Noam Chomsky on Milosevic Ouster
Source Gar Lipow
Date 00/10/12/01:45

Comments on the Milosevic Ouster, etc.
By Noam Chomsky

A number of people in the ZNet forum system and elsewhere
have raised questions about the prominent role they see
assigned to US-NATO in the flood of commentary on recent
events in Yugoslavia, "gloating over the victory of the
opposition in Yugoslavia--as if that affirms the NATO
bombing" (as one puts it). Others have noticed a similar
focus with an opposite emphasis: denunciations of US
violence and subversion for the overthrow of an independent
Serb government in favor of Western clients. I've been asked
for my own reaction. What follows is an amalgam of several

It's surely right that publicly the Clinton-Blair
administrations are "gloating" over the outcome, and that
the usual cheerleaders are doing their duty as well. That is
commonly the case whatever the outcome. But we should not
overlook the fact that more serious observers -- as
anti-Milosevic as you can find -- are telling quite a
different story. For example, the senior news analyst of
UPI, Martin Sieff, described the outcome of the election as
"an unpleasant shock to both incumbent Slobodan Milosevic
and the Clinton administration (Sept. 25), pointing out that
Kostunica "regularly denounces the NATO bombing of
Yugoslavia last year as `criminal'," "implacably opposes
having Milosevic or any other prominent Serb tried as a war
criminal," and worse still from the Clinton-Blair point of
view, "does appear to accurately express the democratic
aspirations of the Serbian people."

That's correct across the board, and Sieff is not alone in
reporting it. In his campaign throughout the country and on
state TV, Kostunica "condemned "NATO's criminal bombing of
Yugoslavia" and denounced the International Criminal
Tribunal on Yugoslavia (ICTY) as "an American tribunal --
not a court, but a political instrument" (Steven Erlanger
and Carlotta Gall, NYT, Sept. 21). Speaking on state TV
after taking office, he reiterated that while he sought
normalization of relations with the West, "the crimes during
the NATO aggression, nor the war damages, could not be
forgotten," and he again described the ICTY as a "tool of
political pressure of the US administration" (Oct 5, 6).

In the British press, some prominent (and bitterly
anti-Milosevic) correspondents have pointed out that "The
West's self-satisfaction cannot disguise the reality of the was not the bombing, the sanctions and the
posturing of NATO politicians" that got rid of Milosevic.
Rather "he was toppled by a self-inflicted, democratic
miscalculation," and if anything his fall was impeded by
Western intervention: the rotten situation in the Balkans
"has been made worse by intervention,... NATO's actions
escalated the nastiness, prolonged the resolution and
increased the cost." "At the very least, outsiders such as
[British Foreign Secretary] Mr Cook should stop rewriting
history to their own gain. They did not topple Mr Milosevic.
They did not bomb democracy into the last Communist
dictatorship in Europe. They merely blocked the Danube and
sent Serb politics back to the Dark Ages of autocracy. It
was not sanctions that induced the army to switch sides;
generals did well from the black market. The fall of Mr
Milosevic began with an election that he called and then
denied, spurring the electors to demand that the army
respect their decision and protect their sovereignty. For
that, Yugoslavia's democracy deserves the credit, not Nato's
Tomahawk missiles" (Simon Jenkins, London Times, Oct. 7).
"The kind of people who made last Thursday's revolution"
were those who were "depressed in equal measure by the
careless savagery of the Nato bombing and the sheer
nastiness of the Milosevic regime" (John Simpson, world
affairs editor of BBC, Sunday Telegraph, Oct. 8).

Serb dissidents, to the extent that their voices are heard
here, are saying pretty much the same thing. In a fairly
typical comment on BBC, a Belgrade university student said:
"We did it on our own. Please do not help us again with your
bombs." Reaffirming these conclusions, a correspondent for
the opposition daily Blic writes that "Serbs felt oppressed
by their regime from the inside and by the West from the
outside; she condemns the US for having "ignored the
democratic movement in Yugoslavia and failing to aid
numerous Serbian refugees" -- by far the largest refugee
population in the region. A prominent dissident scholar, in
a letter of remembrance for a leading human rights activist
who recently died, asks whether "the ones who said they
imposed sanctions `against Milosevic' knew or cared how they
impoverished you and the other people like you, and turned
our lives into misery while helping him and his smuggling
allies to become richer and richer," enabling him to "do
whatever he wanted"; and instead of realizing "the stupidity
of isolating a whole nation, of tarring all the people with
the same broad brush under the pretense that they are
striking a blow against a tyrannical leader," are now
saying -- self-righteously and absurdly -- "that all that is
happening in Serbia today was the result of their wise
policy, and their help" (Ana Trbovich, Jasmina Teodosijevic,
Boston Globe, Oct. 8).

These comments, I think, are on target. What happened was a
very impressive demonstration of popular mobilization and
courage. The removal of the brutal and corrupt regimes of
Serbia and Croatia (Milosevic and Tudjman were partners in
crime throughout) is an important step forward for the
region, and the mass movements in Serbia -- miners,
students, innumerable others -- merit great admiration, and
provide an inspiring example of what united and dedicated
people can achieve. Right now workers' committees are taking
control of many companies and state institutions, "revolting
against their Milosevic-era managers and taking over the
directors' suites," as "workers took full advantage of
Yugoslav's social ownership traditions." "With Milosevic's
rule crumbling, the workers have taken the communist
rhetoric literally and taken charge of their enterprises,"
instituting various forms of "worker management" (London
Financial Times, Oct. 11). What has taken place, and where
it will go, is in the hands of the people of Serbia, though
as always, international solidarity and support -- not least
in the US -- can make a substantial difference.

On the elections themselves, there is plenty of valid
criticism: there was extensive interference by the West and
by Milosevic's harshly repressive (but by no means
"totalitarian") apparatus. But I think the Belgrade student
is right: they did it on their own, and deserve plenty of
credit for that. It's an outcome that the left should
welcome and applaud, in my opinion.

It could have happened before. There is good reason to take
seriously the judgment of Balkans historian Miranda Vickers
(again, as anti-Milosevic as they come) that Milosevic would
have been ousted years earlier if the Kosovar Albanians had
voted against him in 1992 (they were hoping he would win,
just as they did this September). And the mass popular
demonstrations after opposition victories in local elections
in 1996 might have toppled him if the opposition hadn't
fractured. Milosevic was bad enough, but nothing like the
rulers of totalitarian states, or the murderous gangsters
the US has been placing and keeping in power for years all
over the world.

But ridding the country of Milosevic doesn't in itself
herald a final victory for the people of Serbia, who are
responsible for the achievement. There's plenty of
historical evidence to the contrary, including very recent
evidence. It's hard to think of a more spectacular recent
achievement than the overthrow of South Africa's Apartheid
horror, but the outcome is far from delightful, as Patrick
Bond has been documenting impressively on ZNet, and as is
obvious even to the observer or visitor with limited
information. The US and Europe will doubtless continue their
(to an extent, competing) efforts to incorporate Serbia
along with the rest of the Balkans into the Western-run
neoliberal system, with the cooperation of elite elements
that will benefit by linkage to Western power and with the
likely effects of undermining independent economic
development and functioning democracy, and harming a good
part (probably considerable majority) of the population,
with the countries expected to provide cheap human and
material resources and markets and investment opportunities,
subordinated to Western power interests. Serious struggles
are barely beginning, as elsewhere.

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