NATO's "50th Reunion" gathering in Washington this week has all the trappings of a funeral. So far Slobodan Milosevic has made a mockery of of the alliance, with last week's Pinocchio cover-up of the bombing of a civilian convoy fleeing Kosovo, which apparently left some 70 people dead, the low point of the air war so far. Milosevic has withstood the vaunted NATO war machine which may already be splintering from internal pressures.
The long-delayed deployment of the by now legendary Apache armored helicopters also raised questions among some observers in Washington early this week as to whether the military might not be trying to drag its feet in order to postpone ground action. There's already a minimutiny of sorts among low-level officers in the Pentagon against a war that they consider to be poorly thought out (see last week's Mondo Washington).
Beyond all this, Milosevic has made a joke of the pretentious talk of a United Europe. One message of the war to Milosevic seems to be that, despite all the platitudes about union, the Europeans will let ethnic cleansing go on in their very midst. And the Americans will fail to stop it because they lack the political resolve to send ground troops.
Ironically, with all this, the war so far has been a success for President Clinton, whose image has been reshaped from possible sex offender to resolute commander in chief. Congress almost surely will give him a requested additional $6 billion for air strikes along with some humanitarian aid.
Emergency appropriations will sidestep ground forces, allowing the president to draw support from Republicans, most of whom oppose ground troops, as well as Democrats, who don't know what to do. It's unlikely that Congress will authorize any direct funds for KLA arms. As for the Republicans who attack Clinton's air war as an unwinnable, useless exercise, the administration is beginning to trot out grim estimates of U.S. casualties designed to make them think twice about sending in troops.
Estimates for casualties in an invasion of Kosovo alone range from 400 to 1500, according to Sunday's Chicago Tribune. The Serbs have a well-trained defensive army that has been preparing for an attack for 50 years. Tito set out to build a fighting force that could defend against an attack from the Kremlin or from the West. Just getting into Kosovo through narrow valleys will require heavily armored columns, and inside the province is broken up into unconnected basins, which will further complicate military maneuvering. Putting together such an invasion will take two or three months, at which point the attackers won't have much time to do the job before winter weather sets in, forcing the postponing of an invasion until next spring. In the meantime, NATO would lower its sights toward limited missions, such as securing borders and helping with refugee settlements.
Kosovo's Gangster Allies
And Belgrade's Boss of Bosses
The war in the Balkans means millions in profits for international gangsters who roam Europe from Russia to Albania to Italy, with the powerful Albanian mob backing the Kosovo secessionists. In Belgrade, Milosevic ensconced in his lavish palace, the White Court stands to make millions on top of his already vast wealth no matter who wins, partly because he and his family profit hugely from their own mafia ties.
The war is taking place in one of the world's prime mafia centers, with Albanian crime clans trafficking in drugs sent from Afghanistan through Turkey and on to Western Europe. Albania has long been labeled Europe's crime capital, and in fact a large percentage of drugs bound for Western Europe is grown, processed, and stored in that country.
According to last month's Jane's Intelligence Review, Albania is a center for prostitution and illegal immigrant smuggling, and a transshipment point for black market cigarettes, alcohol, and pirate CDs and videotapes. Albanian gangs work on their own or with Italian and Turkish groups, and have been supporting the Kosovo war for independence. Many have relatives there, and send arms or money because of their family ties and, in some cases, just to make money.
Sali Berisha, whose Democratic Party lost power in Albania in 1997, accused the "state mafia" of selling food and drugs taken from humanitarian aid shipments, according to the Financial Times.
Before sanctions were lifted by the Dayton Accords, Yugoslavia's economy relied on the smuggling of autos, drugs, oil, arms, and cigarettes, all of which enriched a Belgrade mafia, many of whose members hold top government and corporate positions. One of the greatest beneficiaries of the mafia economy has been the warlord and accused war criminal Arkan the most notorious of the paramilitary leaders operating in Kosovo, who previously operated in Bosnia, and who is, first and foremost, a well-established European gangster.
Serbia is the biggest exporter of black market cigarettes, often packaged as duplicates of famous Western brands though made from cheap local blends. They are smuggled from Serbia through Montenegro (a stronghold for Italian gangs) into Italy and thence to Western Europe.
Although most firms in Yugoslavia remain state-owned, their profits are siphoned off abroad and deposited in secret foreign accounts, often designated as belonging to dummy private businesses. Milosevic is believed to have undisclosed sums in such accounts. He reportedly controls the Yugoslavian mafia through his top police officials, who compile dossiers on the directors of state economic operations. If the economic chieftains fall out of favor, they are liquidated.
Milosevic's family itself operates as a kind of mafia, with his son Marko, a well-known playboy, owning Belgrade's biggest nightclub, as well as a restaurant and an ice cream business. Marko also holds the monopoly on the import of cigarettes and liquor through duty-free shops. Daughter Marija runs a radio station that pulls in advertising revenue from businesses anxious not to alienate Milosevic.
Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, runs her own party, called the Yugoslav United Left, or JUL. It functions in close collaboration with Milosevic's Socialists and Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party, which is explicitly fascist. Marcovic also has worked hard to develop relationships with China, where some funds may have been transferred in the past few years. She visited China amid great fanfare, and works she has written have been translated into Chinese.
The broker between the Milosevics' state-owned mafia and the foreign banks where the money is stashed is an older woman who was a well-known Partisan during World War II. Before the sanctions were lifted, she reportedly organized a banking scheme (accounts, aliases, dummy firms, etc.) in Cyprus to siphon public funds abroad and safeguard them for the mafia. Cyprus was chosen because of its lax financial controls.
This item was based on reporting by Jasminka Udovicki who, with James Ridgeway, edited Burn This House: The Making and Unmaking of Yugoslavia (Duke University Press).
Life and Death Underground
Despite Milosevic's martial law crackdown, the Serbian opposition, by now underground, sent out a call last week for Russia and the European Union to take the lead in mediating peace talks. Opposition groups, which have strongly opposed Milosevic's ultranationalism since his rise to power a decade ago, "demand an end to the practice of ethnic cleansing and repatriation of all refugees."
According to the statement, released through a Spanish peace group, "We have fought against every warmongering and nationalistic policy, and for the respect of human rights, and particularly against the repression of Kosovo Albanians. We have always insisted on the respect of their human rights and freedoms and on the restoration of autonomy for Kosovo." The statement also demands the "democratization of Montenegro," whose tenuous multi- ethnic government is seen as the last vestige of the former Yugoslavia.
The leadership of the opposition consists of trade unionists, students, women, professionals, and, perhaps especially, independent journalists. Milosevic, whose control of the media is crucial to his rule in what's left of Yugoslavia, has cracked down hard on the press, closing newspapers, as well as radio and TV stations. B92, which had been the only remaining independent radio station when the conflict erupted, was shut down in the first week of the bombing. Its director has since gone underground.
On April 11, gunmen assassinated Slavko Curuvija, 50, editor of the independent Daily Telegraph and the biweekly European in front of his Belgrade apartment after pistol-whipping his girlfriend, Branka Prpa, a well-known historian. "They were obviously professionals," she told friends. "One of them hit me across the back of the head with his pistol and pushed me aside. They then shot Slavko several times in the head." Curuvija had been sentenced to five months in prison for "spreading false information" but had not begun the sentence. He had been publicly attacked by Mira Markovic for supporting the NATO bombing, when, in fact, he had opposed it. Last Wednesday about 1000 mourners attended his funeral.
With U.S. combat pilots creeping through the Yugoslavian atmosphere in Model Tequivalent B-52s (37 years old) and F-16s (aged 14), military commanders and their supporters in Congress are shoving through emergency appropriations to allow themselves the option of turning in their old 707s for spiffy new Gulfstream corporate jets to get them to the battlefields on time. Such jets are being leased to people like NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark (now known throughout the military as the "Supreme Being"). Leasing is faster and cheaper than going through creaky Defense Department procurement policy. Alaska's Republican Senator Ted Stevens, who chairs the appropriations committee, sponsored the legislation.
Additional reporting: Ioana Veleanu
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.