2005-03-01

The fake left loves the far right

This passage is on a reasonably popular «alternative news» site:

«Although Milosevic was an elected president, the United States wanted him removed from power. The disintegration of Yugoslavia, spurred on by the claim for sovreignty [sic] by Croatia (backed by Germany) and the unrest in Kosovo eventually led to a NATO invasion and occupation of Serbia. President Milosevic however remained defiant and in power. OTPOR was the group selected to spark popular protests to have him resign or removed from office.»

The factual errors I count are: 1) Slobodan Milošević was not «an elected president,» but was appointed by the parliament in a rush session in 1997 which was scheduled in order to prevent the deputies who were certain to vote against him from showing up (he did, of course, «win» a series of fraudulent elections to a different position earlier on), 2) there is little evidence that the United States wanted Milošević removed from power, and considerable evidence that he was treated as a favored negotiating partner and the «key to peace» in the region (on this point see Richard Holbrooke's memoir), 3) Yugoslavia «disintegrated,» in the sense of having federal institutions which were neither functional nor recognised by the constituent members of the federation, well before any republic declared independence, 4) NATO did not invade or occupy Serbia, 5) Milošević was far more compliant than defiant, abandoning the project of territorial expansion in Croatia, accepting the Dayton and Kumanovo agreements, and being the first to extradite a suspect to the Tribunal in whose custody he now finds himself, 6) Milošević did not resign from office, nor was he removed, but was rather defeated in elections he had himself called in September 2000. Then of course there is the contextual question: nothing happened between Croatia's declaration of independence in 1991 and the Kosovo intervention in 1999? Actually, a few things come to mind.

But I am not persuaded that this kind of nonsense comes from not knowing the facts. Probably it comes more from relying on the readers not knowing the facts, the easier to make a broad ideological point.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Factual errors, yes. I can add a couple more. 7) Dick Miles was charge d'affaires, not ambassador. He left Belgrade in early 1999, in advance of the NATO bombing, and did not return. So it's hard to see how he was the genius behind OTPOR's election campaign a year and a half later. 8) OTPOR's white hand symbol was not based on the old black power symbol. It was designed by a 19 year old graphic design student who was a big Tolkein fan, and it's based on the "white hand" of Saruman's orcs.

Oh, and I have no idea what he means by "requisite multimedia street performances". Costumes? Puppets? OTPOR never went in for that sort of thing. Unless driving a tractor through the doors of the Serbian Parliament counts, and that wasn't OTPOR.

-- That said, it's possible you're being too hard on the guy. I don't see that he's deliberately trying to deceive the reader. It looks more like he's just acting as a sound chamber for a certain sort of received wisdom. Which is itself ironic, since he castigates MSM for doing the same sort of thing. But still, this looks more like sloppiness than malice.


Doug M.

Eric Gordy said...

Yeah, you're probably right. I still wanted to put something up on it since this sort of thing should probably be answered.

Anonymous said...

Sure. Anyone who parrots stuff from emperorsclothes.com without factchecking deserves to have his knuckles rapped.

BTW, apparently the "OTPOR uses the Black Power symbol" meme originates with Jared Israel. Quelle surprise.


Doug M.

coturnix said...

Thank you for setting this straight.

And btw Soj is a woman (she blogs on DKos often).

P.S. Being "from there" I am never sure what are facts and what is fiction about history of my own homeland I was fed to as a child, so can you please fact-check my post on Lysenko?

Yakima_Gulag said...

Well I think the partnership of the fake left and the far right is very obvious to anyone who is not politically naive. The radio is full of people who are far right who defend Slobdan Milosevic, or who for their own self serving reasons were against doing anything at all about either BiH or Kosovo.
Anyway OTPOR which I respect as an organization, and the ordinary people who joined in like the miners from Cacak with the earth eater would all have died in the streets if the Secret Police had not decided to let OTPOR succeed.
They did so because they could see which way the wind was blowing.
This is just my opinion, you may fact check it if you like.
:)
Katja

Eric Gordy said...

Katja, I think you are right.
But what I really want to tell you: I am going to fix the page design. My idea is to keep the layout but change the colors to something clearer. However, I have to learn to do some CSS coding in order to do this, I hope it will not take too long.

Anonymous said...

There's a more thoughtful take on the Orange Revolution and its management over at blood and treasure.

It's still not what I'd call rigorous, but it raises some IMO valid points:

"OK, so what do we think of freedom as a brand management strategy? The obvious answer is: who cares, so long as it works. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that for a couple of reasons.

"The first is to do with what you might call brand integrity. While the smart fellows were co-ordinating behind the scenes, the media were awash with images of joyous spontanaeity. The people were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, though mad as hell in a camera-friendly, tulips-in-the-gun barrels sort of way. It was this sense of spontaneous peaceful popular revolution that gave the Orange insurgency its moral force and helped bring about widespread foreign support. And along with that there was immediate criticism of people, as with Jonathan Steele, who tried to look behind the scenes to see how the whole thing was brought about. Steele’s sin in this wasn’t “opposing democracy”, it was blowing away the pixie dust around a highly organized information warfare operation.

[I don't think this was the only problem with Steele. Still, the point is valid. -- Doug]

"There’s also the matter of Russian intervention. At the time this was spun as a brutish and clumsy attempt at intervention which broke on the rock of a spontaneous popular uprising. Now we know it was a brutish and clumsy foreign intervention on behalf of 44% of the electorate which was outsmarted by a slick and smart foreign intervention on behalf of 56% of the electorate. What do we suppose that Putin is actually going to learn from this?"

This sort of thing deserves more cool and thoughtful examination. Especially since there's likely to be more of it before long.

Doesn't seem to be getting it, though. MSM is all flowers-in-rifles pixie dust. There is a critique coming from the left, but it is that it's all a plot! By the US embassy! To open the country to multinationals and the CIA!

Progressive politics needs a single short word for "being disappointed by the willful fatuity or gullibility of people you'd otherwise like to admire."


Doug M.

Eric Gordy said...

That's an interesting piece, thanks. As for the one short word: does "Naderity" work?

DoDo said...

Hm. While I agree with the thrust of your critique (I did similar, most of all defending OTPOR), I can't agree with it all.

Eric, as far as I know, Kosovo is part of Serbia, so yes it was invaded by NATO, tough only after Milo agreed to it.

Also, I can't see how the Clinton administration didn't want Milo to be removed from power during the bombardment of all Yugoslavia [if what you read from Holbrooke extends to this period, I must say I wouldn't consider him an impartial witness here]. The scenario was the same as during Desert Fox in Iraq a few months before (also in precedents for the Bush admin's Iraq war spin: do you remember the fabricated torture chamber stories via then German defense minister Scharping?): hope for popular unrest or internal coup as people blame Milo for the bombing (but in Iraq as in Serbia, the converse happened).

Also, I believe if the West had pushed the opponents of Milosevic to try to twarth him within a disfunctional federal republic, rather than being romantic about nationalists like Tudjman and Wilsonian idealists about 'free people' (especially the then right-wing government of Germany), maybe the bloodshed and ethnic cleansings on all sides that followed would have been avoided, at least on this scale. (Implicit in this is that I don't think Yugoslavia's state of 'disintegration' had to be a final affair.)

DoDo said...

On a tangential note, a question: can you recall an early nineties mass protest against Milosevic in Belgrade that was crushed by the army (or heavy-armoured police), with tanks on the streets? I read such a story a few years ago, but recently couldn't find a good source (maybe for lack of details).

Eric Gordy said...

Dodo, thanks for your response--I'll give a serious reply, but I'm just headed off for a bunch of meetings until late afternoon, so I may not have it until tonight. In the meantime everyone read DoDo's excellent blog at:

http://manicnetpreacher.blogspot.com/

The protest you mean must be 9 March 1991. The actual events of 9 March were dramatic and a little violent, but the really interesting stuff came in the following days when the students ran the "Terazija parliament" on the streets.

Eric Gordy said...

DoDo, let me start with the one place where I think we really disagree, and that is where you say "Kosovo is part of Serbia, so yes it was invaded by NATO, tough only after Milo agreed to it." The argument simply does not make sense to me--first it seems to conflate a UN administration to which Serbia agreed with a NATO invasion, and second it seems to rely on a legalism to describe a political situation. Don't get me wrong here, there are all kinds of legitimate reasons to object to both the conduct of the war in 1999 and to UNMIK, but they don't require using labels that don't apply.

As to the business about whether the bombing campaign was intended to remove Milosevic--maybe this was an intention of the policy makers, but to believe that it was requires believing that they had no clue about what always happens in a country when it is attacked. Regardless of what kind of regime is in power, politics are suspended and people close ranks around. Milosevic was already very weak politically, and had not recovered from the 1996-1997 demonstrations. The bombing camapign gave him the opportunity to regroup, extended the life of his regime, and assured that the opposition would see its chance in running a candidate who disagreed with Milosevic on nothing substantive. So the US not only kept him in power, but contributed to assuring that his crew would remain even when he was out. You could say that the US is still keeping him in power.

As to how the business of disintegration was handled in 1990-1991, we agree: disaster after disaster. I am not among those people who attribute every thing that happens in a country to the interventions of powerful outsiders, though--the malice of domestic actors (also the political tin ear of PM Ante Markovic, who tried to do the right thing only once it was too late and he was too weak) can be added to the misguidedness and ineptitude of the internationals. So yeah, Yugoslavia didn't have to fall apart, and if it did, it didn't have to happen in a criminal way.

I shouldn't go on too long--send me your e-mail address and I'll send you a paper I did on the development Milosevic's policy from 1989-1991.

coturnix said...

I was in Belgrade on March 9, 1991. My house is on Bulevar JNA which is a broad street that goes from city center (Slavija) out towards the army barracks. I heard a rumble (and there is never thunder in March in Belgrade). I opened the window and immediatelly knew what it was. I got on the phone to some of my friends in the center who were demonstrating there and I counted 40 tanks and armored vehicles going downtown. The demonstrators hijacked firetrucks and made street-blocks. The soldiers were in no mood to fight their own people. The cops followed the orders, but healf-heartedly. I knew several of them and they quit the police force several days later because they did not want to be forced to do that again. The police horses were all beaten up and the riders taken down and beaten up, too (mounted police does not work in a peasant country where people are not afarind of horses).

coturnix said...

That was the last good opportunity to get rid of Milosevic for another 10 years. The demonstrations lasted several days and nights and I went a couple of times. He had to make many consessions, including live TV from the Parliament, etc. But, once the wars started, Milosevic built his own loyal police force out of refugees - it was too late.

Anonymous said...

Coturnix, great post. I like the point about the horses!

The 1991 riots seem to have been a wakeup call for Slobo. Unfortunately, he was all too quick to learn from experience.

Eric, firm agreement that the breakup of Yugoslavia was contingent. It was not inevitable that it would happen, and it was not inevitable that it would happen in the way it did. Disaster after disaster, yes, and Yugoslavs (of all ethnicities) share more blame than foreigners... though foreigners certainly played their part too.

But we disagree about the effect of the Kosovo war. I don't see that Slobo was weak in 1999. Yeah, the demonstrations of 1997 forced him to allow Djindjic to become mayor of Bucharest. Then Zajedno fell apart -- big surprise -- and Djindjic ended up out on his ear. By late 1998/early '99, Slobo was as strong or stronger than ever.

He, his family, and their friends were getting richer every day. Seselj and the Radicals were still part of the government. In 1998 the government was getting more dominated by Slobo, not less; consider the ouster of Radoje Kontic (who occasionally might venture a mild criticism) with Momir Bulatovic (least said the better). The judiciary was completely corrupted. There were still clean cops, but the police and militia as a whole had been seriously degraded, and were under the oversight of the Red Berets. (Pause for a moment to contemplate that the mumbling, disheveled, puffy-faced thug from Zemun once had power to loose and bind over every cop in Serbia.) Bogoljub Karic was still Slobo's fawning sycophant; Arkan was still strutting around downtown Belgrade, smuggling cigarettes and fixing football games.

The opposition was just as weak and divided as ever. The print media (with a few honorable exceptions) were venal and supine. The broadcast media were in the pockets of Slobo and his friends. The Public Information Act of 1998 let the government shut down dissenting voices at will. Folks who made trouble for the government were turning up dead (Slavko Curuvija) or living in fear (Djindjic).

I mean, look at the emergence of OTPOR. It's rarely a good sign when student groups are /leading/ the opposition.

As for the post-Slobo government, I have trouble seeing how we were going to do much better than Kostunica + Djindjic under any plausible circumstances. Gotta have a presentable nationalist at the top of the ticket. (This is certainly true everywhere else in the former YU. It's true in /Slovenia/, for goodeness' sake.) So Kostunica or someone like him was inevitable. And, dear Bog, we could easily have had Vuk instead. As for Djindjic, in retrospect we're lucky to have had him for as long as we did (though that was certainly not obvious at the time).

Thought experiment: no Kosovo bombing. When does Slobo fall, if ever? And who replaces him?


Doug M.

Eric Gordy said...

Doug, I think that where we disagree on Milosevic's strength in 1998-1999 depends on how the regime's moves in that period are interpreted. My inclination is to take the coalition with SRS and the repressive university and media laws as signs of panic and consciousness of a narrowing base, rather than signs of being able to do anything they wanted. On the general worthlessness of the Serbian opposition, oh boy do we agree!

Bora, there's one more thing about horses: they are very sensitive. One thing the police discovered in 1991 is that if you try to break up a demo with an equestrian brigade using tear gas, you end up with a lot of sick horses.

Yakima_Gulag said...

I can tell you the mere threat of horse mounted police are highly effective any really urnbanized place. Horses are big, and if they are trained to trample and not to mind noise, as is the method in San Francisco, well, then they work. No that threat would be utterly ineffective in any place where people actually use horses for work. Had not known that bit about the tear gas effects on horses but it stands to reason. They have big lungs and I have never heard of a tear gas mask for horses.
Some people actually become hearly immune to it, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey used to say 'once you get a wee taste of it, it doesn't feel that bad'. She was speaking of CS gas which is much nastier than normal teargas.
'I remember reading about the events in Belgrade March 9 and thinking hmmmm not everyone is with the program..'
I don't share the view of student run opposition organizations that some have expressed. At least they are some sort of alternative to slickly run oppositions which turn out to only be other moneyed people apealing to one set of instincts as against other slickly run organizations appealing to another set of instincts.
I was reassured by the student run side of things.
Vuk would have been a disaster! Boze dragi! I'm glad he didn't wind up running things.

Anonymous said...

My inclination is to take the coalition with SRS and the repressive university and media laws as signs of panic and consciousness of a narrowing base, rather than signs of being able to do anything they wanted. I have trouble seeing it. There was weariness with Slobo, sure, but with no plausible alternative I don't think it was translating into much "narrowing of the base".

Recall that Slobo's /electoral/ base was never huge, and was largely rural. Remember the rent-a-crowds bused into central Belgrade? Sure, it's entirely possible that during 1997-early '99 his support was shrinking down to that core (though I'd like to see some evidence).

But his /power/ base was as strong as ever. The TV stations, the secret police, the Red Berets, the nouveau riche, the courts, the banking system, the newspapers... he had them all. To lose power required a catastrophe followed by foolish overconfidence.

Now, you can argue that much of that base was opportunistic, and I wouldn't disagree for a moment. Bogoljub Karic is a particularly radiant example, but a lot of Slobo's allies had no love for him and were willing to turn and savage him once he was down. But, by the same token, they wouldn't turn until he /was/ down.

Again, how do you see Slobo-without-Kosovo losing the 2000 elections? I have trouble with it, myself.


On the general worthlessness of the Serbian opposition, oh boy do we agree!Yeah. Until 2000, they were completely pathetic. Then they briefly got it together. Marginalizing Vuk was key (though he did most of the work himself). So was the tenuous alliance between Kostunica and Djindjic.

It's all very fractal and gnarly and, well, contingent. October 2000 and its aftermatch could have gone a lot better -- imagine an alternate Djindjic who wasn't quite such a slick weasel, yoked with an alternate Kostunica who wasn't quite such a pompous ass. On the other hand, it could have gone worse; imagine Legija & Co., changing their minds, and deciding that maybe a bloodbath would be kinda cool, actually.

I digress. Yeah, the opposition mostly sucked. I liked the OTPOR guys a lot, though. I'm not sure (meaning, I really don't know) how crucial they were... in Belgrade, at least, they were preaching to the converted. But they were a lot of fun to hang with.

There's a restaurant on Knez Mihailova called "Queen of Greece". It serves Greek/Serbian food. And it's horrible... bad service, grimy ambience, and really awful food.

The old OTPOR offices used to be right above that restaurant. So the OTPOR guys used to eat there all the time. They said that the food was so bad because there were secret police in the kitchen. (Certainly there were very obvious secret police types sitting in the dining room, ostentatiously watching the OTPOR folks.)

I never went there until 2002 or so. Sure enough, it was dreadful. I mentioned this to an ex-OTPOR friend.

"Well, damn." he said, "You mean it was just a bad restaurant all along?"

I don't know what this anecdote means.

Okay, off to the AmCham meeting.


Doug M.

coturnix said...

Gas-masks for horses exist and the Belgrade mounted police squad has them but they never thought to put them on the horses. Their veterinarian is a good friend of mine and I saw him the day after - he had some horror stories to tell, including effects of tear gas, though that was relatively easy for him to fix in comparison to eyelid cuts and other mechanical/injury stuff for which he had to anesthetize them and do surgeries all day and all night long. He quit the police shortly afterwards, too.

Eric Gordy said...

This is my favorite comment thread on here so far -- everything from politics and restaurant reviews to horse senses! It is what discourse is all about. Not to make light of the suffering inflicted on these poor horsies through no fault of their own, of course. But it would be easy to make fun of the Otpor folks (for whom I still have some sympathy too), since there are lots of other places to go eat around there, some of which are good and nearly all of which are cheap.

One thought about the Otpor people is that an important thing they did was get arrested. Why? Because they were kids, and none of them did anything more dangerous than put up posters or arrange imaginative protests. This forced their parents to take sides, and made it impossible for them to continue thinking that anyone who got foul treatment by the regime must have deserved it.

Anonymous said...

it would be easy to make fun of the Otpor folks (for whom I still have some sympathy too), since there are lots of other places to go eat around there, some of which are good and nearly all of which are cheap.Think it through, Eric.

You're working for a student organization that's being watched by the police and is violently disliked by the local dickhead nationalists. You have an attack of the munchies. You

a) go downstairs to the Queen of Greece, where the service is bad and the food is crap but everyone knows who the cops are and you're surrounded by your friends; or

b) eat somewhere else, where the food may be better, but you're alone, and where a dozen SRS thugs (youth wing) or Delia football club - cum - Arkanovtsi wannabes may walk in the door at any time?

-- The OTPOR guys said they feared ordinary cops hardly at all; secret cops, more than a bit; but the guys in black t-shirts, most of all. When OTPOR folks got seriously hurt, it was almost always by that third group. And it was a popular tactic to just inform some of the local Young Unemployed Nationalist Dickheads that a couple of OTPOR kids were at bar X or nightclub Y.


Doug M.

Eric Gordy said...

"they feared ordinary cops hardly at all; secret cops, more than a bit; but the guys in black t-shirts, most of all."That's a great insight, thanks! It makes me wish somebody had also done a good study of how those relationships looked among police folks.

Yakima_Gulag said...

cotornix, thanks for the info about gas masks for horses, I didn't know they existed. I find it interesting that so many quit the police in Serbia, it rather backs up my point that Milosevic didn't have the same support as before.

Doug pointed out that the people going to eat at the Greek-Serbian joint downstairs was practical, and makes a lot of sense actually, because wandering long ways from HQ is stupid in such situations anyway. Anyway popular unrest has a long tradition of bad food.

What Doug said about the guys in the black shirts is borne out by personal experience in the States too.My experiences were in a small town high school in a very small northern California town. The anti-war anti dress-code anti-closed campus bunch at my high school were never even ONCE beaten up by the police. In fact I don't remember the actual police even being called on us ever. The real danger was the third string of the school's football team (American type football, so extremely large guys by comparison to the rest of us) The same went for what happened with student organizations on college campuses, the cops might have been a danger, but the local 'Red Squad' or COINTELPRO, or FBI was much more to worry about. Eventually those guys were pretty obvious, then there were third string athletes, and stupid drunken frat-boys. Good athletes tended not to want in on that stuff.
I was very glad when we all moved down to New Mexico, it was a lot saner for some reason.

DoDo said...

Damn, I lost this thread somehow... many thanks for the replies on the March 9, 1991 and subsequent events.

Eric, you wrote: maybe this was an intention of the policy makers, but to believe that it was requires believing that they had no clue about what always happens in a country when it is attacked.

Well, but that is exactly what I believe. You and I know this because we studied history and saw plenty of examples. But those plenty of examples exist because a lot of leaders thought they can break the enemy by breaking the moral of its populace by various means.

As I mentioned, the Clinton government itself tried this before, in Iraq (Albright's position regarding the sanctions; and in a limited way Desert Fox). In WWI, Dresden comes to mind.

You have a point about not blaming outside powers for everything happening in a country. Perhaps I should have explicitely noted that decisions of foreign governments were just a factor.