.

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