February 21, 2002

Masters of Mendacity

It has been a week since Slobodan Milosevic was put on "trial" before the Hague Inquisition. The prosecution's opening statement made clear their goal: to convict Milosevic of causing every misfortune in the Balkans over the past decade, and through him, the entire Serbian people. In the words of Milosevic's bane, Vojislav Kostunica, the Inquisitors wallowed in "shallow misinterpretation of history," and their claim that Serbs were not on trial was "extremely stretched." And this is about as emotional as Kostunica gets.

The Inquisition proudly stands by its "history." It is a work of incredibly talented dark arts, to be sure, on par with some of the most twisted deliberate misinterpretations of reality ever concocted. They are considerably less comfortable with the accusation of imposing collective guilt, since that is so terribly politically incorrect these days (unlike the "history," mind you). Yet what their words deny, their deeds confirm, and no spin ever invented can cover that up.

Not that many try. The BBC, for example, ranted at length about "the Serbs' guilt" and the "need for punishment" just before the trial opened. Their choice of source to prove this claim almost seems inspired by the Inquisition: Miroslav Filipovic, a reporter in pay of a violently Serbophobic British NGO, who was jailed for writing about a Serb massacre of some 800 Albanian children. His employers and many Western NGOs demanded his release as a "political prisoner," and eventually succeeded. Yet Filipovic never offered a shred of evidence to back up his story. He was no political prisoner, but simply an accomplished liar. Which brings up an interesting point…


Politicians lie all the time. They are expected to lie, more or less. The press, on the other hand, is expected to tell the truth. Always. So what happens when the Guardians of Truth indulge in wholesale proliferation of lies? Just that "shallow misinterpretation" of history Kostunica spoke of, in his usual understatement of a much darker reality.

There is so much evidence that the media all over the place have lied about the Balkans wars of the 1990s, from Slovenia to Kosovo, reviewing just some of it would take up volumes. There is one thing, however, which has been so consistently misreported, it represents a textbook example of media mendacity: Slobodan Milosevic's speech at Kosovo Field on June 28, 1989. Routinely described as "whipping up nationalist fervor" or something equally sinister, the speech is never actually quoted. A recent scholarly analysis reveals why. It is chilling reading, for it raises questions about the very consistency of deception and its widespread character, neither of which can be adequately explained by anything except deliberate malice.


Suddenly, the press coverage of the "trial" in The Hague seems to make much more sense, as the subtext of all reports – designed as subliminal background noise – now becomes readily apparent. At the beginning of his opening argument, Milosevic referred to the indictment against him as an "ocean of lies." Take the metaphor further, and imagine a battle fleet sailing on that ocean, big guns blazing, focusing on one target. It shouldn't be too hard.

First come the flagships, the semi-official media of the Western World, whose cloak of credibility allows them to decide what is "fit to print" or broadcast. Thus the New York Times presented the prosecutors' claims as fact with gleeful relish, and omitted the cross-examination of the first witness, thus failing to note that his "points" were promptly discredited as false. The BBC was positively subtle in comparison, resorting more to editorial guidance.

Next in line are cruisers, reporters whose adventures in the Balkans won them riches, fame and awards. Any questioning of their "discoveries" would risk exposing them as frauds (at the very least), and thus deserves a vitriolic counterattack. Illustrating the depths of journalistic depravity, one is even so bold as to accuse Milosevic of wanting to "rewrite history".

All around them, supplying them with source information and smokescreens, are the wire services. No matter what their reports from the "trial" are about, they are routinely leavened with a paragraph or two that always mentions Nuremberg, calls the ICTY an "international" or "UN" tribunal, and mentions prosecution's allegations as facts. To save space, of course. Expensive, those electrons. If that were the case, why spend half the report about Milosevic's defense repeating the prosecution's accusations while leaving out most of the defense anyway? Some electrons must be more expensive than others.

Bringing up the rear are common slander and rants by special interests, who seek to use the trial to further their often ludicrous agendas. Milosevic's process is already used, crudely, in propaganda efforts to justify Empire's new "crusade against evil."

Finally, there are the raiders who cause most damage with a sudden, deep strike, pretending till the last minute to be friendly.


Individual liars, however bold, pale in comparison to this indomitable fleet. Mahmut Bakalli, leader of Kosovo Albanian Communists before Milosevic's time, tried on Tuesday to accuse Milosevic of apartheid, but all he did was fall apart under cross-examination (the one the New York Times did not report).

Seeing Bakalli's incoherent rambling might induce Croatia's current President, Stipe Mesic, to change his mind about gladly testifying at the Inquisition. He was, after all, the sidekick of Croatia's chauvinist leader Franjo Tudjman tasked in 1991 with destroying Yugoslavia by becoming its president.

Why not subpoena Alija Izetbegovic, former Bosnian Muslim leader whose diplomatic shenanigans are directly responsible for Bosnia's slide into war? Now retired, at Empire's "suggestion," he would welcome a chance to do something important. Maybe he could entertain the tribunal with his famous principle of diplomacy: "I think one way in the morning, another in the afternoon."

That's precisely the point, though. Most of the Inquisition's "witnesses" seem to be Milosevic's bitter enemies from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, who all stand to profit personally from his conviction. As precedent has shown – and the Inquisition gets to make its precedents into law, being omnipotent like that – perjury before the Inquisition is only a crime if it helps the accused.


The fleet's most potent weapon is "Greater Serbia" – namely, the accusation asserted so often that it has become the assumed truth, that Milosevic planned to establish an ethnically pure state for all Serbs. This accusation is at the core of the Inquisition's "indictment," at the foundation of Imperial policy of intervention and occupation, a staple of university curricula, and woven into the very fabric of reporting about the Balkans.

Yet, as Milosevic pointed out – and no one disputed him – Serbia itself is anything but ethnically pure. Strange, is it not, that while rushing to paint him as another Hitler, Milosevic's accusers overlook the simple truth that Hitler first exterminated his victims in Germany, then moved beyond its borders. Then again, Simple Truth definitely does not sail the Great Press Fleet's ocean…

Now consider these quotes:

'Yugoslavia'… represents the crown of the hegemonic-imperialist policy of the bloody rule by Greater Serbian fascists. […] Albanians are being expelled, and their homes settled by Serbs trusted by the regime. […] Down with the military-fascist dictatorship! Down with the Greater Serbian policy of ethnic oppression!

It sounds eerily familiar, does it not? Here's why:

Down with the bloody Serbian monarchy! Long live the union of workers, peasants and the oppressed nations! Long live independent Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia, Voivodina and Serbia. Long live the worker-peasant government! Long live the federation of worker-peasant republics in the Balkans!

This is from the first issue of the Yugoslav Communist Party's official newspaper, Proleter (The Proletarian), issued on December 1, 1929.


The canard of "Greater Serbia" is far older than the 1990s, or Milosevic. It was concocted by Austria-Hungary in the early 1900s, for its own nefarious expansionist purposes. Most Red leaders in pre-WW2 Yugoslavia had grown up suckling on this, so it is little wonder they thought of it as the perfect political weapon against the Serb monarchy chiefly responsible for Austria's fall. During World War Two, both they and the invading Nazis sought to destroy Serbian statehood using the "Greater Serbia" lie.

In the 1990s, the chorus was picked up by a wide-ranging coalition of neo-Nazis, Islamic fundamentalists, Albanian chauvinists (whose drug-running, wanton murder and sex slave trade VP-wannabe Joe Lieberman famously dubbed "fighting for American values"!) and even Montenegrin separatists.

One thing they've all got in common? Their "reformist" leaders could never have come into power, or kept it in the face of imploding economies, without appealing to their flock to rally against an outside enemy. Just guess who that was…


Milosevic himself accused his foes of projection – i.e. accusing the other party of something one is doing oneself. More accurate, perhaps, would have been to call it "reversal." When his detractors respond with counter-claims that Milosevic is the one really doing the projecting, the argument really boils down to the facts: who really did what, and if that can be proven by something other than bellicose assertions.

Yet the Masters of Mendacity have no desire for facts. They are so easy to fabricate, and they have the wherewithal to do so with impunity (another thing they love to project on their current prisoner). More importantly, if it ever came down to facts – even though they might even get a few truths in their column – they would still abysmally lose.

And when one serves those aspiring to rule the world, losing is not an option.

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 contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, many of which have been published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Thursday.


Archived Columns

Masters of Mendacity

The Trial

Exercises In Wishful Thinking

Ten Years in the Twilight Zone

Wastelands of Imperial Reality

Off to a Bad Start

Operation Enduring Stupidity

Balkans Christmas – All Year 'Round

A Trojan Horse in Belgrade

Where the Shadows Lie

Republic Day

Surrender in Kosovo

A False Choice for Kosovo

Death by Protectorate

Perverted Justice

The Meanings of Madness

Arrogance of Power

Reflections on Revolution

War Without End

Battle in the Balkans

Intersections of Fate

Macedonia's Tragedy Masquerading as Farce

A Day to Remember

The Serbian Standoff

Macedonia's Futile Surrender

Murdering Macedonia

Rambouillet Repeated?

Empire's Willing Servants

Kostunica's Choice

Betrayal in Belgrade

The Empire Shows Its Hand

The Return of Kings

Meditations On The Edge Of The Abyss


Terms of Betrayal

Presevo – A False Victory

The Balkans: Land of Delusions

Enemies at the Gates

ICG's Blueprint for Destruction

Kosovo: Between Death and Taxes

Madness in the Mountains: Montenegro's Looming Secession

A House Divided


Empire at the Gates

Macedonian Maelstrom

Pax Americana

The Fourth Balkan War

Mayhem in Macedonia

Surreal Realm

Santayana's Curse

The Croatian Conundrum

March of the Black Eagle

Showdown in Belgrade

Out of the Shadows

With a Grain of Salt

Crusade's End

The Worst of Times

Moments of Transition

Dιja Vu

The Crucible

Please Support Antiwar.com

A contribution of $50 or more will get you a copy of Ronald Radosh's out-of-print classic study of Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send contributions to

520 S. Murphy Ave., Suite #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Your contributions are now tax-deductible

Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us