Reading reports of the death of Slobodan Milosevic, on 11 March, brings back memories of the media campaign unleashed against him in March 1999 as NATO was doing its best to bomb Yugoslavia back into the stone age. Then, in order to justify the brutal aggression against a tiny country with a population the size of London, media hacks went into overdrive in portraying Milosevic (or ‘Slobba’ inSun-speak), the democratically elected leader of Yugoslavia, as a “fully-fledged James Bond baddie” , with the jingoistic Sun headline enthusing “Clobba Slobba” . Now, seven years later, the media are repeating the same lies about the war and trying to get away with condemning Milosevic as the “Butcher of the Balkans” . (The Observer, 12 March 06)
Turning facts on their heads, the various spokespeople of imperialism claimed at the time the following:
a) That the criminal war waged against Yugoslavia in violation of international law and the customs of war, during which NATO committed horrendous carnage, was a war to “save thousands of innocent men, women and children from humanitarian catastrophe”. (Tony Blair to the House of Commons, March 1999) The claim of ‘humanitarian intervention’ was then relatively new, but has since been repeated ad nauseam to justify Labour warmongering attacks from Iraq to Afghanistan.
b) That the geopolitical purpose of the war was not to cynically gain access to the oil and gas resources from the Black Sea to the Caspian and to open up the Balkans markets to greater exploitation by competing imperialists, but rather to “save … the stability of the Balkan region”. (Tony Blair, ibid)
In fact, the US, Britain and Germany in particular are responsible for destroying the Yugoslavian federation – they are the real butchers of the Balkans. With the final collapse of the former Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany in 1991, the imperialists seized the opportunity to gain greater influence in the Balkans. Germany fostered the secession of Croatia and Slovenia, and the US was the main instigator of the reactionary Bosnian and Kosovan so-called independence movements. It was clearly the imperialists who were responsible for the breaking up of the Yugoslav federation.
The anger imperialism then vented against Milosevic’s Yugoslavia was a direct consequence of the fact that Milosevic and the Yugoslav people had had the temerity to defend the integrity and sovereignty of the Yugoslav federation; they had got in the way of the imperialists’ plans to break up the country into tiny warring statelets. When Milosevic refused to sign up to the political diktats issued at Rambouillet (that Yugoslav forces in the south be replaced by a NATO ‘peace-keeping’ force, ie, by an army of occupation), this was taken as the pretext for invasion. For this defiance, Serbia and Montenegro in particular were battered by a NATO coalition (consisting of 19 of the richest countries in the world) for 11 excruciating weeks (March-June 1999). During this time, immense civilian carnage (‘collateral’ damage) was wrought as 23,000 missiles and 13,000 tons of bombs rained down on the Yugoslav people, leaving £100bn worth of damage, 14,000 unexploded cluster bombs, 2,000 dead and 6,000 wounded in their wake. On top of which are the unknown and uncounted past and future victims of cancers and birth deformities resulting from the criminal use of depleted uranium-tipped missiles.
The Cuban Ambassador to the UN spoke for the whole of progressive humanity when he exposed NATO’s unjust war of bloody destruction in the following terms:
“It has been a genocide. The systematic actions to deprive millions of people of food, heat, drinking water and medical services; the deliberate and daily strikes on non-military targets where civilians were known to be, and the use of internationally banned weapons like the uranium-coated cluster bombs; or the indiscriminate use of seismic bombs in urban areas and graphite bombs against power grids – so as to paralyse every vital service – cannot be described otherwise. These acts are in violation of the Geneva Conventions, international humanitarian law and war practices and customs. Those responsible must be exemplarily punished.” (Speech to the UN, 10 June 99, cited in Lalkar, July/August 1999)
Bribery and intimidation
What it could not achieve by bombing, imperialism then sought to impose by economic thuggery in the parliamentary elections that took place the following year, in September 2000. Resorting to outright blackmail, the imperialists made it clear to the Yugoslav people that economic assistance and the lifting of sanctions were conditional on the defeat of Milosevic and the Serbian Socialist Party electorally. The US, as was later openly admitted, used the National Endowment for Democracy (a US Congress outfit) to subvert the democratic process by donating $100m to the DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia – the umbrella opposition force). Germany, the second strongest imperialist contender for its share of the Balkans, funded the opposition to the tune of £6m using the allegedly ‘neutral’, ‘humanitarian’ German Red Cross to secretly move funds to DOS. Through bribery, threats and thuggery (bulldozing the national TV station, storming the parliament building, etc., in well-orchestrated, manipulated ‘disturbances’), Milosevic was forced to admit ‘defeat’ on 6 October before the second round of elections could take place.
As soon as a government of traitors was in place, NATO turned up the heat again, making it clear that Yugoslavia would get no loans, and there would be no normalisation of trade relations, until it handed Milosevic over to the so-called International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Djindjic, the notorious gangster installed as the new, imperialist-friendly prime minister, having failed to persuade parliament to agree to Milosevic’s extradition, resorted to enacting an illegal decree, which was then used to justify the kidnapping and handover of Milosevic on 28 June 2001 to imperialist forces.
With the handover of Milosevic to the kangaroo ‘court’ of the neo-Nazi NATO alliance, the last hurdle to the sale of Yugoslavia to international finance capital had been removed. As the Independent succinctly put it at the time, the “gold rush began” with “the first wave of carpet baggers descending on the country, representing the international banks, consultancy firms and organisations hoping to capitalise on the investment to come”.
However, the crimes of imperialism were not hidden for long, as Milosevic turned the tables on his prosecutors in The Hague. On 3 July 2001, as 300 million television viewers watched, he defiantly declared: “This trial’s aim is to produce false justification for the war crimes of NATO committed in Yugoslavia.” Realising that Milosevic was succeeding in exposing the fraudulent nature of the tribunal to millions across the world, the ‘justice-loving’ judge switched off his microphone several times, and since then the proceedings have received next to no coverage.
At the time of the war, protesters often carried slogans describing NATO as the North American Terrorist Organisation. The imperialists sought to turn this truth on its head, using the show trial of Milosevic as part of their propaganda campaign, but instead Milosevic worked tirelessly to thwart their plans and use the ‘trial’ proceedings to demonstrate to the world that it was the NATO leaders – Clinton and Albright, Blair and Cook (Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary with ‘ethical’ ‘principles’!), Schroeder et al – who were responsible for the deaths of thousands in the Balkans, and that it is they who should be convicted of war crimes, not the victims of that Nazi-like aggression. For this defiance, Milosevic continued to earn the hatred of the imperialists and the vicious slanders of the bourgeois media.
Just as lies about WMD in Iraq have been exposed, so lies about Kosovo have been shown up, even in bourgeois circles, although conveniently forgotten by obituary writers this March. The lies that were used to justify the genocide in Yugoslavia had in fact been thoroughly exposed in the aftermath of the war, and the “human catastrophe” in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo was shown to be caused by NATO rather than being prevented by it, as documented by a report entitled ‘Human Rights In Kosovo’ published by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, December 1999.
As John Langhland, writing with rare honesty for a bourgeois journalist, argued in an article entitled ‘The case against Slobodan Milosevic would never have held up in a proper court of law’, the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) was a “highly politicised organ, created on the initiative of the very states which attacked Yugoslavia in 1999, and whose judges have disgraced themselves by bending the rules to facilitate the prosecution’s task” . (The Guardian, 14 March 06)
The trial had turned into an embarrassment for the western imperialists, and could have got much worse as Milosevic had, at the end of February, asked the tribunal to issue a subpoena ordering US President Bill Clinton to testify, with the aim of exposing the US’s responsibility for crimes against humanity.
The death, soon after, of a leader who was continuing to expose the criminal aggression against his country, is at the very least suspicious. It was well known that he was suffering from serious heart problems, yet his request for medical treatment in Russia was denied (compare this with the ‘unable to stand trial because of ill health and age’ excuse rolled out for the notorious criminal Pinochet). A blood sample taken from Milosevic last month showed that traces of a powerful drug used to treat leprosy had been administered – a drug which Milosevic had no access to, and which was known to neutralise the effects of medication he was taking for heart disease. The only possible explanation for the presence of the drug in Milosevic’s blood is that it was deliberately administered by his captors in a (successful) attempt to bring on a fatal heart attack.
And, having done away with this troublesome prisoner, the cold-blooded prosecutor had the temerity to claim that Milosevic had “cheated justice”. As John Langhland concluded, it says much about the international justice of the Hague tribunal when its chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, says “Milosevic escaped justice by dying, for this assumed that ‘justice’ means not due process but a guilty verdict”. (Ibid)
With the death in custody of Slobodan Milosevic, the imperialists no doubt hope they can close the door on one chapter of their bloody history. However, we remember that the Balkans War of 1999 was one of the horrific crimes in the hundred-year history of the Labour Party’s service in the interests of finance capital. With very few exceptions (notably the SLP and the anti-imperialist journal Lalkar), the left in Britain, from the Livingstones and Shorts to the Redgraves and Troto-revisionist fraternity, supported the crooks in power (Blair and Cook) in their blood-thirsty war against Yugoslavia.
Our position is clear: it is the duty of the British proletariat to support those who resist the barbaric attacks on their countries by the rich and powerful, be it in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran. Those responsible for waging predatory wars are the modern-day Nazi criminals and should be tried as such under a proper Nuremburg-type tribunal. As the US Supreme Court Judge, Robert Jackson, said at Nuremburg in 1946: “If certain acts and violations of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. We are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Judge Jackson laid down these rules of criminal conduct in 1946 – it is time the chickens came home to roost.