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Marjorie Cohn on the Death of Slobodan Milosevic
By Roger Lippman
March 17, 2006

 


Marjorie Cohn, then president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, spoke in a radio commentary on the death of Slobodan Milosevic (March 11, 2006, KPFA FM). In response to her remarks, I wrote to her as follows:

 


It's unfortunate, I think, that the effect of your statement is to minimize the crimes of Milosevic.

Certainly Bush & Co. should be tried for their war crimes, but can't we talk about Milosevic for 60 seconds without trying to change the subject? The issue at hand is Milosevic. There is plenty you could have said, not just about Serbian war crimes, but about the role of Western powers in allowing Milosevic's crimes to continue through the 1990s.

Your statement about the history of the Yugoslav conflicts was in many ways uninformed and misleading.

  • You said that "the United States facilitated [the collapse of the Yugoslav Federation] as far back as 1992." But Slovenia and Croatia had declared independence in June 1991, as did Bosnia early in 1992. And Milosevic and his allies had already made plans to impose Serbian hegemony over the remnants of Yugoslavia. This issue is covered in detail in The Left Revisionists, by Marko Hoare. See the section entitled "Who destroyed Yugoslavia?" See also The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Breakup, by Branka Magas, 1993.

  • You comment that "ethnic cleansing took place on both sides," but this was in the context of aggression started by the Milosevic regime. Milosevic implemented his plans to expel Muslims from Bosnia and Albanians from Kosovo. The victims responded with criminal attacks against Serbs as well, but the scale of Serbian war crimes was vastly higher. To equate the scale or the guilt of the various sides, as you do, is to apologize for and cover up what the Serbs did.

  • You say that in the Kosovo war, "the [NATO] bombing created a huge refugee problem where it had not really existed before." According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), however, about 460,000 people had been expelled from their towns and villages before the beginning of NATO’s intervention. (UNHCR Kosovo Crisis Update, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. March 30, 1999) This information was widely reported in the news at the time. I hope that you consider 460,000 refugees to be a problem.

  • You say that there is evidence that Milosevic was "actually opposed" to the ethnic cleansing. It would be interesting to hear that evidence, and how you have evaluated it for credibility. The evidence that Milosevic was directly involved in the joint criminal conspiracy that led to the Balkan wars and subsequent mass murder and crimes against humanity is abundant. See, for example, Indictment at The Hague: The Milosevic Regime and Crimes of the Balkan Wars, by Norman Cigar and Paul Williams, 2002, a prima facie case against Milosevic from the public record; much evidence has come in the trial, as well.

It strikes me as odd that you had almost nothing to say about Milosevic's many victims, given your record and that of the National Lawyers Guild in making a priority of defending the otherwise defenseless. A person in your position speaking thus for a leading radical organization discredits the progressive community.

Rather than relying on many of the publications of the Left, which are replete with denials of Serbian war crimes, you ought to take a look at some more genuinely progressive perspectives on the Balkan wars. For example, see Balkan Witness, where you will find writings of progressives who have actually visited Bosnia and Kosovo, and not just Belgrade.

In my opinion, the message of people speaking for the Left at this time should be one of solidarity with all of Milosevic's victims, and their survivors.

--Roger Lippman                          
 

By way of (non-) response, Cohn replied as follows:


Thanks for your email.  You raise good points.  I figured that since the mainstream media covers nothing but Milosevic's crimes, I should focus on NATO's.

Have you seen my Truthout articles: 
War Crimes: Goose and Gander (March 13, 2006) (Formerly at http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/031306J.shtml)
Getting Away with Murder (March 21, 2005)
         (Formerly at http://www.truthout.org/article/getting-away-with-murder)

--Marjorie Cohn        
 


I responded:


I disagree with your logic that "since the mainstream media covers nothing but Milosevic's crimes, I should focus on NATO's." By this reckoning, you leave the field to mainstream voices, which generally present the Yugoslav wars as humanitarian intervention, or to those on the Left who deny and/or justify Milosevic's crimes.

There is a Left perspective, and it needs to be argued publicly. The Left can't be stuck with the position that the crimes of US official enemies are best left to others to talk about. Rather than falling into the paradigm of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," we are sophisticated enough to be able to express solidarity with the victims of Milosevic, the enemy of our enemy. But your statement that "the NATO bombing was about economic hegemony, access to Caspian Sea oil, and the promotion of a global free market economy, not ethnic cleansing" fails to deal with the multiple currents at work, in addition to being inaccurate.

For a stimulating discussion of this question, I recommend Against the Double Blackmail, by Slavoj Zizek. See also the writings of tremendously inspiring Serbian opposition groups such as Women in Black (Belgrade) and the Humanitarian Law Center. Somehow, such anti-fascist voices of solidarity with Serbia's victims were not mustered in our own country.

I have read your truthout articles. In your review of Michael Mandel's book (formerly at http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/032105B.shtml), How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes against Humanity, it seems that you think there should have been intervention to stop genocide in Rwanda. But at the same time, you criticize the intervention that stopped what had every appearance of developing into genocide in Kosovo, if the record of Milosevic in Bosnia was any indicator. I find this confusing. Certainly it would have been nice if the UN had done its job, but in both cases it failed. The alternative of doing nothing was not acceptable.

On the subject of Racak, you were misled and misinformed by Mandel. If you read about the Finnish pathologists' report you will see that it in no way confirms the Serb version of events. See the Balkan Witness compilation of relevant documents and analyses on Racak. You will find that the leader of the Finnish forensic team declared that the Racak victims were unarmed civilians. I can't imagine why you would accept the version of those who committed the massacre, rather than looking at the perspective of the victims.

Perhaps in your preparation of the review of Mandel's book, you learned that he is a member of the Srebrenica Research Group, which was established to deny Serbian responsibility for the massacre at Srebrenica, and to downplay the extent of the massacre. This group held a press conference at the UN on the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, not to offer condolences to the survivors, but to minimize the number of victims, to claim that most of those killed were Bosnian soldiers, and to absolve Serbian forces of the killings.

By praising a flawed book that endorses the version promulgated by the war criminals, you again discredit yourself and the organization you represent.

Regarding your March 13 article on war crimes (formerly at http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/031306J.shtml), I agree with what you say about US leaders, except that your discussion of the situation in Yugoslavia needs more nuance. Clearly the NATO actions caused needless destruction. But what would you have done if it were in your power to stop Milosevic's campaign of destruction and expulsion in Kosovo? Clinton saved the people of Kosovo. It should have been done earlier, and differently, but in 1999 it had to be done. How? This is a question that no one on the Left has answered satisfactorily.

--Roger Lippman                          
 

Marjorie Cohn never replied to my second letter.

 


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