Those of us with memories that extend back to the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s will remember the way Western governments and the Western media cast Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic as the villain of the piece.
Milosevic was made out to be a fascistic ultra nationalist presiding over a corrupt and authoritarian regime in Serbia who regularly murdered his opponents, tyrannised the people of Kosovo, and who orchestrated wars in Bosnia and Croatia as part of a megalomaniac ethnicist project to create a Greater Serbia. He was made out to be the puppet master behind the Serbs in the long Bosnian war, and was accused of committing genocide both in Bosnia and in Kosovo.
When Milosevic eventually fell from power following Western backed protests against him, he was put on trial before an international war crimes tribunal in The Hague on all these charges. Though he died whilst the trial was underway, the Western media from time to time continues to repeat these charges as if they had been proved to be true. Anyone who has ever questioned these charges, or who has suggested that there might be more to the wars in Yugoslavia than an evil plot by Milosevic and his associates, is regularly denounced as an apologist for “ethnic cleansing” and genocide, and as a stooge of Milosevic or at best a “useful idiot”.
It is therefore very interesting to see how over a succession of trials the international tribunal in The Hague, as well as other investigations and tribunals, have comprehensively rejected the entire case against Milosevic as Western governments and the Western media have told it.
The process actually began in Kosovo where investigators quickly discovered that claims made during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 that hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered there on Milosevic’s orders were simply untrue. It continued with Milosevic’s trial when – as discussed brilliantly by the British writer John Laughland in his book Travesty – despite the prosecution using every conceivable dodge to convict him, the case against Milosevic essentially unravelled. There was then a Judgment in the International Court of Justice made shortly after Milosevic’s death, which confirmed that neither he nor Serbia had any role in the Srebrenica affair. And it has now concluded with a lengthy discussion of Milosevic’s role in the Bosnian war in the international tribunal’s Judgment against the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Rather than discuss this Judgment in detail I will confine myself to reproducing Andy Wilcoxson’s excellent summary of it:
“The March 24th Karadzic judgment states that “the Chamber is not satisfied that there was sufficient evidence presented in this case to find that Slobodan Milosevic agreed with the common plan” to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb claimed territory.
The Karadzic trial chamber found that “the relationship between Milosevic and the Accused had deteriorated beginning in 1992; by 1994, they no longer agreed on a course of action to be taken. Furthermore, beginning as early as March 1992, there was apparent discord between the Accused and Milosevic in meetings with international representatives, during which Milosevic and other Serbian leaders openly criticised Bosnian Serb leaders of committing ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the war for their own purposes.”
The judges noted that Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic both favored the preservation of Yugoslavia and that Milosevic was initially supportive, but that their views diverged over time. The judgment states that “from 1990 and into mid-1991, the political objective of the Accused and the Bosnian Serb leadership was to preserve Yugoslavia and to prevent the separation or independence of BiH, which would result in a separation of Bosnian Serbs from Serbia; the Chamber notes that Slobodan Milosevic endorsed this objective and spoke against the independence of BiH.”
The Chamber found that “the declaration of sovereignty by the SRBiH Assembly in the absence of the Bosnian Serb delegates on 15 October 1991, escalated the situation,” but that Milosevic was not on board with the establishment of Republika Srpska in response. The judgment says that “Slobodan Milosevic was attempting to take a more cautious approach”
The judgment states that in intercepted communications with Radovan Karadzic, “Milosevic questioned whether it was wise to use ‘an illegitimate act in response to another illegitimate act’ and questioned the legality of forming a Bosnian Serb Assembly.” The judges also found that “Slobodan Milosevic expressed his reservations about how a Bosnian Serb Assembly could exclude the Muslims who were ‘for Yugoslavia’.”
The judgment notes that in meetings with Serb and Bosnian Serb officials “Slobodan Milosevic stated that ‘[a]ll members of other nations and ethnicities must be protected’ and that ‘[t]he national interest of the Serbs is not discrimination’.” Also that “Milosevic further declared that crime needed to be fought decisively.”
The trial chamber notes that “In private meetings, Milosevic was extremely angry at the Bosnian Serb leadership for rejecting the Vance-Owen Plan and he cursed the Accused.” They also found that “Milosevic tried to reason with the Bosnian Serbs saying that he understood their concerns, but that it was most important to end the war.”
The judgment states that “Milosevic also questioned whether the world would accept that the Bosnian Serbs who represented only one third of the population of BiH would get more than 50% of the territory and he encouraged a political agreement.”
At a meeting of the Supreme Defense Council the judgment says that “Milosevic told the Bosnian Serb leadership that they were not entitled to have more than half the territory in BiH, stating that: ‘there is no way that more than that could belong to us! Because, we represent one third of the population. […] We are not entitled to in excess of half of the territory – you must not snatch away something that belongs to someone else! […] How can you imagine two thirds of the population being crammed into 30% of the territory, while 50% is too little for you?! Is it humane, is it fair?!’”
In other meetings with Serb and Bosnian Serb officials, the judgment notes that Milosevic “declared that the war must end and that the Bosnian Serbs’ biggest mistake was to want a complete defeat of the Bosnian Muslims.” Because of the rift between Milosevic and the Bosnian-Serbs, the judges note that “the FRY reduced its support for the RS and encouraged the Bosnian Serbs to accept peace proposals.””
In other words there was no Greater Serbia project on the part of Milosevic, Karadzic or anyone else, Milosevic (and Karadzic) wanted to hold Yugoslavia together (as Western leaders at the time also professed they wanted to do), Milosevic was not the puppet master of the Bosnian war and had only limited influence over the Bosnian Serb leadership led by Karadzic with whom he was on increasingly bad terms, and so far from being committed to violent solutions, war crimes or ethnic cleansing Milosevic always spoke out against them and at all times strove for peace.
Needless to say the Western media has failed to report this Judgment. Nor have any of the Western politicians or journalists who monstered Milosevic during the 1990s come forward to admit that what they said about him – which was used to justify the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 – was untrue. On the contrary I expect them to ignore this Judgment and go on saying what they said about Milosevic before, just as the media in the West ignores or fails to report other court Judgments or investigations that contradict its chosen narrative, such as the succession of Judgments confirming that the Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was a fraudster that the European Court of Human Rights has made, or the Tagliavini report which has established that it was Georgia not Russia that began the war in South Ossetia in 2008.
To those of us however who pay more attention to such things, it is impossible to avoid drawing comparisons between the West’s treatment of Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s and the West’s treatment of Vladimir Putin today. Almost identical claims about Putin’s role in the wars in Ukraine are being made today as were made in the 1990s about Milosevic’s role in the wars in Yugoslavia. Those of us who question these claims find ourselves called “Putin apologists” or “useful idiots”, just as those who question the claims made about Milosevic’s role in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s find themselves called “Milosevic apologists” or “useful idiots”. Hopefully this time it will not take 20 years before these claims, like those once made against Milosevic, are properly examined and found to be untrue.