March 2002 in the Balkans: how will future historians remember this unbelievable month? Will it be for the unearthing of a mujahedin threat in Macedonia or for the discrediting of that threat by the US and the BBC? Will it be for the peaceful dissolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or for the American spy scandal that has rocked what remains of that fragile coalition? Will the month of March 2002 be warmly remembered for the Macedonian donor conference, which got that impoverished country off and running or will the conference come to be mocked as yet another ineffective photo-opportunity for the West to preen and congratulate itself? Finally, will this month be remembered for the Bosnian government's firm handling of the residual Islamic terror threat or as the month when that threat spiraled out of control, and paralyzed America's diplomatic operations in Bosnia?
No one knows, but the outlook is not promising. The scariest thing about this month, which by all accounts has seen a dizzying whirlwind of unending action, is that it is not yet over. There are still a few days left of March 2002 at the current rate, enough to upend any tentative conclusions we may reach here.
YUGOSLAVIA IS NO MORE UNLESS, OF COURSE, YOU'RE A PROSECUTOR
As the Milosevic trial continues to meander aimlessly through a forest of discredited witnesses and unsubstantiated rumors, Slobo's main antagonist Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte has become increasingly frustrated and impatient. Seeing that the wily former Yugoslav president is in danger of speaking more intelligently than had been expected, the inquisition has moved on to the hills of the Republika Srpska. Here, NATO troops unsuccessfully tried twice to capture the tribunal's most wanted criminal Radovan Karadzic. As del Ponte astutely noted, it is very difficult to capture one fugitive with a large body of uniformed troops. Her solution? Plainclothes, secretive kidnap squads.
The pressure has also been mounting on Serbia to hand over Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander who the tribunal claims is hiding in Serbia proper. Since it is rather more difficult to attempt putting undercover kidnap squads in Serbia, the West has latched onto more traditional means of coercion and extortion the threatened to cut $135 million in aid money. The powers that prop up the Hague are betting that the Serbians would rather part permanently with two (or more) of their citizens than risk being stuffed into the economic straightjacket. After all, the tactic has worked in the past: exactly one year ago, in fact, similar American threats provoked the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic. Del Ponte has recruited notable personalities, such as Colin Powell, to help pile on the pressure. Indeed, this year's edition of Balkan intimidation cannot be distinguished from its previous incarnation:
"Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who coauthored the legislation requiring Yugoslav cooperation, said yesterday that with war criminals at large, ''our assistance should not go forward.'' Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, joined Leahy in sponsoring the bill.
Added Leahy: ''General Mladic is the number-one person to turn over. His responsibility for war crimes is unquestioned."
It's not surprising that such legislation would be co-authored by two of the most virulently anti-Serbian activists in the Senate; what is rather strange, however, is that apparently Mladic's "…responsibility for war crimes is unquestioned." If so, why bother trying him in a court of law? And yet, the final destination for Mladic like all the others the West can't just line up and execute is the Hague. This rather uncomfortable contradiction begs the following question: what is to be said for a court that selects its victims based on their pre-assumed guilt, and is run by the same people who fund their operations, costs and, apparently now, kidnap squads?
The only conclusion is that the Hague is not a real court of law. Although its procedures, powdered wigs and presentations mimic those of real courts, the pillars on which it rests are rotten. Indeed, the fact that Milosevic has not wilted away under the hot glare of the media, as his inquisitors had arrogantly expected, has raised fresh doubts regarding the tribunal's fundamental legitimacy. And that is the real reason why Carla del Ponte and Co. are so very flustered with no results to show on either convictions or captures, and growing doubts over their grandiose moral posturing, they realize that the clock is ticking. This would be reason enough for panic even without last week's hilarious disaster for the Hague.
LET THE FUN BEGIN: CIA SCANDAL UNFOLDS IN BELGRADE
Part of the fun of March 2002 has been in watching the train wreck of so many interconnected events, all coming to a head at exactly the same time. The apologia for the Hague cited above all came out between 20-22 March just days after the breaking of the biggest American scandal to hit Belgrade since the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in 1999. The strong PR attack (from del Ponte, Powell, Leahy and Co.) has come in direct proportion to the Hague's supremely embarrassing role in the scandal: as recipients of secret documents destined for use against Milosevic, obtained by the American chief of the CIA in the Balkans, paid for by American dollars, given to a corrupt Serbian politician. The worst thing about all this, however, is that the parties involved freely admitted as much.
The blunt admission of this botched covert operation is remarkable in two ways. First, for the incredible arrogance of the blasé Americans, who consider secret operations in a foreign country as just part of a day's work even after being caught red-handed. The second and more serious aspect of the scandal is that the Hague, ostensibly fighting corruption and gangsterism, resorted to the same tactics to get its way. This sickening hypocrisy just goes to confirm what is already so obvious that the Hague is no court of law, but merely a playground for extortionists and spies, bounty hunters and dilettante barristers.
GAUGING THE FALLOUT
For Balkan intrigue, it simply doesn't get any better than this. You can just picture it now: a nondescript roadside bar, on the anonymous outskirts of Belgrade; the waning light of late afternoon. Subdued tones, hunched figures; a telling silence, and a briefcase stuffed with cash and then, just at the moment of consummation, a rude surprise entry by the Yugoslav military!
The dramatic arrest on 14 March of Serbian Deputy PM Momcilo Perisic and American spook John David Neighbor, shows that Kostunica retains some backbone. Clearly, the man has guts. Confronted with the dissolution of the republic he ruled, faced with fewer career prospects than Al Gore, Mr. Kostunica needed to somehow assert his authority. He did so by denouncing the imbroglio as "a spy affair of huge proportions." Serbian PM Zoran Djindjic had expected his rival to just roll over and give up power. In this belief, he was sorely mistaken. Could it be coincidental that the spy scandal blew up only days after the FRY was officially ended? Luckily for Kostunica, his opportunity arrived, even before the ink had dried on the eulogists' pens.
In the ensuing furor, Perisic has resigned, and the US has turned up the heat on "Yugoslavia." The best thing about this reaction is the Americans' overweening hubris, in protesting that their man in Belgrade the CIA's Balkan superspy had been detained. Can we even begin to imagine what would happen if the roles were reversed and it had been "Serbian spy caught in Washington?" Would any Yugoslav protest have been tolerated and would a Serbian spy have been quietly dismissed? The answer is an emphatic 'no' on all counts. Mr. Neighbor, however, was "quietly spirited back to Washington," amid apologies and overtures from the Serbs.
BLOWBACK STRIKES: THE BOSNIAN MELTDOWN
In the wake of 9/11, no part of the Balkans has so been so embarrassing for the US and UN as Bosnia. Since October, Islamic terrorist cells have continually been uprooted in this UN protectorate, previously "liberated" by US intervention. Yet the Islamic military units, which the Americans tolerated (if not abetted) during the 1990's have now come back to haunt them. Middle Eastern charities and businesses have been exposed as front organizations for terrorists, and several terrorists of Arab origin have been detained some even shipped to Guantanamo. That this outraged the Bosnian authorities seemed to matter little to the US; now, however, temperatures are running so high that the US has closed indefinitely three major embassies in the area in Sarajevo, Mostar, and Banja Luka (Republika Srpska).
On 23 March a high-ranking Bosnian official declared that al Qaeda itself had recently met in Bulgaria to plan a major terrorist attack in Bosnia: "at the Sofia meeting, members of al-Qaeda decided that "…in Sarajevo something will happen to Americans similar to New York last September.''
These stories follow a frantic effort by Bosnian officials to crack down on Islamic terrorists in their midst. On 19 March, Bosnian police swooped down on charities and terror front organizations in Sarajevo and Zenica. On 22 March, the operation resulted in the arrest on espionage charges of one Munib Zahiragic, and the shutdown of his shady charity, Benevolentia. A tour of the "charity" organization's headquarters revealed "…weapons, plans for making bombs, booby-traps and bogus passports." Elsewhere in the country, a UN official was recently attacked with an axe. Seems like there's a lot of love going around for the Western "liberators" in Bosnia these days!
THE MOTHER OF ALL SCANDALS: DYNCORP'S LURID "TRANSACTIONS"
If one wonders why the Bosnians might be upset with their Western guests, one need look no further than DynCorp, an American company providing technical support to the troops overseas. This story has been forgotten completely primarily because the company's activities in Bosnia are being investigated by US military police and not by the Hague. And so even though every American should know about it DynCorp's history of sleaze has been totally whitewashed.
Over a year ago, the Washington Post reported about UN participation in the Bosnian sex trade. Also involved were senior figures in DynCorp's Bosnia operation. Nothing happened.
A year later, in January 2002, the DynCorp story broke for real, in the testimony of a former employee, whistle-blower Ben Johnston. Apparently, seeing "..middle-aged men having sex with 12 to 15-year-olds" was "too much" for the lanky Texan to take. In his daily job for DynCorp in Bosnia, Johnston " …witnessed coworkers and supervisors literally buying and selling women for their own personal enjoyment, and employees would brag about the various ages and talents of the individual slaves they had purchased." The "game" for these American cowboys was to buy and sell girls, weapons, and other commodities from Serbian and other mafias. Less lurid activities were the monumentally corrupt activities of DynCorp's daily operations. Johnston, who was fired for patriotically objecting to these deeds, provided graphic details on both the sex ring and the chronic ways in which DynCorp defrauded the American taxpayer:
"I wasn't too happy with them ripping off the government, either. DynCorp is just as immoral and elite as possible, and any rule they can break they do. There was this one guy who would hide parts so we would have to wait for parts and, when the military would question why it was taking so long, he'd pull out the part and say 'Hey, you need to install this.' They'd have us replace windows in helicopters that weren't bad just to get paid. They had one kid, James Harlin, over there who was right out of high school and he didn't even know the names and purposes of the basic tools. Soldiers that are paid $18,000 a year know more than this kid, but this is the way they [DynCorp] grease their pockets. What they say in Bosnia is that DynCorp just needs a warm body — that's the DynCorp slogan. Even if you don't do an eight-hour day, they'll sign you in for it because that's how they bill the government. It's a total fraud."
The muckraking investigation of DynCorp came out in Insight Magazine; it is a must-read for anyone who no, it is a must-read for everyone. However, this graphic account of the corrupt side of Balkans intervention was instantly forgotten and that is because the Hague took no part in the investigation. Apparently, US-sponsored tribunals have one goal and one goal alone: targeting foreign citizens who come from "hostile" countries. US spies, businessmen, and (as we saw in the Italian helicopter tragedy) servicemen face justice only at home.
One can give many arguments on the topic of the rights of sovereign states and international law. However, one would at least hope for consistency, and not hypocrisy, in the US' execution of law.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, MACEDONIA
Despite the quiet reality of Western corruption throughout the former Yugoslavias, this phenomenon has gone largely unexplored. Instead, the heat has recently been turned up on the corruption of the locals in Macedonia. In this embattled Balkan state, the temperature has been rising precipitously of late. Two NATO officers were arrested for taking photos in Ochrid on 20 March, a bizarre fiasco that resulted in an official protest from NATO. Meanwhile, the fallout of the donor conference in Macedonia has resulted in bitterness from Macedonians who feel they have been strong-armed into an agreement with the NLA. One year on from the start of the conflict that spawned that treaty, the BBC has again set up shop as apologist for the NLA.
Events took a farcical turn last week at a Skopje sports arena, when Albanian and Macedonian fans set upon each other. Macedonia, it seems, has finally arrived: three cheers for interethnic football riots!
Simultaneously, more organized militias seem ready for the heat of battle. The so-called ANA (Albanian National Army) has made an issue out of the Kosovo border dispute to declare a war of liberation. This paramilitary organization has just announced a new campaign to unite all "Albanian territories." Yet the ANA is allegedly also "…in conflict with the former "NLA" and the leaders of DPA and PDP, Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri." Skopje's biggest newspaper, Dnevnik, has reprinted an announcement from the ANA, which called NLA chief Ali Ahmeti and politician Menduh Thachi "great traitors." Apparently, a dangerous standoff, involving up to 200 Albanians, occurred between the two groups.
Another event (of 23 March) shows again how relations are wearing thin between former Albanian allies. In Vaksince village, Kumanovo region, returning police were taunted, and journalists stoned. The Albanian members of the police force were derided as traitors, a clear sign that the Albanian "liberation" movement has fragmented.
This prompts the question: if rival Albanian factions start fighting it out, will NATO intervene?
Even as Yugoslavia and all the Yugoslavias steadily become but an afterthought, the damage of a decade of war and intervention cannot be undone. While one nation crumbles into dust, another one of unknown dimensions and desires is solidifying. One gets the sense that, as Winter turns the corner into Spring, we are careening off of the well-marked, signposted road and heading into territory that is altogether unknown.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.
Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us