Milosevic’s Reckoning

BY Joe Knowles

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In history’s vast and dark gallery of murderous heads of state, Slobodan Milosevic is the first to be brought before an international court for an actual reckoning with the law. “It says an enormous amount about the system that we are establishing under the United Nations for international justice that Slobodan Milosevic should be on his way to The Hague,” Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s U.N. ambassador, exclaimed to the New York Times. No argument there: It does say “a lot.”

Milosevic’s change of address, however welcome, was hardly a neutral transfer occurring in a pure and apolitical vacuum. Timed on the eve of an international aid conference in Belgium, where $1.3 billion in desperately needed assistance was at stake, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic had no choice but to order the extradition, on which much of the aid was conditioned. In so doing, he ignored the Milosevic-appointed Constitutional Court, which had suspended a decree by President Vojislav Kostunica authorizing the transfer. He then acted behind the back of Kostunica, who felt that the dubious court should at least be respected while an appeal was made. The resulting furor shook the fragile democracy, and the tussle between Djindjic and Kostunica–between the republic and federal levels of government–is straining the already awkward relationship with Montenegro, Serbia’s last partner in the Yugoslav federation.

That the extradition happened to take place on June 28, the 612th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo–and the 12th anniversary of Milosevic’s now infamous career-making speech–didn’t help matters. To the vocal minority of Serbs who still defend him, the uncanny timing only served to feed the myth of Milosevic as national martyr.

But as poorly timed as it was, Milosevic’s date with the tribunal should have come much earlier. That it finally came to this–basically a monetary transaction, foreign aid in exchange for Milosevic–says more about the intransigence of the local elite than it does about the West’s handling of that elite. He was never going to go graciously; Djindjic did the right thing by declaring, in effect, enough is enough.

Still, the West’s preening hypocrisy in all this business remains odious, not least because of continuing U.S. efforts in opposition to the International Criminal Court, an institution that would make this sort of justice a palpable threat to despots and war criminals everywhere, not just those who are defeated in battle.

This double standard was glaringly demonstrated a month earlier in Paris, where a certain visiting éminence grise was served a summons to appear at the Palace of Justice to answer questions concerning the disappearance of five French citizens in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship. The wanted guest in this other, less celebrated quest for justice was, of course, Henry Kissinger, who watched over and generously assisted Operation Condor, the seven-nation intelligence operation that maintained a campaign of terror against dissidents in Latin America. With the full support of the U.S. Embassy, the retired diplomat and pricey consultant testily disregarded the subpoena and left the country.

Meanwhile, Chilean Judge Juan Guzman, whose attempt to bring Pinochet to trial is slowly suffocating under the weight of his own country’s elite intransigence, has asked the United States to depose Kissinger for relevant testimony. An Argentine judge likewise seeks Kissinger’s intimate knowledge of that country’s erstwhile bloody regime during the Condor years. Good luck.

It is worth remembering that Kissinger always took a more accommodating tone than the rest of the foreign policy establishment whenever Milosevic’s name came up. Perhaps this is because the services of his firm, Kissinger Associates, were once retained by Yugo–remember those little cars from the ’80s? They were produced by the same state-run military-industrial conglomerate that Milosevic took over and eventually used against his neighbors. Now Kissinger’s kindred spirit faces trial, largely because the United States willed it so, and Serbia is obliged to confront the horrors of its past up close. But who will in turn oblige us to examine our own stained history?


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Joe Knowles is a former culture editor for In These Times.

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