When Yugoslavia disintegrated into civil war, Serbs, Croats and Muslims indulged in a horror show of mutual mass murder. With the Serbs tapped as the biggest villains, the Western media focused in on Milosevic and vilified him as a modern day Hitler. He was blamed for starting the war and accused of genocide and ethnic cleansing against Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
After much handwringing and rhetorical outrage, Canada, along with other Western nations dispatched thousands of peacekeepers to quell the slaughter, and took part in a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia. Nonetheless, about 140,000 died in what are referred to as the Yugoslav wars between 1991 and 2001.
Seems it was the wrong call, at least to some extent. Earlier this year, in a decision that received minimal media attention, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) exonerated Milosevic.
Milosevic, the tribunal ruled in late March, wanted to prevent the breakup of Yugoslavia, and while he initially supported Bosnian Serb leaders to that end, there is no evidence he was part of a “joint criminal enterprise” to victimize Muslims and Croats.
“Based on the evidence before the Chamber regarding the diverging interests that emerged between the Bosnian Serb and Serbian leaderships during the conflict and in particular, Milosevic’s repeated criticism and disapproval of the policies and decisions made by … the Bosnian Serb leadership, the Chamber is not satisfied that there was sufficient evidence presented in this case to find that Slobodan Milosevic agreed with the common plan” to forcibly remove Muslims and Croats from territory claimed by Bosnian Serbs.
Indeed, Milosevic “openly criticised Bosnian Serb leaders … (for) committing ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘ethnic cleansing.’”
No doubt, Milosevic would have appreciated those words. Only he wasn’t around to hear them. After losing power in 2001, a new pro-Western Serbian government turned him over to the ICTY. Then Canadian Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, acting as tribunal prosecutor at the time, indicted him as a war criminal. He spent five years locked up only to die of heart failure in 2006 in the midst of his trial.
The media that characterized Milosevic as a moral monster – often cast as the “butcher of the Balkans” – has effectivly ignored his posthumous exoneration. Searches of Google News and other databases turned up no stories in the Canadian media and only a few in other Western outlets.
The ICTY probably likes it that way. The Milosevic case is buried in a 2,950-page ruling the tribunal issued March 24 after convicting former Bosnian Serb leader Radozan Karadzic of war crimes.
Karadzic’s 40-year prison sentence garnered widespread media coverage, but it seems few journalists turned to page 1,235 to read the nine pages devoted to Milosevic.
Not every journalist, however. “The butcher wasn’t a butcher after all,” Scott Taylor, the editor of Esprit de Corps magazine writes in a recent edition. “The ICTY makes it clear that Milosevic actually helped to force the Bosnian Serb leader to sign the 1995 Dayton Accord Peace agreement.”
The Milosevic ruling also vindicates those who didn’t think he was the villain that Western powers, especially the United States, made him out to be.
“The idea that he started (the war) is completely false,” says James Bissett, who served as Canada’s ambassador to Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and testified on Milosevic’s behalf. “I don’t think he was guilty of wanting a ‘Greater Serbia’ or genocide.”
Will those who vilified (SLANDERED) Milosevic admit they were wrong?
As Bissett puts it: “Even in the early days, it was apparent that most of the media reporting about the cause and course of the Yugoslav fighting was biased. In effect, the Serbs were branded as the bad guys, and any news developments were interpreted on that basis.”
It seems that when governments need a bad guy to justify questionable actions, propaganda supersedes the truth.