Chomsky Comments on Milosevic Ouster, etc.

Noam Chomsky


number of people in the ZNet forum system and elsewhere have raised questions

about the prominent role they see assigned to US-NATO in the flood of commentary

on recent events in Yugoslavia, "gloating over the victory of the

opposition in Yugoslavia–as if that affirms the NATO bombing" (as one puts

it). Others have noticed a similar focus with an opposite emphasis:

denunciations of US violence and subversion for the overthrow of an independent

Serb government in favor of Western clients. I’ve been asked for my own

reaction. What follows is an amalgam of several forum and other responses.


surely right that publicly the Clinton-Blair administrations are

"gloating" over the outcome, and that the usual cheerleaders are doing

their duty as well. That is commonly the case whatever the outcome. But we

should not overlook the fact that more serious observers — as anti-Milosevic as

you can find — are telling quite a different story. For example, the senior

news analyst of UPI, Martin Sieff, described the outcome of the election as

"an unpleasant shock to both incumbent Slobodan Milosevic and the Clinton

administration (Sept. 25), pointing out that Kostunica "regularly denounces

the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia last year as `criminal’," "implacably

opposes having Milosevic or any other prominent Serb tried as a war

criminal," and worse still from the Clinton-Blair point of view, "does

appear to accurately express the democratic aspirations of the Serbian



correct across the board, and Sieff is not alone in reporting it. In his

campaign throughout the country and on state TV, Kostunica "condemned

"NATO’s criminal bombing of Yugoslavia" and denounced the

International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia (ICTY) as "an American

tribunal — not a court, but a political instrument" (Steven Erlanger and

Carlotta Gall, NYT, Sept. 21). Speaking on state TV after taking office, he

reiterated that while he sought normalization of relations with the West,

"the crimes during the NATO aggression, nor the war damages, could not be

forgotten," and he again described the ICTY as a "tool of political

pressure of the US administration" (Oct 5, 6).


the British press, some prominent (and bitterly anti-Milosevic) correspondents

have pointed out that "The West’s self-satisfaction cannot disguise the

reality of the Balkans…it was not the bombing, the sanctions and the posturing

of NATO politicians" that got rid of Milosevic. Rather "he was toppled

by a self-inflicted, democratic miscalculation," and if anything his fall

was impeded by Western intervention: the rotten situation in the Balkans

"has been made worse by intervention,… NATO’s actions escalated the

nastiness, prolonged the resolution and increased the cost." "At the

very least, outsiders such as [British Foreign Secretary] Mr Cook should stop

rewriting history to their own gain. They did not topple Mr Milosevic. They did

not bomb democracy into the last Communist dictatorship in Europe. They merely

blocked the Danube and sent Serb politics back to the Dark Ages of autocracy. It

was not sanctions that induced the army to switch sides; generals did well from

the black market. The fall of Mr Milosevic began with an election that he called

and then denied, spurring the electors to demand that the army respect their

decision and protect their sovereignty. For that, Yugoslavia’s democracy

deserves the credit, not Nato’s Tomahawk missiles" (Simon Jenkins, London

Times, Oct. 7). "The kind of people who made last Thursday’s

revolution" were those who were "depressed in equal measure by the

careless savagery of the Nato bombing and the sheer nastiness of the Milosevic

regime" (John Simpson, world affairs editor of BBC, Sunday Telegraph, Oct.



dissidents, to the extent that their voices are heard here, are saying pretty

much the same thing. In a fairly typical comment on BBC, a Belgrade university

student said: "We did it on our own. Please do not help us again with your

bombs." Reaffirming these conclusions, a correspondent for the opposition

daily Blic writes that "Serbs felt oppressed by their regime from the

inside and by the West from the outside; she condemns the US for having

"ignored the democratic movement in Yugoslavia and failing to aid numerous

Serbian refugees" — by far the largest refugee population in the region. A

prominent dissident scholar, in a letter of remembrance for a leading human

rights activist who recently died, asks whether "the ones who said they

imposed sanctions `against Milosevic’ knew or cared how they impoverished you

and the other people like you, and turned our lives into misery while helping

him and his smuggling allies to become richer and richer," enabling him to

"do whatever he wanted"; and instead of realizing "the stupidity

of isolating a whole nation, of tarring all the people with the same broad brush

under the pretense that they are striking a blow against a tyrannical

leader," are now saying — self-righteously and absurdly — "that all

that is happening in Serbia today was the result of their wise policy, and their

help" (Ana Trbovich, Jasmina Teodosijevic, Boston Globe, Oct. 8).


comments, I think, are on target. What happened was a very impressive

demonstration of popular mobilization and courage. The removal of the brutal and

corrupt regimes of Serbia and Croatia (Milosevic and Tudjman were partners in

crime throughout) is an important step forward for the region, and the mass

movements in Serbia — miners, students, innumerable others — merit great

admiration, and provide an inspiring example of what united and dedicated people

can achieve. Right now workers’ committees are taking control of many companies

and state institutions, "revolting against their Milosevic-era managers and

taking over the directors’ suites," as "workers took full advantage of

Yugoslav’s social ownership traditions." "With Milosevic’s rule

crumbling, the workers have taken the communist rhetoric literally and taken

charge of their enterprises," instituting various forms of "worker

management" (London Financial Times, Oct. 11). What has taken place, and

where it will go, is in the hands of the people of Serbia, though as always,

international solidarity and support — not least in the US — can make a

substantial difference.


the elections themselves, there is plenty of valid criticism: there was

extensive interference by the West and by Milosevic’s harshly repressive (but by

no means "totalitarian") apparatus. But I think the Belgrade student

is right: they did it on their own, and deserve plenty of credit for that. It’s

an outcome that the left should welcome and applaud, in my opinion.


could have happened before. There is good reason to take seriously the judgment

of Balkans historian Miranda Vickers (again, as anti-Milosevic as they come)

that Milosevic would have been ousted years earlier if the Kosovar Albanians had

voted against him in 1992 (they were hoping he would win, just as they did this

September). And the mass popular demonstrations after opposition victories in

local elections in 1996 might have toppled him if the opposition hadn’t

fractured. Milosevic was bad enough, but nothing like the rulers of totalitarian

states, or the murderous gangsters the US has been placing and keeping in power

for years all over the world.


ridding the country of Milosevic doesn’t in itself herald a final victory for

the people of Serbia, who are responsible for the achievement. There’s plenty of

historical evidence to the contrary, including very recent evidence. It’s hard

to think of a more spectacular recent achievement than the overthrow of South

Africa’s Apartheid horror, but the outcome is far from delightful, as Patrick

Bond has been documenting impressively on ZNet, and as is obvious even to the

observer or visitor with limited information. The US and Europe will doubtless

continue their (to an extent, competing) efforts to incorporate Serbia along

with the rest of the Balkans into the Western-run neoliberal system, with the

cooperation of elite elements that will benefit by linkage to Western power and

with the likely effects of undermining independent economic development and

functioning democracy, and harming a good part (probably considerable majority)

of the population, with the countries expected to provide cheap human and

material resources and markets and investment opportunities, subordinated to

Western power interests. Serious struggles are barely beginning, as elsewhere.

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