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Syndicate: FW: [BGD-forum] Charles Simic: Who Cares?

-----Original Message-----
From: Mihailo Milinkovic []
Sent: Friday, November 05, 1999 1:41 AM
Subject: [BGD-forum] Charles Simic: Who Cares?

From: Mihailo Milinkovic <>

Who Cares?

New York Review
October 21, 1999

Begun in folly, continued in crime, and ended in misery

It's hard to find anything good to say about Serbs these days. Burning
villages, killing women and children, chasing hundreds of thousands of
blameless people out of their homes hardens the heart of anyone
watching. To set neighbor against neighbor is not only evil; it's also
stupid. Poor Serbs, their leader is a Balkan Jim Jones and they have
behaved like members of a religious cult preparing themselves for
mass suicide by sipping a foul-smelling brew of nationalist bluster
and self-pity. Like any such spectacle of self-debasement, it is
painful to watch. So many perfectly normal and good people are
to be found among them. Do they also deserve to be demonized
and punished for being trapped with lunatics? Many in the West,
who ought to know better, think they ought to be.

Predicting Milosevic's actions has always been child's play. One
merely had to stop to consider what would be humane and
advantageous to the Serbs and then imagine its opposite.
"What vile thing is he planning to do to the Albanians?"
I wondered with a couple of Serbian friends as the NATO
bombs were starting to fall. As someone who spent time in
Yugoslavia during World War II in a small village disputed by
four warring factions, I knew what our people were capable of.
We suspected it was going to be something monstrous
and we were speechless at the prospect: the horror awaiting
the innocent in the cauldron of hatreds and the shame we felt
as Serbs. It took a moment's reflection to realize there would
be a bloodbath.

As obvious as this seemed to us, there are Serbs who still won't
admit that there is a connection between the actions of their
president and the mess they are in. The universal truism that
you reap what you sow has become incomprehensible to
them. In their own minds, the Serbs are innocent because
their poverty and suffering are real and there's always someone
else to blame for it. In a state where the ruling elite has been
engaged in mass murder and ethnic cleansing in the name
of all Serbs, prominent academicians, intellectuals, and
political analysts continue to occupy themselves with unraveling
the Machiavellian intricacies of the New World Order. They see
the most ambitious nationalist projects of their neighbors realized
with the blessing of the "international community" and they have
difficulty understanding why they were not allowed to do the same.
Thanks to this kind of reasoning, Milosevic's dream has come true:
Serbia is now a nation of ten million war criminals. He only has to
read the American press to have his proof. Haven't more than
a few intellectuals, historians, and newspaper columnists told
their readers that there's a clear collective complicity of ordinary
Serbs in his crimes? That's what he himself always believed
about Albanians and Bosnians as he set their towns on fire. His
quarrel with the world?so he must think?is not philosophical, but
is merely a quibble about which ethnic group is culpable.

Future historians may be astonished at the resurgence in our time
of the idea of collective guilt as a respectable argument. The fate
of 600,000 Serbian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and some
180,000 from Kosovo who are now in Serbia and Montenegro
is a good example. After hundreds of columns and Op-Ed
pieces expressing horror and outrage about the plight of Albanian
refugees, there's hardly a peep about this new wave of unfortunates.
The few who have addressed the issue have said (as they've said
earlier about the expulsion of Serbs from Croatia and western
Bosnia) it's regrettable, but, let's face it, vengeance was to be
expected. Of course, they are lucky not to be able to read the
nationalist press in Yugoslavia. The same selective morality
is the height of fashion there.

This similarity of perspectives drives anti-Milosevic Serbs to
It is shocking to them to realize that liberal Western intellectuals
journalists, whose integrity they once idealized, do not believe that
victims everywhere ought to be pitied, that they pick and choose
who deserves compassion and who does not, as if they were
epicures of suffering. Some of the same people who rightly
condemned the shelling of Vukovar and Sarajevo had no
complaints about NATO's "bombing for peace," which, from the
information available, killed more civilians than soldiers, hit more
hospitals and schools than tanks, freely dropped cluster bombs on
populated areas, and created an ecological disaster, all acts
explicitly condemned by the Geneva Convention as war crimes.
They accepted the premise that killing the innocent to save the
innocent is perfectly acceptable when it serves a higher purpose
and they slept the sleep of the just.

In the meantime, the expelled Albanians are back in their burned
homes in Kosovo returning the favor by torching Serbian and
Gypsy homes, looting, kidnapping, and doing plenty of bloodletting
of their own. It turns out that they, too, believe in collective guilt
and punishment. The columnist William Pfaff explains it all in the
International Herald Tribune: "As Bismarck observed, nations
are created in blood and iron. Such is the case of Kosovo."
He advises the "international community" to "defend the security
of Kosovo's Serbs, but without illusions as to their eventual
He is not alone in the West in holding this view. So far, in fact,
these daily murders and bombings have gone virtually unpunished.
It took the Albanian editor Veton Surroi, (See his Victims of the
Victims, The New York Review, October 7, 1999, p. 21.) and not
the leading American columnists, to remind us that there is no
excuse for what is being done, that after Albanians strangle the
last Serbian grandmother, they are liable to start killing one

The latest refugees from Kosovo camp by the side of the road in
abandoned factories, barracks, and school buildings in Serbian
border towns and wait for a handout. The Yugoslav government
allocates one deutschmark per day to the many thousands
expelled from Croatia and Bosnia; so the refugees from Kosovo
can hardly expect much for themselves. If they travel to Belgrade
to plead their case, the cops beat them up and turn them away,
since Milosevic doesn't want a public reminder of his disastrous
policy. If they seek medical help or attempt to enroll children in
local schools, they are harassed by the authorities, since, of course,
they do not exist. In a country where hundreds of thousands of
workers are out of jobs after NATO's destruction of its economic
infrastructure, where pensions and salaries, already miserable,
are customarily a few months late, practically everyone sees the
situation as hopeless; and that of the refugees is the most
hopeless of all.

If they are nearly invisible now, they are bound to become even
more so in the months and years to come. The official US policy
is to maintain the sanctions on Serbia, to give no economic aid,
to make the refugees suffer along with the rest of the Serbs until
they get rid of Milosevic. United Nations relief agencies and the
Red Cross do what they can, but the chances of Vanessa Redgrave
or Elie Wiesel dropping by for a visit are slim. Even the bombs
that fell on them and killed more than a few did not upset Western
commentators very much. I cannot imagine a more awful predicament,
but then I remember plenty of other people in Africa, Asia, and the
Middle East who also have no future. What makes the plight of
these Serbs different, perhaps, is that it occurred just at the time
when everyone talks about human rights. The wars against
Milosevic were ethical and humanitarian campaigns intended
to rescue the innocent. How is it that these thousands of refugees
are not an issue for the high-minded among us who pretend
to be our moral conscience?

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