March 9th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

The Hollingworth Affair

Federal Cabinet decision on cloning

Media putsch overwhelms Governor-General

Will CHOGM bite the bullet, oust Mugabe?

Straws in the Wind: Rumpole arising

Environment: National parks are an unacceptable fire risk

Agriculture: Bar lowered on quarantine once again

Media: Crude but effective

Environmental optimism (letter)

Bias: in the eye of the beholder (letter)

Economics: Privatisation: the promise and the reality

Comment: Trust: a commodity in short supply

Culture: How the media exploits the US$150 billion American youth market

ASIA: WTO entry will put pressure on China-Taiwan ties

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Straws in the Wind: Rumpole arising

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, March 9, 2002

Rumpole arising

Slobodan Milosevic has been putting on a remarkable performance at the War Crimes Tribunal, reminiscent of Dimitrov's at the Show Trial following upon the burning of the Reichstag in 1933. The Nazis were able to secure Emergency Powers from the German President as the result of that fire, for the Communists were blamed. In fact, the Nazis had done it - as a provocation. The powers they were given enabled them to pulverise the Opposition, and move to the Nazi State.

But in the interregnum, a case had to be proved as to who fired the Reichstag - and this trial, obliged to follow legal proprieties, and attended by the world's press, was seen by the Nazis as a pushover. The two principals were Georgi Dimitrov, Moscow's chief organiser in Germany, and a poor feebled-minded Communist called Lübke.

Dimitrov conducted his own defence, demolished the case against him and humiliated the various Nazis who testified against him, including Göring, whom he made look like a right proper charlie.

Hermann, now chief of the newly-created Gestapo, threatened to fix up Dimitrov once the trial was over.

Dimitrov was acquitted, poor framed Lübke found guilty - and hanged, if I remember correctly. Under the full glare of the world press, Göring couldn't fix up Dimitrov who fled to the Soviet Union, to live to see the destruction of the Nazis, including Göring, 12 years on.

I'm not suggesting that things will pan out like that for Slobo, but in his defence peroration, he greatly discomforted his accusers and drew attention to the phoniness running through the proceedings and the underlying folly of the NATO/Serb encounter. Among the many irregularities up to date:

  • The Serb leader was transferred to The Hague in defiance of a ruling by the Serb Constitutional Court, the Yugoslav Government being assuaged by the promise of billions of dollars in aid.

  • Milosevic was extradited to face charges for his responsibility for war crimes in Kosovo. As it became clear that the Kosovo charges might not stick - two separate indictments covering events in Croatia in 1991 and 1992, and in Bosnia from 1992-95, were added. But one of the most fundamental principles of customary extradition law is that a defendant may not be tried for any offence other than the one for which he was initially extradited.

    So the added charges were bad law. The way out was for the prosecutors to ask that the three separate charges be conflated into one and the judges agreed. Or as The Spectator's John Laughland suggested, "colluded". And observers are commenting on the phenomenon of the Judges and Prosecutors working as one.

  • Even here, a formal investigation into the Serb President's personal responsibility for the deaths in Bosnia opened in 1995 and found there was no evidence to charge him. The Bosnian Serb leaders were, on the other hand, indicted - and some of them are among the 90 witnesses being produced to give evidence against him. A number were earlier cited as war criminals - so are turning state's evidence. This should make life easier for them.

Milosevic is facing 90 witnesses and the case is expected to last two to three years - certainly longer than the Reichstag Trial and one wonders if Slobo can keep it up, on his own, for all that time. If so, he'll have to go into the Guinness Book of Records.

What started off as a face-saving attempt to justify the utterly destructive NATO/Serb war - with the 12 week bombing campaign of Belgrade and the ruination of Kosovo - is dwindling into an attempt to prove that Milosevic was the villain who had done it all. There is to be no mention, if possible, of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the Croats, or the Bosnian Muslims - who were always victims.

This is like World War One and "Hang the Kaiser" as a sop by the winners to their people for stuffing it up, with widespread destruction and loss of life, for few tangible gains.

The thing really sticking in the West's throat was that, in the end, the Serb forces were undefeated and defiant - and so were the Serb people. Whereas NATO had shown us how not to fight a war in the Balkans.

In fact, it was the spectacle of this allied military failure that led many to believe that the US would fall in a hole in Afghanistan. But the US had learned, just as the Red Army learned from its Finnish fiasco of 1940.

Meantime, the Serbs are watching Slobo play David to the UN/NATO Goliath, just as they did in the war. He's not losing any friends, whereas the Tribunal seems to have to buy theirs.

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