Monday, March 13, 2006

A Petty Hitler

By Wesley K. Clark
March 13, 2006; Page A18
The Wall Street Journal
Slobodan Milosevic's death in The Hague is a real tragedy for the international community. But most of all it will be a tragedy for the Serbs themselves. It will likely be another step in a series of historic Serb failures, martyrdom and isolation, all of which Milosevic himself grandly evoked to gain and maintain his power. I knew him as a nationalist leader and wartime adversary.
Along with the other Americans on Richard Holbrooke's 1995 Balkan peace talks mission, I spent countless hours with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. As NATO's then supreme allied commander, Europe, I haggled with Milosevic about war criminals and the Dayton Peace Agreement implementation in 1997, delivered NATO's warnings and threat in 1998, implored his cooperation in heading off renewed conflict, and then, when all else failed, I led the NATO military campaign which forced him to end ethnic cleansing and remove his troops and police from Kosovo. In 2003, I faced him again when I testified for the prosecution in his war crimes trial at The Hague.
While his death at The Hague ends his interminable trial, nothing is resolved. His death only compounds many of the difficult issues still facing the international community, Europe and Serbia itself.
In his 64 years, Milosevic was an army officer, a Communist, a bureaucrat, a banker and, above all, a Yugoslav Serb who used his skills and harsh nationalist rhetoric to parlay himself into the highest office in Yugoslavia only to then alienate and attack his fellow Yugoslav citizens. In four successive conflicts which he all lost, Milosevic used war as a means of plundering and disassembling his own country. He forced millions from their homes and caused several hundred thousands of deaths. He was rational and sometimes cunning, often a brilliant tactical negotiator but ultimately a fool of a strategist, whose reckless crimes included murder and genocide, and who has cost humanity as a whole and his own Serbs dearly.
* * *
As a young man Milosevic was a dutiful communist and an outstanding student who scored top marks in school. His mother was a teacher who encouraged his studies but kept him away from sports. He fell in love with Mira Markovic, a personal favorite of Tito, who lost her mother during World War II in still unresolved circumstances. Her partisan mother was captured by the Nazis who interrogated, tortured, confessed and then supposedly killed her. More likely she was released only to be killed as a collaborator by fellow partisans. Milosevic himself lost both his parents and an uncle to suicide. But though he clearly had a dark side, I never saw Milosevic as a suicide risk -- he was too committed to himself and to his ideas.
During the many hours of our negotiations in the summer and autumn of 1995, we dined with him, chatted with him about history and geopolitics, and talked about everything from his experiences as a young man in America to his concerns for his family. Given his gruff, commanding manner, many joked during the Dayton peace talks that he was the real Godfather. But we quickly came to think of him more appropriately as a petty Hitler, an unlawful dictator capable of malice, murder and ethnic cleansing. Any arrangement with him had to be weighed morally: for its legitimization of Milosevic as well as its value in ending a bloody conflict.
During the Dayton peace talks, all of Milosevic's "qualities" were at display: his stubborn cunning and blustering outbursts, his often grandiose dreams of Serbia as one of the seven gateways of Europe, his patent disloyalty to his fellow Serbs and transparent lies about everything from Srebrenica to his attitudes toward other nations. He smoked and drank excessively, even as he complained about his blood pressure and his health. At the Paris signature ceremony for the Dayton negotiations, Milosevic was center stage, conversing with world leaders like President Bill Clinton. But he failed to deliver on many of his promises, especially regarding indicted war criminals like former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic. By the late summer of 1997, Serb resistance to NATO-led enforcement of the peace accords was rising and we called again on Milosevic for help. But he stubbornly refused to assist us. He still held dreams of a greater Serbia and he thought he had NATO's measure.
In the spring of 1998 he unleashed the next round of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, this time turning his Special Police against a prominent Albanian family in Kosovo, killing 60 of them, including women and children. For most of that year NATO struggled to find a balanced approach, alternating negotiations with intensifying threats to head off another war in former Yugoslavia. But Milosevic foolishly believed he could defy NATO warnings and launch a broad ethnic cleansing effort with impunity.
It was another strategic miscalculation by Milosevic. NATO followed through in its threats, unleashing a 78-day, gradually intensifying air campaign and threatened ground intervention. Coupled with Russian diplomatic assistance and his indictment for war crimes, Milosevic was forced to pull his forces out of Kosovo. It was yet another blow to his vision of a greater Serbia. When he tried the next year to win re-election, his opponents in Belgrade were ready -- demanding an honest vote and his resignation. Soon he was delivered to The Hague.
Predictably, his cause of death is being disputed by some of his Serb countrymen who blame the U.N. He will surely be lionized and glorified by the radical nationalists he so nurtured.
History's longest war crimes trial will never be concluded. Milosevic's many victims and their families will be denied justice. And the Serb people themselves will have one more escape from the awful truth of the crimes under Milosevic's leadership. His death comes at a bad time.
Serbia is struggling to acknowledge its past and face its future.
Indicted war criminals like Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are still at large -- most likely living under official protection. The future status of Kosovo is unresolved and Serb participation in a resolution would be helpful. Another challenge will be Montenegro's upcoming referendum on its independence. And even as Serbia looks westward for help, its future alignment is still unsettled as the Serb people struggle to recognize how badly they have been deceived and misled.
Even during Milosevic's rule, many in Serbia yearned to join the EU and work with NATO. Its economic modernization would strengthen all its neighbors, including NATO members Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Its participation as a modern state would help promote political reconciliation and development throughout the Balkans. But all this means giving up the kind of hypernationalism that Milosevic trumpeted and fanned, and for many in Serbia, this has long been a mythology they have come to believe to offset the reality of deprivations, corruption and poverty.
Milosevic's death will likely bury the truth beneath another layer of charges and countercharges. His trial had been a long-running national TV drama in Serbia. The impact there of the evidence so painstakingly presented was blunted by Milosevic's star status at home and his grandiloquent and often irrelevant argumentation.
Now there will be no conviction and Serbia's weak leaders will have to cope with yet another obstacle in re-educating and reorienting their people. His death is as much a tragedy as his life. Both in life and in death, Milosevic has deprived millions of people of justice, hope and a better future.
Mr. Clark was supreme allied commander of NATO during the 1999 Kosovo campaign and a Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency in 2004.

11 comments:

illyrianboy said...

now come the real tests for the serbs. are they really democratic, have they moved on?
i cant wait to see Slobo's funeral! It is gonna be a show.

Dublin said...

real tests?

the serbs have been going through real democratic test for the past 20 years...........and the result for each test:

FAILED!

Mir said...

"Petty Hitler" is a fairly good term to describe Milosevic. It's been hard to describe him in comparisan with other terrible leaders because they were either to weak or too strong comparing to Milosevic's reign.

However even as a supporter of the Socialist-Democratic system, I do NOT respect Wesley Clark at all and never will. He killed more than 500+ civilian Serbians with his bombings. If it was 500 Serbian soldiers I would understand but to kill 500+ civilians is just terrorism.

I do not support the Radical's views that Serbians are the 'victims' of everything. That kind of pathetic thinking does not belong in Serbian minds. But 500 civilian deaths is simply NOT JUSTIFYABLE for the most powerful military coalition in the world that has the most advanced laser-guided missles that were ever created.

The Albanians may have began the war for independence, but NATO took control of the war and won the war. I dont think even the UCK would have caused such a big amount of civilian deaths in an invasion.

With Milosevic's war in Kosovo we (Serbians) were faced with a fundamental question. Who was it we were fighting against? The independence-seeking Albanians or the West that wants to 'spread democracy'? And at the end of the Kosovo war... which of those 2 did we hate the most.

Anonymous said...

One reason why so many civilians were killed, is because your government was making them be a shield to stay in potenial targets to be bombed, thinking that it would avoid the bombs.

What can we do when you have terrorists leading your country. Furthermore, you have the right to say that they were victims, but whose victims they were, I just explained.

There are more than 20,000=500X40 Albanians civilians killed, not by laser bombing, but by Serb knives and weapons from 1 or 2 m distance (which allows no ERROR). You should publicly apologize and say that your country is embarrased for what it did to the rest of the region, and that you are willing to pay all the reparations, and then you are in a position to mourn your dead.

Mir said...

"What can we do when you have terrorists leading your country."

Slobodan was bad but not a terrorist. It was more organized and political. I can understand how literally he incited terror but to brand him a terrorist is undermining how terrible he was.

And 20,000? And where is the proof for that?

"and then you are in a position to mourn your dead. "

We will choose when we will mourn our own not Yank idiots like you.

illyrianboy said...

"With Milosevic's war in Kosovo we (Serbians) were faced with a fundamental question. Who was it we were fighting against? The independence-seeking Albanians or the West that wants to 'spread democracy'? And at the end of the Kosovo war... which of those 2 did we hate the most."

I guess people in serbia should ask why NATO intervened? Why Albanians wanted independence? And ultimately why did they hate Albanians so much?

redemption department said...

Wesley Clark is too big a "tool" to give credit to anything he says. He had no idea what was really going on in the Balkans during the civil war, during the Kosovo debacle, nor does he now. I'd rather hear what my next door neighbor thinks of Milosevic than Clark.

albasoul said...

"And 20,000? And where is the proof for that?"
Mir,
To be honest with you i was started to like you reading some of your comments, and I said to myself " There are some openminded serbs too".
Unfortunatly your last question shattered my opinion again.
The fact that the whole world stood up for Kosovar Albanians, isnt enough for you. You belive those mass graves are all propaganda?
Have you ever heard (even in serb Media) about such graves filled with serbian victims?
I am really sorry for you my friend

Mir said...

"To be honest with you i was started to like you reading some of your comments, and I said to myself " There are some openminded serbs too".
Unfortunatly your last question shattered my opinion again.
The fact that the whole world stood up for Kosovar Albanians, isnt enough for you. You belive those mass graves are all propaganda?
Have you ever heard (even in serb Media) about such graves filled with serbian victims?
I am really sorry for you my friend "

How am I supposed to believe something when I hear different numbers of death every time from the posters? Last time I heard the number MISSING was at 10000. SOmeone find me an accuracte number is all Im asking for.

I dont deny that the criminals like Arkan didn't kill Albanians but don't just say numbers that sound good. Give me some website/link with official numbers. Ive heard too many different numbers.

Wim Roffel said...

Clark makes on me the impression to be some arrogant diplomat who doesn't know anything about his subject but who believes that his "management skills" will help him to make the right decisions.

And so we see him talking a lot about why he doesn't like Milosevic. It doesn't even seem to enter his mind that Milosevic might be a stupid guy and yet sometimes be right.

The results of this arrogance are clear to anyone: many of his facts about the wars are simply wrong.

adj85 said...

The sad thing is the Serbians had to fight and shed blood for Kosovo before and now we have to do it again at the merciless hands of the Albanians. People can call Milosevic what they want, but the term "Petty Hitler" also applies to the KosovO Albanians. Serbians did not tirelessly fight at the Battle of Kosovo and relegate themselves to years of subordination so centuries later it could be done all over to them by the Albanians on land that is truly Serbian. Although I do not condone Milosevic's regime, people need to stop focusing solely on what he did and focus on what is going on in Kosovo today. But, that would mean actually blaming someone other than the Serbians for a change...how about the Albanian terroists who seem to have won sympathy from many, which only serves to further propagate the hatred that is being imposed upon Serbians.