July 5, 2001

Betrayal in Belgrade

Be careful what you wish for, says the old adage. It might come true. As last Thursday’s edition of Balkan Express called for vision and strength of character among the besieged Balkans leaders, one of them did put his vision into practice. Needless to say, his vision was not what the author of this column had in mind.

Knowingly violating both the Yugoslav Constitution and the federal government Extradition Decree, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic organized and executed a "transfer" of imprisoned Slobodan Milosevic into the hands of the Hague Inquisition on the most symbolic day of the Serbian calendar.

The heist was pulled off midday, deceiving the public, the Army, Milosevic's family and even his defense team. Within an hour, Milosevic was packed off to the US-occupied Bosnia, where he was transferred to an airplane, and then to the Inquisition's dungeon at Scheveningen.


Djindjic put his well-prepared plan into motion after the decision of the Yugoslav Constitutional Court (equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court) to suspend the government’s extradition decree pending legal review. Citing Article 135 of the Serbian state constitution, he overruled the decision and ordered Milosevic’s extradition based on a decree of his Serbian government. The act was approved on the spot by 14 out of 15 ministers present. Another seven signed the act afterwards. Only Health Minister Obren Joksimovic, of Kostunica’s DSS party, voted against.

In his statement to the press Thursday evening, Djindjic said the Constitutional Court was "unfit to judge the federal government’s decisions by the nature of its background and its composition," so his government would treat their verdict as null and void. Of course, the Inquisition is by nature "independent" and "non-political." Nor did it matter that the Constitutional Court’s Chief Justice, indeed a Milosevic appointee, resigned before the verdict to avoid a conflict of interest.

Article 135 was but a fig leaf. In Section 90, it contains a provision enabling the government of Serbia to take over certain powers of the federal government, in cases in which the federal government is unable to function, or its decision cannot satisfy the interests of both Serbia and Montenegro. However, the government was functional, and Djindjic’s decision had, if anything, further aggravated its Montenegrin members.

No one ever accused Djindjic of lacking intelligence. Illegal as his actions were, they were most effective. In one fell swoop, he appeased his sponsors (and his country’s enemies) and sacrificed a man he both feared, loathed and emulated, while demolishing the position of his chief political rival, President Kostunica, effectively seizing absolute power within Serbia and granting his longtime friend Milo Djukanovic a de facto recognition of independence.


The following day, President Kostunica condemned the act, telling the people that he knew nothing about the entire operation until the deed was done. He also called it "illegal and unconstitutional" and "an attack on the rule of justice." Yet Djindjic had publicly promised he would extradite Milosevic before the June 29 "donors" conference – even illegally, if necessary. On the eve of the abduction, eight Serbian ministers in the federal government – including Kostunica’s hand-picked Foreign Minister, Goran Svilanovic – also signed Djindjic’s act of treason. Kostunica should have known. Even if he did not, he should have acted afterwards. Instead, he stood by and washed his hands like Pontius Pilate.

Seven days after that fateful evening, only federal Prime Minister Zoran Zizic has resigned. Kostunica remains president of an increasingly illusory country. None of the conspirators and executors of the treacherous act were arrested, or even forced to resign. Kostunica’s party stepped out of the DOS voting bloc in the Parliament, but officially remained in the coalition. Even Zizic and his party are now saying he would be willing to return to a "restructured" government. This admission of impotence made it abundantly clear that Djindjic had won. When push came to shove, Kostunica’s popularity could not match Djindjic’s cold, calculated determination.


The authors of 1999's war – the leaders of NATO, the UN, and the ICTY – met the "extradition" with unabashed glee. Carla Del Ponte, the dour High Inquisitor, was overjoyed. President Bush hailed the Djindjic treason as a "very important step." David Scheffer, former Clintonite "ambassador for war crimes," praised the seizure of Milosevic as "end of impunity." Former general Wesley Clark, who enthusiastically bombed Yugoslavia two years ago, rushed to claim that extradition represented an admission that NATO was right. He also claimed that the current government could not have come to power without NATO’s aggression – strangely, and for the first time, making a modicum of sense.

Major Western papers and news agencies indulged for a few days in outbursts of vitriolic Serbophobia unseen since the Kosovo war. Associated Press and Reuters immediately ran stories about the magnitude of evil Milosevic and his people represented. Reporters and pseudo-historians who made a name by demonizing Milosevic gave their two cents as well.

As this went on, champions of "human rights and democracy" showed some of their true colors. Thus The Independent opined that Milosevic’s trial ought to "use the machinery of international law in order to educate a people." Serbs need to be re-educated like the Nazis, for though their "crimes" were "not as terrible as those of Nazi Germany… the principle is similar." A Washington Times columnist went further, claiming that only by disavowing Milosevic and that part of their history could the Serbs hope to join the "democratic world," adding that Djindjic was the right person to force them down that path.

The Washington Post simply concluded that blackmail and aggression were useful diplomatic weapons, and recommended using them on Ukraine and Russia.


If the Empire is right to claim that Milosevic (and, by implication, the Serbs who actively or passively supported him) bears the greatest responsibility for Balkans bloodshed, then it cannot be blamed for anything it did to supposedly stop him. Therefore, the only possible outcome of Milosevic’s trial must be his conviction for "genocide" in Kosovo, as well as Bosnia and Croatia. He is now NATO’s carte blanche, a blank check on which they can inscribe ex post facto justification for their aggression, occupation and ethnic cleansing.

The show trial has already started. Milosevic is being held in solitary confinement. His personal effects have been stolen at the Hague airport. His lawyers were allowed to see him only a day before the arraignment. On Tuesday, he stood before the British judge alone and refused to recognize the Inquisition as legitimate. According to Serbia’s foremost legal scholar (no friend of Milosevic, either), his position is perfectly correct.


Possible consequences of Milosevic’s trial are very serious, indeed, and should not be ignored. Yet the effects of his "transfer" are already real, rippling through the international political landscape.

The Washington Post’s enthusiastic editorial reveals the futility of hope that by submitting to US and NATO demands, validating their aggressive policies and encouraging their delusions of morality, anyone can avoid new imperial depredations. Quite to the contrary, the Empire now has every incentive to increase its aggression, and seek out new victims and protégés. Ignoring what president John Quincy Adams said in 1821, this Republic has begun defining itself by how many "monsters" it searches and destroys, not caring what else is lost in the process – even if the price of this newfound power abroad is the end of liberty at home.

Tyranny is by its very definition a government that arbitrarily violates laws and the individual rights of its citizens. The tyrants create illusions to misdirect their people. Thus they maintain that no violations of rights have occurred, or invent higher interests to justify their actions – most often appealing to basic emotional issues of the populace. Mass confiscation of private property without any due process of law, for example, can be effectively explained by the "need" to fight drugs. Arrest and indefinite imprisonment without charges are thus "appropriate" in the fight against terrorism. Abridgment of free speech is most frequently cloaked in the banner of diversity, tolerance or protecting the children. Abduction, treason and a coup d’etat are supposed to be justifiable by $1.3 billion in foreign loans.

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, Malic 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

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

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


By forcibly transferring Milosevic to the Inquisition, Djindjic and his cohorts violated Yugoslavia’s constitution, as well as Serb and Yugoslav laws protecting the rights of citizens. They committed a coup d’etat, nullifying the authority and jurisdiction of the federal government. By surrendering Milosevic to the court that indicted him on behalf of NATO, during the Alliance’s war against Yugoslavia in 1999, they justified NATO’s aggression. This amounts to capitulation, which the already-violated Constitution still considers treason. Furthermore, by voting prior to the "extradition," even contacting the government ministers who were not physically at the meeting, Djindjic and his accomplices engaged in no random act of betrayal, but a premeditated, conscious decision to violate the country’s fundamental principles for the sake of personal, political and financial gain.

Milosevic’s "transfer," the way Djindjic organized it, brazenly violated the principle that no citizen of Serbia or Yugoslavia could be arbitrarily detained, abducted and "transferred" to a foreign country. Or, for that matter, to a foreign "court." This principle – due process of the law – represents the foundation of any free state.

This may sound strange to the media-indoctrinated ear, but Serbs cherish the idea of freedom just as much as Americans. Neither people should cheer at what happened to Milosevic. The greatest test of due process, after all, is how it is applied to those suspected of the gravest crimes, rather than shoplifters.

As long as this government is in power, Serbia – and Yugoslavia, if it lasts – will be unable to build a government based on principle, the only kind that can protect the rights and liberties of its citizens. This priceless fundament of freedom can never be bought by blood money, whether it is the proverbial 30 pieces of silver or the fictitious $1.3 billion.

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