Clinton, Kosovo and Historical Sources: handle with care

Yesterday, the Serbian newspaper Kurir, titled an article “Confirmed: Clinton bombed Serbia because of Monica Lewinsky”. The author(s) of the article does mention, without quoting it, another article of the New York Times. NYT quoted some newly released archival documents from Bill Clinton’s Presidential Library (I already wrote about it last February). Kurir’s “masterpiece” obtained more than 1,000 “likes”, and more than 100 readers’ comments. With a sensationalistic style Kurir takes for granted something that it is not, mixing half truths with pure speculations.


Indeed, Kurir describes the content of a memo prepared by Minyon Moore, Bill Clinton’s public liaison, suggesting how “to rebuild public confidence in the president” and gain new support and confidence in the American people shortly after Monica Lewinsky’s scandal. Actually this information is true, as it is possible to read in the original source (p. 395 of the *.pdf). Unfortunately, the Serbian tabloid, without any piece of evidence, states that Clinton, in order to solve his scandal, had to destroy Milosevic’s regime and needed to bomb Serbia in 1999 (the so called Kosovo War). This is a typical mistake that would be unacceptable for historians, to use a mere deduction as a clear proof for a thesis (e.g.: Clinton bombed Serbia because of the sexgate).

So Kurir is connecting a half truth, the need of Clinton’s administration to “rebuild public confidence in the president”, with an inference, something that was already alive in the mindset of certain Serbs, since 1999: that the American president needed a “fake war” in order to distract the public opinion from his scandal with Ms Lewinsky. We can call it the “Wag the Dog” syndrome. Or just a conspiracy theories mentality.

To be sure, the rest of the above mentioned Kurir’s article talks about the role of the USA in helping (with money and media support) the opposition in Serbia to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic and his regime. According to the published sources, this is true. First of all this is not really something new. But then, the real problem, that the author of Kurir’s article does not even mention, is what led the American administration to spend money in order to support the Serbian opposition. While America’s direct interference in the political life of a sovereign nation like Serbia (at the time it was called Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) may rise many legitimate questions, at least we should remember that Clinton’s administration, in 1998, tried to “avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo promoting a political settlement”. After all what happened in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Beyond perceptions: Russia and Serbia

Perceptions are important, but we need to put in context the events.

Former US Ambassador in Moscow (1987-1991), Jack Matlock, said that “Russian President Vladimir Putin is acting in response to years of perceived hostility from the US, from eastward expansion of NATO to the bombing of Serbia to the expansion of American military bases in eastern Europe”.

Ambassador Matlock most probably is right about Russia’s perceptions, but the problem is reality, or, at least, the perceptions of non-Russians. Talking about Russian feelings about their national interest, in his interview (look at 13:40-15:00 of the video) he argues, among other things, that NATO bombing of Serbia, a country that did not attack any NATO country [true, but Serbia’s politics did affect directly NATO’s countries], and the detachment of Kosovo from Serbia [yes, but Kosovo is still under UN resolution 1244] are very relevant today.


Nevertheless, before NATO bombing in 1999, we had a tragedy called Bosnian War, 1992-1995, with more than 100,000 casualties and, in 1995, at least 1.2 millions Bosnians internally displaced. Still at the end of 2001:

roughly 650,000 Bosnians remained uprooted as a result of the ethnic conflicts of the 1990s. These included about 210,000 Bosnian refugees outside the country in need of durable solutions and about 438,500 internally displaced persons inside Bosnia.

While the (real) war started on Croatian soil in 1991, we had to wait 4 long years before US decided to broke a peace agreement in Dayton. In the meantime, the so called international community sent UN troops and various aids to the civil population, without taking a position, and letting happen Srebrenica and other atrocities.

Notwithstanding speculations and conspiracy theories, notwithstanding the international law, the (virtual) sovereignty of countries, what was the alternative? To let happen, after a few years, the same atrocities, with thousands of victims, displaced persons, refugees, once again? To risk a civil war in Macedonia? What did Russia’s government?

On March 24, 1999, Primakov was heading to Washington, D.C. for an official visit. Flying over the Atlantic Ocean, he learned that NATO started to bomb Yugoslavia. Primakov decided to cancel the visit, ordered the plane to turn around over the ocean and returned to Moscow – it was called Primakov’s loop.

This is just a piece of example about the “perception” of the US administration at the time (click on the below image to enlarge it):


It states: “averting a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo and promoting a political settlement”. After all what happened in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was at least a reasonable point of view. Bill Clinton did not have a plan to annex Kosovo to the USA, as someone else did recently with Crimea. Finally, Kosovo did not merge with Albania, as Republika Srpska did not merge with Serbia. If the USA had wanted to go eastward expanding NATO, they could have settled peace, forcing the situation on the ground, well before 1999. They could have done it in 1992 or even 1991. But they did not.

Вечерње новости: Вучић у Москви због прегледа а не због формирања нове владе

Стање ствари

Лидер СНС није отишао по мишљење. Вучић подвргнут контролама због ранијих сметњи које је имао због високог крвног притиска

Први потпредседник Владе и лидер напредњака Александар Вучић борави у Русији на детаљним здравственим прегледима – сазнају незванично „Новости“ од извора у врху СНС.


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Il trasformismo politico di Vucic

Mutare le proprie opinioni, in politica, non è certo una prerogativa serba. Gli italiani lo sanno bene. Del resto non è neppure, in sé, un male, soprattutto quando si assumono delle posizioni indubbiamente più ragionevoli. Vucic ha militato per anni nel Partito radicale serbo di Vojislav Seselj, attualmente in carcere all’Aja. Nel corso della scorsa decade, era il partito con maggior numero di seggi in parlamento ma non ha mai governato. Come si direbbe oggi, erano voti congelati, sostanzialmente inutili. Nel 2008 la scissione dai radicali e la nascita del Partito progressista serbo, che la scorsa domenica ha ottenuto il 48% dei voti.

Vediamo, in pillole, chi è il futuro premier serbo, Aleksandar Vucic.

Marzo 1995, a Glina, Croazia (all’epoca territorio della Repubblica serba di Krajina), lo si vede criticare, da una posizione di destra, i socialisti serbi (Slobodan Milosevic ecc.), affermando con enfasi che Glina non sarà mai Croazia.

Luglio 1995: Vucic dice che bisognerebbe uccidere 100 bosniaci musulmani per ogni serbo ucciso.


2001, Vucic compie un viaggio con Seselj in Irak da Saddam Hussein, uniti nella lotta all’imperialismo americano.

Gennaio 2014: si trasforma in un eroe, salvando un bambino da un’auto bloccata dalla neve, in Vojvodina.

Febbraio 2014, balla in una trasmissione televisiva decisamente pop.

Febbraio 2014: intervistato dalla CNN, parla delle riforme interne della Serbia e spera in un eventuale ingresso nell’Unione Europea entro il 2020.

In circa 20 anni è passato da posizioni ipernazionaliste a un europeismo condito con operazioni mediatiche decisamente populiste. Ricorda forse i nostri politici italiani, passati e presenti?

Schulz on Yugoslavia

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, in occasion of an exhibit about Croatian artists in Bruxelles, has been deemed too soft toward Socialist Yugoslavia by some HDZ MEP-s.

As seen by Jutarnji List:



Reaction in Serbian media (Vecernje Novosti)



In Italian:


Would Russia destabilize the Balkans?

Last Sunday, SNS won the political elections in Serbia, obtaining 157 seats out of 250. While the new executive is going to be formed by the 1st of May, it is already rising the question if the new power may develop into a semi-authoritarian form of government, like in Hungary.

What has to do Russia with SNS? In 2011, now former Russian Ambassador in Serbia, Aleksandr Konuzin, endorsed SNS during a meeting in Nis, saying “‘the SNS has become one of the chief indicators of the mood of Serbian citizens”. This happened one month after another controversial event, when Konuzin said Serbs “are not defending enough interests of their compatriots in Kosovo”.

Other rumors about Konuzin interference in Serbian internal policy raised again in 2012.

What has to do Russia with Serbia? In 2009, articles appeared about a new Russian base in Serbia, in Nis, defined as a Joint Serbian-Russian Centre for Reaction to Emergency Situations. While it was meant as a centre for natural catastrophes, like forest fires, serious speculations emerged about a real strategic Russian interference in the Balkans. Moreover, it is very close to USA military base in Kosovo, Camp Bondsteel. In 2011, the agreement between Serbia and Russia was finally signed.

And Bosnia? According to former high representative, Lord Paddy Ashdown, Russia is meddling in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the meantime, in Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik is hailing Crimea secession.

The US Embassy in Sarajevo is warning against any possible parallel between Crimea and Republika Srspka as inconsistent. Bosnia and Herzegovina can’t split, Dayton agreements must be respected.

The question is: would Russia destabilize the Balkans? That’s an intriguing question to be asked during the First World War Centenary.

Christian Costamagna