Slobodan Milosevic, 1941-2006

In the morning hours of March 11, news came from the Scheveningen prison near The Hague: Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia, was found dead in his cell. It was the second death in Scheveningen in a week; on March 5, Milan Babic, once a leader of the Serb rebellion in what is today Croatia, had allegedly committed suicide while waiting to testify in another trial. Babic had plea-bargained with the Inquisition and received a sentence of “only” 13 years.

News of Milosevic’s death prompted an outpour of vitriol in the mainstream Imperial media. Milosevic was the man it wasn’t only politically correct to hate, it was dangerous for one’s political credentials in the West not to. AP, AFP, Reuters, BBC, CNN, all the major newspapers in the UK, France, Germany, the U.S., and just about everyone else raced to see who could publish the most venomous denunciation of the man they blamed for everything that happened in the Balkans over the past 15 years.

In producing this stream of abuse, everyone was governed by the assumption that all the charges against Milosevic had been proven, if not in the court of law, then in the “court of public opinion” – in which they, of course, have been the judge, jury, and executioner all along.

“Sole Culprit”

Consider, for a moment, this editorial that appeared in the Washington Post on Tuesday:

“Ethnic and sectarian rivalry was real in a cobbled-together state, but few people expected, much less wanted, a civil war. Mr. Milosevic, a Communist Party apparatchik in Serbia, deliberately and methodically nursed this latent tension from a flicker to a conflagration and used it to consolidate a criminal regime in Belgrade. He bombarded Serbs with lies and hateful demagoguery about their supposed victimization at the hands of Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and Kosovo Albanians, and he convinced them that the only solution was a Greater Serbia created through war and ethnic cleansing. …

“More than is generally recognized, at least in his own country, he was personally responsible for the most destructive conflict, and most terrible atrocities, recorded in Europe since World War II. There were other protagonists and other criminals, some of them Croatian, Bosnian, and Albanian. But without Mr. Milosevic the Yugoslav wars wouldn’t have happened.”

Just about everything here is false. Milosevic never called for war – unlike, for example, Izetbegovic or Tudjman. His famous 1989 speech in Kosovo, often said to be a call for conflict, actually called for coexistence. That is why it is never actually quoted. By describing the very real atrocities of Croats, Muslims, and Albanians allied with Hitler as the fruit of Milosevic’s malicious imagination, the Post simply engages in Holocaust denial. The claim that Milosevic desired and pursued a “Greater Serbia” is pure propaganda-inspired fiction. As for his “personal responsibility”… well, the Hague Inquisition spent three years trying to prove it, with thousands of investigators, paid experts, and Imperial troops at its call, and managed to produce… nothing.

Another popular claim made in the press is that Milosevic had “started four wars.” Again, it’s pure fiction. The only war he could have started was the one in Kosovo – and the blame for that one lies squarely on the shoulders of NATO and its allies, the terrorist UCK. Though he claimed he was defending Yugoslavia, in truth Milosevic was all too willing to yield to separatists. He was the driving force behind the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, established by Serbia and Montenegro in April 1992, implicitly recognizing the secession of everyone else. It was the United States that refused to recognize the FRY, insisting on a fiction that Belgrade was claiming other territories.

Out With the Old

Milosevic’s rise to power in the late 1980s was just one of the stories in post-Tito Yugoslavia, which had functioned for decades as a Communist dictatorship where expressions of ethnic identity were approved only when they benefited the Party agenda. After the death of Tito in 1980, the Communists, unable to choose a successor, governed by committee; between economic woes caused by decades of central planning and bad debts, and political problems stemming from inter-ethnic rivalries Tito had exploited to secure his power, Yugoslavs were getting increasingly frustrated. A bad constitution (1974) complicated the already complex system of governance – especially in Serbia, the only Yugoslav republic with additional provinces (Vojvodina and Kosovo). When Milosevic emerged from the ranks of bland Communist apparatchiks to supplant the inept, dogmatic leadership in Belgrade, moved to amend the 1974 division of Serbia in line with the other republics, and declared that after decades of Communist suppression that being a Serb was not a fountainhead of “bourgeois reactionary evil,” he became an overnight hero to millions.

Imperial “official history” tries to paint the triumph of nationalism among the Slovenians, Croats, Muslims, Albanians, and Macedonians as a reaction to Milosevic’s rise. To do that, however, one would have to deny the historical roots of such nationalisms, or the convictions of their champions. Leaders of Slovenian and Macedonian separatists were former Communist officials, whose peoples had profited handsomely from the Yugoslav arrangement. Croatia’s Tudjman, a Holocaust-denier with a soft spot for the WWII Croatian regime allied with Hitler, and the Bosnian Muslims’ Alija Izetbegovic, an unrepentant Islamic revolutionary, were not responses to Milosevic – they had worked on their programs long before he ever appeared on the political scene. Separatist political parties had already been elected in Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Sarajevo before Milosevic won the first election in Serbia in the fall of 1990.


To secure independence, Slovenia, Croatia, and later on Izetbegovic’s Bosnian government claimed they were victims of “aggression” by the Federal Army and/or Serbia. Yet it was Milosevic who never disputed the Croats’, Slovenes’, and Muslims’ right to secede from Yugoslavia; he only supported the right of 2-odd million Serbs living in Croatia and Bosnia to secede themselves. Zagreb and Sarajevo chose to resolve that dispute violently; both Tudjman and Izetbegovic made statements to that effect, and they are publicly available.

It was during the 1991 conflict in Croatia that PR agents in the West started demonizing Milosevic as the president of Serbia, which was labeled the “aggressor” in what was actually an ethnic war. As clashes started in Bosnia in 1992, flaring up into full-scale war upon Izetbegovic’s declaration of independence in April, demonization of Serbs and Milosevic in particular became a staple of war reporting from the Balkans.

“Peacemaker” to “Hitler”

Throughout the conflict in Bosnia, the U.S., Europe, and the UN acted as if Milosevic was controlling the Bosnian Serbs, and blamed him every time the peace talks failed – even when the Muslims were responsible. Serbia remained under a crippling UN blockade from April 1992 to 1996, imposed as punishment for the alleged Serb massacre of a breadline in Sarajevo. Milosevic got no credit for his blockade of the Bosnian Serbs in 1994, or for standing by while U.S.-backed Croatian forces ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Serbs from zones nominally under UN protection. He was maneuvered into heading the Serb delegation to the Dayton peace talks by Washington, with the “coincidentally” timed indictments of Bosnian Serb leaders by the nascent (and U.S.-sponsored) Hague Inquisition.

In Dayton, Milosevic had to deal with treachery, deceit, and bad faith on behalf of not the Muslim or Croat delegations, but the American “mediators.” Richard Holbrooke proudly described in his memoir how he tried to cheat Milosevic, and only regretted getting caught. And it is Holbrooke who credits Milosevic with saving the talks, which Izetbegovic threatened to sink at the very last moment. It may have been pretentious of Milosevic to claim himself as the “key factor of peace in the Balkans,” but he had at least partially earned that designation in Dayton, and from his most bitter enemy.

Three years later, however, it was the very same Holbrooke spearheading Washington’s effort to force Milosevic into a war over Kosovo, where the terrorist Albanian “Kosovo Liberation Army” (with Washington’s support) was fighting for secession.

Today Holbrooke claims Milosevic had broken every deal he’d signed; that’s a lie. It was Holbrooke’s employer who did so, from Dayton to Kumanovo, and it was Holbrooke’s employer who was responsible for the 1999 Rambouillet “agreement” – a travesty of diplomacy not seen since the 1914 Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Belgrade. Washington today accuses Milosevic of starting the 1999 war over Kosovo by “negotiating in bad faith,” but it is hard to imagine diplomacy in worse faith than the American “peace effort” in Rambouillet, the frame job in Racak, and the subsequent naked aggression disguised as “humanitarian intervention.”

It was 1999 when Milosevic was indicted by the Hague Inquisition, again “coincidentally” with the crisis of morale in NATO headquarters as Serbia refused to surrender and more and more images of NATO’s civilian victims became available to the public. Armed with the indictment, the pro-NATO media went into high gear in their demonization of Milosevic, routinely comparing him to Hitler and the Serbs to Nazis. He had become the Emmanuel Goldstein of the new world order, whom everyone bellyfelt as evil.


Milosevic stepped down as president of Yugoslavia in the evening hours of Oct. 5, 2000, after the mob organized by the “Democratic Opposition of Serbia” had demonstrated claiming election victory, sacked the federal parliament, and stormed the state TV. Ballots documenting the alleged DOS victory conveniently perished in the fires set by protesters. The DOS, funded and organized by Washington in what would later become a pattern for “revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine, soon established a new government under the leadership of Zoran Djindjic. In April 2001, Djindjic had Milosevic arrested. In June, he broke half a dozen Serbian and Yugoslav laws and handed Milosevic to the Hague Inquisition.

There was no trace of the once-accommodating, compromising Milosevic at The Hague. That man had probably perished with the first NATO bombs in 1999. Instead, the Inquisitors faced a proud and defiant man, who threw the accusations back into their faces and insisted not only on his innocence, but on the illegitimacy of the ICTY and the culpability of NATO and Washington for the bloodshed in Yugoslavia. The prosecutors took over two years to present their “kitchen sink” indictment charging him for war crimes in Croatia and Kosovo and genocide (!) in Bosnia. Milosevic systematically demolished their witnesses in cross-examinations and successfully challenged their “evidence,” despite the hostility of the judges, who would often cut him off. In September 2004, Milosevic began his defense, after defeating the efforts of the “court” to impose counsel on him without consent.

But the trial had taken a toll on his health, and he’d been complaining of high blood pressure, headaches, and heart problems for months. Prosecutors and the media derisively claimed he was “faking it.” Just last week, the Inquisition refused his request for medical treatment at a Russian hospital, despite Moscow’s guarantees that he would return. Three days after he wrote to the Russian government, claiming he was being poisoned, Milosevic was found dead in his cell.

Poison Plot

In the letter, sent on March 7 to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Milosevic claimed that a non-prescribed drug found in his system in January indicated that someone was poisoning him, and that he feared for his life. The Inquisition responded through one of their trusted reporters, Marlise Simons of the New York Times. Simons found a Dutch toxicologist who had formulated a “theory” – based on finding a rare drug in Milosevic’s blood that could have interfered with his blood pressure medication – that Milosevic was poisoning himself so as to be transferred to Russia, where he would escape. “It’s like a James Bond story,” Dr. Donald Uges told Simons.

Though the Inquisition previously claimed that Milosevic was faking illness and not taking his medication, they suddenly rushed to confirm Uges’ “James Bond story” – through unnamed sources, of course. But Uges himself noted that the drug was nearly impossible to obtain in the Netherlands, that it was near-impossible to smuggle things into Scheveningen, and that the dose would have to be very precisely calibrated to produce the exact symptoms Milosevic was showing – hardly something doable by an amateur. Milosevic knew nothing about medicine; his fields of expertise were banking, law, and politics.

Propaganda Court

Although the “court of world opinion,” composed of “judges” such as Richard Holbrooke and the Washington Post, had already found him guilty of being Hitler Reborn, Slobodan Milosevic was never convicted of any crime, in any court, even the kangaroo “Tribunal” in The Hague. His marathon trial was formally closed on Tuesday, without reaching a verdict.

Chief Inquisitor Carla Del Ponte told the press Milosevic’s death robbed her of a chance to convict him, and that she considered it a defeat. But as John Laughland observed in The Guardian,

“[T]o say that Milosevic escaped justice by dying … assumes that ‘justice’ means not due process but a guilty verdict. The day we start to believe that we will have abandoned the rule of law completely.”

Neither the Imperial hegemony-mongers, nor the masses convinced by years of two-minute hates that Milosevic was the sole culprit for the ills that have befallen them, care a whit about the rule of law, due process, or the presumption of innocence. The majority of Croats, Muslims, and Albanians need to blame Milosevic in order to continue believing themselves to be purely innocent victims (Bosnian Muslims have gone the farthest in internalizing this sort of thinking). Even a great many Serbs find it easier to blame Milosevic for the wars, sanctions, bombing, and postwar humiliations; conditioned gut-hatred is easier than soul-searching or critical thinking.

But to blame Milosevic for everything that happened in the Balkans since 1989 is to believe a malicious, irrational fiction.


A day before Milosevic passed away, the Hague Inquisition decided to allow KLA terrorist Ramush Haradinaj to return to politics, despite the indictment against him. Another KLA terrorist, Agim Ceku – whom the ICTY never investigated, much less indicted – became the “prime minister” of occupied Kosovo. The campaign to resolve the “Serbian question” by dismembering Serbia continues unabated; Milosevic’s death provided a good pretext for more supporting propaganda.

At the time of his death, Milosevic was a prisoner. Unlike his country, however, he refused to accept his captivity and fought against it any way he could. Whatever one may think of the way he lived or governed, in his final four years, he stood alone against the Empire, embodied in the Inquisition: an overwhelming force seeking to dominate all of humanity, willing and able to twist history, facts, and logic into a sinister fiction. Milosevic did not have to resist it; he chose to. For years, the greatest coercive force in the world tried to break him, and failed. He died free.

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.