Slobodan Milosevic died recently in his prison cell, tried for war crimes by the NATO states that killed his nation, Yugoslavia, with the bombers and troops they sent to back reactionary separatist forces. Questions continue to surround the circumstances of his death.
As part of the propaganda campaign used to justify NATO’s massive military intervention, the term “ethnic cleansing” was repeated endlessly to portray Milosevic and those Serbians who fought to save Yugoslavia as comparable to the Nazis during World War II. Rarely mentioned is the fact that separatists and nationalists in Croatia and Bosnia and the Serbian province of Kosovo often hailed local World War II fascists who worked with the Nazis to carry out genocide against Serbians, Roma people (gypsies) and Jews.
There were real, monstrous atrocities committed by both Serbian and Croatian nationalist paramilitaries against civilians in the 1990s. Bosnia and Kosovo also served as training centers for Al-Qaeda and other right-wing terrorists fighting Serbian forces, and in addition were used as centers for drug and weapons smugglers connected to international terrorist groups.
But the imperialist powers wanted Yugoslavia dismembered and that was all that really mattered to them. Devastating economic sanctions and military intervention were the methods they used to accomplish those ends.
NATO was established after World War II essentially to fight World War III against the Soviet Union in Europe, and also to bring a number of states with powerful Communist parties at the time, France and Italy particularly, into an anticommunist, anti-Soviet alliance.
If Milosevic had aided and abetted Yugoslavia’s destruction as Mikhail Gorbachev did in the USSR, he would have been a hero to the capitalist media — “our kind of communist.” Had the foreign powers not intervened, I believe that Yugoslavia would have survived, but they did and it didn’t.
Although it was defeated, the Yugoslav side deserves to be seen by anti-imperialists as the right side in Yugoslavia’s civil war. Today, the phony privatization and gangster capitalism of Eastern Europe prevails in the former Yugoslav republics, whose working class has suffered enormously in regard to living standards and future hopes, with foreign capital picking and choosing what it wants in the Yugoslav economy.
This is the legacy of the trial and death of Slobodan Milosevic.
His trial was a political show trial in homage to the Cold War ideology of “totalitarianism,” equating communists and the left with fascists. While there were indefensible atrocities committed in the Yugoslav civil war as there are usually in civil wars, war itself is an atrocity. The NATO bombings of civilians were atrocities. The Serbian Socialist Party was not and is not in any way a fascist party, and the Milosevic government fought what was a defensive civil war to save Yugoslavia, not an aggressive war to achieve racist “ethnic cleansing.”
The trial was orchestrated by those who dismembered Yugoslavia as a socialist country, creating a Balkan map today that is similar to Hitler’s “New Order” of 1941. In essence, the fascist genocide of WWII, which the world calls the Holocaust, was relativized and trivialized by a propaganda campaign to justify imperialist conquest and the “transformation” of NATO into a military force that can theoretically now be sent anywhere on earth to intervene in civil wars on whatever side it chooses.
The 18th century French philosopher Voltaire wrote that history is a “pack of tricks” played on the dead. History as told by ruling classes and victorious nations is often that. For imperialist media, the Yugoslav civil war was and is about Slobodan Milsovevic as a substitute for Joseph Stalin, and the struggles of Serbian minorities in Bosnia and Kosovo and Serbian military forces as “ethnic cleansing,” regardless of the causes, facts and contemporary consequences of the war. Now, all of us who are against imperialism must fight to set the historical record straight, so that people will not continue to be misled by those who cloak imperialist domination and conquest in slogans about the advance of “democracy” and the protection of “human rights.”
Norman Markowitz is a history professor at Rutgers University.