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New Series no.17/18 July - September 2000

Milosevic's indictment and Western morality
by Slobodan Inic

Slobodan Inic (1946-2000), who recently died at a tragically early age, was one of the foremost and most courageous dissident intellectuals in Serbia, a regular contributor to the excellent Helsinska Povelja [Helsinki Charter] edited by Sonja Biserko. Longüterm readers of Bosnia Report will recall that in the last issue of the original series (no. 19, July-September 1997) we translated his article on Biljana Plavsic: `Geneticist in the Service of a Great Crime'. In his memory we are publishing the article below which, though written during the NATO air campaign over Kosova, retains its essential force.

Milosevic's indictment indicts also the Dayton Agreement

It is difficult to grasp the motives of those who have finally decided to indict Slobodan Milosevic and four of his closest advisers for crimes against humanity. The first impression is that this should be credited to the failure of NATO's air strikes to force Milosevic to accept the five conditions which the Western political and military alliance had put to him. Had he done so immediately after the first bombs had fallen or somewhat later þ indeed up to the very day of his indictment þ it is most likely that the West would have proclaimed him a peacemaker just as it did at the time of Dayton.

The best one can say of the indictment at this moment is that it has in a way helped the international community to redeem itself for letting him conduct ethnic cleansing in Kosova þ though not as yet for the ethnic cleansing in Croatia and BosniaüHerzegovina, since the position of the prosecutors at The Hague is that this needs further investigation! It seems that the international community is not willing to accuse Milosevic of committing crimes in areas where þ after and despite all his evil deeds þ it is able to make a deal with him, but only if and when such agreements prove impossible.

It is possible, of course, that NATO countries, once the bombing started, felt themselves bound to win and consequently decided they no longer needed Milosevic; all the more, since further agreements with him would additionally burden the international community's guilty conscience over its role in the wars in former Yugoslavia. But if NATO does not win outright, then things will become complicated from the moral point of view, since how is one to negotiate with a person one has indicted for war crimes only the day before? This need not be a barrier, of course, in view of traditional Western pragmatism. In every war, the warring factions as a rule hurl abuse at each other: every war is waged also by words. Maybe we should see the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic as little more than a form of verbal abuse.

But if not, if the leading politicians of the Western alliance have finally understood with what kind of man they have been dealing all this time, then the international morality now on display should embrace also his earlier wars in Croatia and BosniaüHerzegovina. After all, was there another, earlier, better Milosevic than the one now charged with crimes? Clearly not, since the man has not changed one little bit. So we are dealing not with a belated recognition of his true nature, but with the fact that the international community was not willing to indict him as long as it was able to make deals with him, despite everything he had done in Croatia and BosniaüHerzegovina.

Nevertheless, now that he has been indicted, it is only appropriate to ask about the fate of the Dayton Agreement, for which according to US President Clinton the greatest credit goes to Milosevic. Should one treat the Dayton Agreement as valid from a moral point of view, now that Milosevic is supposed to stand trial in The Hague? Those in the international community who believe that, regardless of this fact, the Dayton Agreement is valid and continues to be valid are not at all consistent, precisely in view of their earlier partnership with him. If they were, they would have either to proclaim him guilty of, and responsible for, everything that has happened in the former Yugoslavia, or to continue to negotiate with him to the very end.

How to get the Devil to The Hague?

There is also the problem of how, now that it has issued an order for Milosevic's arrest, the international community will catch its man. After all it has issued orders for the arrest of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, yet nothing has ever happened. The official statements say nothing about how to go about implementing a court order that could result in the trial of the century. It seems that the same story as with Karadzic and Mladic is about to be repeated. What indeed are the possibilities for Milosevic's removal from Belgrade?

The prospect of Milosevic's flight to security in a `third country' is hardly likely, since no one would wish him as a guest. His voluntary surrender, of course, can be excluded from the start. The third possibility would be that the Serbs themselves arrest him and surrender him to The Hague; but this too is most unlikely, given that the Serb people has seemingly tied its fate to that of Milosevic. It is also to be expected that Milosevic has prepared a far better defence against such an eventuality than he has against NATO attacks. NATO could march, of course, not only into Kosova but also into Serbia and make him its prisoner þ but there is no sign of any such courage on NATO's part. There remains, therefore, only the possibility of a spectacular operation similar to that conducted by Colonel Otto Scorzeni, who on the orders of the Abwehr freed Mussolini from captivity at the hands of opponents who wished to withdraw Italy from the war and its continued alliance with Hitler's Germany. It seems, however, that the time of such operations has passed and now exists only in adventure films.

Milosevic is well guarded and has ensured his safety even against his own guards. None of the aboveümention arrest actions is possible, and even if they were they would not work, since Milosevic will never allow himself to be tried. In such an eventuality he would produce his own solution. Until that happens, however, he will struggle to the end: to the last bullet or the last man þ or the other way round.

A longer version of this article appeared in Dani (Sarajevo), 4 June 1999.
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