Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 27, 2006

The Demonization and Death of Slobodan Milosevic

Filed under: imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 3:30 pm

(Swans – March 27, 2006) In the days following the death of Slobodan Milosevic, every newspaper made sure to find him guilty of charges that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) could not prove in court. Typical is the pontificating Washington Post editorial of March 14, 2006:

The life of Slobodan Milosevic offers another lesson in how one individual can shape the course of history. Yugoslavia, the country whose disintegration he inspired, emerged from communist rule at the end of the 1990s resembling many nations (Iraq comes to mind) in the throes of transition: Ethnic and sectarian rivalry was real in a cobbled-together state, but few people expected, much less wanted, a civil war. Mr. Milosevic, a Communist Party apparatchik in Serbia, deliberately and methodically nursed this latent tension from a flicker to a conflagration and used it to consolidate a criminal regime in

The demonization of Milosevic has a long and sordid history. A LexisNexis full-text search for "Milosevic" and "Hitler" aborted since the resulting 1000+ articles exceeded the system limit. A more restrictive search within the headline and lead paragraph returns 307, with this item from the May 15, 1991 Independent being typical:

As the crow flies, she was only four miles from Kosovo. As the B-52 bomber speeds, she was only a few minutes from the village of Korisa, where Nato warplanes were accused of killing about a hundred civilians a few hours earlier.

But Hillary Clinton did not talk of the latest dead or wounded when she toured this camp in northern Macedonia yesterday. Perhaps she had not yet been informed. Instead, she referred to past atrocities, notably those carried out by Adolf Hitler and Slobodan Milosevic, comparing the Yugoslav leader's "ethnic cleansing" to the Holocaust.

Mrs. Clinton was not to be outdone by her husband who accused Milosevic of systematically promulgating doctrines of racial supremacy in a 1999 Memorial Day speech: "In Kosovo we see some parallels to World War II, for the government of Serbia, like that of Nazi Germany, rose to power in part by getting people to look down on people of a given race and ethnicity and believe they had no place in their country and even no right to live."

But when one goes to the trouble to track down Milosevic's speeches, the words sound more like the sort of thing heard in a multicultural training workshop at a liberal arts college than anything heard from Der Furher:

Equal and harmonious relations among Yugoslav peoples are a necessary condition for the existence of
Yugoslavia and for it to find its way out of the crisis and, in particular, they are a necessary condition for its economic and social prosperity. In this respect Yugoslavia does not stand out from the social milieu of the contemporary, particularly the developed, world. This world is more and more marked by national tolerance, national cooperation, and even national equality. The modern economic and technological, as well as political and cultural development, has guided various peoples toward each other, has made them interdependent and increasingly has made them equal as well. Equal and united people can above all become a part of the civilization toward which mankind is moving. If we cannot be at the head of the column leading to such a civilization, there is certainly no need for us to be at its tail.

Now, of course, these words can simply be rhetoric intended to pull the wool over the world's eyes, but they don't bear out Clinton's claim that Milosevic openly employed racial supremacist doctrines. Perhaps the wily Milosevic had trained the Serbs to go on killing sprees whenever they heard words in favor of tolerance, just as the Red Chinese had trained Frank Sinatra to kill their enemies whenever he saw the Queen of Diamonds card in The Manchurian Candidate.

The occasion of the speech was the 600th anniversary of the defeat of the Serbs by the Ottoman Turks, an opportunity that Milosevic took to reassure Serbs in Kosovo that they would no longer be victimized. For the Cruise Missile Left, this speech would eventually take on the dimensions of a Hitler speech to a Nuremberg Rally. Needless to say, the actual words never appeared in these attacks. Before the lynch mob against Milosevic had been fully assembled, the liberal press was quite capable of describing him accurately.

The Independent, a liberal British newspaper that would eventually lead the wolf pack against Milosevic, described the 1990 election, on December 11th of that year, as one pitting him and "his communist allies" against Vuk Draskovic, a "right-wing nationalist." As the 1990s dragged on, with the Western press moving toward the propaganda consensus that Milosevic was Satan, there would be a growing tendency to describe him as the counterpart of Croatia's Franjo Tudjman, despite Milosevic's ongoing clashes with Draskovic, Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj and other such ultra-nationalists. But once the capitalist press decided to stick the nationalist label on him, nothing could remove it. If Milosevic was determined to defend Serb interests in a context of anti-Serb racism, then that was proof enough that he was embarking on a new Holocaust.

When Milosevic assumed power, he embarked on a tentative series of economic reforms of the kind that were sweeping Eastern Europe. Those who are anxious to represent Milosevic as being identical to the Croatian and Slovenian rightist rulers exploit these measures as proof that there was nothing "socialist" about Milosevic's party except the name. Since Titoist Yugoslavia (a political tradition that Milosevic was determined to uphold despite the "End of History" type message being propagated in the West) was characterized by a high degree of marketization, it might at first seem difficult to figure out exactly where Milosevic stood. Since Milosevic was more of a pragmatist than a Marxist, who veered left and right in the course of sustaining a social base in Serbia, there was little in the way of "The Thoughts of Slobodan Milosevic" to identify him ideologically.

But the local anti-Communists had no such problems. On March 14, 1991, New York Times reporter Stephen Engelberg described enormous crowds of anti-Communist protesters out in the streets calling for his resignation. As was obvious to anybody who listened to their chants or read their leaflets, we were dealing with "the same sort of popular upheaval that toppled most of Eastern Europe's Communist governments in 1989."

By this point, The Independent had joined the crusade against Milosevic. Despite its liberal reputation, earned mostly through the inclusion of reporter Robert Fisk on their staff, the paper made sure in a March 25, 1991 article that its readers understood that the Serb Communist brontosaurus stood in the way of genuine freedom and progress:

The irrational and autocratic Serbian leader is effectively preventing Yugoslavia's federal government from implementing the economic reforms which could rapidly turn it into a thriving country. Although in the past he has shown an interest, at least verbally, in Western-style reforms, Mr Milosevic is now clinging firmly to the old Marxist state system which gives him immense power and support from many people, like pensioners, who would suffer from change. The impact of privatisation and a free market, says Professor Veselinov, "would overthrow Milosevic and socialist ideas."

Full: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/lproy35.html



1 Comment »

  1. Louis, I’m sure there are much better people to defend than bloody milosevic. The Serbs were not the victims in the Yugoslav dissolution wars and Milosevic was partially to blem for them.

    Save your pity for the victims in Sbrenecia and elsewhere.

    Comment by Martin Wisse — March 27, 2006 @ 5:57 pm

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