Saturday, March 11, 2006

Not our son of a bitch

Slobodan Milosevic has been found dead in his cell. Good. Now get ready for the hypocrisy machine to go into overdrive, across the political spectrum.

The Nato bombardment of Serbia from March to June 1999 was a complex situation that didn’t make for easy sloganeering.

For reasons varying from residual soft Stalinism to an already nascent tendency to reduce all questions down to ‘anti-imperialism’, Milosevic’s organised genocide of Kosovar Albanians didn’t even make it onto most of the left’s radar screens, let alone its placards.

Such small socialist-organised marches that did take place in Britain prominently featured contingents of flag-waving Serbian nationalists, with politics the left should not have been happy to march alongside.

A minority current made the parallel mistake of cheerleading the Nato campaign, even though the bombing offered the Kosovars no protection from the arson, rape and murder.

What was missing in both cases was any notion that this was not a zero-sum game, and that socialists could be both against the war and for self-determination for Kosova and democracy in Serbia itself.

The subsequent ouster and arrest of the Serbian dictator saw the emergence of an International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, with high profile supporters including Harold Pinter.

The website touchingly devotes several pages to promoting the notion that Milosevic was somehow ‘a socialist’ rather than a hard right Serbian nationalist. It’s a difficult case to sustain on the basis of anything but occasional use of quasi-Marxist rhetoric.

To paraphrase Roosevelt, he may have been a son of a bitch. But he most definitely wasn’t our son of a bitch.

It is only right that he eventually stood trial. Yet the fact that Milosevic’s indictment was the first of its kind since Nuremburg raises some pointed questions for the world‘s ruling classes, too.

Why no war crimes tribunal for Kissinger, architect of the carpet bombing of Cambodia? What was the difference between Milosevic’s treatment of the Kosovars and Nato ally Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds? Why no charges against Croatia’s president Tudjman, equally guilty of ethnic cleansing?

Douglas Hurd - British foreign secretary in the 1990s - was a prominent opponent of military aid to the Bosniaks, arguing that assistance would only create a 'level killing field' and prolong the conflict. A killing field sloped in Serbia’s favour was presumably preferable.

Shortly after retiring from politics, Hurd became deputy chairman of NatWest Markets, which had recently secured lucrative contracts to advise Serbia on its foreign debt and its plans to privatise its telecoms systems.

He even flew to Belgrade for a face-to-face meeting with Milosevic himself. The Daily Telegraph quoted one unnamed ‘well-placed source‘ as commenting:

‘Hurd came to thank Milosevic personally for the business and he did this because NatWest wants to scoop up forthcoming privatisations in the electricity and oil sectors which will be worth millions.’

That led the Bosnian government to demand that Hurd stood in the dock alongside his mate Slobo, although it has since been arm-twisted into dropping the issue.

Meanwhile, the Blair government’s double-standards stance of joining the bombers while slamming Kosovans seeking refuge in the UK as ‘bogus asylum seekers’ sticks in both the memory and the craw to this day.

A lot of politicians have a lot to answer for on this one.

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