ACTON, MA -- Slobodan Milosevic died on March 11, in a drab cell administered by the Hague tribunal. The Yugoslav mess of the last 15 years claimed one more victim. His trial was endless, inconclusive and embarrassing for the prosecutors. The affairs of the former Yugoslavia are still a long steady slog. It's no longer a live war, just suffocating stagnation, a black hole that's hissing rather than that famous sucking sound, occasionally swallowing more hapless victims into its Kafkaesque proceedings in its kangaroo court.
The good intentions implied in the "principle of the inviolability of international borders" in the post-war Europe had -- as usual -- some dismal unintended consequences. Among them is the proliferation of no-man's lands, areas stuck in limbo, administered by ineffectual peacekeepers (which usually bring in drug trade and sex trafficking) or various rebels and separatists -- from Northern Cyprus to Kosovo and Bosnia, to Transdniester, Abkhazia and Nagorny Karabakh. The Hague Tribunal, with its grim ogres like Carla del Ponte, seems to be one of these dreary institutions hovering over broken pieces of once-vibrant countries. Milosevic wasn't the evil incarnate as claimed by the Western and the Russian "liberal" media, nor a hero and a "defender of Serbia" to some of his still-loyal supporters. If he deserves the frequently-given title "The Butcher of the Balkans," he must share it with plenty of other crooks, demagogues and bandits that sprang out from the shattered pieces of the Tito's Yugoslavia in the late 80's to the early 90's. First and foremost Slobo was an opportunist, more pragmatic and less nationalistic than many other key players, such as Croatia's Franjo Tudjman and Bosnia's Alija Izetbegovic. After briefly playing with ultranationalist rhetoric from 1989 to 1992 or '93, Milosevic turned out to be a restraining factor, the most accommodating and willing to compromise in negotiations among his rivals. Before the Dayton agreement of 1995 he held a fairly credible embargo against the Bosnian Serbs -- something that Tudjman never did to his Croatian counterparts, who participated in carving up and ethnically cleansing Bosnia to a no-lesser extent than the Serbs.
But if Milosevic was one of the main characters responsible for the breakup of the Yugoslavia and brutal wars of the early 90's, the last of these wars -- the Kosovo campaign of the spring 1999 -- wasn't in any way his fault. He didn't want this war. The Clinton administration and some other Western government wanted it badly.
There are many speculations as to why the Kosovo war was started -- some more stupid than others. The ostensible reason was the repressions against Kosovo Albanians by the Serbian authorities. It is utterly laughable. It does not mean that nasty things didn't happen there throughout all the 90's and in particular since the spring of '98, when hostilities intensified. Yet, until the NATO bombing started, Kosovo was a place of a fairly routine low-level insurgency and counterinsurgency, with occasional bombings, ambushes and small-scale massacres. It was far smaller in scale than the previous Yugoslav wars or leftist insurgencies (and killings by right-wing death squads) in Central America in the 1980's. A few dozen rebel movements in Asia -- from Kashmir to the Philippines -- were far deadlier than those in Kosovo. Even closer to Europe, Turkey had a much larger-scale insurgency in Kurdistan. Kosovo had about 20 or 30 thousand or so internally-displaced refugees by the winter of 1998-99, both Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. In comparison to that, the war itself created more than a million temporary refugees, and some 200 to 300 thousands of permanent ones -- mostly Serbs who had to flee the post-war lawlessness and Albanian vengeance.
There is an excellent joke about the cause of the Kosovo war that I've heard from a European friend. Madeline Albright goes to a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, mostly men, mostly former hippies, and tries to cheer up the surly atmosphere: "So, gentlemen, shall we make love or war?" Foreign ministers look at her for a few seconds, then exclaim, all at once: "War!!!" But seriously, why did the Clinton administration want to unleash this bombing campaign? Most likely it was a combination of fairly petty reasons connected with the internal politics of the US and some other NATO members. Just a couple of months before, Clinton was impeached and barely escaped losing office. Hillary and Bill himself sorely wanted to put Monica, Ken Starr and the vultures of the Republican-controlled Congress behind them. A small, painless TV-friendly war -- straight out of the 1998's Wag the Dog movie -- seemed to be a perfect way out.
But there was an even more compelling reason. On April 23, 1999 there was a big bash planned in Washington to celebrate NATO 50th anniversary. By the mid-90's NATO was losing its purpose, and the question "what the hell it is good for?" began to sound very loudly. The Kosovo war -- purely a NATO adventure, not authorized by the UN Security Council -- was precisely what was needed to give the gathering any sense of relevance. The bombing began exactly one month before the birthday bash, on March 23. It was expected that Milosevic would fold within a few days, a couple of weeks at most. The 50th anniversary gathering in Washington could safely bask in a fresh triumph and applaud endless rambling speeches by Clinton and Co about "a new mission for a new century," "peace and security for the globalized world," blah-blah-blah. It didn't quite work that way though. The Serbian military withstood the bombing campaign quite well, and they weren't willing to budge for three months, until NATO began its systematic destruction of all civilian targets (including the Chinese embassy). It produced plenty of red faces and a glum atmosphere at the Washington summit in April.
The bombing campaign was preceded by months of negotiations, sponsored by the "Contact Group" in Rambouillet, France. The negotiations went slowly, and hardly anywhere. And yet in early March 1999 some outline of a compromise did emerge -- concerning elections, local governance, peacekeepers and observers. In fact the Serb side was more ready to sign on to the compromise, while the KLA separatists were unwilling to accept anything short of outright independence. They, and not Milosevic and the Serbian government, turned out to be the obstacle to the Rambouillet accord. But this didn't sit well with the Clinton' administration. They wanted the fireworks, no matter what. At the last moment a new set of clauses was added to the proposed agreement -- the whole Appendix B (the full text is here: http:// www.usip.org/library/pa/kosovo/koso-vorambtoc.html). It changed the game completely. The conditions in the Appendix were grotesque. NATO "peacekeeping" troops had the right to move freely anywhere not only in Kosovo but in all Serbia itself, without any need for a permission or authorization, and were exempt from any criminal prosecution on the territory of Yugoslavia, and could demand supplies, water and electricity, practically at will. If this is not the definition of an occupying army, I don't know what is. No sovereign president -- Milosevic or anybody else -- could take it and hope to remain in power. The whole purpose of the addition was to ensure that the proposal would not be acceptable to Serbs. And to start a war -- on such a despicably flimsy pretext. When the American empire itself was whacked on September 11, 2001, it had by that time done so many odious things to others that one couldn't help but think that it deserved a taste of its own medicine.
The war caused disgust and revulsion not only in Russia but throughout Eastern Europe as well. Only in Poland and the Baltic republic -- the newest American lapdogs -- was there a slim majority in favor of the war. The population of Greece -- a NATO member -- was against the war by 95% majority, and four times more Greeks considered Clinton to be a war criminal rather than Milosevic. The Kosovo misadventure has a lot to do with the fact that even after the "Orange Revolution," still only about 15% of Ukrainians wants NATO membership.
The Kosovo war helped reignite many tin pot separatist and guerrilla movements around the world. In May 1999 Pakistan-supported Kashmiri rebels launched their biggest offensive in decades against India in the Kargil region. East Timor went up in flames that summer, with a large loss of life and hundreds thousands people uprooted from their homes; from Sri Lanka to Columbia all kinds of militants stepped up their guerrilla activities.
Chechen rebels began cross-border raiding again that summer, culminating in a full-scale invasion into Dagestan in August 1999, prompting a Russian response and the start of the Second Chechen war, which more or less brought it under Russian control.
But for Russia at least the war had some positive consequences. It ended illusions about the US as a "friend" and a civilized "beacon of hope." It was the final nail in the coffin of the misguided economic policies of the 90's. The Prime Minister Yevgeniy Primakov turned his plane back in mid-air while en route to Washington for a scheduled visit as the war started. It was the right move.
That summer was the last time Russia received any money from the IMF -- or seriously listened to the Washington's harangues. The economy surged. The country became far more stable. It turned out that it's better to live by one's own brains, not by somebody else's. And for that Russians might to a certain extent be thankful to Clinton, Milosevic and other participants of that comedy -- or a tragedy -- of errors.