Friday, 17 June 2011

Repression of anti-NATO activists in Serbia

On Sunday and Monday, Belgrade played host to a two-day Strategic Military Partner Conference for NATO. Military analyst Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, told the Southeast Europe Times that "it is a kind of reconciliation of Serbia with the modern world" for "global security co-operation." But protests against the event by the Anti-NATO Campaign provoked harsh repression.

This point has had little coverage. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that there were protests, but that the conference "sparked protests against the event" is literally all we are told. The SETimes reduces the matter to "right-wing parties and nationalist organisations staunchly opposing closer ties with the Alliance." Likewise, the Washington Post tells us that "Serb nationalists — furious over the holding of a NATO conference in Serbia — have burned a NATO flag and put up a huge banner at a Belgrade bridge denouncing the Western military alliance." But, it would seem, beyond the "ultranationalists," nobody had much of a problem with the event.

The Anti-NATO Campaign notes, in its report of the event, that such nationalist protest is "the only tolerated form of organizing." They point to the fact that "at the rally organized by the DSS (ultra-conservative Democratic Party of Serbia), members of the clero-fascist organization “Obraz” paraded, while later the members of the Serbian Radical Party taunted the police, but nobody was arrested."

Yet, the peaceful protest camp organised by the Campaign in contrast represented "authentic popular self-organizing." Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative, the Serbian section of the International Workers Association, is heavily involved in the Anti-NATO Campaign. Its basic principles include being "against all forms of racism, chauvinism and religious fanaticism" and it has "an international character" as opposed to the "ultranationalists" that caught press attention. Likewise, the "authentic popular self-organizing" is reflected in the fact that "all decisions made in the campaign are by the principles of direct democracy, in public meetings of the Campaign."

Which probably explains the state response to the event;
At the peaceful protest against the NATO conference in Belgrade, held at June 12th, which began at 6 pm near Sava Centre, organized by the Anti-NATO Campaign and attended by around 100 people, the police insulted and manhandled people, throwing them on down a slope, while brutally arresting as much as 8 peaceful protestors. Six of those arrested, one of which was a Croatian citizen, were transferred to the New Belgrade Police Station, where they were given a 48 hour detention. The remaining two were taken to the police station at November 29th Street, one of which was soon after released, and the other, Ratibor Trivunac, has been sentenced in an “accelerated proceeding” to 15 days of imprisonment and sent straight away to the Padinska Skela Correctional Facility.

Against the six imprisoned people in New Belgrade, criminal charges were pressed, for “prevention of state official from carrying out orders duty”, while one of them, Kosta Ristić, was even charged with “assaulting a state official”, despite the video footage, which clearly shows that he received the most brutal portion of police treatment. Namely, he was thrown down to the ground and then dragged across the street by several members of the riot police, while a plain clothes inspector attempted to trip him and kick him in the legs.
Video footage of the arrests can be seen here.
The range of people protesting this event - from ultra-nationalists to anarcho-syndicalists - reflects the complexity of the issues surrounding NATO, as well as the lingering bitterness of the 1999 intervention. Until the current conflict in Libya, this was the last intervention by the west largely accepted as "humanitarian."

What it offers us is just another example of the bitter legacy of war. Certainly, there can be no doubt that Slobodan Milosevic and the forces under his command were guilty of the most atrocious crimes (PDF), including the notorious Srebrenica massacre. But this in no way excuses the war crimes carried out by the Kosovar Liberation Army, or by NATO itself. To presume that intervention was the result of anything other than self-interest, or that the crimes of the other side automatically make it just, is an incredible naivety promoted by those who benefit from questions of war being black-and-white.

Indeed, if you want evidence of the grey areas, look at how the "anti-fascist" Allies not only tolerated but cooperated with General Franco in the name of "anti-Communism". Or the United States' support for the exiled Khmer Rouge regime. In the present, the entirely strategic shifting of support from Colonel Gaddafi to the rebels in Libya entirely decimates the notion of "humanitarian intervention." Yet it continues to hold too much political currency to be abandoned altogether.

The link between Serbia and Libya is drawn by the Anti-NATO Campaign, who describe Serbia as "only one in the long line of destructive NATO actions against humanity, as we are witnessing in Libya these days." Thus, "the fact that NATO ... is holding a gathering is reason enough to organize an international counter gathering."

But, more than that, the point needs to be that people are willing to organise and act against militarism - no matter who is engaged in it. The lesson here is that the "sides" in most wars are drawn up by the power games of the global ruling class, and no matter who gains the upper hand it is ordinary people who suffer the consequences. We are our own side, and the actions we take must reflect that. Solidarity to all those involved in the Anti-NATO Campaign, and particularly those suffering state repression.