NEW YORK - `A semi-Mafioso state.' That's how Yugoslavia's new foreign minister accurately describes the regime of former despot, Slobodan Milosevic. Serbia's reformist prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, says Serbs must bear `witness to a mad time.'
At long last, the truth about Milosevic, who was deposed last October, is beginning to emerge from behind a thick clouds of lies and disinformation. Even so, die-hard supporters of Milosevic's crypto-fascist regime are busy mounting yet another propaganda offensive to falsely depict Milosevic's Serbia as an innocent victim of western machinations rather than the brutal, racist, criminal state it really was.
Milosevic was lately taken to hospital from his comfortable jail cell in Belgrade, suffering from heart problems and, no doubt, the fear he will be poisoned to silence him. An indicted war criminal, Milosevic was responsible for Europe's worst atrocities since Stalin and Hitler, and four wars that killed 250,000 civilians and left 3 million homeless. Yet he has only been charged so far with tax evasion and misallocation of state funds.
Ironically, Milosevic is likely innocent of the last charge. He recently admitted diverting state funds to secretly finance Serb nationalists, and gangsters like his former ally Arkan, in their campaigns of ethnic terrorism in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
The United Nations War Crimes Tribunal demands Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) extradite Milosevic and 22 other indicted Serb war criminals to the Hague to stand trial for atrocities in Kosovo. The UN is also preparing charges against them for crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia, where the number of dead, tortured, and raped exceeded Kosovo. Bodies of Muslims massacred by Serbs in Bosnia during the mid-1990's are still being dug up almost daily.
So far, Vojislav Kostunica, Yugoslavia's anti-western federal president, has refused to comply with the UN warrant, though he did jail Milosevic for 30 days in order to receive US $50 million in desperately needed funds from Washington.
Support for Milosevic remains strong in Serbia, particularly in the army, which is still commanded by Milosevic loyalists, and among farmers. Serb democratic reformers must tread lightly lest they provoke a counter-coup by hardliners, among whom are many senior officials who grew rich from corruption and the black market. Kostunica's hold on power remains shaky, in spite of the west's ill-advised efforts to shore him up as the new `stabilizer' of the Balkans.
While many Serbs are understandably reluctant to see the full spectrum of Milosevic's crimes revealed, there are plenty of American and European officials and politicians who do not want their long collaboration with the criminal Milosevic regime revealed.
Were Milosevic tried in the Hague, the world would discover that:
- France secretly passed top secret information to Belgrade before and during NATO's 1999 military action against Yugoslavia.
- Britain and Canada repeatedly thwarted military action by NATO to stop ethnic massacres in Bosnia.
- Greece and Cyprus helped finance the Milosevic regime and busted NATO's embargo of Yugoslavia.
- Britain and France sought to block German influence in the Balkans by aiding Serbia.
- Western powers conspired to deny independence to Montenegro.
- Italy's socialist government played a key role in saving the Milosevic regime from bankruptcy in 1996 by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Serbia.
- Russia and Ukraine broke the UN embargo, supplying Serbia with arms, oil, and soldiers.
- US Balkan proconsul Richard Holbrooke helped legitimize and sustain the Milosevic regime.
- Milosevic and the late Croat leader, Franjo Tudjman, conspired to divide Bosnia.
In other words, the long, sordid, cynical, saga of the west's preservation of the Milosevic regime in order to maintain the Balkan status quo. And the UN's own disgraceful record in Bosnia of putting the charade of `peacekeeping' before saving of human lives and stopping crimes against humanity. And the policy of appeasement championed by Britain's left-leaning Lord Owen, and Canada's own leading Milosevic apologist, Lewis Mackenzie.
The western powers must keep intense pressure on Yugoslavia to hand Milosevic, and his baleful wife and eminence noire, Mirjana, the president of Serbia, and other war criminals to justice in the Hague. Unless they do this, Serb democrats like Zoran Djindjic and his youthful, educated supporters will be undermined. Djindjic, who is locked in rivalry for power with Kostnica, is the best man to lead his nation and deserves much stronger western support.
Before Serbia can rejoin the family of democratic nations, it must thoroughly purge itself of the evil notions of its crypto-nazi nationalists: Greater Serbia, Slav racial purity, an Orthodox crusade against Islam, Serb `lebensraum.'
Kostunica has called for a `national catharsis.' This won't work until Serb nationalist-extremists and ordinary citizens face and atone for their past, as Germans have successfully done, stop blaming others for their largely self-inflicted misfortunes, and cease threatening the lives of journalists at home and abroad.
Many Serbs now blame Milosevic for losing four wars. But not, it seems, for unleashing a storm of nazi-style hatred and racism. Serbia's national catharsis is yet to be accomplished.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2001