Consequences of the Hague Inquisition

"Beatings will continue until morale improves."

– Modern American joke

This week, the heat under the bubbling Balkans cauldron has been stoked by the Hague Inquisition, and more so than usual. In addition to the obligatory quota of Serb generals, among the 10 new indictments it just issued were the commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in the 1992-95 war, and maybe the current "prime minister" of Kosovo. Additionally, the EU has threatened Croatia with postponing accession talks unless fugitive general Ante Gotovina is arrested and extradited. Frustrated by the near-impossible demand of the kind formerly imposed only on Belgrade and the Bosnian Serbs, Croatian support for the EU has reached a historic low.

Already the Bosnian Muslim leaders have protested that indicting Army General Rasim Delic means "equalizing the aggressor and the victim." Response to the purported indictment of Ramush Haradinaj has been tempered in the Albanian press by tall tales of U.S. support for Kosovo’s independence. Though a target of most venomous diatribes by Head Inquisitor Carla Del Ponte for "non-cooperation," Serbia is actually extraditing many of the accused; it is only a matter of time, however, before someone in Belgrade notices they aren’t getting any credit for it, and Imperial policies of extortion continue unabated.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

According to the Financial Times, a general who surrendered earlier in the week is "the third Serb war crimes suspect delivered to The Hague in February, in turn the fifth in a series of extraditions starting last October. […] The three extraditions last month come just weeks after the U.S. ratcheted up its long-standing ‘soft sanctions’ against Serbia…."

By this interpretation, the only reason Serbia began extraditing the accused was U.S. pressure. This is a very popular perception in the Imperial establishment, echoed frequently by the media, not the least because it is useful. If Serbia submits fully and unconditionally, that will be seen as a product of pressure, and will result in its increase. If Serbia does not surrender, it will be charged with "obstructionism" and subjected to, again, more pressure. The game is called "I win, you lose." Washington and Brussels love it.

Ramush for Independence?

Earlier this week, Serbian media reported that Ramush Haradinaj, the "prime minister" of occupied Kosovo, has also been indicted by the ICTY. Though allegedly confirmed by UNMIK sources, and even admitted in the Albanian-language press, the information so far remains unconfirmed by the ICTY, so there remains a possibility it might not be accurate.

There are reports that Albanian paper Gazeta Shqiptare actually claimed that while Haradinaj may have been indicted, the U.S. is pledging $20 million to aid the cause of Kosovo independence. If Haradinaj goes to The Hague voluntarily and gladly, as he said he would, it could mean that he is confident of his innocence; or that he is willing to sacrifice himself for independence, and the deal’s been made to that extent; or both.

The Price of EU

After the most recent attack by Head Inquisitor Carla Del Ponte and the announcement by the EU that failure to capture the top Croatian fugitive from the Inquisition might delay entry talks, there seems to have been a backlash against Brussels in Croatia. Support for EU entry is down to 50 percent, and official Zagreb is frustrated at what they see as moving the goalposts.

Croatia’s rulers have been all too eager to feed the Hague Moloch their wartime officers, aware that the "history" the ICTY was writing wouldn’t endanger their Official Truth. President Tudjman conveniently passed away before any charges could be filed. His top general, Janko Bobetko, died shortly after his indictment. The brunt of the Inquisition’s efforts then landed on a field commander, General Ante Gotovina. He was one of the first generals purged by the post-Tudjman government, some of whom were later sent to the ICTY. Unlike his colleagues, Gotovina went underground. A former Legionnaire, he apparently has several convictions in France but claims he was framed for being a secret operative of the losing side in a nasty political war; perhaps, taught by this experience, he decided it was better to run than trust political patrons?

Either way, by being a fugitive, Gotovina irritated the Inquisition; and by pursuing him maniacally, the Inquisition has irritated many Croatians. Croatian public opinion has always been oversensitive when it came to the "Homeland war," as demonstrated by its hysterical reactions to anything challenging its outcome. They see Gotovina as the personification of their resentment over the perceived "threat to the Homeland."

Long favorably compared to Belgrade as an example of cooperation, Zagreb is now in a similar position. Whatever they do is not enough for the ICTY and the EU. And if they actually capture Gotovina in the next two weeks, no doubt some in the West will say they could have done so at any time, they just chose not to do it until appropriate pressure was applied.

However much Prime Minister Sanader declared that the EU is "[Croatia’s] future and it has no alternative," (Reuters) it looks like many of his people find the price of becoming a satrapy of Brussels is one they are no longer willing to pay.

Challenging the Victim Myth

However, perhaps the most far-reaching consequences may come from the ICTY’s indictment of Army General Rasim Delic, former top commander of the Muslim-dominated "Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina," and a close associate of the late Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic. Compared to other players on the Balkan stage, Delic’s charges are paltry – four counts of "violations of laws and customs of war" for allowing the atrocities of foreign mujahedin against Serb POWs and civilians to go unpunished.

By now, every inhabitant of the former Yugoslavia with a functioning brain knows that there were atrocities in the Succession Wars, and that at least some were committed by their own side. As a basic self-defense mechanism, they’ve adopted various justifications, whether "they did it to us first!" or "we were just acting in self-defense" or "our cause was just, theirs wasn’t."

While Serbs and Croats have both had to deal with charges of "aggression" and war crimes, Bosnian Muslims have continued to regard themselves as pure, innocent victims. This perception was created by Alija Izetbegovic and his followers in the earliest stage of the Bosnian War and nurtured ever since. Izetbegovic’s SDA party has been accused of corruption and wartime profiteering, but its basic ideology – of a united, Muslim-dominated Bosnia in which the Muslims ("Bosniaks") are constantly threatened by evil Serb and Croat nationalists – dominates political discourse in Sarajevo and is accepted even by the opposition.

By himself, Rasim Delic is nobody. A frighteningly incompetent officer, whose ineptitude cost the Muslims thousands of entirely avoidable battlefield casualties, he got the job as an Izetbegovic loyalist. The same reason kept him in various sinecures since 1995. Among the citizens of Sarajevo, starving since 1992, his obscenely obese figure elicited contempt and disdain. But his indictment could spark a debate on Official Truth as believed by Bosnian Muslims, whether that was the intent of the Inquisition or not.

No Angels?

Already some supporters of Imperial intervention are arguing that the Muslims "must stop insisting on the purity of their cause." Even as one of their reporters avers it’s unfair that Delic goes to The Hague before Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic, editors of the Czech-based Transitions Online argue that even though the official view of the Bosnian War – that Muslims were victims of Serb and Croat aggression and systematic atrocities – was essentially correct, the view that "Bosniaks" were angels is not only false, but harmful. Muslims, they continue, are "served poorly by leaders and international supporters who continue to feed them a diet as questionable and unhealthy as this."

This, unfortunately, isn’t the radical departure so badly needed in Bosnia. Some Muslims – notably the magazine BH Dani – have long blamed Izetbegovic and the SDA for wartime misdeeds while continuing to believe the Izetbegovic-crafted myth of Serbo-Croat aggression. TOL and Dani criticize the manifestation but not the essence. The feigned multiculturalism, the real ethnic cleansing, the "soft" imposition of Islam on the state, the mujahedin, the local warlords – these weren’t unintended consequences of Izetbegovic’s decision to wage war for Bosnia’s independence, but premeditated, deliberate, and essential parts of his plan. It’s in his book; you can look it up (.pdf).

An Imperial Cudgel

The fate of Rasim Delic, Ramush Haradinaj, or any other person indicted by the ICTY, is of course completely lost in the swirling maelstrom of politics that surrounds the Inquisition. Whatever they have done, allegedly or demonstrably, the place to judge them is not The Hague. Supposedly set up to prosecute individual responsibility for war crimes, the ICTY has from the very beginning aimed to render general verdicts, culminating in the ridiculous "joint criminal enterprise" charges against Milosevic, later expanded to include just about every indicted Serb.

Though it seems to have a particular animosity for Serbs, the Inquisition – much like its patron, the Empire – is in truth aimed against everyone in the Balkans. Croats, Muslims, Albanians: everyone’s turn comes eventually. This may masquerade as justice, but it is in fact simply brute force.

Indictments against Muslim and Albanian leaders could change the public perception of ICTY somewhat (as was, no doubt, partially its intent), but they won’t in any way alter its legality or legitimacy – there simply isn’t any. If anything, the bludgeoning of Balkans capitals with indictments and the political extortion that follows them illustrates that the Inquisition isn’t a tool of justice, but of politics: a cudgel used to beat the Successor States of Yugoslavia into submission.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.