The Guardian In Rare Form

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If you're among the many who find the UK Guardian an outrage to all that's sacred, here's some more fuel for that fire—it's the paper that doesn't even speak well of the dead. From today's anti-obit of late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic:

But it wasn't just state assets that Djindjic was under orders to sell. Milosevic had to go too, for a promised $100m, even if it effectively meant kidnapping him in contravention of Yugoslav law, and sending him by RAF jet to a US-financed show trial at the Hague. When a man has sold his country's assets, its ex-president and his main political rivals, what else is there to sell? Only the country itself. And in January this year Djindjic did just that. Despite the opposition of most of its citizens, the "heralder of democracy" followed the requirements of the "international community" and after 74 years the name of Yugoslavia disappeared off the political map. The strategic goal of its replacement with a series of weak and divided protectorates had finally been achieved.

I'll leave the rebuttal to somebody who actually knows something about Serbian politics. (It depresses me that after more than a decade of following the breakup of Yugoslavia with dutiful if never enthusiastic attention, I know probably 3.2% more about the situation now than I did in 1991.) Anyway, the article (subtly titled "The quisling of Belgrade") is offensive, but as a fan of the lost art of thug obituary, I've got mixed feelings.

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  1. FYI, Seselj turned himself into the Hague about ten days ago…and four Kosovars were captured recently, destined also for Belgium.

  2. Criminy, I must not be getting enough sleep. No, the Kosovo Four are not headed for vacation in BELGIUM, but for a trial in the NETHERLANDS.

    Which is where I’ll be, if I keep botching facts.

  3. I could be wrong, but I believe obits in UK papers
    (or perhaps some UK papers) are a bit rough, and
    don’t bother with the soft-focus happy talk
    eulogies you find over here in the US.

  4. The Guardian obit is certainly harsh side, but given the sanitized rush to canonization we’ve been seeing in the rest of the Western press, I guess it’s good to have around as a corrective.

    Yes, Djindjic was despised by a lot of Serbs, and not just bloodthirsty nationalists. His links to organized crime groups for support were by many indications real, though arguably a necessary tactical move in order to topple Milosevic at al. Indeed, the very arrest and capture of Milosevic was carried out by a special-forces unit with links to the very Zemun mafia–which he was about to launch a crackdown on–that appears to have been behind his own assassination. One obit described Djindjic as “Machiavellian”, and it struck me as right on. Yes, he sincerely yearned for a democratic, liberal Serbia, but he wasn’t above making some pretty loathsome alliances along the way in order to get to the top, photo-ops with Karadzic and all. Nor was he above backing a giveaway of state enterprises to German companies in order to secure Western support.

    As regards the dissolution of Yugoslavia into a temporary Serb-Montenegrin confederation under UN and EU pressure, Clark is right: most Serbs hate to see Yugoslavia continue to be hacked away, and many Montenegrins hate it too now that the main impetus behind their push for sovereignty–Milosevic–is gone. Montenegrins will soon have to go through border checkpoints and change money just to visit friends and hang out in Belgrade, and Serbs will have a tough time getting to their usual spots on the beach in Montenegro.

    Mr. Clark’s take notwithstanding, though, a lot of Serbs liked Djindjic, especially the young generation which is indeed mourning his passing pretty vigorously right now and feeling pretty glum about what’s next. My feeling is that while he wasn’t quite Saint Havel as far as Mitteleuropan philosopher-kings go, he was at his core a sincere democrat who cared about his country, cared about bringing its people back into the world, and had the force of personality necessary to get it done. He did a lot to renew cultural, commercial and personal ties with the other former Yugoslav republics, and had done more than anyone could have hoped to bring normalcy to Serbian life.

    And on the subject of the handover of Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, I’m all for sending probable war criminals there for trials, but now that Milosevic is there and Seselj may well be next, has Tim come out in favor of Kissinger’s extradition yet? And how about the Croat, Kosovar and Bosnian Yugoslav civil-war leaders whose bloody nationalist propaganda and ethnic cleansing efforts didn’t kill as many people as the Serbs did, but mirrored Serb policies all the same? Tudjman’s dead, but plenty of others are still out there.

  5. I have a theory on this here. Basically, I think the Guardian is philosophically compelled to hate Djindjic because he was a privatizing Thatcherite, he did in the collectivist thug Milosevic, and (thanks David Frum) a virulently nationalist Serbia would be a key Balkan ally in building France’s new anti-American bloc. I’ve blogged a few other comments on the situation there, informed by a tour in the area with the UN in 1994. Nothing is ever simple in the Balkans, and the Guardian low-bituary of Djindjic falls into the error that the Guardian always imputes to Americans — simplicity.

  6. Yes, Omnibus, and don’t forget the Trilateral Commission too!

  7. Gary, been there, done that, I know of what I speak. So get bent on the trilateralists crack.

    One of the reasons UN peacekeeping efforts didn’t stop the fighting is that the war was largely conducted for fun and profit. Many leadership elements of all three major factions in the Former Yugoslavia (FRY) had tacit (or explicit) agreements to allow the free flow of black market goods and monies back and forth. The ethnic mafias with organized crime ties throughout eastern and western europe did nothing to stabilize the situation, and an ongoing problem involved UN peacekeeping contingents that were corrupt as hell and engaged in profiteering with organized crime figures. Add in foreign influences – the Russian dealings with Serbia, the now documented Saudi Arabian and Iranian religious radicalization of the Bosnian muslims – and you have a political situation that is incapable of being boiled down to the trite platitudes mouthed by the obit and news writers.

    One thing that made it particularly tough for many of the national contingents under the UN in FRY was that the French were buddy-buddy with the Serbs in the Krajina and in rump Yugoslavia (Serbia, Macedonia) and they wanted the Serbs to come out on top. That always put a crimp in negotiations, because the UN had a tough time appearing even handed due to its largest contingent having a dog in every fight. For instance the Canadians and Brits were trying to bring peace to the Krajina… yet somehow these Bosnian Serb hillbillies kept managing to find supplies, in spite of being land locked and poor. Hmmm… wonder how that happened? The US and Brits appeared to favor the Bosnians, and Germany did a lot to get behind the Croats. It wasn’t a good situation.

    The war in FRY went on for nearly ten years because so many factions were getting rich off of it, and it was easy to keep it going by simply exploiting age old religious, ethnic and economic grudges. The people trying to end it, more or less, all wanted a different side to come out on top. It seems like the real, permanent end to it may have come about thanks to NATO’s show of force in Kosovo. Breaking the back of the Serbs took out one (overly influential) leg of the three-legged stool, and allowed the situation to tip toward peace.

    FYI, over the weekend, details emerged that organized crime figures probably conspired with Milosevic cronies and paramilitary leaders (i.e. nationalists) to bump off Djindjic. The presence of paramilitary leaders in the conspiracy probably means that no moslem nationalists were involved, but it doesn’t rule out other factions who would prefer a weakened, corrupt Serbian government to a strong, efficient one.

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