Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Historian Bests Milosevic

Day 221-22
By Coalition for International Justice (CIJ)
Milosevic was ready to make quick work of the prosecution's historical expert who had authored the report, 'Serbian Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: Historical Background and Context.' Dr. Audrey Budding, of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, did her doctoral dissertation on 'Serb Intellectuals and the National Question.' She served in the United States Embassy in Yugoslavia from 1987 to 1990.

Her credentials did not intimidate the Accused. He has had experience with other highly qualified experts the prosecution has presented. Two of them crumpled under his aggressive style of cross examination, which includes ridicule, misrepresentation, bullying and confusing. He had no reason to believe Dr. Budding would be much of a challenge. After all, she was addressing the Court on issues of Serbian history, a subject on which he considers himself a much greater expert than any foreigner ever could be. For Milosevic, Serbian history is the focus of this proceeding the judges and the prosecutor 'insist on calling a trial.' And, according to him, they are intent on re-writing it. His self-appointed role is to expose the 'truth' for the historical record, not to defend himself against the 66 charges laid against him. Advising the Court that he would require substantial time for cross examination, Milosevic seemed to relish this opportunity.

But Milosevic did not make quick work of the slight young woman with the soft, quavering voice. If he took her appearance for lack of confidence or competence, he was gravely mistaken. Dr. Budding proved herself a scholar of awesome intellect who knows her subject cold. And she could not be bullied.

The purpose of Dr. Budding's report was simply to provide the Trial Chamber with background for the events under consideration. Dr. Budding described the emergence of a Serbian mindset (belief system) in the 1980's that equated the demise of Yugoslavia with a need to protect and unite as many Serbs as possible. As Milosevic himself has said often enough, Yugoslavia was the state in which all Serbs were united.

Yet it was Milosevic who took the steps that undermined Yugoslavia's continued existence. According to Dr. Budding's evidence, the Milosevic regime amended the Serbian constitution in spring 1989 so that it could be changed without the consent of the autonomous provinces, Kosovo and Vojvodina. A year later, the Serbian constitution was changed to eliminate the provinces' autonomy, but not their votes in the federal presidency, as would have been logical. Around the same time, Milosevic orchestrated what came to be called the anti-bureaucratic revolution, mob action that replaced the Montenegrin and Vojvodina leadership with Milosevic loyalists. These machinations, together with Serbian assertion of control over Kosovo, gave Milosevic effective control of the federal presidency. They also increased the fear of the other republics, lending support to Croat and Slovene independence forces. One other constitutional change is noteworthy: Serbia pledged to maintain connections with Serbs outside Serbia, working to guard their national and cultural-historical identity.

Though the roots of Serbian nationalism can be found deeper in history, Dr. Budding focused on the Twentieth Century. Tito's decentralization of Yugoslavia in the 1960's played an important role. While certain powers devolved on the republics, the republics, except for Slovenia, were not coextensive with nationality (ethnicity). They had mixed populations of Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Albanians and others. Serbia in particular felt victimized by the decentralization since sizeable populations of Serbs lived outside the Republic of Serbia -- in Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia. If Yugoslavia were to dissolve, existing republican boundaries would have to be changed for all Serbs to continue living in one state.

Also at play for some of the Serbian population was what Dr. Budding called 'historically shaped frames of mind.' She explained that an alternative reality can exist outside of everyday consciousness, ready to be called forth in a crisis situation. In this case, she referred to the Serbian experience of genocide committed by Croatian Ustasha in WWII. While the existing social reality for Serbs was multi-national, the genocide was also a reality within the living memory of many. It was a reminder that things could be different. Milosevic's use of propaganda brought this submerged reality to the surface for many Serbs. Serb fears of another genocide and the fears of other nationalities of Serb dominance fed one another to create an unstoppable spiral of disintegration.

Dr. Budding also gave her opinion of the role played by the infamous 1986 Draft Memorandum of the prestigious Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU). She told the Court it reflected a fundamental shift in Serbian national thought. Formerly, Serb nationalists favored the preservation (and reform) of Yugoslavia as a state which provided a single homeland to all Serbs. In the Memorandum, for the first time there were hints that 'the Yugoslav state might be expendable.' Yet neither the Draft nor its proponents acknowledged the inevitable destruction from any solution which dismembered multi-ethnic Yugoslavia along national lines.

'Milosevic first publicly raised the idea that Yugoslavia's dissolution would involve the revision of republican borders' in discussions leading up to adoption of the 1990 Serbian constitution, according to Dr. Budding's report. 'The current borders, he [Milosevic] said, were contingent on a federal Yugoslavia. If Yugoslavia were to become a confederation, the question of borders would be open and Serbia would protect Serbs outside Serbia. Milosevic did not say what areas Serbia would claim, or what methods it would use.' Nor did he say what would happen to the non-Serb populations in those territories.

Explaining Milosevic's role in the historical events that led up to Yugoslavia's demise, Dr. Budding noted that initially he 'raised many of the same problems that previous Serbian leaders had.' She continued, 'He differed from them mainly in his willingness to push for his conception of a Yugoslavia that would suit Serbian interests even at the cost of alienating others from the existing Yugoslav state.' Formerly, she noted, 'the pre-Milosevic Serbian leaders had constantly emphasized the need to consider the interests of other Yugoslav peoples to work within the confines of the existing, consensual, political system . . . . It was precisely these constraints -- the rules of the Yugoslav political game -- that Milosevic jettisoned early in his populist revolution.'

Despite Dr. Budding's characterization of Milosevic's role as central to the break-up of Yugoslavia, when it was his turn to question her, he chose to argue about historical points of little relevance for the trial. He spent almost the entire first hour unsuccessfully trying to demonstrate inconsistencies between her report to the Court and her earlier doctoral dissertation.

He then attempted to challenge her sources, apparently assuming they were limited to those available in the English language. Dr. Budding replied, 'In general, I used what I considered the best historical sources in languages available to me in Serbian, French, German and English, and Slovene to a limited extent.'

Milosevic then accused Dr. Budding of 'making one of the greatest methodological mistakes' by using one historical situation as a 'stencil' for understanding another. This was too much for Judge May who thundered, 'That is absolute nonsense!' and ordered Milosevic to explain what he meant in concrete terms. Dr. Budding told the Court that looking for the roots of historical phenomena requires going into the past, which is the heart of historiography, not the 'stencil' or 'cookie cutter' approach Milosevic charged.

The Accused also spent considerable time arguing that the expert was wrong to claim Serbia had 'won' Serbian lands from the Ottoman Empire, when it had merely 'liberated' lands that formerly belonged to it. Even when Dr. Budding pointed out the difference was caused by a translation problem and agreed that some of the lands were appropriately characterized as liberated, Milosevic could not let go of the argument. More time passed with Milosevic questioning about 'Old Serbia,' the linguist Vuk Karadzic and whether the concept of Nacertanje represented a Greater Serbia or Yugoslav idea.

After several hours, Milosevic's focus on these issues prompted Lead Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice to intervene. 'The [SANU] Memorandum and points dealing with the defendant, if not challenged, will be open to the prosecution to say they have not been challenged, which we will be obliged and happy to do.' Judge May responded, 'He knows the time he has available and if he chooses to spend time in the 19th Century instead of the 20th Century, that is entirely a matter for him.' Milosevic interjected, 'I can only interpret this as violence. Cross examination has no sense if I cannot go through the entire report.' At this point, Milosevic was on page 4 of the 92 page expert report. He had been cross examining for more than two hours. '[A]ll this is intended to rewrite history. You brought an expert on history and will not allow me to question her.' Judge May had the last word: 'If you choose to dwell on events long past, we will not stop you, but time is limited. If you challenge points, especially about yourself, you should do so in the time remaining.'

Reflecting his approach to the trial, Milosevic both stubbornly continued his attempts to establish his version of history and gradually turned to more relevant matters. While he appeared to relish the opportunity to establish his version of history and to expose the Doctor as biased or intellectually deficient, he met with little success. Dr. Budding was the consummate scientist. Throughout her report, testimony and cross examination, she demonstrated that she had no axe to grind. She respected her subject (Serbia) and approached it with 'disinterested passion.' Her passion was not for one political viewpoint or another. It was the passion of a scientist for her subject, like the fascination of a biologist for what is under the microscope. As a result, she could as easily agree as disagree with Milosevic's propositions. She was not against him. She was for the truth. Some examples follow.

When Milosevic characterized the witness?s presentation of Vuk Karadzic as 'one of the founders of Serbian Hegemonism,' Dr. Budding asked if he was willing to define Serbian Hegemonism. Milosevic deftly responded that it is 'the aspiration for Serbs to achieve prevalence over everyone else.' She replied, 'I would not in any way link Vuk Karadzic with that idea.' Later, she challenged Milosevic's continued attribution of 'Serb Hegemonism' to her. 'You have used 'Greater Serbian Hegemony' repeatedly. I have not used it anywhere,' she said.

Another time, Milosevic criticized her for referring to violence against the Slavs in Kosovo. 'Why did you not say they were 'Serbs and Montenegrins'?' Milosevic demanded. Dr. Budding quickly responded, 'I suppose to avoid saying 'Serbs and Montenegrins.' Yesterday you suggested when I used that [term] I was denigrating Montenegrin nationhood.'

Their parrying involved the make-up of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes following WWI. Milosevic: 'You say with the creation of the Kingdom all Serbs ended up in one state. Didn't the same apply to Croats and Slovenes?' Dr. Budding: 'I was not addressing that point, but it is not true. Large parts of the Adriatic coast were with Italy and large parts of Slovenia were left with Italy and Austria.'

Milosevic then turned to the WWII genocide of the Serbs by the Croatian Ustasha. Referring to her report, he asked how she could say that the Croatian Ustasha were a marginal extremist group when they had ruled Croatia for four years and 'carried out a genocidal campaign against Serbs who were one-third of the population of Croatia, and killed 700,000 Serbs. You call it a hundred thousand,' he accused. Dr. Budding pointed out there was a translation problem. 'In Serbian you said '100,000.' I did not. I said 'hundreds of thousands.' In a footnote, I gave an estimate of 300,000. The numbers have yet to be fully ascertained. [In relation to] how a marginalized group managed to rule for four years, it could not have if the Germans had not put them in place. Even with the enormous help of Germany and Italy, it was not able to control large parts of the territory.'

The Accused demanded to know why the report was 'silent about the method of genocide,' referring to the role of the Catholic Church and its priests. Dr. Budding responded, 'I say the Ustasha committed genocide. It is not in any way debatable. There was no reason to talk about methods [in her report]. Concerning the role of the Catholic Church, it is undeniable there were priests who engaged in killing and forced conversion.'

Dr. Budding did not avoid the controversial issue of the number of people (majority but not all Serbs) who died in the Ustasha's WWII Jasenovac concentration camp. 'I do not believe 600,000 died in Jasenovac. In saying that, I don't minimize the evil. I use 'genocide' for what the regime attempted against the Serbian population. . . . No one knows exactly the number of Serbs who died in Croatia or the group breakdown [of those] killed in Jasenovac, the pits, villages . . . . It does not alter the nature of what the Ustasha did. It is an argument about numbers.'

Noticeably absent from Milosevic's cross examination was anything to do with himself, though Dr. Budding's report presented him as a major, albeit not exclusive, catalyst for the break-up of Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, one whose power and ruthlessness allowed him to manipulate people and events for his own purposes.

While Milosevic may have eliminated himself from the picture during cross examination with his focus on larger historical processes, he cannot so easily escape the issue of individual responsibility which the trial process seeks to ascertain. In the end, the trial is not about Serbian history and the Tribunal will not be history's or the Serbian nation's judge. But it will judge Milosevic. And that will become a historical fact. If he wants any input in that process, he had best answer the charges against him rather than arguing about matters that will not be decided by this Tribunal.

More IWPR's Global Voices

Cuba: New Dollar Shops Fuel Division
Economic measures supposed to ease the effects of the pandemic are increasing inequality.
Cuba Is Running Out of Food
Cuba's Internet: Blocked Pages and Chinese Tech