The ruling interpretation of our recent past

A kind of official version of our recent history has over time become consolidated, shared by both those who truly believe in it and those who do not wish to offend the national public opinion – especially if they are seeking to make a career in mainstream politics or institutions. More detailed research is needed on this, but the foundations of the version in question were laid by the propaganda of Milošević’s era, certain JNA generals, patriotic historians and other national activists, and our radio and television in various ways, some blatant some more subtle. This is an attempt to reconstruct as neutrally as possible this shortened course on our recent past.

The official version begins like this. Since 1918 Serbia has been part of a state that came to be called Yugoslavia. The union with the other South Slavs was a fateful Serb error, but the Yugoslavia headed by the Karađorđević dynasty was widely respected abroad, though undermined at home. After the outbreak of the Second World War, Yugoslavia could be saved only by signing a pact with Germany. This was signed by the royal government, but at the time its deputy prime minister was a Croat. This pact was on 27 March 1941 annulled by British agents and Communists, after which Germany attacked Yugoslavia, after which the latter’s army capitulated due to treachery. General Milan Nedić did all he could to save the Serbs, both in Serbia and outside of it, but in the face of superior occupying forces failed in his intention to save the Jews.

According to this interpretation of history, Serb royalists and internationalist Communists (among them Serbs) fought against the German occupation. But the great powers, and especially the USSR and Great Britain, sided for reasons of their own with the Communists, who assumed governmental power and revived Yugoslavia in their own way, which meant a federation in which Serbia was inferior, since it alone had autonomous provinces – which was an internationalist concession to the Hungarians and the Albanians. The Communist Josip Broz Tito (now called only Broz), a Bolshevik but above all a Croat, was until his dying day a Yugoslav dictator. The Serbs had the hardest time under him, which some young and gifted Communists like Slobodan Milošević came to be aware of; but the first to grasp this was Broz’s close collaborator Aleksandar Ranković, whom Broz dismissed for this reason. When Tito died, it became perfectly clear that certain important international factors – most prominent among whom were the USA, Germany, the Vatican, the Freemasons and what remained of the Comintern – wanted to destroy and break up Yugoslavia, which stood in their way thanks to its independence and authority. Their side was joined by certain Slovenes and Croats, mainly historians and artists, but also the Communists. Broz’s successors at the head of the party hesitated for a long time to confront them.

The version continues: the leaders of the League of Communists of Serbia (SKS), which in 1987 came to be headed by the energetic Milošević, resisted the destruction of Yugoslavia, just as they would have resisted any other Western and imperialist project. The state had to be defended, even though it was symbolised by Tito. The eighth session of the Central Committee of the SKS, at which Milošević was elected [leader], was interrupted to allow him to deliver a lecture on Tito’s importance. The people of Serbia sensed where its future lay and began to sing: ‘Who is our new Tito – Slobodan of the noble name.’

Only the JNA showed an understanding for the renewed and strengthened SKS’s plan for saving Yugoslavia. Its cadres understood that the collapse of Yugoslavia meant also the collapse of socialism, which was in great danger since, obeying Western instructions, the Soviet leader Gorbachev had begun to undermine the socialist camp by giving support to pro-Western elements in the East European states.

According to this view, the good intentions harboured by Slobodan Milošević and the JNA were not met with sympathy in the other republics, which evidently favoured Yugoslavia’s break-up and were supported in this by their foreign mentors, while the USSR was weak for the above-stated reasons. Only rare Communists, such as Stipe Š uvar and the leaders of the Communist League of Montenegro, understood that Yugoslavia headed by Milošević was the only and the best solution. Nevertheless, after the necessary changes in the southern and northern Serbian provinces (Kosovo and Vojvodina), the majority in the federal presidency which ran Yugoslavia sided with the SKS.

The new Yugoslav leadership, the argument goes, did not seek armed conflict. Upon the persistent demand of Slovenia’s political elite, at a rally in Belgrade this republic was solemnly and openly promised independence provided that it left behind all that it had acquired while in Yugoslavia, and was asked to be aware that it would be ruined economically (something that Western aid to the small country in fact prevented). This is how things would have gone, had not Ante Marković, a Croat who was acting prime minister at the time, of his own accord sent JNA soldiers to Slovenia, where some of them died. Milošević and the army’s general staff fulfilled their promises and the JNA withdrew from Slovenia.

The argument goes on: anti-Yugoslav elements in Croatia, taking as a pretext the strengthening of national consciousness in Serbia, grew stronger, so that the ultra-nationalist party, the HDZ headed by former Communist general Franjo Tuđman, won the elections. This was the first defeat of the Communists, but from the wrong side. Soon afterwards the HDZ proclaimed Croatia’s secession, and was given much support by the European Community headed by Germany, to whose minister Genscher countless monuments were erected in Croatia. The Serbs in Croatia, quite naturally, began to look to Serbia to save them from the resurgent Ustashe, who were doubtless planning to deal with them in the way they had done in 1941. Belgrade naturally advised them not to negotiate with Tuđman’s men, but to seek instead to separate from Croatia, since despite the SKS’s great efforts the Yugoslav illusion was in its death throes. Following the attack by Croatian citizens on the JNA, it became perfectly clear that the JNA would have to side with the Serb people and work to return Croatia to its historical borders, which were much smaller than those that the Communists had bestowed upon them at the AVNOJ sessions. For the sake of peace, an enlarged Serbia had to be established as a replacement for the collapsed Yugoslavia. In the war that followed, all sides committed crimes. The JNA was not involved in these, while Serbia did not in any way take part in the war.

This Short Course on our recent history continues with the assertion that, after Croatia, the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina too found themselves under threat. The elections in this republic were won by the major nationalist parties: the SDS (Serbs), the SDA (Muslim) and the HDZ (Croats). They worked together very well at first, having unmasked the Communists through a joint effort. But it soon turned out that the SDA and its leader, Alija Izetbegović, were Islamic fundamentalists who intended to kill Serbs. Following such provocations, the SDS leaders were forced to resort to armed resistance and the creation of a Serb state in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The government in Belgrade understood this well, and offered the Serb leaders its moral support, without engaging itself militarily. The JNA left Bosnia-Herzegovina, while those of its members who were born in that republic freely chose to join the new army of Republika Srpska. Serbia did not take part in this war either. Most reports on the behaviour of the RS army in Bosnia-Herzegovina are false and overstated. There was never any siege of Sarajevo, nor were civilians ever attacked: the incidents at the Merkale market and in Vase Miškina Street were caused by the Muslims shelling themselves. The camps of Keraterm and Manjača did not exist – the alleged proof was in fact forged by Western journalists, who took pictures of free men from the wrong side of barbed wire, making them look like prisoners. The death of some Muslim soldiers at Srebrenica in 1995 was due to a misunderstanding between the commander Ratko Mladić, French generals and Dutch colonels. Even if some were shot, the number was far smaller than 7,000.

In 1995 the West finally understood that Milošević was not a ‘Balkan butcher’, as the propaganda had described him. Western politicians and commentators rightly started to call him an ‘inescapable factor of peace’. There was even a proposal to award him the Nobel Peace Prize.

According to the accepted story, the only armed conflict in which Serbia under Milošević’s leadership did take part was the unavoidable anti-terrorist action in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999, which the police undertook against Albanian separatists. Milošević sought to reach an agreement with their leader, Ibrahim Rugova, they even signed something, but Rugova was sidelined by a group of guerrillas organised by the KLA, determined to take Kosovo out of Serbia. The international community even organised a conference in the French castle of Rambouillet, at which it became clear that the USA, represented by their minister Madeleine Albright who pathologically hated Serbs, favoured a special status for Kosovo. This is why Milošević did not go to Rambouillet, but sent low-ranking officials there.

Some well-intentioned agreements were reached in connection with Kosovo, the story continues, whereby Milošević made great concessions, but then something strange happened. The new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the end of 1998 suddenly found itself under pressure to resolve the question of Kosovo, and was attacked in March 1999. The army fought bravely, and defeated NATO in this conflict, but the price of victory and peace in the region was surrender of administration over Kosovo to foreigners, personified by NATO and the European Union. Albanian politicians, backed by Western governments, interpreted this concession as an agreement to Kosovo’s independence. It is future historians who will resolve the mystery connected with some dead bodies subsequently found in the vicinity of Belgrade and at other locations in Serbia proper, which some insist are Albanian. Given earlier experiences (such as Račak, for example), one can assume that this is just a provocation.

It follows from this presentation of events that Milošević and his governments only reacted to foreign pressure and threats, and in fact conducted a consistently peaceful policy towards the outside world and the secessionist states. They even broke off relations with Radovan Karadžić, when he refused to sign the Vance-Owen plan for ending the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Milošević himself later signed the Dayton Peace Agreement, that ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Karadžić’s subsequent fate did not depend upon Serbia. On Western orders, he was replaced by Biljana Plavšić.

The official tradition admits that Milošević caused much damage, but only to the Serbs. Relying on unreliable advisers and surrendering to the influence of JUL – the party founded by his ambitious wife, who exercised an inexplicable influence on him – he allowed international sanctions, hyperinflation and a fall of living standards to happen. Some of his closest collaborators, who were given the important task of removing state resources abroad, betrayed him and took the money. There are also indications that Milošević, at least for a while, was induced to work for an American intelligence service friendly to the Serbs – allegedly under the influence of the Serb diaspora. This turned out to be a great deception, like the earlier appointment of the American citizen Milan Panić as Serbian prime minister.

These circumstances led ultimately to Milošević narrowly losing the presidential elections on 24 September 2000. This defeat was interpreted as a defeat also for his party and its allies, so that in January 2001 a new government was formed, headed by Zoran Đinđić, which started to make unnecessary concessions to the West, including the surrender of Milošević himself to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he underwent a long trial and in the end was killed or died.

According to the patriotic version, Milošević and his collaborators were not involved in any crime committed against non-Serbs. Nor is there a trace of proof that they ordered them. The only criminal acts with which Milošević could be charged were ones committed against Serbia and the Serbs. It is quite likely that he appropriated a piece of land; that his wife through her contacts provided her cleaning lady with a flat; that his spoiled son broke speed limits with impunity, avoided military service and beat up some people of his own age. It is possible that Milošević could be charged also with some murders; but it is not clear whether he ordered them or incited others to commit them, because the investigation is incomplete, while the alleged victims include a high Communist official, a journalist with a dubious past, and a highly-strung opposition leader who was disappointed at having been removed from government, and who was most likely a collateral victim of petty mafia infighting. If it was necessary to try Milošević, he should have been tried in Serbia. He was instead delivered to the Hague tribunal, which the UN Security Council established in 1993 in order to judge only Serbs. This is evident from the large number of indicted Serbs, with a few Croats and Muslims being added pro forma – and who are given ridiculously low sentences.

According to the commonly accepted view outlined above, those who today attack Milošević’s policy towards the outside world and the countries of former Yugoslavia are not attacking Milošević but denigrating Serbia.

Translation by Bosnian Institute

Pešč,  23.09.2008.