PHOENIX, ARIZONA Topic: BALKAN AFFAIRS
© 1993 by Bob Djurdjevic
BELGRADE, September 1993 - A loud scream pierced the buzz of downtown traffic at Slavija Square. A policeman was hitting a young Gypsy girl with his baton. Scattered on the ground around her lay some foreign cigarettes, perfumes, a few bottles of aspirin... A crowd quickly gathered. "Why are you beating this girl?" a silver-haired man in his 60s asked the policeman. "Can't you see?" the cop pointed to the items the Gypsy had dropped after being hit. "She is a black market dealer."
In the West, drug dealers deal in heroin or speed. In Belgrade, they also deal in aspirin! Most Serbs blame such anomalies on the U.N. sanctions. But, not all... "Your government ministers are the biggest dealers of all," the silver-haired bystander snapped back. "Why don't you arrest them instead of harassing little girls because of a few lousy bottles of aspirin? Which people can't buy in state pharmacies anyway."
The crowd started muttering in approval. The mood was getting ugly. The policeman looked around nervously. He was still holding the girl by her arm, but had stopped beating her. "We'll arrest them, too, if we catch them," he tried to reassure the people albeit not very convincingly. "Oh, yeah?" the silver-haired man said sarcastically. "That'll be the day..." The policeman let the girl go. The crowd slowly dispersed. The silver-haired gentleman was a neuro-surgeon. And the above incident took place within half a mile of the Belgrade University Clinic, once a prestigious medical institution.
Today, the hospital's medicine shelves are also nearly empty. "We can only treat the patients whose families can afford to buy the medication on the black market," explained Dr. Darinka Boskovic, the head of the hematology department, as she showed me the empty medicine cupboards during my recent clandestine visit to the leukemia ward. In a country in which the wages of a medical doctor have dropped to only about $20 per month (they used to be about $1,300 before the sanctions), the cost of medication for an average leukemia patient is between $2,500 and $3,500, Dr. Boskovic said. So, few can afford it. Those who can - get treated. Those who can't - die. It's as simple as that.
By the way, the reason I had to be taken in secretly by a courageous doctor, was that the clinic's director, a Slobodan Milosevic political appointee, said on national television the night before that all was well at his hospitals. "He must have been told to calm down the population," the doctor who "smuggled" me through a back door speculated. "So he lied. But, you can see what it's like for yourself." Actually, the conditions were appalling. I remember seeing better medical facilities even in some rural areas after World War II.
In a just-released report by an all-party British parliamentarian delegation which also visited recently some Belgrade hospitals, Dr. Dusan Scepanovic, the director general of the Belgrade University Children's Hospital, said the situation there was similar. The hospital chief who admitted his own salary was now only $20 per month, said that, "children whose parents could not afford to purchase medicines on the black market were being asked to withdraw their children" (from the hospital). The British MPs noted that "even cancer courses were being subjected to the same criteria." They saw one child, for example, for whom the medications for treating water on the brain were not available. They said that the child's brain was now almost totally destroyed.
I also saw with my own eyes similar cases at the University Clinic. I brought home as evidence two handwritten ads pasted on a wall across Dr. Boskovic's office (see the image on the left). Families of two deceased leukemia patients were offering their leftover medicine ("oncovin" and some German antibiotics) at a 25% discount compared to black market rates.
Nor is this an isolated case. "With the blessing of the United Nations, there is a crime of quiet extermination of 150,000 patients with cancer and 500,000 chronic patients going on," wrote Dr. Miodrag Djordjevic, the head of the Belgrade Institute of Oncology and Radiology, in a letter to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The shortages aren't limited just to sophisticated drugs. For example, I have had to bring aspirin for my 83-year old mother, and for a 66-year old cousin, a heart patient (see Djurdjevic's Oct. 28, 1993 letter to the New York Times about that). And there are an estimated 3,000 patients on dialysis, insulin-dependent diabetics and those susceptible to infectious and viral illnesses "who may die during the coming winter as a result of shortages of medicines, heating fuel and healthy drinking water," the British report notes, citing Yugoslav health sources.
The drinking water problem appears to the next possible catastrophe. Chemicals required for water purification are also subject to import restrictions under the U.N. sanctions. "The Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, faces the prospect of a collapse in the water treatment system," the British parliamentarians noted. In my own conversations with top diplomats at six major embassies, I learned that some have already stopped drinking the local tap water. "I still do it," the Belgian chargé d'affaires told me. "But we're aware of the possible problem, and are having the water quality at the embassy tested regularly."
The hospitals also lack detergents with which to wash the laundry. Gauze, band-aids and other common surgical supplies are very hard to get, too. The silver-haired neuro-surgeon told me that they now change bandages only in case of heavy bleeding, rather than regularly, as is the normal medical practice. During my visit to the hospital I saw a mish-mash of colors among the bed sheets and blankets. "The patients' families now bring their own linen," Dr. Boskovic explained.
One of the patients in the intensive care unit grumbled about the lousy hospital food. Of course, that's not unusual even in Western hospitals. In this case, however, it was not a matter of preference or taste, but a lack of even the simplest staples, such as milk or potatoes. "I own a restaurant," the seriously ill patient said, speaking haltingly. "And I promised these people here (he pointed to other patients) that I'll have my staff bring us some proper meals."
Due to the shortages of fuel, the emergency services are operating at less than 70% of capacity, according to the British parliamentarians. The Yugoslav Health Ministry projects another drop of 50% to 70% by this winter, with the rural areas affected the most.
During my visit to the hospital, I saw old-fashioned hot water radiators, below the single-pane windows. "I shudder to think of what will happen this winter," Dr. Boskovic said. "Even when we had enough fuel, this was the coldest building within the hospital complex."
It is estimated that the health institutions in Yugoslavia need at least 87,000 tons of heating fuel, and 50,000 tons of crude oil for the forthcoming winter. Currently, there is virtually no fuel available for them.
Meanwhile, what are the U.S. and the U.N. doing to alleviate this national health crisis? In November 1992, the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee prohibited imports of all raw materials for the production of medicines into Yugoslavia. This effectively shut down the Serbian pharmaceutical industry, which was import-dependent for about 90% of its raw materials.
On May 3, 1993, the U.S.-influenced WHO put a nail in the Serbian health care coffin. It "effectively removed Yugoslavia from the World Health Organization, when a decision was taken not to recognise the new Yugoslavia although Croatia and Slovenia were given independent status and recognition," the British MPs noted in their report.
Most senior European diplomats with whom I have spoken blame the U.S. for the above actions. "We've tried to get the sanctions lifted at least for the medical supplies, but the U.S. keep blocking it," one Western chargé d'affaires said. "Can you do something about it?"
I tried. I asked the new U.S. chargé d'affaires in Belgrade, Rudolf Perina, why we were acting so inhumanely. He gave me a transcript of the August 26 remarks by Leon Fuerth, assistant to vice president Al Gore on national security affairs. Fuerth is the person whom the Clinton Administration has entrusted with enforcement of the sanctions against Yugoslavia. Asked on Worldnet by the president of the Serbian Medical Association what if anything he has done in response to a devastating report about the deterioration in health care which Serbian doctors had sent to the U.S. government from their June 27-30 congress, Fuerth ducked the issue. In an obviously rehearsed case of demagoguery, he blamed the Serbian government's lack of funds for the problem (even though those funds were also frozen by the U.S.-U.N. actions last spring). "If the means exist in the system to pay for the medications, the sanctions process is wide open..." Fuerth opined.
That was sheer nonsense. For example, Dr. Scepanovic, the director of the Children's Hospital, told the British parliamentarians that in one case, the U.S. government blocked delivery of medical equipment which had already been paid for by Serbia, and had been approved by the U.N. Sanctions Committee. The reason? "Because the devices contained U.S. component parts," he was told. Besides, how much money did the U.N.-U.S. receive from the Bosnian Muslims for our deliveries of humanitarian aid to Sarajevo during the last 18 months? How much money did the Pentagon collect for the cost of the airdrops of food, medicine (and yes, weapons, too!) to the Muslims in Gorazde, Srebrenica or Tuzla last spring?
Not a penny, I hope. It was, after all, a humanitarian effort, wasn't it? Except, it seems, that the same rules do not apply to Serbian civilians. Even when they pay up, they don't deserve to live, according to the State Department rules, anyway. Which even includes the Children's Hospital!
That's what made Fuerth's answer so cynical, so superficial, so perfidious, and so wrong - especially on the eve of Clinton Administration's all-important health care reform. If only the American people knew what kind of monsters we have allowed into our government!
In time, Milosevic, the supposed target of the economic embargo, will fall anyway from the weight of his own rot. He might have already had we not given him the chance to blame the sanctions for his government's corruption and incompetence.
For example, there was a widely publicized case of a pensioner who spent his entire monthly income on one bottle of brandy and one bottle of black market gasoline. First he got drunk. Then he doused himself with gasoline and lit a match.
Of course, people now blame the sanctions for his tragic suicide. Without them, they would have blamed Milosevic's government.
No wonder I found myself frequently having to defend the American people as decent and God-fearing citizens; and to explain to the outraged Serbs that all 250 million Americans aren't necessarily as bad as some in our government or media.
No wonder a number of Western diplomats and/or politicians also hurried to distance themselves from the U.S. in the handling of the Serbian health crisis. Some of the epithets they offered about their U.S. colleagues were wholly undiplomatic - "stupid," "idiotic, "inhumane..."
The Serbian Patriarch Pavle, a "living saint" as many call him, put it more diplomatically. "In the end," he told me during a meeting at the Belgrade Patriarchate, "God will judge us all by the same yardstick. The good, the bad, and the indifferent..."
The diplomats and the politicians can argue about who the greatest culprits were who caused the Yugoslav tragedy. Analysts can debate why the unfair sanctions were only imposed on Serbia and Montenegro, when there was a three-way civil war under way in Bosnia. Many can justifiably blame the Western media for biased reporting. In fact, there is a new saying around Belgrade these days. When someone is a really big liar, people say, "he lies like the CNN."
Whoever the main culprits, however, there is no dispute about who the victims of the sanctions are. They are the ordinary Serbian people - our traditional friends in two World Wars. While the Western TV cameras focused mostly on the suffering of the Muslims in Sarajevo, the citizens of Serbia are left to die by the thousands in anonymity - killed by the supposedly "civilized" and humane U.S.! Fortunately, our Western allies, along with the Russians, are trying to save us from ourselves by holding up a mirror. If we open our eyes and look at it, we will certainly blush. And will want to lift the embargo immediately. Let's start killing the Serb civilians with kindness, not sanctions. Now.
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© 1993 by Bob Djurdjevic
BELGRADE, September 1993 - "The man has loads of guts," a Serbian émigré to France of 35 years and a sworn anti-Communist told me during a dinner at Champs Elysées in Paris, during a stopover on my trip to Belgrade. He was talking in awe about the person he once used to hate - the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, a former Communist. Yet, the same characteristics which seem to win Milosevic popular support among so many Serbs, including my recent dinner companion, make him an easy man to hate if you're not a Serb ultra-nationalist. Especially if you're not a Serb at all. And even if you are a person who genuinely cares about the fate of this small nation and the disastrous position into which this opportunistic demagogue has thrust it during his power grab, chances are that the very Serbs you are trying to help will scorn you.
That's a paradox which so few Westerners seem capable of comprehending. What can the Serbian people possibly see in this man except arrogance, deviousness, intolerance, they wonder. Yet, the Serbs' see strength, shrewdness, defiance in the same behavior. The fact that Milosevic has been democratically elected not once, but twice, is driving the Western governments crazy. Especially considering that their other favorite former Communist, now turned the West's stooge, has just shot the Russian Parliament full of tank grenade holes; has banned some political parties; has dissolved the Supreme Court, and has imposed media censorship - all in a supposed effort to prove his devotion to democracy?!
The basic problem is, of course, that the West is judging Milosevic and the Serbs by its own yardsticks. And vice versa. Which is why both have been wrong so often. Milosevic is clearly not the West's stooge as Yeltsin has turned out to be. Whatever his faults, and there are many, he is his own man. Which makes him so hard to read by the always-ready-for-compromise Western politicians.
For example, can you imagine a Bill Clinton, a Helmut Kohl, a John Major or a Brian Mulroney, walking to their desks, pulling a gun, handing it to their main political adversary, and saying: "Here! If you think that I am the problem, you can save (the country) single-handedly. Go ahead. Shoot me!" I can't (imagine any of the Western leaders doing it). Yet, that's exactly what Milosevic said to a would-be Western stooge, Milan Panic, then a Yugoslav Prime Minister, according to a high-level Belgrade source. The incident occurred in 1992, when Panic was trying to persuade Milosevic to resign during a heated five-hour session. Panic was shocked and just pushed the gun away.
Now, I can somehow imagine Yeltsin doing what Milosevic did. After all, Yeltsin is also a tough Communist nut. Or Ayatollah Khomeini. Or Saddam Hussein. Or maybe even Arnold Schwarzenegger. In other words, the people who, regardless of their ideology or faith, have "chutzpah," as our Jewish friends would say.
Conversely, people do not have it hate the ones who do. And the tough guys despise them in response. Which is basically why the "New World Order" isn't worth the paper it was written on. It was conceived by the "sissies" who hoped and prayed that the "toughies" would go along. They didn't. And they won't - from Serbia, to Somalia, to China...
Over the years of dealing with Milosevic and the Western diplomats in Belgrade, I have observed that the latter "sissy"-"toughie" relationship has been the main problem. Western diplomats hated Milosevic. He despised them in return. No wonder Milosevic must have had a field day when the Western governments decided to pull their ambassadors from Belgrade. To him, they were one less nuisance he had to deal with. Yet, in its naiveté and incompetence, the West thought it was punishing him!
As if to prove that point, Milosevic's response has been more scorn for the diplomats. Earlier this year, for example, he canceled a meeting with the Belgian Foreign Minister while the man was literally in the air on his way to Belgrade. When the Belgian minister protested, Milosevic agreed to meet him the following morning at the Batajnica (military) airport. Then, Milosevic canceled that meeting, too, the evening before, leaving the Foreign Minister of a country which holds this year's EC's chairmanship fuming. Milosevic subsequently tried to make light of the situation by blaming it on his people's "protocol problems." The real reason? He was apparently on vacation and could not be bothered to interrupt it.
In another instance this year, the British chargé d'affaires requested a meeting with Milosevic indicating he had an urgent message for him. Even after three days, there was still no reply from Milosevic's office.
Meanwhile, all this is happening at a time when Serbia is reeling under the U.S.-led sanctions which the British and the Belgians, among others, are trying to ease. Milosevic's rudeness to people like that can only mean one thing - that he does not give a damn about his own people.
By the way, just in case there is any doubt about the intensity of bad vibes between the U.S. diplomats and Milosevic, consider the fact that the latter had refused to receive Warren Zimmermann, the former U.S. ambassador in Belgrade, for nearly 11 months. And this ridiculous stand-off would have probably gone on longer had this writer not intervened with Milosevic during a series of conversations with him and Zimmermann in January 1990.
Once again, Milosevic's problem was that either he was not savvy enough to see that insulting the American ambassador meant offending the most powerful country in the world; or that he did not care. Zimmermann's problem was that in the subsequent interactions with Milosevic, he could never separate his personal hurt from the official policy. And by the way, this hate has also spilled over. I have rarely seen anyone speaking of another human being with so much venom as was the case with a mid-level State Department official with whom I met in Washington in February 1992. The subject? Slobodan Milosevic.
The unfortunate consequence of all these big egos and passionate discourses, however, is that more than 250,000 people have died in Bosnia alone. And counting... And that there appears to be no end to the suffering in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Serbia. That's a tragic legacy of not just Milosevic, but also of the Western governments. In both cases, the chief protagonists have allowed their egos to take precedence over national interests. Any arguments to the contrary are just, well, hogwash!
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Another State Dept., Western Media Legacy?3. No More Prisoners, Only Corpses
© 1993 by Bob Djurdjevic
SERB SARAJEVO, Bosnia - There is a physical proof that the Bosnian conflict is a true civil war. All three sides - the Serbs, the Muslims and the Croats - wear the same uniforms, the standard Yugoslav Army camouflage gear. They use the same weapons. They speak the same language. So, how can they tell a friend from a foe? Sometimes with a great deal of difficulty.
I asked a young man in his 20's, who stood guard in front of the building on Mount Jahorina in which the Bosnian Serb Parliament was in session, how the soldiers made sure they didn't shoot the wrong guy. "We get shoulder patches of different colors when we go into action," the guard replied. Then he paused. "But it doesn't always work." Here's his story...
One day, he and 14 of his comrades were on patrol near the Srebrenica silver mine. "Suddenly, practically out of nowhere, a truck full of 'ustashi' (Croatian nationalists) arrived from the direction of Srebrenica," he said. "'Ustashi?'" I asked. "I thought there were only Muslims in Srebrenica." "You're right," the soldier said smiling dismissively about what he must have thought was a petty question. "But we call them all 'ustashi'."
Meanwhile, back on patrol...
"As soon as we saw the truck, we scattered around and dropped into the ditch beside the road. Once the truck came close, we opened fire. We killed 19 of them. But, a Muslim officer jumped off and hid between the front tires of the truck. From there, he opened fire killing one of us, before we finished him off, too."
The score was now 20-1.
"As we were turning over the dead Muslim soldiers and picking off the weapons and other items of value, we noticed that they also wore black patches on their shoulders that day, just like we did. At that moment, another group of 10 soldiers came along. They also wore black patches. We thought they were our people. They joined us in turning over the bodies. But, as they started recognizing some of the dead Muslims, they began wailing. That's when we realized they were also the enemy. So, communicating with each other only with eye and head signals, we backed away from the group, and then opened fire. We killed all 10."
The score was now 30-1.
"Then there was a single soldier wearing a black patch who came along from the direction of Srebrenica. Seeing that we also had black patches he must have figured that we were Muslims, too. He was sauntering along casually with a shotgun slung over his shoulders. When he came within range, we opened fire and mowed him down, too."
The final score that day was 31-1.
Actually, I think it was 0-32. Zero for humanity; 32 for insanity. Thirty-two people died that day because of black patches. Their needless deaths illustrate the madness of the Bosnian civil war.
But, there is a story within that story...
Epilogue. Speaking in private some time later, a WW II veteran who also listened to this conversation asked me: "Did you notice that in this war there are no (more) prisoners (taken)?" I nodded affirmatively. "And, we can thank the State Department and the Western media for it," I said. "Remember how they demanded last year that all prisoner camps be closed?"
Well, now they got their way. There are no more prisoner camps, no more emaciated prisoners, no more celebrities flying in. Only corpses... Lots of them. By some estimates - more than 250,000. And counting... That's some legacy, isn't it?
Also, check out... Truth in Media Statement on the Kosovo War, "Wither Dayton, Sprout New War?", "On the Brink of Madness", "Tragic Deja Vu's," "Seven U.S. Senators Suggest Ouster of Milosevic", "Biting the Hand That Feeds You", "A Balkan Affairs Potpourri", "Put the U.N. Justice on Trial", "International Justice 'Progresses' from Kidnapping to Murder", "Milosevic: 'A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery'...", "Kosovo Lie Allowed to Stand", "New World Order's Inquisition in Bosnia", "Kosovo Heating Up", "Decani Monastery Under Siege?", "Murder on Wall Street", "Kosovo: 'Bosnia II', Serbia's Aztlan", "What If the Shoe Were on the Other Foot?", "Serb WW II General Exhonerated by British Archives," "Green Interstate - Not Worth American Lives", "An American Hero or Actor of the Year?" (A June '95 TiM story) and/or "Clinton arme secrètement les musulmans bosniaques", "Kocevje: Tito's Greatest Crime?", "Perfidious Albion Strikes Again, Aided by Uncle Sam," "Lift the Sanctions, Now!" (1993)
Or Djurdjevic's WASHINGTON TIMES columns: "Chinese Dragon Wagging Macedonian Tail," "An Ugly Double Standard in Kosovo Conflict?", "NATO's Bullyboys", "Kosovo: Why Are We Involved?", and "Ginning Up Another Crisis"