To mark the 15th anniversary of the start of the illegal NATO war of aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, over 500 scientists, experts and peace campaigners, myself included, gathered in the capital of Serbia.
There, the international conference 'Global Peace vs Global Interventionism and Imperialism', organized by the Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals took place March 21-24. The event began Friday evening with the opening of a photographic exhibition in the Sava Center, which displayed the appalling humanitarian, economic and environmental consequences of the 78-day NATO bombardment.
Under the pretext of a “humanitarian” intervention to stop a non-existent “genocide” NATO bombs killed and injured thousands. Among the most heinous crimes was an attack on a convoy of Kosovo Albanians which at first the western military alliance tried to blame on Yugoslav forces, and which killed 73 people, and the bombing of a passenger train which killed 15 people. The photographs were harrowing reminder of what “humanitarian” interventions mean in practice.
Right from the beginning, in front of a packed audience, speakers at the forum were keen to stress that the war against Yugoslavia was not an isolated conflict but only the first in a succession of aggressive imperialistic wars led by the US in its quest for economic and military domination of the entire globe following the demise of the Soviet Union.
Any strategically important country in the world which does not have the “right” government, i.e. one which wishes to preserve national independence and sovereignty, is targeted for destabilization and “regime change” by the US and its allies as highlighted by the recent coup in Ukraine and the attempts to topple the government in Venezuela.
The war against Yugoslavia, in the words of Klaus Hartmann from the Free Thinkers Association in Germany, was a “door-opener,” which paved the way for new illegal wars and interventions following the demise of the Soviet Union.
Fifteen years ago, the Rubicon was crossed; it was then that the western powers tore up the post-WWII international settlement, and invented the bogus theory of “humanitarian intervention” which had no basis in international law to provide justification for their attacks on sovereign states. As Dr Armand Clesse, Director of the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies, said, the assault on Yugoslavia was about breaking the wills of those who did not kowtow to the global hegemon. NATO wanted to teach the Serbs a lesson and warn others of what would happen to them if they resisted.
David McKee, of the Canadian Peace Congress, described the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine as modern imperialism's equivalent of the “white man's burden.” There's nothing new and “progressive” about the R2P doctrine, it’s just an old colonial project dressed up in 21st century clothing. Mario Franssen from the Belgian group Intal also gave us some historical perspective. He argued that NATO, an aggressive alliance since its inception, had been contained by the existence of the Soviet Union. When that disappeared in the early 1990s, the imperialists needed new justifications for interventions. “Since that day, NATO is explicitly used by imperialism to undermine sovereignty and in doing so, undermine any form of real democracy. The new rhetoric accompanying this offensive was ‘humanitarian intervention,’ which started with the attack on Yugoslavia in 1999.”
The bombing of Yugoslavia broke new ground in other ways, too.
US writer Diana Johnstone, author of the book “A Fools' Crusade,” on how the US got the western center-left to support the 1999 attack, said that Serbs were used as “guinea pigs” to test out new techniques of misinformation, slander and propaganda and the sowing of division which would be used again in subsequent western attempts at destabilization and regime change. “Western leaders talk about ‘our values’ but my values include truthfulness and that's certainly not one of theirs,” she said. “They most certainly do not believe in a world of equals.” It's surely hard for anyone to disagree with this assessment of western “truthfulness,” bearing in mind what has occurred since 1999. In 1999 the “Big Lie” was that Yugoslav forces were committing genocide against Kosovan Albanians. In 2003, the “Big Lie” was that Iraq had WMDs which threatened the peace of the world. In 2011, the “Big Lie” was that Libyan forces were about to massacre civilians in Benghazi. The latest “Big Lie” from the western elites is of course the Russian “invasion” of Crimea, with President Putin of Russia the latest “official enemy” to be cast as “The New Hitler.” Before every war come the war lies, but while most people accept that we were lied to by our leaders about Iraq, there are still many, even those who consider themselves to be anti-war, who do not understand that the same sort of lies were told before the bombing of Yugoslavia.
Independent researcher June Kelly, from Ireland, also focused on the outrageous lies told by western leaders before military intervention. She described the process by which the “enemy” is demonized with the ultimate goals being to install puppet regimes and rob the natural resources of the “enemy” state. “The people of our world pay for US-led imperialist wars. The people pay in blood. They pay in money in the form of ever growing taxes and pay cuts,” she said. In another stirring speech focusing on western mendacity, Duarte Alves, of the Portuguese Communist Youth, said that the attack on Yugoslavia showed that the cold war propaganda from the west was “nothing but a lie.” The imperialist powers said that with the fall of the Soviet Union “a new world peace’ would rise, but in fact the opposite has occurred with war after war. The end of the “Cold War” has in fact only led to an era of “hot wars.”
While many delegates focused on the economic factors behind modern wars, Professor Dr Jean Bricmont, the Belgian academic and author, discussed what he believed was the important and pernicious role of two pressure groups: “What pushes us toward war is a combination of ideology and actions from pressure groups: the Zionist-neoconservatives on the Right and the liberal interventionists on the Left.” He detailed what he described as the “large overlap” between “humanitarian interventionism” and support for Israel.
That got me thinking: and while I could think of Zionists who do oppose “humanitarian interventionism,” for example the leading British journalist, Peter Hitchens, I couldn't come up with one prominent supporter of “humanitarian interventionism” who wasn't also a Zionist. That could explain why there were no calls from the R2P supporters for military “intervention” against Israel when its forces were bombarding Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009, while the same people were at the forefront of the calls to “intervene” against Yugoslavia in 1999 when the authorities there carried out their own “anti-terrorist” operations in Kosovo.
In common with other speakers, Professor Bricmont highlighted the west's breathtaking double standards on foreign policy. “What is striking in all this is that the western media and governments are practically unanimous in applauding the coup in Ukraine, in denouncing the secessionist tendencies in Crimea and the interference of Russia in the internal affairs of Ukraine, without realizing the utter absurdity of these positions, after Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and their own interventions in Ukraine,” he said.
Of course the war lobby wants people to think that the bombing of Yugoslavia, the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the NATO war against Libya, the western-backed terrorist war against Syria, the economic warfare against Iran, the destabilization of Venezuela, and the recent coup in Ukraine are all separate events.
The serial warmongers don't mind journalists writing pieces attacking the invasion of Iraq, (so long as they describe it as a “mistake”), but the imperial truth enforcers and elite gatekeepers most certainly do mind when we denounce the war against Yugoslavia, which is supposed to be NATO's “good” war.
In my speech I explained why trying to stop the truth from coming out about the Balkans and pushing a mendacious narrative about what was going on in Kosovo in 1999, which includes the demonization of President Slobodan Milosevic and equating the Yugoslav leader with Adolf Hitler, was and is so important for the neocons and their pro-war fake-left allies.
Once people understand that what we have witnessed since 1999 are not a number of disconnected wars, but merely battles in the same, ongoing war, the serial warmongers are in serious trouble. That's why their attacks on those of us who write about Yugoslavia and tell the truth about what happened there are particularly venomous, and are, in my opinion, aimed at intimidating people from questioning the dominant pro-NATO narrative.
The neoliberals and pro-war fake-left, who have supported military action against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the arming of “rebels” in Syria and Israeli assaults on Lebanon and Gaza conflicts which have led to the death of well over 1 million innocent Muslims, have, when it comes to the Balkans, the audacity to pose as the “humanitarian” protectors of Muslims. But that is only because taking a “pro-Muslim” and anti-Serb line in the Balkans served the imperial agenda of destroying the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, an independent socialist country which resisted globalization and didn't want to join NATO or the EU.
I told the audience that we on the anti-imperialist side need to remind people of this whenever we are attacked on Yugoslavia, and how the western wars supported by the neocons and fake-left, which began with the bombing of 1999, have brought death and misery to millions of people around the globe. In this context, Professor Dr Andreas Griewank from Germany reminded the conference that Madeline Albright, the US Secretary of State at the time of the NATO “humanitarian” war against Yugoslavia, had justified on television the death of half a million children due to sanctions in Iraq. Do we really need moralizing lectures on “Serbian aggression” from such people?
Fifteen years on from the NATO bombing, and over 13 years on from the western-financed “revolution” which removed President Milosevic and the Socialists from power, life for the majority of working-class people in Serbia has become a daily struggle to make ends meet. Award-winning film maker Boris Malagurski described to us what has happened to Serbia since the economy was “restructured” to suit western capital and neoliberal policies were introduced by the so-called “democratic” governments. Large-scale privatization has led to big rises in unemployment, the rate of which currently stands at 34 percent (if previous methods of measurement had been maintained). Serbia's transition to a “market economy” may have meant rich pickings for western multinationals, but it certainly hasn't been good news for the Serbian working class or for the country's youth who struggle to find jobs.
After two days of excellent, thought-provoking speeches and in-depth analysis a working party, including myself, was formed to discuss the final declaration of the Belgrade Forum. Here are some of the key points from the final document, which you can read in full here.
*The NATO aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was a war imposed against an independent, sovereign European state in gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law.
* Seeing that the attack on Yugoslavia was a crime against peace and humanity and a gross violation of international law, Serbia has the right to initiate proceedings against NATO member states for the payment of war damages to Serbia and Montenegro as well as to individuals who suffered from the aggression.
* The war against Yugoslavia was a turning point toward global interventionism, the practice of gross violation of the international legal order, and the negation of the role of the UN and subsequently it has been used as the model of interventionism in a number of other cases such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali and elsewhere.
*Participants expressed their full support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, including the resolution of Kosovo and Metohija in line with UNSC resolution 1244.
*Participants welcomed the UN General Assembly which proclaimed 2014 to be the international year of solidarity with the people of Palestine. They also denounced plans and actions aimed at destabilizing the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and expressed their solidarity with the Venezuelan people and support for its courageous efforts to preserve the freedom, pride and sovereignty of Venezuela and to decide their own future. Participants also expressed their satisfaction that the people of Crimea have used their right to self-determination which resulted in reunification with Russia.
* Participants condemned the western-promoted rehabilitation of fascism and attempts to equate communism with Nazism.
*Participants dedicated significant attention to the global economic capitalist crisis, which has led not only to an unprecedented social stratification and impoverishment but also to an artificially imposed debt crisis. Conference expressed its support for the popular protests against the above.
* The global economic crisis cannot be resolved by makeshift mends of the existing system, but only by abandoning the neoliberal concept and by developing a new humane system of social justice, equality and better life for all people and nations on the planet.
*The conference declared that only a world free of the dominance of imperialism and militarism will stand a chance to avoid a war cataclysm.
* It is absolutely unacceptable and contrary to international law to have the regional source of power, such as NATO and the EU, be established as a substitute for the UN Security Council.
In his closing address, the former Foreign Minister of Yugoslavia and the President of the Belgrade Forum Zivadin Jovanic said that NATO aggression was now not just limited to the Balkans but had become globalized. We are already living in World War III waged by those with vested interests in fighting against the equality of all. We have to fight for the globalization of peace.
On March 24, participants of the conference paid tributes to the victims of the NATO aggression of 15 years ago by laying wreaths at memorials, including at the Monument to the Children victims of the attack in Tasmajdan Park. I wonder how much, if any, thought is given to these innocent victims by the western “humanitarians” who planned the murderous NATO attack of 1999.
Let me end now with some personal recollections of an inspiring event which I believe show the true spirit of egalitarianism of the Belgrade Forum of Equals and of the people who took part.
When I took my seat in the audience for the opening session Saturday morning, I found myself next to a charming, friendly woman who politely introduced herself to me, saying she was Dia from Venezuela. We sat next to each other for the whole of the first day and she even came out to look for me when it was my turn to speak and I had popped out for some fresh air. The following morning the chair announced that it gave him great pleasure to announce that the next speaker was the Venezuelan Ambassador to Serbia. And lo and behold, Dia went up to the podium, where she gave a stirring address about how her country was threatened by the same imperialist forces which had attacked Yugoslavia. For the whole weekend, even after she had finished her address, Dia sat with members of the audience listening attentively to the other speakers: I cannot imagine an ambassador from Britain or any western country showing similar respectfulness and modesty.
The behavior of Zivadin Jovanovic was equally impressive. Here is a man who was the former Foreign Secretary of Yugoslavia, who chatted to everyone and was approachable all weekend – sitting in the audience to watch when the floor was given to the Youth Forum. In his final speech he thanked the translators for their work and hoped they'd been served enough refreshments. Mr Jovanovic's thoughtfulness to others was on show throughout the whole weekend. Remember, Dia Nader is the ambassador of a country (Venezuela) demonized by the western elites, and Mr Jovanovic was the Foreign Minister of a government which was demonized by the same crowd, too. I doubt very much if you'd get their western counterparts – puffed up with their own importance at bringing “democracy” and “civilization” to the world via NATO bombs behaving in such a democratic or civilized way.
One final point.
We hear a lot from western leaders about the so-called “international community” – which in practice only means the US and its closest allies. But what we had in Belgrade was a meeting of a genuine “international community.” The views heard at our conference don't get much hearing in the western MSM, but they are, I believe, the views held by the majority of people on this planet. It really is time that we make our superior numbers count and work together to build a true World of Equals.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.