The First Stone

by Michael W. Stowell

February 25, 2002

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Denis Perkovic brought up some important points and expressed some strong emotions in his recent communications with me. I always enjoy corresponding with my readers, even though we may not agree on all things terrestrial and celestial; it's the communication that's important. I've since spent some time considering his thoughts and contemplating the architecture of war.

On the 8th of this month, the BBC reported on a protest in Pristina that occurred in reaction to the arrests of three ethnic Albanians, all former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who are accused of war crimes by United Nations authorities. UN police were stoned and bystanders were accosted when a rally and march of more than 5000 people turned violent. The incident marks the first time demonstrators there have resorted to violence since the UN took over the administration of Kosovo in 1999.

The accused are charged with committing war crimes against fellow Kosovar Albanians between 1998 and 1999; however, former KLA guerrilla leaders are determined to challenge the UN's authority to prosecute the charges. I've not been able to ascertain who they believe has that authority, if anyone.

On the 12th of February, the trial of Slobodan Milosevic officially began at The Hague. He is accused of leading a genocidal undertaking to "cleanse" land he believed belonged to ethnic Serbs of other ethnic groups, Croats, Albanians and Muslims. Milosevic denies any wrongdoing, saying he acted only to keep Yugoslavia whole, "This is a malicious, utterly hostile process aimed at justifying the crime against my country, using this court as a weapon against my country and my people."

During the first two days of his opening arguments, Milosevic presented photos of people killed by NATO bombs, what the United States military calls 'collateral damage.' "This is the corpse of Ljiljana Specic. She was seven months pregnant. She was killed on a street corner."

Unfortunately, the United States and its NATO allies are not officially on trial at The Hague, nor is it likely they ever will be.

Mr. Milosevic states that upon gaining independence in the spring of 1992, Bosnia became a separate country over which he had no control, so evidence that Serbian forces in Bosnia were being directed and paid from Belgrade must be demonstrated by the prosecution; that Milosevic ordered the crimes or "knew or had reason to know" of subordinates' actions and failed to prevent crimes or let them go unpunished. That evidence is apparently not yet at hand. Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor, has attempted to show financial, military and political ties between Milosevic and Serbian insurgents in Croatia and Bosnia; thus far she has failed. She has said nations that so far have been unwilling to allow sensitive intelligence to be used in court must begin to do so to ensure Milosevic's conviction. By implication she means that the governments of the United States and Britain have not been cooperating with the court as well as she'd like.

I suspect they would rather manufacture evidence than produce any 'sensitive intelligence.'

The 1999 bloodletting in Serbian Kosovo presents other burdens for proof. Milosevic had control of Serbian forces there so the prosecution will have to show it was those forces that deported 850,000 Albanian Kosovars and killed more than 5,000 of them. Milosevic contends that NATO bombs and Albanian rebels share the blame, that his military forces committed no crimes. I find it difficult to believe that the president of Yugoslavia, the commander in chief of the Yugoslav military, did not know of the crimes committed by his charges, crimes that have been widely reported and verified by the civilian population. He certainly had reason to know.

Ivan Djordjevic, a former dissident lawyer and presently an official in Serbia's Ministry of Internal Affairs recently told Ian Fisher of The New York Times, "We have to individualize the guilt, otherwise we have this feeling of collective guilt, that this whole nation had the goal of eliminating other people and killing. Not all of us supported this."

Many Albanians are unwilling to accept individualized guilt, "Milosevic will be found guilty of crimes," states Veton Surroi, the publisher of Koha Ditore, a prominent Albanian newspaper in Kosovo. "But his society cannot escape responsibility for those crimes. This is an opportunity for them to open the soul and say: 'Wait a minute, where was I when that happened? Where were the Serb people?' After all, they will need to deal with it, if not for anyone else's sake, for their own sake."

There have been reports that many Serbs say they had no idea what was really happening; I find that very difficult to believe. This conflict largely resembled a civil war between neighbors in their own neighborhoods, how could anyone living there not know of the rapes and killings?

Accusations have also been made that Milosevic's propaganda claimed Serbia was under imminent threat from Croatian fascists, from the Islamic pagans of Bosnia, and through "demographic genocide" committed by Albanian Kosovars with unusually high birth rates. Where's the propaganda? It's not found in his speeches nor is solid evidence of it found anywhere else that anyone can confirm.

Is anyone there telling the truth?

Mark Wheeler, director of the International Crisis Group in Bosnia, asserts, "The ethnic cleansing is permanent. The economy is a disaster. There is no rule of law. Democracy malfunctions. The international community squabbles."

And digs up more bodies.

On September 11, digging began that has produced the remains of 372 people killed 10 years ago near Sanski Most in Bosnia/Herzegovina. Nearly as can be determined, they are the remnants of Bosnian Moslems. Current reports indicate that 17,000 Muslims, 2,500 Serbs and 700 Croats are still missing. Of course, they could be in Australia by now, but I doubt it.

Like many Serbs, Dejan Milojevic, 29, a town official in Aleksinac, south of Belgrade, is tired of hearing about Milosevic and the savagery of his countrymen, "The main thing we are interested in is how to cash in on all the misery we've been through. We are willing to admit guilt in Kosovo if that will bring in money."

As if money could buy peace.

Richard Dicker, a Human Rights Watch lawyer who attended the trial said of Milosevic, "He's not crazy; what we have heard in the last two days is a very shrewd, canny political offensive. Indeed, he's trying to turn everything upside down, casting himself as the victim, NATO as the criminal and the court as accomplice to the crime. He speaks as if he's the prince of peace, that to me is the ultimate cynicism."

Yet Milosevic will probably end up with the guilt of all placed squarely upon his shoulders.


BBC - February 8, 2002, 15:49 GMT - "Kosovo anti-UN protests turn violent -- Many Albanians see the former rebels as liberators" by Nick Wood

The New York Times - February 11, 2002 - "Trial of Milosevic Will Peel Layers of Balkan Guilt, Too" by Ian Fisher

The New York Times - February 17, 2002 - "The Milosevic Defense: A Coldly Pointed Finger" by Ian Fisher


Michael W. Stowell is chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Arcata Library in Arcata, CA. He is the producer/editor/videographer of numerous public access television programs; he is a naturalist, a gardener, a bicyclist and a Swans' columnist.


Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Michael W. Stowell 2002. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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Published February 25, 2002
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