ichael . benson on Tue, 30 Mar 1999 14:33:40 +0000

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Syndicate: Open response to Vesna Novakovic and Slobodan Markovi

Dear Vesna and Slobodan:

Thank you for your private responses to my last posting, and Vesna 
for your no doubt well-meaning forward, the text by Richard Burns 
which allegedly "explains a lot." What it actually explains, and very 
well, is the inability by Burns, and by extension yourself, to 
understand that fascism must always be met by firm and resolute 
opposition -- and military opposition when necessary. If ever there 
was a lesson of the 20th century, that is it. My personal view is 
that it was necessary as far back as Vukovar, and that all the 
suffering and horror caused by Milosevic Serbia could have been 
avoided if NATO had acted earlier. Yes, Yugoslavia is a "sovereign 
state", just as Nazi Germany was a sovereign state deserving of 
defeat, condemnation, censure, and exposure of its crimes. (Though, 
incidentally, even this "sovereign state" business is interesting, 
given that the FR of Yugoslavia includes Montenegro and yes, Kosovo 
-- the former increasingly disgusted and distancing itself from the 
fatal, genocidal behavior of the Milosevic regime; the latter its 
direct victim. Which leaves Serbia, only one component part of a 
sovereign state, and not recognized as a sovereign state in the world 
community. This very same Milosovic-Serbia's hubris and stupidity 
from the  beginning of the Milosevic regime in 1987 was to assume 
that IT WAS AND IS Yugoslavia -- with the right to rule ALL the 
republics and territories of Yugoslavia. No wonder, then, that the 
other republics of the former Yugoslavia, after long negotiations and 
attempts to save that union, which after all had had its benefits, 
had no choice but to head for the exits. *Despite* the JNA's 
overwhelming military superiority at the time.)

Slobodan, you said (and I don't feel that it's a sin to quote your 
private e-mail here, since I'm sure your would post the same position 
openly to syndicate): "Most western politicians really do not 
understand Balkan conflicts and mentalities. If they knew, they 
would never use NATO force in such a sensitive conflict, like the 
one we have on Kosovo. It's like pouring gasoline on open fire."

Well, apart from the fact that most western politicians, or most 
politicians in general, don't much understand anything other than 
their own standing, I simply don't buy this argument. (And when 
they finally, finally get it through their thick heads that they 
simply have no choice but to act -- unbelievable though it may sound, 
given years of shameful inaction -- I say MORE POWER TO THEM.) The 
oft-repeated mythology of the endless fog-shrouded complexity of the 
Balkans, the allegedly "spontaneous" eruption of primitive Balkan 
peasant passions, like sweat on the collective brow of Serbs, Croats, 
Bosniaks and Kosovars, something they "can't help", is not only 
racist, it's a smoke-screen which for a decade now has served Serbia 
well in its campaigns to grab land and evict other nationalities from 
that land. We heard Karadzic and Mladic mouthing it, we heard Serbian 
state TV mouthing it, and we heard spineless western politicians, 
their eye on the polls, mouthing it, and in a very relieved way -- 
because it excused their inaction. "You will never understand the 
Balkans", they said, "It's a result of centuries of strife, hatred, 
etc." Just look, in fact, at who it is mouthing that particular 
mythology and it gives a very good indication of how accurate it 
is. How complex, how "sensitive", is a land grab coupled by heavy 
artillery firing at near point-blank range into civilian settlements? 
How inexplicable, how brow-furrowing, is the reactions of a Serbian 
population scared witless by a powerful state-controlled mass media, 
which ceaselessly repeats that the neighbors are going to come and 
kill you -- unless you kill them first? How complex and difficult to 
understand are Arkan and his White Eagles, now committing mass 
murder yet again, in Kosovo? Slobodan, your arguments, and Richard 
Burns arguments, and by extension Vesna's arguments, would leave NO 
RESPONSE while hundreds of thousands of Albanians are herded from 
their homes and expelled, or executed.

I suggest that you think hard about your position now. It may well 
come back to haunt you. I assume that you are thoughtful and 
intelligent people. I hope I am wrong about what I'm about to say, 
and it makes me sick to say it, but I am very much afraid that at 
this very moment, during these days right now, Kosovar Albanian men 
between the ages of about 15 and 60 are being executed in their 
thousands. I very much hope I'm wrong. But the indications are 
extremely ominous. Why are they being separated out and taken away 
in trucks? Or is this all hyper-sophisticated KLA propaganda, 
somehow inserted, under these conditions, into the mouths of the
thousands of refugees with the same story who actually made it out? 
Or is it some kind of NATO propaganda -- are all those reporters 
interviewing the Albanian refugees NATO agents? I would suggest that 
anyone with those views has been exposed for too long to TV Serbia. I 
would suggest that anyone with those views also believes that the 
executions at Srebrenica were a fabrication.  
No, all those fig leaves about international law and alleged power 
grabs by the West (as though the West wants this disaster on its 
hands, or to be involved in the problems of the region -- witness 
years of western inaction in Bosnia) -- all that rhetoric against 
action by the West would excuse and promote NO RESPONSE to this 
disgusting mass murder and open crime. How can you speak seriously 
about international law when mass executions are taking place? 
Should they somehow be protected by international law? By that logic, 
the Jews of Germany could have, and in fact *should have been* 
executed WITHOUT any international intervention -- that is, if only 
Hitler hadn't invaded any sovereign countries. Under this view, the 
legality of the Allied fight against Hitler is only confirmed by 
their declaration of war following the invasion of Poland. (And let's 
not mention here the Western appeasement that allowed him to gobble 
up Czechoslovakia.) And again, see my note above about the legality 
of *Serbian* Yugoslavia -- "Serboslavia" to some -- as a sovereign 
nation in the first place, given the professed neutrality of 
Montenegro, not to mention the secession of Kosovo. And speaking of 
the latter, there is much that needs to be said about the legality, 
or rather blatant illegality, of the removal of Kosovar and 
Vojvodinian autonomy by Milosevic Serbia within the old Yugoslav 
system. And another point: who was it who agreed that 
Serbia-Montenegro could continue to call itself "Yugoslavia" after 
the majority of that country left? I don't remember such an 
agreement. Did Serbia own that name? It's not an accident that the 
vote of the Yugoslav chair at the UN has been suspended, and the old 
Yugoslav flag flies in front of that building.

I'm sorry, you can frame it as you like, and you can advance whatever 
arguments against stopping these crimes you want; they will still be 
arguments against stopping, or at least trying to stop, these 
shocking and unspeakably disgusting crimes. If a woman is being raped 
at the point of a knife in an alleyway, is it not the responsibility 
of anyone who still considers themselves a human being to intervene? 
And if that "person" is the best armed military alliance in the 
history of the world, is it not a crime NOT to intervene? (I for one 
still can't get over my disgust that NATO simply sat there for years 
while Sarajevo was methodically shelled from the hills all around.)

A final point I'd like to make here -- one that you rarely hear. 
Serbian crimes started with the most basic one: theft. Theft, in 
fact, of the very weapon necessary to commit more and greater 
crimes -- crimes that shame all humanity.The reason that Milosevic 
Serbia could spill so much blood, and have such a disproportionate 
impact on the Balkans, not to mention European late 20th century 
history, is because Serbia STOLE the army, which had been built up 
over five decades by ALL of Yugoslavia. The JNA was not built just 
Serbia, which has never had, and continues to not have, the economic 
power to create such a huge and powerful force. The Yugoslav GDP used 
to be about two-thirds Slovenia and Croatia, with one third 
contributed by the rest of the republics combined. The army was built 
out of that money to defend old Yugoslavia from external invasion, 
was not (needless to say) ever intended to be directed at the various 
nationalities of the former Yugoslavia, and was paid for directly 
through the sacrifice and labor and living standards of ALL 
Yugoslavs. That's what the Serbs stole. I ask: by what right? The 
Serbs have been wielding a war machine that they didn't even pay 
for; they stole it. And what appears to be happening now is that 
those weapons are being destroyed. Too bad, I say, that it didn't 
happen earlier -- but it's still better to destroy a blood-stained 
weapon than to leave it in the hands of those who would spill yet 
more blood with it.

Wretched humanity!

In conclusion, please don't misunderstand me. I would rather none of 
this had happened. I don't wish ill on anyone other than those who 
have been committing these crimes and those directing and 
complicit in them. I hope you, Vesna, and you Slobodan, stay well 
*out* of harms way. It saddens me immeasurably to see how 
unbelievably susceptible to manipulation by this blood-thirsty regime 
the Serbian people have proved themselves to be. When those three 
months of mass demonstrations ended, several years ago, with 
Milosevic still in power -- and then with those leading the 
demonstrations openly collaborating with his regime, I all but gave 
up hope in the sanity of the majority in Serbia. (Vojslav Seselj's 
poll figures give more than enough grounds for that opinion as well.) 
Nothing that has happened since has given me any grounds to 
change that opinion.      

Michael Benson
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Michael Benson