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Slobodan Milosevic

The funny thing about Hitler is that we somehow seem to believe that the world would never tolerate another one. This is, of course, dead wrong. Since Hitler, the world has tolerated dozens of Hitlers, all approximately as bad as the first, although none quite as successful.

One of these little Hitlers had the funny name of Slobodan Milosevic, which seems like it ought to be a vaudevillian evil landlord. In actuality, he was indeed an evil landlord; he just wasn't very funny. (But then, neither was vaudeville.)

Slobbo was the son of a preacher man, although you wouldn't know it from his subsequent behavior. He was a Communist living in Yugoslavia throughout the Cold War, which was a good time to be a Communist in Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia was originally a bunch of crappy mountain Slavic republics distinguished primarily by their undying hatred for each other. Apparently, the biologically insignificant variations in Slavic genetic stock are really, really, REALLY important for some reason.

You have probably memorized the factoid that World War I began because of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, figuring that it would come in handy if you were ever on Jeopardy. What you may not know is that Ferdy, heir-apparent to the Austrian-Hungarian nobleman, was killed in Sarejevo, Yugoslavia, by Serbian nationalists who were pissed over previous grievances and believed (despite all evidence to the contrary) that Serbia had some sort of manifest destiny to attain.

After the war, the lines of various nations were redrawn, and Serbia became the leading component of Yugoslavia, which annoyed the Croatians and Macedonians, who believed they were much more deserving of this honor. This state of affairs lasted about 10 minutes, then World War II came along and led to yet more reconfiguration of the country. Marshal Tito led a Communist revolution that ended with Yugoslavia carefully parceled into a confederacy of republics, a list from which Serbia was notably absent. Tito had cleverly decided to thwart the manifest destiny by carving Serbia up into bite-sized chunks and distributing it to the different provinces in order to diffuse its political influence.

Ironically, communism in practice ended up being a far more efficient vehicle for the glorification of individual leaders than other political systems, such as democracy, despite what you would think from looking at them on paper. When Marshal Tito died after 35 years in power, the system threatened to collapse and the country immediately began falling apart.

As the government tried to recoup from the loss of its figurehead, Slobbo was busy ingratiating himself with the ethnic Serbs, who were by now quite understandably fed up with how things were being run in this godforsaken hellhole of a country. Milosevic was able to pull together a Socialist Serbian republic from the ashes of Tito's Communist Yugoslavia in 1989, which then elected him president.

After a few successful forays into ethnic rabble-rousing, Slobbo began inciting Serbians to bigger and better acts of violence, rioting and mayhem that eventually allowed Milosevic and the Serbians to seize power incrementally, culminating in the early 1990s when Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia split off from what was left of Yugoslavia. The Serbs in Bosnia, a little less than a third of the population, didn't like the split and revolted. With assistance from Serbia, they succeeded in overthrowing the country's Muslim majority. Kosovo, a somewhat autonomous ethnic Albanian region within Serbia territory, demanded complete independence, a demand to which Milosevic responded with "fuck you, you're not even somewhat autonomous anymore."

That was when things became really ugly. Slobbo began a campaign under the not-too-subtle designation of ethnic cleansing, which turned out to be exactly as bad in practice as it sounded in syntax. Slobbo set out to "purify" Kosovo, Bosnia and greater Serbia by driving out all the Muslims and Albanians currently living there.

Hundreds of villages were burned to the ground in this campaign. Mass executions of Albanian and Muslim men were staged; those who weren't killed were marched to the border and expelled after detention and torture in concentration camps. Geneva Conventions rules designed to protection noncombatant rescue personnel and wounded were completely ignored; doctors and patients alike were rounded by the Serbian military for torture and execution. The Serbian military appropriated their garb and gear to disguise themselves as Red Cross and Red Crescent workers, in order to hide from NATO air raids.

Non-Serbian women were separated from the men and put into rape camps, where soldiers repeatedly assaulted them individually and in groups. The victims included everyone from young girls to old women. Organized rapes were staged by the military in camps and hotels, while disorganized gang and individual rapes took place on roadsides and pretty much anywhere the Serbian military felt like it.

Well over a million people were displaced from their homes, and at least tens of thousands of bodies were dumped unceremoniously in mass graves. To further thwart the few who somehow survived all this and still might want to return to the country eventually, the vital records and identity papers of the displaced were confiscated and destroyed. This had the added bonus of making it very difficult to count up the dead, in the event of a war crimes tribunal.

While all this went on, the world sat by and quietly pondered the concept of making sure there would never be another Hitler. Belatedly, it realized the concept was moot. From 1995 to 1996, the leaders of the Slavic republics were pretty much marched into a room at gunpoint by the United Nations and told to work it out. The end result was a further travesty. Yugoslavia was re-formed as a loose confederation of republics, and guess which ethnic cleanser was elected to lead it?

The cleansing resumed, rather predictably, but even the Serbs were finally becoming weary of Slobbo. Mass demonstrations demanded his resignation, and when NATO began bombing the country, it put an exclamation point to the protests. In 2000, Slobbo was voted out of office. He briefly attempted a coup, but finally bailed out after everyone in the entire world, including most of Yugoslavia's population, decided it was time for a change.

In 2001, Slobbo was remaindered to the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, along with various members of the Serbian military and political leadership, where his trial is ongoing. Testimony at the trial hasn't cleared up the question of just how much responsibility Milosevic carries for the atrocities perpetrated during his watch, but it's estimated to be somewhere between "a lot" and "a whole fucking lot."

The issue of blame in the specifically legal sense is obscured somewhat by the fact that a lot of the slaughter was carried out by groups loosely allied with the Serbian government, rather than the Serbian government per se.

Milosevic decided to defend himself against the 66 charges of War Crimes he faces, which include official charges ordering the displacement of 800,000 Kosovo Albanians, related looting and destruction, massacres in at least a dozen locales; similar and expanded charges in relation to non-Serbians living in Croatia, including torture and the destruction of churches; and even more charges for mass slaughter in Bosnia, including a formal charge of Genocide.

Initially, Milosevic refused to even recognize the proceedings or enter a plea, which prompted much hand-wringing about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the War Crimes Tribunals, which are widely considered to be not very effective and only semi-legitimate (the United States, for instance, has consistently demanded and received an exemption from the tribunals).

But, happily for the illusion of international world lawfulness, Slobbo changed his mind and began representing himself rather enthusiastically, apparently trying to carve out a legacy for himself as the "Perry Mason" of Serbian nationalists, rather than his currently more common sobriquet, the "Butcher of the Balkans."

Uh, yeah, good luck with that, dude...


14 Mar 2002 During his trial at the International War Crimes Tribunal, Slobodan Milosevic questions Dr. Patrick Ball about his relationship with the hacking group Cult of the Dead Cow, based on a speech he gave in 2001.
11 Mar 2006 Deposed President of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic dies in his prison cell at The Hague, Netherlands.

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