The Economics of Evil:
How much for Milosevic?

by Stevan Konstantinović

April 30, 2001

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By the rules of supply and demand, the international political, media and economic markets have shown that there is one thing above all else that they are interested in on the territories of ex-Yugoslavia, something that could hardly have been called an item easy to manufacture -- atrocities. Few have emerged unscathed from the wars that have been, and are still being, fought on the battleground of the Balkans; both the "victors" and the "vanquished" have been equally tarred with the same brush, if it is indeed at all possible to decide which is which. One might say that the only real losers have been those who have literally lost life or limb. All others strive to find justification for the things they did or did not do. The principle of individual guilt is used by many as an alibi -- many will be able to slip through the loopholes of laws by claiming individual innocence in a group guilt, and even more will simply wait it out until time brings oblivion.

Perhaps the most sought-after man in the world, Slobodan Milosevic, the first on any list of those accused of the evils that have befallen the Balkan peoples, may slip through some of those loopholes himself. Ten years ago he was the centre of attention of both local and international media (that in itself, actually, hasn't changed much over the years although the focus has shifted), a media darling. Today, although still the most privileged prisoner in the Central Jail in Belgrade, helpless, the acclaimed paradigm of evil, Milosevic awaits to hear from what his fate might be.

The new government of Serbia has apparently accepted the Western rules and have started seeing Milosevic as trade goods which need to be sold as well as possible, something that could go a long way towards explaining the hesitation of handing Milosevic (and others accused of war crimes during the last decade of the 20th century) to the Tribunal in The Hague. The argument of "national dignity" is specious, since it was that dignity that was trampled, to the extent of questioning its real existence in the first place -- the answers to this question might explain the popular support of Milosevic throughout his tenure at the top by the same people who went away from political meetings to cope with poverty, despair and death.

Just before Milosevic's arrest Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said coyly that the USA has placed conditions on further economic aid to Serbia, those conditions starting with the placing of Milosevic behind bars. After the arrest the announcement was made of an imminent economic aid package measured in the millions of dollars, from both the USA and the EU. But the Serbian authorities doubtlessly think that the offered amount is too small to warrant the showing of any rush towards handing Milosevic over to The Hague. The reasons for this are two-fold.

The idea that Milosevic should first face an indictment within Serbia, for those crimes he perpetrated on his own people, isn't illogical. During his tenure Serbia has become the pariah of the world. The first signal that internal politics would go in this direction was the Fund for the Economic Rebirth of Serbia (1989) under the terms of which the nation was asked to give a portion of its income in favour of a fund which would finance development projects within the socialist economic situation inherited from the Tito era. Along with the beginning of the Balkan wars in the last decade of the last century, a major centralisation of power was begun in Serbia; this included financial centralisation. The Milosevic regime turned a blind eye towards war pillage, to the extent that it became a part of "war economics." A new kind of businessman started appearing in the public eye, clad in camouflage and claiming to carry the guns on their shoulders for the sake of "patriotism." A synonym for this type was Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan -- but he was far from being the only one. Such men, working for an "insurance" against being quickly cast off should the wars cease, sought their places as state apparatchiks, forming an unholy symbiosis of classical and state criminal activity. Hyperinflation to a degree last seen when people brought wheelbarrows of money to buy a loaf of bread, in pre WWII Germany, as well as a number of financial scams thrived in this atmosphere. The situation was out of control, with each out for himself, and political power was corrupt. The greater the sycophancy shown to the right people, the greater the ability of an individual to climb very high in the places of power. Once this fact became an accepted rule, the situation became not unlike that in a small mudhole which is home to too many crocodiles. What followed was classic mafia-style problem solving, morphing quickly into political murder such as the killing of the newspaper editor Slavo Curuvija or the alleged attempt to assassinate Vuk Draskovic. Murder as a means to solve problems was the straw that broke the camel's back -- the electorate would take only so much and no more. But although, as head of a "the buck stops here" state, many of such alleged crimes could conceivably be laid at the door of the Milosevic family, the courts will not have an easy task. There is no paper trail; orders were all too frequently oral, and even such evidence as did exist might have been destroyed in the October 5 riots in Belgrade.

The other reason behind the trade in evil is the evildoing, bad decisions, or avoided decisions by the west and its military coalition. The imminent disintegration of Yugoslavia was not a secret to Western intelligence agencies, but the political elites of the USA and Europe were, at least on the surface of things, caught on the hop by this. A whole slew of bad decisions followed, including the setting in place of economic sanctions, most ably backed by the USA. The hope that the difficult economic situation caused by the sanctions would in turn topple Milosevic proved unfounded, for the harder life got in Yugoslavia the more stable the Milosevic regime appeared to be. It was the first showing of force -- the bombing of the Serb positions in Bosnia, the Croat offensive at Knin and the first long lines of refugees pointed at Serbia -- that drove Milosevic to the discussion table in Dayton. At that time the rhetoric of the USA implied that Milosevic might well have been spared what now awaits him. He was no more autocratic than the Croatian President Franjo Tudjman -- who died a natural death, was buried with all state honours and who seems to be in no real danger of having even his reputation sullied -- or Alija Izetbegovic, against whom no indictment has ever been raised although his units did as much, if not more, as the Serb and Croat militias during the Bosnian war. Milosevic then proved intractable on the question of Kosovo, where (at least according to the Western media) similar things were happening as before in Bosnia. Enter NATO, which assumes a most direct role in the Balkan maelstrom and which starts doing precisely the sort of thing that Milosevic had been accused of. The chain of atrocities is lengthened by the "collateral damage" done by NATO projectiles; civilian deaths; huge material damage to infrastructure and economy; the use of illegal cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons; ecological disaster caused by the bombing of oil refineries and chemical complexes in Pancevo and Novi Sad. Putting aside the cynicism of calling civilian casualties "collateral damage," the question remains as to why the Tribunal in The Hague steadfastly refuses to raise indictments against those who gave orders like these if not against those who carried them out. It is beginning to look very much as if only the vanquished are guilty of crimes in a war, reminiscent of the post-WWII world. But perhaps NATO has chosen its own punishment, stuck as it is in the balkan mud and hostage to erstwhile allies with whom the only common point was -- hatred of Slobodan Milosevic. Now that Milosevic's address is the Belgrade Central Jail NATO faces a very real question as to how to get out of the Balkans, if not with clean hands then at least with as little blood on their pristine uniforms as possible. There is, of course, the possibility that NATO simply has no plans of going anywhere at all [there are reports that the U.S. government is seeking a lease of up to 75 years for the 900-acre property on which Camp Bondsteel has been built - ed.].

However the situation develops, the new powers that be in Serbia have very little to choose from in terms of exports necessary to provide the income for renewing the country. Even before the war the economy was lagging seriously behind the developed countries of Europe and the rest of the world. In the last ten years the differences have become a yawning gulf which is exacerbated by the country's huge international debt (according to some estimates, up to $12 billion, which, for a country of some 8 million people, is tantamount to a noose around the neck). In this situation the only sought-after and therefore saleable articles with which Serbia can tempt the world are - "war criminals." The only thing that needs to be established is the price. Otherwise, everything is for sale.



Stevan Konstantinovic has a master's degree in literature from the University of Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, where he is presently preparing his doctoral thesis. He has published a book of literary analysis, Kaldrma citanja i misljenja ("the pavement of reading and thinking"), and a collection of short stories. He has published numerous essays and pieces of literary criticism in four languages, and has been active in translating literature from Polish and Ukrainian to Serbocroat. He is a member of the Authors' Guild of Vojvodina and the editor of the literary cultural journal Sidina. Until recently a journalist and a teacher, he is currently employed as an advisor for culture, education and science in the provincial administration of Vojvodina.

Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Stevan Konstantinovic 2001. All rights reserved. This article was translated from Serbocroat by Alma Hromic, the author of Letters from the Fire and a frequent contributor to Swans.

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Published April 30, 2001
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