I met Slobodan Milosevic when I worked for
the International Committee of the Red Cross
in former Yugoslavia. His evil could be felt through his handshake.
The heart of his evil was his ability to put his own political advancement and
power before anything – even lives.
Milosevic ensured that Serb
nationalism was revived in 1989 when on 28 June of that year one million Serbs
went to ‘the Battlefield of the Blackbird’s ’ at Gazimestan to hear Slobodan
Milosevic speak. The date of the speech was significant as it marked the 600th
anniversary of the 1389 Battle of Blackbirds in Kosovo, the Serb people’s most
The Serbs commemorate not only the location, but also the battle,
which is considered the founding of nationhood for the Serbs, much in the way
the Australians look to a defeat by the Turks in Gallipoli in 1915 to define
Australia’s national character.
Not yet the President of
Yugoslavia, nor even Serbia, Milosevic was at that time trying to take control
of the Serbian Communist Party. While Milosevic gave his speech, he had plain
clothes policemen, dressed fraudulently as ethnic Albanians, throw stones at
the Serbian onlookers. This allowed Milosevic to
create a mood that the ‘Serbs were under attack’ and he, Milosevic, proclaimed
he would never allow Serbs to be beaten again!
Milosevic created this false
scenario to deliberately inspire hatred and fear based on the national psyche
of Kosovo being home, but with it being under a false threat.
The Battle of
Blackbirds was a great location for a political manipulation as it was reminder
of the long history of the Serbs being ruled and repressed by Ottoman (Islamic)
Turks seen as synonymous in public culture with Albanian Muslims.
Milosevic deliberately created
fear from a fabricated attack in order to gain votes and support for himself.
Unfortunately this is not an unusual event in new democracies, or even some
It is a truism in politics
that I was to learn many times over during the coming years, that if given the
choice between preaching fear, hatred and intolerance on one hand, or
togetherness, understanding and compassion on the other, the former wins almost
every single time. The reason we look to leaders like Nelson Mandela as rare
and gracious leaders is because they are exactly that, both rare and gracious.
There are many examples in
history where a leader has deliberately and falsely created fear in order to
gain votes. In Australia, for example, we could reflect upon the “child
overboard” scenario around the time of the November 2001 Australian Federal
In the lead up to the election
the polling for the governing Liberal Party did not look good. However,
following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Australia, like many
countries, was fearful of terrorist attacks and vulnerable to manipulation of
hatred of all things ‘Muslim’.
In the early afternoon of 6
October 2001, a southbound wooden hulled “Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel”
designated SIEV 4, carrying 223 asylum
seekers and believed to be operated by people
smugglers and carrying
largely Islamic asylum seekers from Iraq and Afghanistan, was intercepted
by the Australian Navy vessel HMAS Adelaide 100 nautical miles
(190 km) north of Christmas
Island (which is Australian territory) and then sunk. The
next day, which was the day before the issue of writs for the 2001 federal
election, Immigration Minister Philip
Ruddock announced that passengers of SIEV 4 had threatened to
throw children overboard in an effort to force the Australian Vessel to
‘rescue’ them and take them to Australia.
claim was later repeated by other senior government ministers including
Defence Minister Peter Reith and Prime Minister John Howard.
A later Australian
Senate Select Committee found that no children had been at risk
of being thrown overboard and that the government had known this prior to the
The government was criticised for misleading the public and cynically
“(exploiting) voters’ fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by demonising
asylum-seekers”. There are many
people, me included, who believe that that fabrication was intentionally
created to inspire hatred and fear of asylum seekers and thereby increase the
votes for the Liberal Party in the 2001 election.
no moral distinction or differentiation between the actions of Milosevic at the
Battlefield of Blackbirds and the actions of whoever fabricated the child
I reinforce here that I do not
suggest the Howard Government would go on to repeat the atrocities of Bosnia –
clearly not – I restrict my comparison to Milosevic’s political action of 1989.
Both the Milosevic and Child Overboard scenarios deliberately created fear,
falsely and deliberately, in order to gain political advantage.
like to have said that over the years Australia has changed. But even in 2012
we still see politicians doing the same thing. Australian Opposition Leader
Tony Abbott still refers to asylum seekers coming by boat as ‘illegal’.
knows this to be false.
On Tuesday 14 August 2012, ABC Melbourne Radio
presenter Jon Faine pulled him up on this fact pointing out the Australian
Migration Act 1958 allows for those seeking asylum to enter Australia, with or
without visas. The same situation is covered by the United Nations Refugee
Convention, of which Australia is a signatory. Whatever asylum seekers are,
the one thing they are not is ‘illegal’. Yet Abbott continued
then and continues now to call them ‘illegal’, deliberately, falsely and
So why would a person, knowing
the use of a word to be false, still use it?
The only credible answer is the
deliberate falsehood is used to inspire hatred and fear of asylum seekers in
order to gain electoral advantage. Like in 2001 with John Howard’s Child
Overboard affair, I see no moral distinction or differentiation between the
actions of Milosevic at The Battlefield of Balckbirds and the actions of Tony
Abbott designed to deliberately create fear and falsehood to deliberately gain
See here: Maria. This is the story of the Bosnian refugee girl I met in northern Serbia. A 12 year old who changed my life forever.
But what is an alternative?
If you are interested in my views on alternative asylum policy, see my other blogs:
- Tampa 12 months on.
- Stop the Bollocks: Is Abbott trashing Australia’s reputation?
- Fear of refugees is a red herring.
- Resettlement not Processing is the real solution for refugees?
- Carrots and sticks can provide answers to asylum policy.
- Mental health of refugees our new Stolen Generation.