January 19, 2001

Del Ponte in Belgrade

As NATO scrambles desperately to explain why it continued to used depleted uranium munitions when it knew full well the appalling health hazards, our foreign policy elites are working overtime to reassure the public that the Atlantic alliance is in great shape and – of course – needed now more than ever. NATO's kangaroo court in The Hague, aka the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, quickly stepped up to the plate arranging last week's spectacular surrender, arrest and incarceration of the former President of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Biljana Plavsic.

The New York Times, as usual did more than its fair share of the heavy lifting. Last week, it ran an article after article dismissing the DU scare. "Physicists and medical experts say it is biologically impossible for depleted uranium to have caused the leukemia, and they doubt that the metal caused any illnesses in Europe," in the soothing words of one of them. This week, the theme changed, though the message remained the same, in an excruciatingly long and tedious story about the supposedly dire straits Kosovo might find itself in if the United States were to pull out its forces. "Senior NATO generals, United Nations officials and Western diplomats say they believe that the American role in Kosovo is as crucial now as ever," the story opens portentously, "and they assert that President-elect George W. Bush's expressed desire to pull American troops out of the Balkans is both ill-timed and damaging to Western goals in the region." How the American people may feel about garrisoning their troops in the Balkans in perpetuity is of very little moment compared to the wishes of such important people as "senior NATO generals, United Nations officials and Western diplomats."

The "presence of the world's superpower as a mainstay of the NATO-led international force keeps Kosovo stable and secure," the story goes on, "providing the space for the United Nations effort to rebuild the province and promote democratic self-government." Cliché follows tired cliché, there obviously being no time even to reflect on the absurdity of these assertions. How can foreign military occupation make a province "stable and secure"? How can United Nations administration be compatible with "democratic self-government"?

It does not matter. What matters is the chilling scenario. The Times quotes a "senior United Nations official," who declares: "‘It's almost precisely the wrong moment to even discuss the idea of American withdrawal…. The fall of Milosevic was a shock to the Albanians, and they know the Europeans are much closer to Belgrade and much more frightened of independence for Kosovo. If the Americans left, there would be a resurgence of activity by the Kosovo Liberation Army that would block democratic politics and create big problems for the rest of KFOR." This kind of verbiage has come to be known as NATOspeak. For years we were told that the US presence in the Balkans – first in Bosnia, then in Kosovo – was necessary on account of that dreadful man in Belgrade, Slobodan Milosevic, forever "making mischief." However, as soon as Milosevic goes, we are told that the situation is even worse than before. NATO is now needed more than ever because Kosovo Albanians need reassurance. This is a small-scale version of NATO's attempts to justify its existence following the end of the Cold War. The demise of the Soviet Union, we were then told, made the world more, not less dangerous. NATO's doctrine is the reverse of Lenin's: the better, the worse – the bureaucrat's rationale through the ages as he clings to his paycheck.

Luckily for NATO, just in the nick of time it found an unlikely ally. The new regime in Belgrade, which owes its existence to last October's US-organized coup, is evidently under instruction to help NATO out in times of crisis. While public fury about deleted uranium is sweeping across Europe, its chief victims are maintaining a studied silence. To be sure, President Vojislav Kostunica did mumble something about people using depleted uranium having "a depleted conscience." One wonders how long it took him to come up with that witty turn of phrase. The evidence of NATO's "depleted conscience" is all around him from the bombed out petrochemical plants to the destroyed bridges in the Danube to the marketplaces still bearing traces of the cluster bombs. Yet this does not stop him from partying daily with the leaders of the countries that took part in that joyous bombing spree. The new Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic went on a pilgrimage to NATO headquarters in Brussels last week and expressed his confidence in NATO's determination to get to the bottom of the DU issue. NATO and Yugoslavia agreed "to set up channels of communication to exchange information" on DU. "We need to continue this very open discussion," Svilanovic explained, "to have guarantees for the local population that they are safe." NATO's commitment to ensuring the safety of the Serb population is, of course, well known and amply documented.

As is NATO's commitment to the impartial administration of justice. Yet the new regime in Belgrade seems to be satisfied that the ICTY and its ghastly chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte are seriously in the business of investigating war crimes. The Tribunal was permitted to open an office in Belgrade and Carla del Ponte is due to visit the country next week. During his recent trip to Washington, Svilanovic reassured our leaders that Yugoslavia would cooperate fully with the ICTY. Svilanovic made no mention of NATO's war crimes, from the attacks on civilian targets, to the coercive diplomacy of Rambouillet, to the destruction of TV stations, to the bombing of power plants, to the use of depleted uranium. Svilanovic did not ask when del Ponte would get around to investigating that? Svilanovic also did not mention that the ICTY has no legal standing since countries can only cede their sovereignty voluntarily. However, the UN Security Council simply imposed the ICTY on the countries that constituted Yugoslavia.

Svilanovic's undignified – and contemptible – performance was repeated by one minister after another in Belgrade. Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac declared that Serbs should follow the example of Biljana Plavsic and turn themselves in if indicted by del Ponte. He too seems to be under the strange, yet craven, delusion that the ICTY is a real Court. "Biljana Plavsic acted normally, in the way every other citizen suspected by a court, local or international, should do," Grubac explained. All indicted individuals should cooperate with ICTY. Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic also vowed to cooperate with the Tribunal. However, he mused philosophically, "we don't see the Tribunal as the highest achievement of law and legality as its political side is all too obvious." Mercifully, Belgrade's answer to Hugo Grotius, cut short his fascinating ruminations on international law to announce: "At the end of the day, we have the most right to bring Milosevic to trial. The best solution would be to put him on trial here for charges coming from this state but also for those that might come from Croatia, Bosnia and The Hague." That's nice. The new Serb regime intends to put on trial a man who won election after election, who led the Serb people through the terrible civil wars of the last decade, on the basis of evidence supplied by the very people whom the Serbs fought.

The Prime Minister-designate of Serbia, Zoran Djindic, announced that "if Mrs. Del Ponte is willing, I will meet with her." He went on, sounding ever more like a paid agent of NATO: "The duty of every politician is to discuss with the representatives of international organizations and, consequently, with those of the ICTY, which was set up by the United Nations Security Council." When President Vojislav Kostunica was asked if he would meet del Ponte he responded with his usual gobbledygook: "In due course, I will take care of that question and I am sure adequate means will be found for Mrs. del Ponte to be informed by my colleagues on the questions relevant to cooperation" between Belgrade and the ICTY. Upon hearing of Kostunica's equivocating words, Djindic declared that these remarks must have been made in the heat of the moment. "They do not express state policy," he warned. We thus have the extraordinary spectacle of a man who as yet holds no official government position, who has never won an election, who has never been voted into any office, who has never commanded popular support in excess of 10 percent, dressing down a President and explaining what "state policy" is.

Kostunica has, of course, brought this humiliation on himself, by resolutely failing at every turn to adhere to principle or even pursuing a policy with any consistency. For months he continued to repeat that the Tribunal was not a "priority" for him. Such an evasive position inevitably failed to satisfy anyone. Then he declared that extraditing a Yugoslav national to a foreign country would violate Yugoslav Constitution. His DOS colleagues swiftly contradicted him. Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac pointed out that that the UN tribunal in The Hague is an international body. Hence the constitutional ban does not apply. Then Kostunica announced that he was "too busy" to meet Carla del Ponte during her visit to Belgrade. While traveling in Greece the other day, he explained that "on January 19 I will be in Sarajevo...At an appropriate time we will deal with this issue and then we will find a way for Carla del Ponte to be informed about anything concerning the Hague. As the Reuters reporter acidly observed, "it was not clear why a trip to a neighboring state on January 19 would prevent Kostunica meeting del Ponte next week."

Kostunica then explained that he was unable even to focus his mind on the del Ponte problem: "I have not thought about it and I'm not thinking about it." Kostunica's next assertion was to explain that even if he failed to see del Ponte this time around he might met her on her next visit: "I believe there are still some legal shortcomings in the make-up of the court and I will raise this issue with Carla del Ponte when she comes again."

It came as no surprise when Kostunica reversed himself again and announced that he would meet del Ponte after all. He masked this humiliation with a lot of empty bluster about giving del Ponte a piece of his mind. He would raise the depleted uranium issue as well as the issue of Racak. Moreover, he explained, he did not much care for her "aggressive tone" when she informed him that she would be coming with "sealed indictments." Del Ponte is not known for her charm or tact. She described to the Belgian daily Le Soir, how she intended to behave in Belgrade. She would march into Kostunica's office and "tell him that these individuals are under indictment by the ICTY. ‘Here are the indictments, here are the arrest warrants. Do your duty.' I will give him everything, even the secret indictments." "Sealed indictments" are, of course, yet another weapon in NATO's war against the Serbs. They are antithetical to every principle of justice, which requires that people should know of the charges pending against them. "Sealed indictments" could be directed against anybody at all, even Kostunica himself. Indeed, it would be a perfectly plausible ploy on the part of the US-funded Tribunal to indict Kostunica secretly, thereby ensuring he continues to do as he is told.

Yugoslavia helped NATO out immeasurably this week. But it will not do the new Belgrade regime much good. NATO is not in a pro-Serb mood. A foretaste of what may be ahead came this week with the announcement by the mayor of Subotica and chairman of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, Jozef Kasza, that he had received an e-mail containing a death-threat. Signed by an organization called the Serbian Liberation Movement, Kasza went on, the letter urged the expulsion of the Vojvodina Hungarians, as well as slaughter of the Croats. The Hungarians, Kasza announced, were being persecuted by members of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS – Kostunica's party. Kasa intends to show the letter to the OSCE. "We have felt – and continue to feel – that an incitement to a hostile attitude towards Hungarians in Vojvodina is under way," Kasza told Hungarian radio, "This is not simply an anti-Hungarian threat but a campaign against ethnic communities on the basis of the Greater Serbian ideology." Happy days are here again! Stay tuned.

Please Support Antiwar.com

Send contributions to

520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Your Contributions are now Tax-Deductible

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Friday.

Go to George Szamuely's latest column from the New York Press.

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from Antiwar.com

Immigration and "Toleration" – The Times War on Bigotry

Powell and Rice: Closet Warmongers

Elites At War

Europe Challenges US Hegemony

Bush and Gore – Rotten to the Core

Holiday Cheer – A Vacation From US Hegemony

US Election Crisis: Divine Retribution

Vote Fraud, American-Style

Washington's Nightmare: The Rise of Europe

NATO and the New Europe

George W. – Closet Buchananite

Kostunica's Coup Unravels

Kostunica: The Trickster

Reply to Tom Fleming: Your Reality Check Bounced

Will the US Get Their Money's Worth in Yugo Elections?

Dubya and the War Street Journal

Armchair Warrior

Mexican Merger: United We Fall

The Kursk Affair: When Nations Collide

Republicans, Democrats and the Corruption of Empire

Joe Lieberman and the Gangsta State

Israel & America: Bound at the Hip

Driving an Edsall Through The Truth

EU vs. NATO: Battle of the Acronyms

NATO Preparing New Balkan War

Podhoretz's Paradox

A Franco-American Punch & Judy Show

Beyond Missile Defense: Resentment of America

Bribing Montenegro – It Didn't Work

The Unraveling of Indonesia

Clinton in Europe

Endless Enemies: From Kosovo to Iraq

Holy Toledo: The Canonization of Alejandro Toledo

Into Africa

Vietnam: Lessons Not Learned

A Monster, At Home and Abroad

Embassy Bombing: Accidentally on Purpose

"Anti- Americanism," Pose and Reality

Punch & Judy at The New Republic

The New World Order and You

Baiting the Russian Bear

Forever Munich: The Kagan-Kristol Thesis

The American Conquest of Europe

The Media & Mitrovica: NATO's Handmaidens

The Amazing Colossal Arrogance of Bill Kristol

William Safire: Man With A Mission

Uncle Sam Says: "To Hell With Elections"

The Fatuous Mind of Condolezza Rice

King of the Court Historians

The Podhoretz Treatment

Kofi Annan: Drooling Visionary

If Things Are So Good, Why Are They So Bad?

Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us