Civilized world?

Belgrade: Whatever the acts of genocide Slobodan Milosevic has committed – crimes against humanity or war crimes – the process against him is in opposition to international criminal law and presents a dangerous precedent. Instead of being tried on the territory of former Yugoslavia, which would have been the usual procedure, he was, with the aid of foreign intervention, transferred to the Hague and brought to trial to an unacceptable “special” Tribunal.

The opponents to special courts, that is, those that have been created in a special manner – so called ad hoc courts – ought to and should deny the very existence of International Tribunal for War Crimes for former Yugoslavia. Created in a completely unacceptable manner by the UN Security Council, against the UN policy, denied by the representatives of certain countries (such as Brazil, for instance), that international court, founded in 1993, got the assignment of prosecuting parties presumed to be responsible for serious violations of humanitarian law on the territory of Social Federate Republic of Yugoslavia from the year 1991.

The rules by which the Tribunal functions are against the principles of non-retroactivity of the penal law and the legality of criminal actions and punishments. It is interesting to note that the Security Council allowed a great manoeuvre space to this international court for adopting “a statute based on which the proceedings which predate the hearing would be conducted, the protection appointed, and the acceptability of evidence determined, as well as the protection of victims and witnesses provided”. The Tribunal, which regulates its own manner of functioning, used and abused this disputable power to such extent that it changed the statute twelve times in the period from February 1994 to July 1997. Ideological role of the Tribunal and its significance for the global elite is a fact too well known to be worked into detail. The ideology of new military humanism received recognition through the connection of various components of domination, in the atmosphere of grotesque media spectacle.

The pompously announced “trial of the century” started with an unexpected shift in the prosecution performance. First, Carla Del Ponte displayed “new sensitivity” towards the Serbs, which rests on the accurate diagnosis of their political fear of the Hague. She invested extra effort to dissuade them regarding collective consequences that they could suffer, based on Milosevic’s individual guilt for the genocide. Naturally, Carla Del Ponte refused the notion of collective guilt before, but she never had the chance to do it publicly, in direct broadcast. Eventually, she officially inscribed the Serbs among “Milosevic’s victims”, title previously reserved only for the members of other Yugoslavian nations.

Even bigger surprise was the performance of her colleague from the Hague prosecution office, a Britain Geoffrey Nice, who firstly accused Slobodan Milosevic of having committed genocide, and immediately after this he mysteriously denied him the intention of committing the genocide, and then the intention of creating the great Serbia. This is all the more unusual, regarding the fact that the Hague is accusing Milosevic specifically of the crime of genocide, that is of the criminal plan to create “Greater Serbia” from the territories of the neighbouring republics, cleansed from non-Serbian inhabitants. In the Bosnian indictment against Slobodan Milosevic, the term criminal action comprises everything that all the Yugoslavian and Serbian state, political and military headquarters, have done since July 1991 to the end of 1995. Milosevic is held responsible for having disintegrated former Yugoslavia only with the intention of creating “Greater Serbia” from its debris, cleansed from other peoples.

But, when the time has come for the beginning of the trial of the century, the prosecution suddenly changed course and presented Slobodan Milosevic as, in the worst-case scenario, a dishonest nationalist, with whom it is virtually impossible to associate the concept of “Greater Serbia”, a man who, disregarding all his personal shortcomings, never believed in racist theories of persons like Biljana Plavsic. Milosevic from Nice’s story, this Tuesday in the Hague, irresistibly resembled Milosevic, portrayed in the well-known newspaper cliché, formed in the last eight years, a politician who had believed only in power and fought solely to maintain it. It is hard to say why Nice decided, in the last moment, to present this Milosevic, instead of Hitler’s heir and the butcher of the Balkans. The reason may be of practical nature: it is much easier to prove a cliché then a suspicious hyperbole, especially when the greater part of evidence can be found mainly in video-shots and in written testimonies of persons who do not dare take their place behind the witness-stand. Nice’s Milosevic is a man whom it is difficult to capture: with undoubtedly great effort that consumed millions of dollars, the above mentioned prosecutor was, at the opening of “the trial of the century”, eventually forced to leave the old Milosevic’s video-footage from Gazimestan. The most poignant remark Nice could come up with, concerning the Milosevic’s famous speech from six-hundred- year jubilee of the Kosovo battle, was that he omitted to mention the Kosovo Albanians, “and that in the speech in which he praised the values of multicultural societies”. But, by denying that Milosevic had fathered the concept of “Greater Serbia” , Nice managed, as it appears, to avoid the responsibility to explain why, with all alleged effort invested, Yugoslavia had managed to exist as the only really multiethnic community on the territory of the former federal state.

The trouble with Nice is that he, in his further presentation, forgot the new approach of Carla Del Ponte concerning the Serbs, forgot the command to dispel their fear of the Hague and collective guilt, and began to prove the involvement and responsibility of “Serbia” for the crimes. With this purpose in mind he, for instance, displayed a video-footage containing two particularly awkward statements by Arkan and Andrija Biorcevic. The former explains how he will take no war prisoners since all the “fascists” will be killed, and the second praises para-military formations as patriots who do the concrete work of executing the opponents, after the Serbian army have previously “processed” a village with artillery fire. Nice used this and addressed those present with: “…and Serbia was not behind this? Impossible”! Further on, he focused on proving that the crimes for which Milosevic was accused “could not have been done entirely on his own” and that this had required “numerous collaborators”. On various occasions he referred to Serbian and Yugoslavian government agencies as “the bodies that have performed evil acts”. This did not fit very well into this new trend of reassuring the Serbs.

Milosevic’s several-hour-long public performance in the courtroom was very well prepared. In certain moments he appeared quite impressive, and some of his arguments seemed very seductive. In his scenic approach he pushed Geoffrey Nice completely in the background, despite his being a specialist in formulating the most difficult accusations. The prosecutor was not very keen on clearing his opening address of dull and unnecessary general places and political banalities. He never managed to shake off his prejudices, obsolete stereotypes, or to avoid significant historical and factual inconsistencies. Yet he did manage to mention every existing cliché about the Serbs. Just as Carla Del Ponte stated that the prosecution would not allow Slobodan Milosevic to bother them with politics, her colleague Geoffrey Nice began a lecture on political history, which involved much more politics than history. And what kind of politics: Nice’s interpretation of history was, on the first day of the trial, blind to anything except Serbian nationalism. According to Nice, the demonstrations in Kosovo in 1981 broke out because the region, freed from Tito’s shackles, displayed “early signs of enthusiasm for changes”. Once he had ruled out any Milosevic’s sincere political beliefs save the will for power, Nice had trouble explaining Milosevic’s actions. Milosevic’s legendary concern for preservation of power could hardly have been a sufficient reason for disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991, which is one of the things he is indicted for. Nice imputes to him the fear of suffering the fate of the Ceausescu couple, says that his fear dates back to the year 1989, that is, back to the time when even the couple in question could not have thought of such predicament and when not even the CIA could have dreamed that the Berlin wall would be pulled down so quickly. Nice believes that this was the reason why Milosevic began flirting with nationalism, but his time calculations seem contrived.

Nice’s history is defective and “CNN-like”, just as is his pronunciation of Serbo-Croat words and names, all of which intensifies the surreal atmosphere at the trial of the former Yugoslavian president. This impression is deepened by black-and-red robes worn at the trial, wigs worn by Stephen Kay (according to the British tradition), but also the moments in which Nice, with the irresistible charm of imperial arrogance, and despise towards the Balkans, mispronounces Yugoslav names.

In spite of the comforting words of Carla Del Ponte, Serbs may have a reason to fear that in some future history textbooks it would be written not that Milosevic committed genocide in Bosnia, but that the Serbs had done it. Just before the beginning of the trial, the Internet was flooded by the information on the origin and history of genocide. BBC have noticed that only the Holocaust is always without reserve viewed as an act of genocide, while the opinions on other massacres are divided, including the one over the Yemenis, that the Turks refuse to admit. Would it be said after the Hague verdict on Milosevic – if the former president were found guilty for having committed genocide – that this particular genocide was proved?

Very generously financed and influential International Crisis Group have for a long time officially flaunted the data that there is some 20000 war criminals roaming free the territories of former Yugoslavia, and London’s The Times has published a statement coming from the Hague prosecution office, according to which only a thousandth part of a single percent of all the war criminals will stand trial. Around the world, the trial of Slobodan Milosevic is constantly being compared with the Nuremberg process: and yet who could, half a century later, remember the names of the convicted parties? It has been more than half a century since the ethnic Germans had been cruelly banished from many European countries after the defeat in the World War II, and it is only that this year the German writer Günter Grass has destroyed half-a-century-long taboo and encouraged his countrymen to speak of afflictions their compatriots underwent in Eastern Europe, through a story about the sinking of a ship with 8000 German refugees. Until the latest novel by Grass, Germans who had wished to speak of those atrocities were considered neo-Nazis. In this respect, the atmosphere in Germany is best conveyed by grumbling of the German intellectual left, that is, by the protests and demonstrations of young activists when the book by Norman Finkelstein “Holocaust Industry” is in question. Several days ago, the Czech prime minister, Milos Zeman, referred to the banishing of Czech Germans as to the most important moment of “de-natzification’ of the Czech Republic and establishing of its sovereignty. This is how it is with “genocide-prone nations” who were freed of collective guilt in Nuremberg.

Judging by the rumours from Washington, the Hague will not be raising new indictments, but this still does not imply that in the eyes of the world all the Serbs after Milosevic will be innocent. Latest clichés come in part from the CNN vocabulary, but can also be found in other media houses of much finer quality. The New York Times has in its editorial article, even expanded Nice’s indictment by blaming Milosevic for the war in Slovenia – “the first of the four wars Milosevic had started” says the unsigned columnist – adding that the Milosevic’s trial represents ” a triumph for the civilized world”. Civilized world?

The Serbs are not in a mood for triumph, which can bee seen from the Hague, since all the television channels here are congested with the news from the trial and reports, and there are a lot of foreign reporters on the streets of Belgrade. The general impression is that only in Belgrade there are some serious people left who regard this trial to be “like any other”, deeming it to be only a “media attraction”, while the neo-liberal government acts as if this trial could be followed with “eyes wide shut”. The reporters of foreign agencies and televisions cannot wonder enough why the Milosevic’s trial did not serve as a basis for the nation to approach “de-nazification”, collective-flagellant enthusiasm and serious soul-searching for their role in the crimes committed, since they refuse to succumb to the “media attraction”.

Belgrade and the world have in this particular moment one thing in

common: neither thinks that there is an innocent man imprisoned in the Seveningen. The main difference is that Carla Del Ponte’s claim that she is “acting primarily on the behalf of the victims” is viewed in Belgrade with somewhat greater scepticism, although there are people in the world who are trying to warn the public that Carla Del Ponte is dispensing justice according to the NATO lights, and that her prosecution office weighs up Serbian crimes in a much stricter fashion than it does the acts NATO performed during the bombing of Yugoslavia. The Kosovo indictment is an excellent example for this – it states almost nothing about the actions of the KLA. According to this indictment, Serbian army and the police attack Albanian villages for no apparent reason: when these events are being described, there is no mention of NATO bombing or the rebellious actions of the KLA. Neither NATO bombing or the existence of the KLA can, of course, justify the war crimes against Albanian civilians, but how are we to understand the fact that the prosecutors in the Hague persistently fail to see the role of the NATO and their allies in Kosovo, or the fact that they cannot notice anybody’s nationalism in action, save the Serbian, when it comes to the indictments for war in Bosnia and Croatia? The prosecution have accused Milosevic of “moral blindness”, but this still does not settle the issue of “blind angle” on their political-historical horizon.

In conclusion, this is all about a terrible scene where, in mutual connection and conflict, we see the contention between current and former powers, hypocrisy, and reminders of the horrors from the common history. It was created by the prosecutors and defendants, each in its turn, and the division of responsibility is, nevertheless, in concordance with the distribution of power. After all, this is a heuristic instruction for understanding of the Hague version of “international law”, in which every side will produce innumerable atrocities, without emotions and without the effort to justify any phase of this horror. The “civilized world” will remain assured that the clash with Milosevic was possible only by killing Yugoslav civilians, Milosevic will remain convinced that he was entitled to use all means to achieve his own end – to remain in power. As a mere statistical data, the dead will serve only as a proof or a denial for one of the opposing hypotheses Nothing more.

*Andrej Grubacic is a historian and activist thinker from Belgrade, Yugoslavia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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