The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The trial of Slobodan Milosevic:
U.S. imposes its power over the Balkans

Jul 16, 2001

On July 3, Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia, was arraigned at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague for “crimes against humanity” that he is accused of committing during the war in Kosovo in 1999.

This was hailed as a victory for the U.S. government, which had openly threatened and bribed the Serbian government to force it to agree to extradite Milosevic to the The Hague. Back on April 1, immediately after the Serbian government arrested Milosevic, the U.S. government released 50 million dollars in “aid” for the Serbian government. Then during the week leading up to Milosevic’s extradition, Secretary of State Colin Powell twice warned the Serbian prime minister that unless Serbia immediately delivered Milosevic to The Hague, the U.S. would block Serbian government efforts to raise over one billion dollars at an international conference in Brussels.

Despite the fact that Serbian President Kostunica repeatedly denounced the international tribunal and asserted that Milosevic should only be tried for embezzling government funds instead of “crimes against humanity,” he ended up giving in to the U.S.

Of course, the Serb leaders tried to use all these maneuvers with the U.S. to reinforce their very fragile hold over a Serb population. On the one hand, by refusing to give up Milosevic except at knife-point, the Serbian leaders tried to show that they were not just patsies for the U.S. government. On the other hand, by allowing Milosevic to be tried for war crimes, they were trying to put all the blame for the suffering of the Serbian people on Milosevic’s shoulders.

In no way are the U.S. leaders acting against Milosevic out of any sense of “justice.” For years, the U.S. government had treated Milosevic as the strongman of the Balkans. Sometimes, U.S. leaders even reinforced Milosevic’s position, as when President Clinton called Milosevic “the guarantor of peace” during the Dayton Peace Accords when the different powers divided up Bosnia following the Bosnian war six years ago. Only in the course of the war that followed in Kosovo did the U.S. leaders turn on Milosevic. Only then did they decide to go to war against Serbia in order to impose their absolute control over the Balkans. With Milosevic’s arrest, the U.S. government sent a message not just to the other Serb leaders, who are politically no different than Milosevic, but to all the other leaders of the region, that the U.S. was still the boss.

But it was the Serbian population that paid the price for the war, the embargo and the catastrophic collapse of the economy. In no way is this policy aimed at improving the conditions that the laboring masses of the region have to live under, nor to relieve the vast divisions and hatreds that these policies have opened up.