Three main historical perspectives highlight Slobodan Milosevic’s role in the Kosovo Conflict. These are the media, documentaries and books. These three perspectives emphasise a particular point of view in regards to how Milosevic dealt with the Kosovo conflict, and what others, including the Western world and his own people thought of it. Independent Yugoslav media and the Western media depicted a man who was power hungry and abused that power by controlling the majority of media within Yugoslavia as well as the national police force to achieve his own agenda. Documentaries are a visual historical perspective which show Milosevic as either ‘The Butcher of the Balkans’ as he was dubbed by western countries, or a Serbian hero for those documentaries which were pro Milosevic. The British BBC documentary Smrt Jugoslavije: 3 deo - Pad Milosevica (Death of Yugoslavia: Part 3 - The Fall of Milosevic) 2007 shows a highly negative image of Milosevic, whilst promoting the Albanian Military as fighting for the rights of a suppressed people. A Google video called ‘The Truth Hard Evidence of Crimes Committed Against Serbs’ illustrates a Serbian perspective of the Kosovo Conflict, highlighting the role of Milosevic as well as the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army). Books are the third historical perspective used to emphasise Milosevic’s role during the Kosovo Conflict. They highlight the changing opinions of writers over time and express their opinion whether it is bias or critical, showing the reader their version of events and what perspective they believed was true, be that American/International or the Serbian perspective.
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Milosevic was elected President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on July 23, 1997 and remained in office until October 5, 2000. While in office Milosevic always maintained that he was dedicated to finding a peaceful solution of the ethnic hotpot that was Kosovo. The Western media played the major role in highlighting Milosevic as a despot dictator hell bent on genocide who was the main instigator of the Kosovo conflict. Given widespread coverage, this anti Milosevic view influenced the general public’s perception of him. His efforts were deliberately undermined by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), who not only armed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and al-Qaeda terrorists operating in Kosovo, but also launched a 86 day illegal bombing campaign against a sovereign country that was not at war nor had it fired a single bullet outside its own borders, causing a massive humanitarian catastrophe in 1999. The media’s influence on the public portrayed Milosevic as a murderer, who was captured and tried in the Hague tribunal for war crimes and genocide, the first time a serving president of a country was treated in this way. The Western media portrayed a negative view of Milosevic which is stated through media reports.
Victor Peskin, an assistant professor who researches in international relations argues in his book ‘International Justice in Rwanda and the Balkans’ in 2008, that ‘with the media firmly under his control, Milosevic played on the fate of the Serb minority in Bosnia and Croatia under the terror of the fascist Croatian Ustasa movement during World War 2’. This shows how Milosevic controlled and used the local media to scare the Serbian public into supporting him by playing on their fears of a repeat of atrocities committed in WW2, against the Serbs by the prop Nazi puppet state of Croatia and Bosnia. This same fear and scare tactic were used during the Kosovo conflict. In Kosovo, growing Albanian nationalism and separatism led to growing ethnic tensions between Serbs and Albanians. An increasingly poisonous atmosphere led to wild rumours being spread. Often trivial incidents, such as fights between youths of Serbian and Albanian background were blown out of proportion to serve the needs of political power. It was against this tense background that the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU, from its Serbian initials, САНУ) conducted a survey under Serbs who had left Kosovo in 1985 and 1986. The report concluded that a considerable part of those who had left Kosovo had been under pressure by Albanians to do so. Milosevic used these findings and in association with his control of the media played on the hearts and minds of the Serbian people to build up his own political agenda.
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`But even as U.S officials presented Milosevic as a statesman, there was increasing public evidence and high profile news coverage of his culpability in war crimes. However, scholars and journalists alike have paid much less attention to the West’s policy in regard to the Serbian government’s lack of cooperation with the tribunal.’ Peskin further emphasises that Milosevic, although he was a statesman, was not inclined on caving in to the international pressure, especially in regards to Kosovo and its autonomy. Similarly, Robert Thomas, a writer and analyst specialising in the politics of the Balkans, wrote in his 1999 book, Serbia under Milosevic - Politics in the 1990s, that ‘when elements in the opposition or the media took actions which were considered to be a threat, the state reacted in ways which were both arbitrary and unchecked by any legal restraint.’ This shows how Milosevic had control of the media, and did not allow the publishing of anything that was considered a threat to him or the country. He controlled the police which in effect assisted in suppressing demonstrations against his many decisions in regards to the Kosovo conflict.
On the other hand, Robert Thomas also writes about the positive aspects of the media, in regard to Milosevic and the Kosovo Conflict. ‘According to the line taken by the state media, the demonstrators were all rabid chetniks intent on destroying the achievements of socialism. These neo-chetniks, the state media maintained, like their Second World War predecessors, were collaborating with the enemies of Serbia. As an example, the pro-government weekly ‘Intervju’, noted: “Flowers are laid... the call of unity and togetherness is all the greater...”’ ‘This article argued that Croatian Serbs were afraid that they would be left at the mercy of Croatian nationalists if the anti government political parties continued to ‘stir up the people’ against the Serbian government.’ This was again highlighted when the Serbian government considered the KLA "terrorists" and "insurgents", attacking police and civilians, while most Albanians saw the KLA as "freedom fighters". It truly portrays the ‘other side’ of the story of Milosevic and the Kosovo Conflict. Slobodan Milosevic expresses his passion for Kosovo in the BBC documentary, Smrt Jugoslavije: 3 deo - Pad Milosevica (Death of Yugoslavia: Part 3 - The Fall of Milosevic) 2007, when he states, “Kosovo isn’t any part of Serbia; Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. All our history is at Kosovo. All our churches are at Kosovo.”
Christopher Bennett writes in his book, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences (1995), that ‘while the Serbian media have been filled with stories of imminent Albanian revolt ever since Milosevic came to power; the likelihood of insurrection is minimal.’ Given the scale of the Serbian police presence and the fact that Albanians are unarmed, it would be tantamount to suicide if their leaders were to organise a revolt. This shows that Milosevic had Kosovo fear him in order to keep everything under control and in order. Slobodan Milosevic took the process of retrenchment a stage further in 1990 when he revoked the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina and replaced locally chosen leaders with his sympathisers. Robert Thomas further points out that Mihailo Markovic, an academic, had supported Milosevic in his push to end Kosovo autonomy. He states, ‘We are fortunate to have at our head the most capable, honourable and courageous man since the time of King Peter the First - Slobodan Milosevic.’
The second most important form of historical perspective is documentaries. These show a visual understanding of the Kosovo Conflict and the perspectives of the director. The BBC documentary, Smrt Jugoslavije: 3 deo - Pad Milosevica (Death of Yugoslavia: Part 3 - The Fall of Milosevic) 2007, is a British documentary depicting a negative image of Milosevic. The opening lines state “Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Yugoslavia and Serbia is now in the dock. The first head of state to be tried by an International court for war crimes and genocide.” In 2000, a BBC article stated that NATO at War shows how the United States, which had described the KLA as "terrorist", now sought to form a relationship with it. The U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard referred to the KLA as terrorists. Responding to criticism, he later clarified to the House Committee on International Relations that "while it has committed 'terrorist acts,' it has 'not been classified legally by the U.S. Government as a terrorist organization.'" On June 1998, he held talks with two men who claim they are political leaders.
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Richard Holbrooke, assistant secretary for European and Canadian Affairs, expresses that “fighting for their [Kosovo Albanians] lives is a difficult thing to do and I understand that.” Chris Hill, an American Diplomat, stated the force behind the American influence on the public. “Secretary Albright ordered me [Chris Hill] to go see Milosevic and to make it clear this absolutely has to stop. He told me that they were simply conducting operations against terrorism. I said ‘Let me tell you what I first saw in Milosevo. I saw men in Serb uniforms putting television sets and other consumer goods into a trailer...’”
“The West had stood by before as Milosevic protested innocence while perpetrating ethnic cleansing. Now he was at it again. The Americans urged their allies to act,” the British voiceover announced. George Robertson, the British Defence Minister, expressed his concern regarding the Kosovo Conflict and Milosevic. ‘What we needed to do there was to put in place some action to back up the United Nations resolution... There’s a list of demands... he has got to do a whole variety of things laid down by the United Nations.” If he doesn’t do that, we know the United Nations cannot move, so NATO will move. NATO will say “or else”.’ NATO's bombing campaign lasted from March 22 to June 11, 1999, involving up to 1,000 aircraft operating mainly from bases in Italy and aircraft carriers stationed in the Adriatic. James Rubin, Political Advisor for Madeleine Albright, emphasised how “She [Madeleine Albright] pounded her fist on the table and looked at the room and said, “I want you all to understand, getting rid of Milosevic is my highest personal priority. I want him gone before I’m gone.””
Vojislav Seselj, a nationalist Serbian politician, wrote in a speech to the Serbian public, “Milica Rakic, one of the children killed in the NATO aggression, is nothing to them. About her and her family, no one writes or speaks about, not in domestic or foreign media.” He highlights the victims of the conflict, and how they go unrecognised and unmentioned in the Western news. He emphasises a strong argument against NATO when he mentions Dragan Erdemovic, a mass murderer from Srebrenica, who received only 5 years of prison for his crimes. “They don’t mention this because it is desirable if you kill for them, in their name, and undesirable if you are their political opponent.” The Serbian politician makes a valid point, arguing that NATO congratulates those who kill in their name, but condemn those who kill against them. This shows the one sided attitude that NATO holds, and the bias opinion which they have against Serbians. He concludes his speech with these words of hope, “I am proud and confident that we will not allow the animal tortures of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, also the crimes of NATO committed during the aggression of Yugoslavia, to be forgotten. We can forgive all, but never forget so as it may not be repeated.” Seselj was an inspirational speaker, trying to keep hope for those who survived the bombings.
The third most important form of historical perspectives is books written over time, as they highlight the changing perspectives of Milosevic over time, and how he handled the Kosovo Conflict. ‘A number of professors, writers and journalists, among them political scientist Michael Parenti in his book To Kill a Nation, have argued that the actions of Milosevic, and of the Serbs more broadly, were systematically exaggerated by the Western media and politicians during the Bosnian War in order to provide justification for military intervention.’ This shows how the Western media would go to any lengths to cover up their actual intentions, in order to keep a positive image in the public’s eyes. ‘Adam LeBor, a biographer of Milosevic, states that Milosevic was not a dictator, suggesting that Serbia under Milosevic was not a totalitarian regime. LeBor points out that the opposition continued to operate throughout his rule and Slobodan even negotiated with and made concessions to a leader of student demonstrations on one occasion. LeBor also points out that when election results in Serbia were disputed, the government had called in international observers to evaluate the validity of the elections and accepted their verdict when it was judged that Milosevic’s Socialist Party had been involved in electoral fraud.’ He holds a negative view of Milosevic, highlighting how the government called in international observers who concluded that his Socialist Party had been involved in electoral fraud. This is based on international opinion, which could be bias as not many countries were in favour of Serbia during the time of the Kosovo Conflict.
‘In her book Fool's Crusade Paris-based journalist Diana Johnstone contends that Milosevic’s actions during the conflict in the Balkans were no worse than the crimes of the Croats or the Bosnian Muslims, asserting also that the massacre in Srebrenica has been exaggerated. Political scientist Edward Herman endorsed Johnstone's findings in his review of Fool's Crusade in the Monthly Review.’ This emphasises the one sidedness of the international media and the control they had in the exposure of information to the public. ‘In another book, The New Military Humanism, Noam Chomsky, who at times writes collaboratively with Herman, disagrees with Johnstone's views on Milosevic, the Serbs, and Srebrenica in particular. While Chomsky believes that the massacres at Srebrenica did occur, he does not believe that Milosevic was involved, pointing to the Dutch report that claimed that he was horrified to hear of it.’ ‘He has described Milosevic as a "terrible person", but still believes that he was not a dictator and that his crimes have been exaggerated while the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army have been ignored.’ ‘In a 1999 interview, Chomsky sparked controversy with his view that to call the deaths in Kosovo “genocide” was "an insult to the victims of Hitler".’
In conclusion there are three main historical perspectives which contributed in highlighting Slobodan Milosevic’s role in the Kosovo conflict. These perspectives were the media, documentaries and books. These three sources of information, show that Milosevic was a negatively perceived man, especially by the international media and the public, who are unfortunately influenced by what they continuously see and hear. It is clear that Milosevic was a man of action, passionate about Kosovo and was not willing to give it up lightly. Milosevic was president of The Former Republic of Yugoslavia, and had control over Kosovo and other Yugoslavian states. The Serbian media was under Milosevic’s rule, whereas the international media was under the American rule and subject to bias opinions controlling what was shown to the public. The international media reports were mostly negative, portraying Milosevic as a genocidal man, ruthless in his actions against Kosovo Albanians, dubbed the Butcher of the Balkans. Documentaries, such as the British BBC documentary on Milosevic had a negative image of him from the opening scene and opening lines. The British and American government in effect controlled the public by controlling the media and news they were exposed to. Expressing a one-sided story, they had described Milosevic as a cold hearted killer. The Serbian media on the other hand had informed the Serbia public about what was happening, by visually showing the horror taking place right outside their homes. Milosevic had tried to control the situation internally, although was powerless to stop the American’s involvement. Books are the most important historical perspective which highlight the changing perspective of Milosevic’s time. Some authors wrote of his courage and others of him as a terrible person. Slobodan Milosevic was the Former President of Serbia and Yugoslavia, tried in the Hague tribunal for war crimes and genocide.