January 25, 2000
When this column appears on the Web, Carla DelPonte will have left Belgrade already, and the outcome of her visit will be known. But on the day it is written, she has just arrived in the Serbian and Yugoslav capital, and the result of her showdown with President Kostunica is still to be seen.
DelPonte arrived in Belgrade projecting the confidence and arrogance of power – two tools which, so far, have enabled her Inquisition-style court to intimidate, bully and evade all opposition and criticism. Kostunica, however, is not a man who suffers fools gladly, nor can he be intimidated or bullied. Though a fairly big city in Balkans terms, Belgrade is not nearly big enough for both of them.
Carla DelPonte, Madame Grand Imperial Inquisitor of Balkan Savages, is coming to demand surrender and obeisance. She is armed with a list of wanted Serbs, bolstered by a reissued warrant for Milosevic’s arrest, and backed up by the brute force of NATO, at whose behest her predecessor Louise Arbour indicted Milosevic in the first place.
Playing on DelPonte’s team are some of Kostunica’s coalition partners – each looking to improve his own political standing at the President’s expense, of course. Milosevic "has to be discussed with the Tribunal," says Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic [Neboysha Chovi’ch]. Serbia’s Prime-Minister-to-be, Zoran Djindjic, adds that ICTY is legitimate because it was "set up by the United Nations Security Council." Vladan Batic [Batich], a minor but vocal politician tapped to be Serbia’s future Justice Minister, went a step further: "All those who wish to cooperate with the world, must cooperate with the Hague-based court," he declared Tuesday, eager to meet DelPonte.
Kostunica, then, stands more or less alone. Those who oppose the Inquisition’s demands are currently on the margins of power – whether they were close to Milosevic or to the conservative patriots on the right. Most other Serbs would like to see Milosevic tried for the misery he had caused them. The real question is whether that desire is strong enough to create a pressure to give in and surrender Milosevic, together with Serbia’s sovereignty. There is an enormous pressure to do so, coming from the West as well as from within Serbia itself, from those who have bought into the theory of Serbia’s Original Sin and culpability for all the misfortunes of the Balkans.
Needless to say, Kostunica does not subscribe to this hokum. During his recent visit to Sarajevo, he again refused the Muslim religious leader’s demands to "apologize" for Serb actions during the 1992-95 Bosnian War. According to reliable sources, a reason he agreed to meet DelPonte at all, after initially refusing to do so, was in order to make the infamous list of secret indictments available to Serbian public. Dr. Kostunica (he has a Law Ph.D.) really seems the type capable of saying "no" when necessary, though he is by far too polite to tell DelPonte and her ilk to sod off.
Politeness, however, should not be confused with timidity – a mistake DelPonte and her masters seem all too willing to make. In a Monday interview to Turin’s La Stampa, he fired back at NATO and the US. The bombing of "bridges, passenger trains, convoys of refugees, hospitals, refineries… cannot be described except as a crime," he said, adding that depleted uranium poisoning was the real reason he agreed to talk to DelPonte. "I will ask her what she, as a prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, plans to do in regard to that crime," Kostunica said. He pointedly accused the United States as "the most responsible" for these crimes, "in accordance with [its] military and political influence in NATO."
Kostunica’s most potent weapon could prove to be the truth itself. Just last week, the Finnish forensic experts finally published their findings (see bottom of page) on the infamous "Racak Massacre", two years after the fact. A Berlin newspaper quoted their report, in which Dr. Helena Ranta and her colleagues specifically said that there is no evidence any of the people killed at Racak were executed, and that the remote possibility exists in only one instance. What a far cry from American intelligence operative William Walker’s assertion that the Serbs have "without a doubt" committed a horrendous crime against Albanian civilians! Serbian officials have maintained all this time that the alleged "massacre victims" were really KLA members killed in battle with security troops, out of which the KLA then fabricated a massacre. A French television crew which followed them along with the Serbian police into battle saw no massacre, but the headlines inevitably went to Walker’s statement as he stood by grave-looking KLA commanders the following morning and pointed to "Serb crimes." Despite numerous analyses to the contrary, Walker’s initial interpretation was accepted at face value. Racak was used as the excuse for Madeleine Albright to put a gun to Milosevic’s head in Rambouillet and then order the savage bombing of Serbia in March. Every report of atrocities from Kosovo – most of which have since been discredited as fabrications, outright lies and confessed propaganda ploys – was given credence by the "fact" that Serbian police "massacred" Albanians at Racak. Finally, Racak was listed in Milosevic’s indictment as an example of his "criminal" activities. Surely, now that the forensic evidence – suppressed for two years – has finally emerged to discredit the NATO propaganda, this count in the indictment has to be dropped. But knowing the ICTY, I would not hold my breath.
Kostunica’s greatest problem with the Inquisition is not Carla DelPonte’s – or NATO’s – determined quest for justice in the Balkans, but the lack thereof.
While giving the new government lip service about "democracy" and "reform," NATO has applied tremendous pressure on Belgrade at every point of leverage in the Balkans. In Bosnia’s Serb Republic, the occupation authorities and US officials are obstructing the newly elected democratic government, simply because they do not like the winners.
In occupied Kosovo, a UN-backed Albanian kangaroo court recently convicted a Serb of "genocide," despite the utter lack of evidence. While any notion of US withdrawal from Kosovo is met with highly publicized threats and ravings of the Albanian separatists, the new governor wants early elections for the province’s government, guaranteed at this point to be all-Albanian and fiercely separatist.
Monday’s New York Times, while trying to present the Presevo valley bandits as a threat to both Serbs and NATO, really manages to describe the full extent to which Kosovo and Presevo valley are both being used as leverage against the new government.
Recognizing that during Milosevic’s rule "the West did not much care about another irritant to him and his forces in southern Serbia" – a euphemism for what evidence indicates was active support – Steven Erlanger of the New York Times finally states what Serbs have been saying for months, that the Albanian bandits’ goal "is widely interpreted as an effort to get Mr. Kostunica to overreact militarily and to harm his new relations with the West." Testifying – in the same article – that the Albanians’ reasoning goes further is vitriolic Serbophobe Baton Haxiu, editor of Albanian daily Koha Ditore. He said that his cousin was currently in Presevo because he wanted "to kill Serbs," then adding that Kosovo peace will be "finished" if the Serbs retaliate and "Albanian bodies come here."
Erlanger also noted that NATO was counting on Belgrade not to act, because the new government needed "Western financial and diplomatic aid to keep their promises of improving life at home and to keep pressure on Montenegro’s restive president." Could it be that NATO is keeping UCPMB as leverage, to keep Belgrade dependent on Western good will?
Biljana Plavsic’s surrender to the Hague Inquisition seems to have been just the opening shot of a major diplomatic offensive against Kostunica’s government – focusing on undermining Kostunica himself, since his associates are more than willing to comply and cooperate.
Would Kostunica be wrong, then, to see all this as connecting into a larger whole – with the presumptuously named International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia only a hefty link in the chain around Serbia’s neck?
To give in, or not to give in, that is the question. Whether ‘tis better to follow the example of Croatia’s Mesic and use the foreign powers to purge one’s political opponents – knowing that, as with Plavsic, that would be his ultimate undoing – or to take arms against a vast sea of lies and, by standing on principle, expose them?
Kostunica cannot give up Milosevic, not because he values him, but because doing so would erode what little sovereignty Yugoslavia has left – courtesy of ten years of secession, UN resolutions, sanctions, US-brokered deals, NATO bombing and partial occupation. Last week, Kostunica told a Belgrade news magazine that the state he was charged with preserving and upholding was more important than the Hague Inquisition, or even his political future. Continuing on, Kostunica said he would withdraw from politics if Montenegro seceded, since he would consider it a failure to fulfill his task of protecting Yugoslavia. A politician with scruples and a cause larger than himself may be a rarity in the Balkans – indeed, in the modern world – but Kostunica appears to be the genuine article. This is the man whom Carla DelPonte intends to bully into abandoning his principles.
Truth be told, she does not have much choice. In order to justify its existence, preserve the illusion of its credibility and bestow after-the-fact blessings on NATO’s aggression of 1999, DelPonte’s Inquisition must not only try Milosevic, but deliver his head to Brussels and Washington on a silver platter. Nothing less than a maximum sentence for the man blamed for everything wrong in the Balkans would do, in the minds of those who came up with such accusations. Even if the Inquisition’s methods were pure as driven snow (which is emphatically not the case) its motivation is soiled enough for Milosevic to know he would receive a fairer trial at the hands of an angry lynch mob.
During his Sarajevo visit, Kostunica said that "Nothing built on half-truths, manipulations or lies can last." Given that most Western involvement in the Balkans falls into this category, it is clear that DelPonte and her paymasters have a pressing need to either convert those mendacities into real facts, or get rid of people who are determined to prevent this. Either way, Kostunica is in for a tough fight.
The greatest irony in all this, really, is the fact that Kostunica has to fight a battle for Serbia’s freedom and justice over a man like Milosevic, who showed little respect for either. But with so much at stake, he has little choice. This challenge will make or break not only Kostunica, but the future of Serbia and Yugoslavia – not to mention the truth about what happened in the 1990s in the Balkans hills.
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