Decline of The West
by George Szamuely

April 7, 2001

Humiliation and Absolution in the Balkans

The arrest of former President Slobodan Milosevic revealed the caliber of the men the United States installed to run Yugoslavia. A Government that timidly asks NATO’s permission to send a few hundred lightly armed men to fight KLA terrorists in Southern Serbian sends thousands of heavily armed men wearing ski masks and stockings over their heads to storm a family home in suburban Belgrade. Faced with such a terrifying show of force Milosevic, his family and friends responded the way most people would. They tried to defend themselves. After all, they had no idea whether this armed detachment had been sent to arrest Milosevic, to kill him or to kidnap him on behalf of Carla del Ponte. The regime responded in character by adding yet further charges against Milosevic. With typical gallantry it also announced that it intended to prosecute Milosevic’s wife as well as his daughter who, if media stories are to be believed, was so distraught at her father being hauled away to prison, most probably for the rest of his life, that she fired her gun into the air several times.

Milosevic was arrested just as the March 31 deadline supposedly stipulated by Serbia Democratization Act 2000 was expiring. By this date, according to the legislation, the Administration had to certify to Congress that the Belgrade regime was sufficiently in compliance with Washington’s demands that it merited $50 million in aid. This in fact is yet another lie. The Serbia Democratization Act does not condition the release of $50 million on Yugoslavia cooperating with the Hague Tribunal. It is only the continued imposition of sanctions, particularly membership in the international financial institutions, that depended on how Belgrade comported itself towards Carla del Ponte. Moreover, the March 31 deadline was completely arbitrary. The legislation makes no mention of this date. Yet, as usual by dint of repetition, the story of the looming March 31 deadline became the stuff of high drama. Even so, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic showed his usual shamelessness by denying that the timing of Milosevic’s arrest had anything to do with the deadline. "Conditioning of that kind is unacceptable for a sovereign country," he declared. Of course it is. No doubt when Djindjic was in Washington a few days before the arrest US officials must have reassured him that they would not seek to get their money’s worth from the bought and paid for Belgrade politicians. Yet two days after the arrest Djindjic was positively salivating at the prospect of millions of dollars pouring into Yugoslavia. "We do cooperate with The Hague," Djindjic boasted to Reuters. "Our government has met all the criteria stipulated by the US Congress law."

The United States Government responded entirely in character. Having caused billions of dollars of damage during NATO’s 1999 bombing, US lawmakers patted themselves on their backs for their unparalleled generosity in forking over a measly $50 million. The US Government shelled out $1 billion for tiny Montenegro last year alone as it sought to detach it from Yugoslavia as part of its anti-Milosevic campaign. Washington’s response to Milosevic’s arrest was even less generous. Having humiliated the Kostunica/Djindjic regime by making it clear that there would be no flexibility on deadlines US officials turned around and announced that Belgrade’s record of compliance was only adequate so far and that it would have to do a lot better in the future if it wanted more money. Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that US support for a forthcoming international donors conference depended on Yugoslavia’s "full cooperation" with Carla del Ponte’s Tribunal. According to a UPI story, "State Department officials privately told United Press International they believe Belgrade is foot-dragging on cooperation with the tribunal."

Djindjic was soon reassuring Washington lawmakers by saying the sorts of things they want to hear. Yugoslavia’s new government, he said, was determined to confound the expectations of foreigners about Serbs being reluctant to confront the abuses of the past. "We must try to organize some therapy," he declared. He knows his public. Djindjic also declared that the Belgrade regime intended to press war crimes charges against Milosevic. The truly creepy Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic announced that Milosevic could face the death penalty. He could be tried for inciting an armed rebellion, murder, even treason. "We have indications that Milosevic was also involved in serious crimes which carry the death penalty. But we are talking about investigations, we need proof," he said. The United States Government invariably works with the lowest kinds of people. Only low people are prepared to turn their country over to the control of foreign powers for a few miserable dollars. Mihajlovic throws out accusations and then lamely adds: "we need proof." In a particularly nauseating touch he suggested that Milosevic might prefer to be tried at The Hague so as to avoid the death penalty he would face at home. "Also the prisons in Serbia are far from being very comfortable," he sniggered. No, they are not like the luxury suites laid on at The Hague.

President Vojislav Kostunica also conducted himself entirely in character. His first act was to be out of the country when the first attempt at arrest was made. The military, fearing a setup, refused to cooperate with the police until the President himself signed off on the arrest. Thus a meeting was hastily arranged between Kostunica, Djindjic and General Nebojsa Patkovic, the Army Chief-of-Staff. Kostunica, unable to perform his usual "No one tells me what’s going on" routine had to step forward and admit that he had authorized the arrest. "In order for the state to survive, no one must be untouchable," he declared. "Whoever shoots at the police must be apprehended. Whoever has been subpoenaed by a judge must answer those summons. Whoever hinders the law must bear responsibility regardless of his rank or official status. The law applies to every citizen." Yet in no time at all Kostunica was distancing himself from the arrest. He said he himself had only been told about the operation after it had started. The police action was "clumsy and not well thought out," he announced. Transferring Milosevic to The Hague was not "his government’s immediate priority." This is standard Kostunica evasiveness. Interviewed by the New York Times, Kostunica sounded more categorical. Milosevic would not be handed over. "It should never happen," he explained. Even Djindjic was opposed to Milosevic’s extradition. This is yet another lie. Djindjic has never expressed any opposition. Kostunica demonstrated his usual slipperiness by also announcing his approval of a draft law on cooperation with the Tribunal that would allow Yugoslavia to extradite anyone sought be Carla del Ponte.

Kostunica then went into his "Serbian nationalist" routine and launched into familiar complaints about the Tribunal. It had not indicted leaders of other former Yugoslav republics. It had not indicted any of the leaders of the NATO countries involved in the bombing of Yugoslavia. "If that would come about," he declared, "we could start thinking of the validity of cooperation with The Hague tribunal." This seems bizarre even by Kostunica standards. Carla del Ponte herself has expressed her satisfaction with Belgrade’s cooperation with the Tribunal. It is noteworthy that no one in the world seriously doubts that the Kostunica regime will not hand Milosevic over to The Hague – probably within the next couple of months.

All this will be for very little. The financial aid supposedly heading Belgrade’s way from the financial institutions is a pittance. There is talk of a $260 million loan from the IMF. But far more important is the small matter of Yugoslavia’s $12.2 billion external debt. Yugoslavia owes some $5.0 billion to the Paris Club and around $3.0 billion to the London Club. The creditors want their money back. That’s what the IMF is there for: to make sure bankers and financiers are taken care of.

As for Milosevic himself, he will remain in detention indefinitely. Evidently, one of the things the United States does not export is the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The basis of any justice system is that a defendant does not have to talk to prosecutors if he does not want to. Moreover, there is also the right to a speedy trial. A fundamental protection against arbitrary government is that one cannot be arrested and then be detained in prison while prosecutors take their time to look for the evidence. But no one cares. Milosevic’s arrest and imprisonment without trial serves one purpose only: to absolve the true instigators of the carnage in the Balkans of any responsibility for their actions.

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