By James Bissett
The news that Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia, has been exonerated by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of participating in a “joint criminal enterprise” during the civil war in Bosnia in the early 1990s should come as a warning to the citizens of western democracies of how easy it is to be misled by our political leaders and a compliant media.
It was the NATO leadership and the western media that demonized Milosevic and accused him of being responsible for all of the crimes and horrors that accompanied the religious conflict in Bosnia. Later, he was accused of committing genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
The ICTY judgment, contrary to what we were led to believe, asserts that the president of Serbia played a major role in bringing peace to the region by putting pressure on the Bosnian Serb leadership and that, without his intervention and influence, it is unlikely the Dayton Peace Accords would have been signed. It was because of his contribution that the then-U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, heralded him as “a man of peace.”
However, strange as it may seem, five years after Dayton, in 1999, when the bombing of Serbia by NATO powers commenced, a hurried indictment was issued against Milosevic accusing him of genocide in Kosovo. The “man of peace” had been turned into the “butcher of the Balkans” — the demonization of leaders unpopular with the U.S.-led NATO powers had begun.
During the bombing, the U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen claimed there were 200,000 young Albanian men missing and presumed to have been killed by Serbian security forces. Almost daily, the media reported stories of atrocities committed in Kosovo by Serbs. Yet when the fighting ceased and international forensic teams searched for evidence of widespread killing, they uncovered less than 3,000 bodies of both Serbs and Albanians — bad enough, but not genocide. Furthermore, a United Nations report disclosed that the large exodus of people from Kosovo took place after
the NATO bombing took place and was not caused by Serbian ethnic cleansing.
The armed struggles that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia were marked — as they always are in civil wars, where everyone is a combatant — by extreme violence, atrocities and human rights violations. Dreadful as these horrors are, they also act as a distraction to the real or underlying causes of the conflict.
The media especially is drawn to incidents that stir the emotions of the audience and such portrayals can be used by governments to further the cause of one side or the other. In the case of Yugoslavia, almost all of the horror stories in the western media were of atrocities or ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbs. The reason for this is quite simple. Western governments (i.e., NATO) played a major role in the destruction of Yugoslavia and actively supported the insurgent republics in fighting against the Serbian populations in Croatia and in Bosnia.
The most glaring example of this was the strong military support given to Croatia and to the Bosnian Muslims throughout the war. NATO air strikes against Serb military installations in the summer of 1995 played a primary role in helping Croatian forces ethnically cleanse almost all of the Serbian population out of Croatia. Similar air strikes against Serbians in Bosnia served to force the Bosnian Serb leadership to agree to the Dayton Accords that ended the fighting.
NATO, under the leadership of the United States, found a new role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO was in danger of becoming redundant. It had to find a new enemy and it found one in Serbia. However, how could it justify supporting a quasi-fascist Croatia under a leader who had written that he thanked God every day that he was not married to a Jew or a Serb? How could NATO justify supporting a Muslim Bosnia under a leader who was a hard-core Islamist and who had written, “There can be no peace or coexistence between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic societies and political institutions”?
NATO could only succeed in this by demonizing the Serbian leadership and people through a skilful manipulation of the media, which they accomplished in a masterful manner. In fact, NATO was so successful that it was able to get away with violating its own treaty and the United Nations Charter by bombing Serbia for 78 days leading to the severing of Kosovo from Serbian sovereignty.
In the 1990s the Balkan tragedy set in motion a pattern that was to be followed in Iraq, in Libya, in Egypt, in Syria, and more recently in Ukraine. Destabilization by undermining the ruling authority; demonization of the ruler by accusations of war crimes and genocide; manipulation of the mass media; and finally, if necessary, military intervention. Putin anyone?