Milosevic Handed Over to the Hague

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By GERRY FOLEY

Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic ruthlessly overode the objections of the Yugoslav Supreme Court and Yugoslav federal President Vojislav Kostunica on June 29, delivering Slobodan Milosevic into the arms of the U.S.-sponsored International Tribunal at the Hague.

Djindjic apparently was ready to pay a high political price in order to meet the U.S. deadline. Washington had declared that it would boycott the international aid donors conference held on June 29 if Milosevic were not handed over by that date.

The Serbian premier got his payoff. The conference, with U.S. participation, voted to give the rump Yugoslavia even somewhat more than the billion dollars it had asked for.

In handing over Milosevic, Djindjic undoubtedly agreed to other conditions that were more onerous and more difficult to defend, such as an agreement to sell off state companies to international investors and to guarantee the restoration of capitalism.

Djindjic’s abject capitulation to U.S. pressure exploded the contradictions in the government that rose to power on the back of the October insurrection. The government’s symbolic leader and most popular figure, Kostunica, is a long-standing moderate right-wing nationalist who has kept his distance from the imperialist powers. The Serbian premier, on the other hand, has made no bones about his readiness to collaborate with the imperialists for the sake of hoped-for material rewards.

Kostunica, besides being a Serbian nationalist, is a strict constitutionalist, and in response to Milosevic’s extradition he accused Djindjic of repeating the sins of the ousted strongman’s government in trampling on the law.

Both the legalism and the nationalism of Kostunica were reflected in the make up of the federal government, which was based on a coalition between the Socialist People’s Party (SPP) of Montenegro, a former partner of Milosevic’s Socialist Party, and the Democratic Opposition that defeated Milosevic in the September 2000 elections.

The SPP is a minority party in Montenegro, the tiny country (600,000 inhabitants) that is now Serbia’s only partner in the rump Yugoslav federation. The majority party, the Democratic Socialist Party of the Montenegran premier, Milan Djukanovic, boycotted the last federal elections and remains committed to secession from the Yugoslav federation.

Since the federal house of parliament is made up of an equal number of deputies from Serbia and Montenegro, Djukanovic’s boycott left the SPP, with nearly all the Montenegran deputies, as the majority party in the federal chamber, even though it got only about 120,000 votes.

Thus, in order to maintain the legal forms of federal government, Kostunica had to try to entice Milosevic’s former partner in Montenegro into a bloc with his coalition. The SPP quickly rallied to the new regime. An SPP leader, Zoran Zizic, was elected federal premier. But the base of the party remained Serbian nationalist, very similar to Milosevic’s party.

Thus, the extradition of the former nationalist demagogue put the SPP in a difficult position. Zizic promised protesters from the Socialist Party and from the extreme rightist Serbian chauvinist Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj that he would resign, as he did, bringing down the federal government.

Of course, the federal government is largely a fiction, but it is an essential one to the new regime, since Kostunica is federal president, and would lose his position if the federal union were dissolved. On the other hand, he is the only one in the new government that has majority support in public opinion.

According to the old opposition Belgrade weekly Vreme, Kostunica was isolated in the ruling coalition by his opposition to Milosevic’s extradition.Vreme, and most of the Yugoslav press, is now speculating that new elections are going to be necessary soon. But elections are likely to deepen the crisis.

The ruling Democratic Opposition Coalition is notoriously disparate, and it is now polarized between Kostunica and Djindjic. The issue of opposition to Milosevic’s regime and the threat of a comeback by his supporters that formerly united it is receding. Programmatic questions, such as economic policy, can be expected to loom larger. And the aid that the imperialists have just granted will not solve the country’s economic problems. In fact, given the strings almost certainly attached to it, it will make them worse.

Serbian nationalism remains the predominant ideology within the country. It has been gravely affronted by the surrender of Milosevic to an imperialist court. But it is a historically receding force. It has been compromised by the defeats in a series of wars and by the slow percolation into the Serbian public awareness of the truth about the atrocities committed in its name. In the eyes of much of the youth, moreover, it is identified with reactionary and antidemocratic attitudes.

There are sound reasons for protesting against Djindjic’s handing over Milosevic to the judicial stooges of the imperialists. The Serbian and Montenegran peoples are not going to believe that the imperialists have a right to judge war crimes, given NATO’s murderous bombing of their countries.

Moreover, the people of Yugoslavia have the right to judge him themselves. They need to do that to clear themselves of association with his crimes.

Most important, only the Serbian and Montenegran working people can clear out the corrupt Stalinist bureaucracy on which Milosevic based himself, as does the “democratic” regime that replaced him, as well as investigate his role in the attempts to restore capitalism and the links that these involved with imperialist governments and concerns.

The imperialists need Milosevic as a sacrificial lamb to conceal the fact that they encouraged him and used him for many years for their own purposes.

According to the London Guardian of July 1, “Lawyers for Mr. Milosevic are expected to claim that Western governments implicitly backed his regime as atrocities continued over 10 years.”

But this argument obviously would be more likely to be investigated in a trial in Yugoslavia. The same applies to the accusation, reported in the July 1 London Times that Milosevic sold off state companies to foreign capitalists to finance his military campaign in Kosovo.

By scapegoating Milosevic, the imperialists and their local allies in Yugoslavia aim at diverting popular outrage against the corrupt Stalinist bureaucracy that is their instrument for restoring capitalism. For these reasons, they were willing to take the political risks involved in twisting the arms of the new Belgrade rulers.

However, it seems unlikely that effective mass protests can be built in the rump Yugoslavia against imperialist pressures unless they are clearly differentiated from the chauvinist heritage of the Milosevic regime and its fascist-like allies of the Radical Party and the Serbian Unity Party (started by the gangster known as Arkan).

The present protests, however, have clearly been dominated by die-hard chauvinists and neo-Stalinists who continue to deny Milosevic’s crimes. They have looked more like the last hurrah of the flat-earth societies than the rise of a new mobilization of the Serbian masses.

Effective resistance to imperialism requires the creation of a new force in Serbian politics, since nearly all the established parties were implicated in the murderous policies of Milosevic. There are elements in Serbia that are trying to come to grips with the chauvinist heritage. But they remain small and scattered.

In order to become a force, they need to link up with the working-class resistance to the effects of capitalist restoration. But that will require the rebirth of socialist perspectives, since it is necessary to have an alternative to simply “returning to the world,” which has been the main slogan of the forces that opposed Milosevic.

For Yugoslavia today, to “return to the world” can only mean subordination to imperialism because it is the imperialists that rule today’s world. But joining the imperialist-dominated world as underlings is not only going to mean humiliation for the Serbian people but still greater material hardships.

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