Thursday, August 30, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [30]


In the opening paragraphs of this chapter, Parenti attempts to link Milosevic to other world leaders who have been "demonized" (he uses that word a lot in reference both the Milosevic and Serbs in general) by the West in order to justify military action against their regimes. The company Parenti puts him in is interesting--Qaddafi, Noriega, and Saddam Hussein. All four of these leaders, we are assured, have been slandered--because as far as claims that, say, Milosevic and Saddam were threats to regional security and peace:

"If not blatantly false, such charges are usually inflated."

He is quick to modify his opening comments with the disclaimer that sometimes these leaders are less than saintly; but they are still better than the long list of dictators supported over the years by the US.

If Parenti wants to make the point that Pinochet, the last Shah of Iran, and Somoza were horrid dictators, he'll get no argument from me. I have nothing good to say about any of those characters. But all three of them are gone, and have been for some time. To say this is not to defend past injustices committed or at least tolerated by the US and its proxies during the Cold War (or before, or after). It is simply to state a fact; and also to make one further point--it is possible that a current action taken by the United States in the here and now can be, perhaps should be, judged on its own merit. We should not forget the more sordid and shameful episodes in our nations' history. But neither should be shackle the idealism of the present to the ugliest episodes in our past.

Parenti goes on to point out the the US was negotiating with Milosevic right up through Dayton, and only 'turned' on him later; while this might seem like a devastating point out of context, any reasonably informed observer at the time knew that the US was simply trying to get a peace deal done in Bosnia. As part of that effort, it was recognized that Milosevic was also eager to end the fighting as soon as possible. Continued Serb defeats and retreats incurred a political and economic cost he was not willing to pay. The decision to make Milosevic a "partner in peace" was simply a tool of expediency by an administration not particularly keen on getting involved in Bosnia but very keen indeed about getting Bosnia off the front pages of the papers with an election year coming up.

At this point in the chapter, Parenti's work as a shill for the Milosevic regime becomes much more explicit. He asks the reader to "[c]onsider some components of the FRY [sic] system" and then lurches into an extended, multi-part riff outlining the utopia which was the whitewashed "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" of Parenti's imagination.

The fact that elections were held is trumpeted; Parenti compares US condemnations of the fairness of the political process under Milosevic to earlier refusals to acknowledge the legitimacy of the 1984 Nicaraguan elections held by the Sandinista regime. As someone who was once very sympathetic to the FSLN, I admit to a twinge of outrage at the comparison. For all their faults, the Sandinistas did not wage aggresive war against their neighbors; nor did they commit systematic genocide against entire sectors of their domestic civilian population.

He tops that comparison for disingenuousness, however, when he (quite seriously, apparently), makes this claim:

"After serving two consecutive terms as president of Serbia, Milosevic honored the Yugoslav constitution's prohibition against a third term. He next stood for election as president of Yugoslavia itself."

This is the same consitution that, once upon a time, had guaranteed autonomy for Kosovo and Vojvodina, but never mind that--the fact that Parenti can report this well-documented power play by Milosevic as a high-minded deference to rule of law is really the height of unintentional comedy. He even has the chutzpah to compare this action--favorably, of course--to actions taken by Izetbegovic and others.

We then here that Westen claims of Serbian propaganda by the regime are sheer rubbish, and that Serbs had more access to dissenting media outlets than almost anyone else. This would be an interesting point, if it were true, but it isn't, at least not completely (the dissedent press suffered frequent harrassment and shutdowns, as is well-documented, even if an opposition press did exist). The fact that the media in Serbia wasn't as tightly controlled and totalitarian as in, say, North Korea is not the same as to say that absolute freedom of information existed, or that the opposition press that did exist fought on a level playing field against state-run media outlets.

There is a boxed-aside in this section, entitled "And the USA?" This passage--taken from an article by fellow-traveler Barry Lituchy--is worth quoting:

"Where are the opposition newspapers and TV stations in this country? Can you go to your local newspaper or magazine that calls for the overthrow of the US government? Can you turn on the TV or radio in the evening and listen to socialist or communist politicians giving their views on world or local events? Why does the US demand such opposition media in socialist countries when it does not have it in its own country? Americans are so brainwashed, so housebroken...that they don't even think of these questions."

What to say? Lituchy does a marvelous job of inadvertently betraying the simple-minded dishonesty and the unearned arrogance of the Balkan revisionist mindset. For one thing, I can go to any coffee shop or any student union in this country and pick up some radical publication of one ideological bent or another. The corporate-owned Borders in my quiet suburb carries books by Noam Chomsky, among others, and would be happy to order any other radical publication I care to purchase. I've seen C-SPAN coverage of the American Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Party Convention, and I've seen Katrina vanden Heuvel on Sunday chat shows. Granted, the range of political opinion and ideological adherence of guests on most primetime and major network news outlets tends to be much narrower than is actually available, but for Lituchy to imply that there is some sinister bias at work because Crossfire doesn't regularly ask whoever's replaced Gus Hall at the CPUSA for his opinion is more than a little silly. If this were 1915, we could legitimately ask why Eugene Debs isn't getting equal time with Mitt Romney. But it isn't 1915. There isn't a viable socialist option in American politics right now.

Lituchy and Parenti are stuck in the past, fighting for an ideological balance that wouldn't reflect the true diversity of opinion and analysis which do deserve wider airing. I would like to see a wider spectrum of opinion represented in the mainstream media as well; I would like to see unorthodox and radical idea given a fair hearing. But the standard we hope for needs to be a little more nuanced than "calling for the overthrow of the US Government."

More troubling is the nasty, condescending comment at the end. But this is typical of Lituchy, Parenti, Johnstone, Chomsky, and that lot. They are immune to reason, since anybody who disagrees with them must be ignorant, brainwashed, or just stupid. Calling Americans "housebroken" is the height of snobbish disdain. And a very unjustified snobbery, at that.

Parenti's examination of the media in Milosevic's truncated Yugoslavia follows the same logic as his "revelation" that there were opposition parties and elections in Serbia under Milosevic. Parenti honestly believes that quotes from Serbian artists and comedians to the effect that Milosevic allowed limited political dissent as an escape valve of sorts are either sheer rubbish or merely the deluded ranting of Western tools. Once again, when asked to choose between ordinary people and a dictator with blood on his hands, Parenti sides with the autocrat.

One other point about both this chapter and at least the preceding one--Parenti repeatedly refers to his trip to Serbia in 1999, the observations he made, and quotes from the people he spoke with while on this sponsored, obviously biased group trip. One such example comes now:

"For a police state, Yugoslavia appeared to have a notable scarcity of police on the streets."

He seems to mean this sincerely--as if the reason critics of Milosevic both inside and outside of Yugoslavia spoke of a police state and police state tactics was because Serbian police forces were enforcing traffic laws with a heavy hand.

He moves on to war crimes, where he reaches new heights of dishonesty and feigned surprise--he states baldly that:

"The war crimes that the West has charged Milosevic with seem to be far less serious than the war crimes committed by Tudjman or Izetbekovic [sic] or, for that matter, Clinton, Blair, and NATO."

The point being that the ICTY charges against Milosevic "only" allege 391 deaths total. And that most of the charges relate to incidents which took place after the beginning of NATO bombing. So, Parenti implies, there really was no case against him.

I doubt there is any reasonably informed reader who does not realize that prosecutors tend to bring charges they think they can make stick. Genocide is a hard charge to prove, especially when most of the evidence implicates a proxy regime such as the Bosnian Serb Republic.

Finally, Parenti notes that Serbia itself is a multiethnic country with many non-Serb minorities. The fact that he spends several pages detailing this well-documented fact indicates just how naive and uninformed Parenti's ideal reader would have to be (I made this same point regarding the target audience in my review of Diana Johnstone's "Fools' Crusade"). It is a fact that some Bosnian Muslims from the Drina valley escaped from the early phases of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia by fleeing east, into Serbia proper. I'm a little surprised Parenti does not exploit this fact for all it's worth; in fact, he doesn't bring it up at all. What this is all supposed to prove is not sure--apparently, since the Milosevic regime did not engage in a Holocaust-scale cleansing of the republic they already controlled (and where Serbs were the uncontested majority), we are to conclude that any allegations of ethnic cleansing elsewhere are simply absurd. Again, the Balkan revisionists raise the bar impossibly high, rather than monitoring what actually happened.

He closes with interviews with a couple of Serbian government officials (surely their objectivity and honesty cannot be questioned--he takes all they say as insightful and gospel truth). The tone of these comments is self-righteous and cloying. I can almost picture Parenti nodding furiously in commiseration, waiting for a pause in the monologue so that he might interject with a groveling apology for being part of the evil, imperialist West. He gives these two socialist functionaries something that he withheld from Bosnian rape victim, Albanian refugees, international aid workers, and Western journalists--the benefit of the doubt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kirk, that's one of your best posts.