Archive for July, 2008

Karadzic: What Kind Of Justice?

Somehow -don’t press me for an explanation- the Netherlands has in recent years acquired a reputation as a place where wrongdoers from all points of the compass come to be tried, judged and punished. Just why a small, inconsequential nation with a blood-stained colonial past, some of the most loutish football hooligans on the planet, under constant foreign criticism of its permissive attitudes towards drugs and sex, should be deemed the right place for dispensing that rarest of commodities -impartial justice- is a complete mystery to me. What’s wrong with Denmark? Or Cuba? Nor does the justice for which foreign defendants have so far been hauled over to the Low Countries particularly impress. The Dutch generously handed over an old army base, Camp Zeist, to a bunch of Scottish judges, who proceeded to convict and jail two Libyans for the bombing of a PanAm airliner over Lockerbie in December 1988 without having been given a single crumb of hard evidence. At the Yugoslavia tribunal in The Hague, former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic died in circumstances reeking suspiciously of medical neglect just as his defence was getting underway. His potentially explosive evidence and his planned questioning of certain high-ranking politicians about the true events of, and background to, the war in Kosovo never materialized. That was a pity, for there is much to be known about the nature and history of the Serbian-Albanian antagonism (not to mention all the other ethnic, cultural, sectarian, tribal and territorial antagonisms that have led to the Balkans’ many centuries of bloodshed) that remained obscured by the fog of war and the shockingly biased coverage of the conflict by the western media.

Shocking anti-Serb bias is also what awaits Radovan Karadzic, former president of the widely unrecognized Bosnian Republika Srpska. He will take up residence in his prison cell soon. Had he been arrested a month earlier he might have been in The Hague in time to share a joke and a few nips of plum brandy with Naser Oric. Naser, a former commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica, was tried by the Tribunal for having presided over the massacre of several thousand Serbs. At the beginning of this month he was acquitted on the fairly ludicrous pretext that the prosecution had ‘failed to prove that Oric had been in control of his men’. A line of defense that, you can be damned sure, will be denied Karadzic…or indeed the yet to be arrested Ratko Mladic when they face charges of genocide connected with the massacre, also in Srebrenica, of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and youths.

The news of Karadzic’ arrest was welcomed especially warmly in the Netherlands, where the failure of Dutch troops stationed in Srebrenica to prevent the slaughter of the Muslim males has left deep mental scars and lingering feelings of guilt. The boys of Dutchbat, inexperienced in war and not equipped for serious fighting, had little option but to let the superior Serb forces do as they pleased. Maybe that trauma will recede, as the highest ranking Bosnian Serb steps into the limelight. For the Yugoslavia Tribunal itself, the imminent arrival in The Hague of a really big fish is nothing less than a godsend. The Court, which started its work in 1993, has hardly covered itself in unbiased glory: the list of persons indicted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia is heavily dominated by Serbs, with a few handfuls of Croats and some token Albanians and Bosnian Muslims thrown in to create a semblance of impartiality. The rate of acquittals and dropped indictments among Albanians is surprisingly high, by the way. How can this be, after a multi-sided civil war in which -how could it be otherwise- all parties committed gruesome acts of mass murder, rape and ethnic cleansing? How, moreover, do we ever expect the old enmities in the region to be buried after such a lack of even-handedness? Far from working towards closure, the Yugoslavia Tribunal, with its insistence that some parties are guiltier than others, is storing up big trouble for the future. Judging Radovan Karadzic -or anyone else, for that matter- by an abstract, generalized notion of good behaviour for events presided over at a time of utter chaos and confusion and in a climate of unbridled fury and hatred is a complete nonsense.

The fact that my country offers itself up so readily as the venue for such high-profile legal travesties angers me. Karadzic has been declared guilty as hell by media and politicians around the world, so either have the courage of your convictions and shoot him like a dog or let him go free. Impartial justice, not bloody likely.


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Mugabe: Not As Black As He’s Painted

On Monday -with what seems to me unseemly haste- the Dutch First Chamber, Senate, Upper House or whatever you want to call this collection of 75 creaking elder statesmen and women gave the go-ahead for Dutch ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The road is now clear for our head of state Queen Beatrix, to affix the royal signature to the document and deliver what used to be a free, independent nation into the hands of a bunch of unelected power-crazed foreigners in Brussels. Funny thing is: the Queen, unlike the presidents of Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria, cannot refuse to sign. Many many years ago, for what seemed very good reasons at the time, the Dutch made sure the monarchy became a purely ceremonial affair and stripped the Palace of all executive powers. The advantage was mutual: the important political decisions would henceforth be taken by the democratically elected representatives of the people, while the monarch was no longer required to risk his life leading his troops into battle or send his henchmen round the country to extort money from the poor. There’s now a government with a popular mandate to do it for him..or her.

Brilliant thing, democracy. Once you’ve tasted its benefits you want everybody else to enjoy it too. So strong is our urge to draw the world’s oppressed and disenfranchised into our wonderland of “a general election every five years; that’s all you get so shut up and consume” that we’re willing to cause merry hell in many parts of the globe. Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia are among the countries with first-hand experience of our selfless drive to spread sweetness, light and the Big Brother franchise throughout the known universe. Next, I hear you say, must surely be Zimbabwe, whose hapless citizens live every day that god gives under the cosh of a cruel dictator, a madman who is worse than -or at least as bad as- Hitler, an evil fiend who, with malice aforethought, brought his country to the brink of ruin. No wonder that the leaders of the G8, gathered on Hokkaido to address the huge economic and environmental problems that threaten us, took time out to call for severe sanctions against Mugabe and his regime.

Cheerleader during this game of “Let’s Get The Bastard” was -and is- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He’s been telling us for some time now about his disgust at the sham election that gave the Zimbabwean leader a new term of office. This surprises me, for when it comes to ruling the roost over millions of people without a shadow of a mandate Mr. Brown is doing rather better than most. His job of Prime Minister -indeed, his very presence in Parliament- rests exclusively on the fact that 24,278 people in the handkerchief-sized Scottish constituency of Kircaldy & Cowdenbeath voted for him in 2005, giving him a majority of merely 18,216. Moreover, on being anointed the successor to Tony Blair, Mr.Brown ducked out of a general election that would have given his leadership at least a semblance of legitimacy, for fear that he might lose it. I imagine that, had the Zimbabwe elections been free, fair and peaceful, Robert Mugabe would still have come away with a few more votes than Brown.

Joining in the Hokkaido chorus of condemnation were other luminaries, such as the strutting French peacock Nicholas Sarkozy; America’s George W. Bush, who knows a thing or two about snatching victory from the mouth of defeat; the Italian Silvio Berlusconi, who can only stay out of jail by being in office; the Portuguese windsock Jose Manuel Barroso, whose political convictions once switched in a thrice from communism all the way to right-of-centre; Germany’s Angela “Mutti” Merkel who thinks the war in Iraq was a really good idea; the Canadian PM Stephen Harper, so new in the job that he hasn’t had time to blot his copybook and, representing Russia, Vladimir Putin’s glove puppet Dmitri Medvedev. Huddled together on their square yard of moral high ground they felt it incumbent on them to aim darts of righteous anger at Mugabe and his government.

I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing wrong with the present and past behaviour of Robert Mugabe. He is, by all accounts, capable of extreme cruelty, he brooks no opposition, stops at nothing to have his way and nurtures an especially fierce hatred of the white man. It would be impossible to call him a democrat in the western sense of the word, but then: democracy is a concept with which the entire African continent still grapples in vain. It is no coincidence that, however loud and vociferous the anti-Mugabe rhetoric in the rest of the world, hardly a peep has been heard out of Zimbabwe’s neighbours. I believe this to be because, secretly, they find that there is a lot to admire in the old firebrand. He is, after all, one of the hands that rocked the cradle of the newly liberated state, once the despised white supremacist regime of Ian Douglas Smith had been ousted from power. Along with a handful of comrades in arms (most of whom later became his rivals or even enemies) he fought a courageous struggle, in the course of which he suffered many privations –including a ten-year spell in prison. Of the heroes of Zimbabwe’s liberation, he is the only one who remains politically and ideologically active. He has to be, for in his mind the struggle against white domination goes on. His great project -handing all of Zimbabwe’s land over to its black population- is not yet complete. He knows he’s running out of time, so his methods have become more brutal than ever. This, in Mugabe’s perspective, is not the time to hand over the reins to Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, whom he sees as a bunch of appeasers seeking an accommodation with what remains of the enemy.

Still, for all his brutality and blinkered hatred, Mugabe is a man of principle, of substance; a man who believes that, as the creator of a free Zimbabwe, he has a natural right to rule it until he drops dead. We may beg to differ, but what we may not do is revile him as if he were some worthless vermin. His good and his bad qualities are all larger than life. His place in history as a flawed hero is assured. Can we say that for the transient little blots on the landscape that presume to govern us? I don’t think so.

not as black as he's painted

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