Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist

DICTATOR FOR A DAY

Donald Trump, running for president, promises he will be a dictator for a day. Thirty-nine percent of Americans think that would be a good idea; 74% of Republicans said yes or probably in a recent University of Massachusetts at Amherst poll.

Having lived in a soft dictatorship for a couple years and been familiar with harder ones, this puzzled me. What could they be thinking? I remembered my landladies in Belgrade, Serbia, progressive democrats who supported politicians opposed to their strongman president, Slobodan Milosevic. Yet, one day we were talking politics and I was astounded to hear them say, "What we need is a strongman to clean things up." A democratic government wouldn't be enough.

I've considered this often. Why would they give up one dictator for another? They'd seen the soldiers marching in the street. They watched as one independent or semi-independent news source was raided and closed down, the leaders of human rights organizations were imprisoned, law faculty who refused to sign loyalty oaths were demoted or fired, those in Milosevic's inner circle who questioned him disappeared or were assassinated in broad daylight, Albanians in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo lost their schools and were prohibited from using their language on official forms or in official proceedings, Albanian houses were searched and Albanians were jailed without charge.

When Milosevic felt like he was losing control, he escalated attacks against Kosovar Albanians until it reached the stage of ethnic cleansing, where villages were burned, people driven out of the country, others murdered. This couldn't be what Republicans and Trumpers desired, could it? Well, not for themselves, not to limit THEIR freedoms. But for those immigrants? For Blacks, gays, Native Americans, Democrats, those who opposed Trump and his agenda? That might not be bad. Didn't they deserve it?

Trump admires strong men like Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un. He wants to be one. As he believes, the president isn't subject to laws. He can do anything. In fact, he shouldn't even be subject to laws when he is an EX-president. He wants to be president again so he can revenge himself on those he considers his enemies (and they are legion and ever-growing; don't cross this guy). "Off with their heads!" Wouldn't that be satisfying? He also wants to avoid changing a life of Mar-a-Lago luxury for a prison cell (though he wouldn't have to pay utilities). But why would ordinary Americans want to be ruled by a dictator? No guarantee they'd avoid his wrath. He turned on Fox News and some of its commentators. When Neil Cavuto criticized him for promoting hydroxychloroquine as a Covid preventive, he called him "garbage," "an idiot," "gullible," and "an asshole."

A strong man is an American icon. Think of the Camel guy in the cigarette ad (if you're of an age). Any Western lawman with a gun. John Wayne. Superman. (Well, he had a super power from kryptonite, not a gun.) It's an odd reflection of our self-concept. Do we think we're powerless?

There's fear involved in desire for a strongman. He'll make all things right -- like the mythical father who will protect us from bullies and ghosts. Today's strongman leader needs to protect us from climate change, or rather the need to face what our reliance on fossil fuels is causing so we can keep our cars and leaf blowers; the pandemic and new viruses so we can continue to socialize and not stay locked in our homes or be hospitalized or die; homelessness so we needn't run into tents on our sidewalks and people who smell bad; a fentanyl crisis (lock 'em up); immigrants who'll take our jobs and housing (lock 'em up; send 'em back); People of Color taking our places at universities and in high-paying jobs ("Make America Great Again").

A dictator for a day. Well, only a day. (Who gives up power once experienced?) And it's not against US. What's that knock on the door?

BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY!

           There are many far more serious topics to write about. Yet I can no longer hold off complaining about the modern age and technology. I have been placed here by mistake. I'm not sure where I belong, perhaps in another universe, but definitely not here. To begin with, my computer will not change the default print to Times New Roman from Calibri. Minor, I know, but I had to start somewhere.

           My latest travail began when I bought an adblocker, thinking to save myself time and angst. Of course, you can guess, it saved me neither. I was no able to download and install it on my laptop. I was continually directed to Google Chrome Apps, which is nothing but ADS for other applications, in which I have no interest whatsoever. I would block that if I could, but I was unable to download AdBlocker. So, I tried to cancel. I called the number provided and it directed me to a website. I went to the website which required my email and password. As far as I know, I do not have a password for this, so I dutifully requested an email that would allow me to change my password. After nearly a half hour it hadn't shown up. No, it was not in my spam folder. I spent more than an hour trying to download TotalAdBlocker, with more time trying to cancel it.

           Eventually, I successfully bought Total adblocker. I don't know how -- or why, any longer. But when I went to use it no ads were blocked. After a while I became suspicious. When I googled, I learned that Total adblocker only works on Chrome and some other browsers I've never heard of. I use Safari. I had no intention of changing browsers. That seemed like a pretty sneaky way to get customers. So I spent nearly another hour getting rid of it and getting an adblocker that works for Safari. It blocked ads alright. But it also narrowed my screen, making it impossible to read a map or view a photo. I had to enlarge the print, as well. It was irritating, but so were the ads.

           My troubles weren't over. When I tried to access my blog, only one blog came up and not the most recent. I couldn't add new ones or read others. This would not do. While I didn't know if the problem stemmed from my new adblocker app, it was the most recent addition. Google told me how to delete it, which I did. Now, I can access my blog -- and a zillion ads for a zillion products I have absolutely no interest in.

            I don't want to spend my life learning these things. I want to work on my memoir, go to the gym, take my piano lessons, have control over my photos, and have the energy to deal with week-long weather emergencies.

            For those who grew up in the computer age, solving these tech issues are likely no brainers. I grew up writing with a pencil and researching at the library, an ivy-covered building on my law school campus. Scotty? Where in the hell are you? I need to be beamed up.

 

 

THREE FAVORITE READS IN 2023

 

From: Judith Armatta's list of 3 favorite books of 2023

Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom

By Katherine Eban

This book saves lives -- and that is not hyperbole! It opened my eyes to the dangers of the poorly regulated generic drug industry.

I was horrified to learn I had been taking a prescription drug for several years that was manufactured by a disreputable company in India that, like a number of other foreign manufacturers, skimps on or adulterates active ingredients. While I didn't die as a result, some people prescribed medication for heart ailments and cancer did.

The book reads like a thriller. Eban spent years investigating the generic pharmaceutical industry, accompanying a whistle-blower through his nearly decade-long saga of losing his job, being blackballed, and impoverished. 

The book was recommended to me by a doctor who has been studying generics and advocating for tighter regulation. Every doctor, nurse, and pharmacist should read it, as well as the patients.

Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power

By Garry Wills

Books that astound me teach something important I didn't know. After 15 years of schooling, I still have much to learn, which keeps me reading. 

In Negro President, I learned that Jefferson achieved the presidency because of the then-clause in the US Constitution that gave slave owners additional votes equal to three-fifths of a person, based on the number they owned. The slaves didn't have a say in it. While Wills admires Jefferson and has written much about him, he reveals how Jefferson helped maintain slavery in the South.

This proves two maxims: 1) we're none of us all good or all bad, and 2) the US was indeed created in slavery. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand racism in the US, then and now.

Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right

By Claire Conner

I thought I knew all there was for an average, responsible citizen to know about the John Birch Society until I read Claire Conner's memoir of growing up with parents in the movement. 

It was far more influential then and now than I understood. The Society has a prominent place in the history of today's radical right. Conner's personal story helped me understand how an ideology can consume one's thoughts, actions, and emotions to the exclusion of even one's children.

It also illuminated the Herculean effort it takes to break free. This memoir is eminently readable. I was shocked, angered, and heartbroken over Conner's personal journey. As well, I greatly admire what she was able to achieve.

 

SEE ALSO SHEPHERD AUTHORS' FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2023: https://shepherd.com/bboy/2023

 

 

BEST BOOKS ON WAR CRIMES TRIALS

Shepherd.com is a new book promotional site that has just listed my book, Twilight of Impunity: The War Crimes Trial of Slobodan Milosevic, and my recommendations for five other books on this subject matter. I'm pasting the information from Shepherd's website, but you can access it at 

https://shepherd.com/best-books/war-crimes-trials-and-international-justice

Shepherd's site also has a "bookshelf" that lists books by subject matter. My book and similar ones are listed under "war."

As noted on the page, if you want to but can't buy a book at your local bookstore, you can buy it through bookshop.org and amazon.com/books. You can also google the titles and sometimes find them for lower prices. Thanks for your interest -- and good luck to Shepherd! 

 

 

The best books for understanding war crimes trials and international justice

By Judith Armatta

Who am I?

I am a tired activist and recovering attorney. My professional focus on violence and humanity’s response to it began when, as a seven-year-old, the nuns at my Catholic school showed us newsreels of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. This led me to adopt as my life’s guiding principle Julian Beck’s admonition “to redeem our share of the universal cruelty.” After 20 years in the U.S. Violence Against Women Movement, I absconded to the former Yugoslavia and found myself in the middle of a war during which I ran a war crimes documentation project (memoir in progress). I later reported on the international war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic. 

I wrote...

Twilight of Impunity: The War Crimes Trial of Slobodan Milosevic

By Judith Armatta

What is my book about?

Twilight of Impunity is based on the 300-plus dispatches I wrote while monitoring the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the first such trial since Nazis faced justice at Nuremberg. The book brings to life the stories of survivors, makes complex legal theories understandable, and argues that the trial created a framework for other international war crimes trials and the permanent International Criminal Court. I show how Milosevic attempted to highjack the trial and use it as a vehicle for his propaganda about the Balkan wars and his role in them. For all its flaws, the trial provided a step forward in the quest for international justice as a replacement for impunity and the eternal cycle of hatred and violence. 

The Books I Picked & Why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

By Philippe Sands

Why this book?

I loved this book. Legal concepts were clearly explained. Personal stories carried the book to its end. Sands shows how two men created laws to name and punish unimaginable crimes, and another who developed a system giving those crimes the patina of legality through the personal lives of four people born in Ukraine around the same time: Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin, who conceived of “Crimes Against Humanity” and “Genocide” respectively; Hans Frank oversaw the mass extermination of the Jews in the Polish territories; Leon Buchholz, the author’s grandfather, whose entire family was murdered according to those laws. The author's grandfather was the only survivor having escaped to Paris before the Final Solution was put into effect.  

Prelude to Nuremberg: Allied War Crimes Policy and the Question of Punishment

By Arieh J. Kochavi

Why this book?

Kochavi’s book gave me a more complete and nuanced understanding of how the Nuremberg war crimes court came to be, how defendants were selected, and what law to apply. Based on copious research, Kochavi uncovers the inside story of how the Allies ultimately agreed to establish an international court to hold Nazi officials accountable for mass atrocities instead of summarily executing them, which Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin favored. Initial U.S. and British resistance to including crimes against German nationals (extermination of the Jews among them) was overcome by strong public, especially Jewish, opposition. 

The Nuremberg Legacy: How the Nazi War Crimes Trials Changed the Course of History

By Norbert Ehrenfreund

Why this book?

I found Ehrenfreund’s book compelling because he applied his legal expertise as a lawyer and judge to what he personally witnessed at the trial. His research included numerous conversations with Germans who lived through the Nazi regime. I also valued his insights as they were informed by his personal journey to learn his grandfather’s fate many years after he disappeared into the Holocaust. While Ehrenfreund reveals how U.S. law heavily influenced the law applied at Nuremberg, I found his analysis of the trial’s subsequent influence on U.S. law revealing. For example, Justice Robert Jackson, chief prosecutor at Nuremberg and U.S. Supreme Court Justice, was impacted by the racial hatred that underlies the crimes of the Holocaust in Brown v. Board of Education, The U.S. Court’s school desegregation decision. 

Justice in the Balkans: Prosecuting War Crimes in the Hague Tribunal

By John Hagan

Why this book?

An easily accessible overview of development and internal workings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) up to the first stages of the Milosevic trial. Hagan satisfied my interest in what happens behind the scenes: the struggles, losses, and triumphs of creating the first international war crimes court since Nuremberg and Tokyo. I found particularly illuminating his discussion of how an ICTY prosecution team developed the legal theory, supported by substantial evidence, of rape as an intentional strategy to further the goal of ethnic cleansing, for the first time making it a war crime in its own right. His explication of the tension between diplomacy (which often utilizes amnesty in seeking an end to conflict) and accountability (which seeks justice for victims and humanity) was thought-provoking.

The Sun Climbs Slow: Justice in the Age of Imperial America

By Erna Paris

Why this book?

I’m drawn to inconvenient truths and Canadian Erna Paris reveals them in exceptionally readable prose. Paris discusses why it took more than fifty years to establish a permanent International Criminal Court to try war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. She examines the reasons for U.S. opposition to the permanent International Criminal Court established in 2002, identifies U.S. officials who worked to undermine efforts to develop the ICC, exposes the real reasons they did so, and debunks the official position of protecting US soldiers. 

Closely Related Book Lists

The best books for children and young people about war and refugees

 Annika Thor

The best YA novels featuring strangers in strange lands

 Diane Terrana

The best books that go beyond the diagnosis: how relationships are affected by cancer

 Lynda Wolters

The best books about the Nazi leadership

 Robert Gerwarth

Distantly Related Book Lists

The best books for understanding Putinism

 Mark Lawrence Schrad

The best literature on the Vietnam War from a male perspective

 Charles L. Templeton

The best YA books for when you need a good cry

 Dana Alison Levy

The best books about the combat soldier’s experience in the Vietnam War—military fiction at its best

 Rick DeStefanis

 

LIFE IN A BUBBLE

I live in a bubble. It’s a tiny bubble of ten percent of American voters. By the latest New York Times/Sienna College poll, we 10% think the state of American democracy and political division is the gravest problem facing this country. Twenty percent believe the economy and jobs is most important. Another 15% are most disturbed by inflation and the cost of living.

Let’s look at inflation since it’s the headline grabber of late. At 9.1% it’s the highest it’s been since 1982. On CNN the other night, the cause was explained by an economist from the University of Chicago (famed school of supply siders). Three trillion dollars, he said, was pumped into the economy by the federal government to reduce pandemic losses. Then another two trillion. And then another trillion.

All this money went into the pockets of Americans like you and me. It caused demand to increase followed by price increases. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall receiving or spending any significant part of those trillions of dollars. Nor did it allow my partner to quit work and thus contribute to the unfilled demand for workers (I am retired and receive a limited income from Social Security). Our household collected a total of $3,600, which is nothing to sneeze at but would only pay expenses for one to two months.

Other than former workers lazing about eating Cheetos and watching soaps on their new large screen TVs, what might have contributed to inflation and the state of the economy? Have you noticed that the oil industry made huge profits as prices at the pump sky-rocketed? “Almost two-thirds of publicly traded companies had substantially larger profit margins [in 2021] compared with the same period in 2019. . . . Close to 100 of them saw their profit margins go up at least 50 percent relative to 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported.” As Atlantic journalist Annie Lowrey wrote: “In one of the best decades the American economy has ever recorded, families were bled dry by landlords, hospital administrators, university bursars and child-care centers.”

That’s just Capitalism, huh? It’s also monopoly. Corporate consolidation over the last decade has created monopolies in more than one industry.  A June report by three economists for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston noted that “The US economy is at least 50 percent more concentrated today than it was in 2005,” and that such concentration amplifies the degree to which companies pass price hikes onto consumers as businesses overcompensate for rising production costs. In the oil industry, the report notes, as prices have spiked, companies have posted jaw-dropping profits.

Somebody is making money, but I don’t know them. We’re not in the same bubble.

Is inflation Joe Biden’s fault? Princeton Professor and author Meg Jacobs writes that inflation is “largely the result of choices businesses make. And history shows presidents have the power to stem inflation by taking on corporate power—if they choose.” “President Franklin Roosevelt imposed price ceilings on three million businesses and more than eight million goods.” His Office of Price Administration also put caps on rents in 14 million dwellings occupied by 45 million residents and issued ration stamps for goods like meat to manage supply.”

Biden didn’t cause inflation, but he can take steps to lower it by setting price controls.

As Democratic pollster Joel Benenson said, “We’re not having an inflation problem. We‘re having a corporate greed problem.”

TWILIGHT OF IMPUNITY?

In 2010 my book, Twilight of Impunity: The War Crimes Trial of Slobodan Milosevic, was published. Milosevic was tried by a special court, The International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for his responsibility for actions during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Though his trial lasted more than four years (with many interruptions due to his health), he died in 2006 before it reached a conclusion. Still, a massive record was made and is available at www.archive.sensecentar.org. Before it ended, the ICTY indicted 161 and convicted 90 individuals.

There have been other special tribunals and in 2002 the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) was established by treaty. Called the Rome Statute, neither the United States nor Russia is a signatory.[1] Nor is Ukraine, though it accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction over offenses committed in Ukraine beginning in 2013. After Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea in 2014, the ICC chief prosecutor assessed that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine.” The ICC has initiated investigations of Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine.

There is little doubt that Russia has committed war crimes by targeting civilians, civilian objects, and medical facilities. From reports, videos, and photographs, it also appears that Russia has committed crimes against humanity by torturing and executing civilians in Bucha and executing prisoners. Both President Zelensky and President Biden have publicly declared that Russian actions amount to genocide against Ukrainians. The ICC defines genocide as follows:

“For the purpose of this Statute, "genocide" means any of the following acts committed with an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. (a)  Killing members of the group;
  2. (b)  Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. (c)  Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. (d)  Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. (e)  Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Ukrainians constitute a national group. They are not the same as Russians despite what Vladimir Putin believes. The issue is whether Putin’s aggression against Ukraine shows an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Ukrainian people. Experts in international criminal law disagree whether genocide has been committed based on current evidence. Intent is the key and it has to come from the top. In Bosnia, both the head of state and the head of the army were convicted of genocide, as well as other top officials. Aside from the legal definition, lay people often claim genocide has occurred when harm is so egregious there seems no other word serious enough to describe it.

Yet other crimes are monstrous, as well: rape, torture, starvation, forced prostitution, enslavement, willful killing, using chemical or biological weapons. These are Crimes Against Humanity. War crimes can also be charged. They include intentional harm to noncombatants (civilians, medical personnel, soldiers taken prisoner, medical facilities, e.g.). A war of aggression is also considered a war crime, though it cannot be charged for Russia’s acts in Ukraine because it requires initiation by the UN Security Council and Russia, as a member, would veto it.

People throughout the world, citizens and leaders, are horrified by what Putin has unleashed in Ukraine. Many demand accountability. The fact that accountability is seen in terms of an international prosecution instead of revenge killings is progress, though the possibility that will happen is not high. The ICC must have jurisdiction over the person, that is, the suspect must be in a state that can and will arrest him. As long as Putin remains in Russia or a friendly state such as China, arrest is highly unlikely. The ICC cannot try a person in absentia. They have to be present before the Court.

What does that mean about impunity? Is it still dominant? No doubt, but there is still hope. In Serbia, Milosevic lost favor with the public. They voted him out of office (Serbia was a soft dictatorship that maintained a patina of democracy) and arrested him for misappropriation of state funds and abuse of power. Zoran Djindjic, an opposition politician, arranged for his transfer to The Hague to stand trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for war crimes. Milosevic also overplayed his hand by attempting to cleanse Kosovo of its Albanian population. After more than a year of massacres, destroyed villages, nearly a million refugees, and unsuccessful negotiations, NATO had finally had enough. For 78 days, the military alliance pounded Serbia with bombs. Shortly after the ICTY chief prosecutor indicted Milosevic for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, the Serbian leader capitulated.

The situation in Ukraine is different. Serbia did not have nuclear weapons with which to blackmail the West. Nor did it have military forces to rival Russia’s. While the population rallied behind Milosevic, they were also tired of sending their young men off to one more war. The press was censored, but not as completely as in Russia. There was no question about ICTY jurisdiction.

Given Putin’s much stronger position, is there any chance he will be held accountable for the war crimes for which he is responsible even in some distant future? That is a question without an answer, crystal balls and Ouiji boards being out of favor. What concerns me is that the West will grant him immunity in exchange for taking only the Eastern part of Ukraine or it will force Ukraine to relinquish any hope of joining NATO or other Western alliances. Will Putin then forego other aggressions? Give up his dream of Empire? Or will he consider it a win, leaving the door open for future misadventures? Perhaps, I’ll dust off that old Ouiji board to discover whether it’s truly the twilight of impunity or merely twilight.

 

 

 

 

           

 

 

 

[1] President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Treaty at the 11th hour of his presidency. President George W. Bush unsigned it on taking office.

AN EXISTENTIAL DILEMMA

By the time the Kosovo war ended, I’d become more of a hawk than a dove, after years of peace marching and anti-war activism. It wasn’t an easy move. I’d likely never have made it if I hadn’t been living in the former Yugoslavia for several years, watching a slow genocide unfold while the ‘International Community’ played diplomacy with a master manipulator. Slobodan Milosevic, head of the rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro, all that was left after the wars in Croatia and Bosnia), sent his diplomats to the negotiating table with no intention of making concessions. After ten years of repression under his rule, the Kosova Albanians weren’t fooled. They refused to negotiate without an international presence. Milosevic would not have it.

I read the local and international news and talked with Kosovar friends. Every week Serb authorities found some reason to kill a half dozen Kosovars and imprison more. Then the massacres started. Drenica: 83 killed. Racak: 52 killed. Federal forces methodically surrounded and burned villages, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees. Some made it across borders. Others found what shelter they could in the mountains. By war’s end, 10,000 had died.

At the request of Kosovar colleagues, I visited Kosovo, listened to their stories, reviewed photos of mutilated bodies that included women, children, and old folks. I put my colleagues in touch with the International Criminal Tribunal. And I continued my internal debate over supporting NATO intervention. Sanctions were in place, but hadn’t stopped the madness. Nor had the Kosovars’ ten years of nonviolent resistance. At the time, I wrote:

“As with Bosnia, the question for me was what should I, as a responsible U.S. and world citizen, support? There was no easy answer. Perhaps the answer was in the obligation to struggle with the question. My ethics required that, at least. I was coming disturbingly closer to supporting military action—but even as I did, I thought of young men dying and I prayed for a miracle. I considered the claim that, of the 3,500 missions conducted by NATO in Bosnia, including 850 bombing sorties, no international soldiers were killed and only a few Serb fatalities were reported, and I wondered if that was merely a justification and encouragement to violent solutions? I was as tormented by these thoughts as I was by the growing number of deaths in Kosovo.”

One thing Kosova taught me is that you have to stand up to bullies – and that requires, at a minimum, credible threats of force. As I wrote home about my ethical dilemma, a friend who knew Gandhi’s grandson, contacted him and asked, “What would Gandhi say?” The answer was that nonviolence did not preclude self-defense or defense of another. In the end, I reluctantly supported NATO military intervention. After 78 days and an indictment of Milosevic by the International Criminal Court, Milosevic capitulated and withdrew his forces from Kosovo. The Serbian public ultimately overthrew him and sent him to jail. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic sent him to The Hague, where he was tried for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for his actions in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. He died of a heart attack before a verdict was reached.

Two decades later, another autocrat has attacked a civilian population without provocation. Vladimir Putin’s war has forced millions of Ukrainians out of the country he is destroying. Again, I am faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to support the use of force to stop him. This time, however, the bully possesses nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them if NATO steps in to help defend the Ukrainian people. Is he bluffing?

As in Bosnia and Kosovo, we helped create this monster when we did nothing to stop him in Syria or the Crimea. At a recent Capitol Hill event, survivors of the Holocaust and of Syria’s torture chambers “argued that the ongoing war in Ukraine [is] the result of the world’s failure to stop the Syrian atrocities.” President Bashar al Assad committed war crimes in Syria; Milosevic committed war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova. Putin is committing them in Ukraine: attacking hospitals, schools, and civilians in general; using banned munitions; wielding starvation as a weapon of war. Though Russia (and the U.S.) has not signed onto the treaty creating the International Criminal Court, Putin could be held liable for war crimes under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction. A state could issue an indictment against him. Of course, he has to be caught first. The ICC is investigating, which hasn’t phased Putin so far, though it did affect Milosevic.

We’re back to the use of force. So far, the West has limited its support to supplying weapons and humanitarian aid, while refusing Zelensky’s plea for a no-fly zone and MiG-29 fighter planes because these could reach Russian territory and lead to WWIII. Another option not yet approved is to encourage Turkey to send Ukraine S-400 antiaircraft missile systems which can shoot down planes from the backs of trucks.

David Leonhardt in the New York Times warned:

“Putin, of course, has an interest in making the West believe that he would be angered by almost any substantive help to Ukraine. Doing so can help maintain Russia’s military advantage. The Biden administration, in turn, would be acting naively – and effectively abandoning Ukraine – by taking Putin at his word.

“On the other hand, confronting him so aggressively that he fears for his political life could set off a larger war. . . .”

Leonhardt concludes: “There are no easy answers. It is a dilemma out of the Cold War, in which both timidity and aggression carry risks.”

Where does that leave me and my ethical dilemma? More worried about timidity than aggressive action, particularly since there are steps we can take short of sending in NATO forces. Putin is a bully. Reasoned arguments will not stop him. As Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the Israeli Parliament: “You can mediate between countries, but not between good and evil.”

We live in an imperfect world. Among the human population are bullies, megalomaniacs, sociopaths, and war mongers. This is not going to change in my lifetime. I am grateful there are also people like Ukrainians and their leader who stand up to the bullies, megalomaniacs, sociopaths, and war mongers – at the risk of their lives. To be true to my ethics, I must support them. We must confront the bully and give Ukrainians what they need to stop him. I say this on behalf of Ukrainians as well as Russian soldiers who are dying for Putin’s dream of Empire.

I have not killed the dove. The bullies of the world have.

 

Child Sex Abuse in the Serbian Orthodox Church

            For centuries after Serbia’s supposed defeat by the Ottomans in 1389, the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) preserved the myth of a divinely ordained Greater Serbia and became the carrier of Serbian identity. Its religious aspect was secondary, if at all, to its political role. That explains the Church’s influence in the wars of the 1990s as Serbia sought to control as much territory as possible from the disintegrating Socialist Yugoslavia. That influence continues today and was evident in the recent Montenegrin parliamentary elections and the Republika Srpska’s ongoing efforts to break away from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The union of religious and state power is called Svetosavlje or Saint-Savaism.

            The merging of church, state, and nation led to covering up decades of child sexual abuse within the SOC, denying the victims any recourse. Predominantly boys who lived at the monasteries while studying for the priesthood found themselves at the mercy of pedophile priests and bishops. In addition to having been schooled in obedience and reverence for the clergy, the seminarians were threatened with harm to themselves and their families if they told anyone about the sexual abuse. Nor were these idle threats. Nineteen-year-old, Milic Blazanovic, who was sexually abused by Bishop Vasilije Kacavenda from the age of 16, was killed by a bomb in 1999 when he threatened to make the abuse public. After the initial conclusion that it was murder, the authorities declared it a suicide despite eyewitness evidence to the contrary.

            Other cases did not go as far as murder, but caused irreparable harm to the young victims who have lived with the trauma for years, leading constricted lives and continuing to suffer from depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses, drug use, and suicide attempts. Several victims tell their stories in an Al Jazeera documentary available on Montenegro International’s website (montnegrointernational.org). The boys lived at the monasteries and so were easy prey. Clergy targeted the vulnerable, such as war orphans, boys from impoverished homes, those whose parents were divorced or had other personal or family problems.

            Though threatened with harm, seven or eight boys told Priest Goran Arsic in Vranje, who reported the crimes to the police. “Many, many” others came forward, Father Arsic said. Attorneys filed a lawsuit on their behalf. One of the accusers received phone calls from “the Black Hand[*],” demanding that he change his statement or they would kill his entire family. He later attempted suicide. Though authorities filed a case against the bishop, they delayed its conclusion until the then-statute of limitations ran out. The few cases that made it to court ended in acquittal. As former Supreme Court Justice Zoran Ivosevic told an interviewer: “They [judges] . . . do what they believe will suit the interests of those in power in order to gain career points. . . . [T]hese people are bad judges. They should not be judges at all.”

            For decades, Bojan Jovanovic, former deacon in the Serbian Orthodox Church, has worked tirelessly to expose the crimes and cover up by the SOC and political authorities and to hold the perpetrators to account. In an interview with Pobjeda (May 21, 2021), Jovanovic said “that he tried to talk about the problem of paedophilia with the late patriarchs Pavle and Irinej, but in vain. He also informed the Police, the prosecutor’s office and addressed politicians, including the then President of Serbia Boris Tadic, but all without success.” So, he wrote a book: “Confession: How We Betrayed God and Children Paid the Price.”[†]

            The book describes his discovery of widespread child sexual abuse by the clergy and its cover up, as well as a sampling of the 3000 documents he’s amassed in support. According to Jovanovic, his investigation has identified 70 victims over several decades, despite reluctance of victims to disclose what they consider shameful. When he was teaching, one of the most well-known offenders, Bishop Vasilije Kacavenda, ordered him to procure children from among his classes, preferably under 10 years of age. Jovanovic declined.

            Kacavenda held orgies in his sumptuous quarters that included other clergy, young men, and underage boys and girls. A video of his sexual encounter with a young man was disclosed by the news magazine Blic, forcing his crimes into the open. He was ultimately defrocked. Kacavenda was also a promoter of ethnic cleansing and an ally of Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic, and Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990 wars to establish a Greater Serbia.[‡]

            While Kacavenda’s case is one of the most notorious, sexual abuse in the Church is not limited to isolated individual cases. It is endemic. Montenegro International reprinted an article from Blic, “All the Sins of Bishops,”[§]that identifies other clergy, as does Jovanovic’s book, such as Bishop Pahomije of Vranje who was tried for sexually assaulting four boys, three under age 14 at the time. The SOC elite aided these crimes by their silence and refusal to respond to complaints.

            In another case, Father Ilarion faced criminal charges for sexually abusing nine boys, aged seven to eleven. “[H]igh ranking members of the clergy permitted him to shelter for years in various Orthodox monasteries in Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia.”[**] Delays by the highest court in the country allowed the statute of limitations to run out. Father Ilarion walked free though the Church forced him to retire.

             Jovanovic’s book has provided the basis for a criminal investigation. Montenegrin Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic “formed a case based on the criminal report submitted by the NGO ‘Montenegro International’ against the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and Littoral and its Bishop Joanikije for allegedly covering up cases of paedophilia within the Serbian Orthodox Church and bringing minors to the monasteries of Cetinje and Dajbabe.”[††]

            In an interview with Pobjeda, Jovanovic acknowledges “There are many honourable priests, even among the bishops. They provided me with a lot of data [and] documents. . . .” Father Arsic is just one example of an honorable priest who sought to do the right thing. The Church transferred others, including two nuns, who tried to help victims.

            Regardless of where Katnic’s investigation leads, Jovanovic promises: “I will persevere. I’m not afraid. They are essentially cowards who hide behind the force of tramps. They can harass me, beat me, but I have already gone through all that, and I have no fear . . . .”

 

 

 

           

 

[*] The Black Hand is a secret criminal society formed in 1911 by Serbian Army officers.

[†] NG0 Montenegro International (2021); available in English from Amazon.

[‡] Outrage over the video may have had as much to do with homophobia as with abuse of minors. The SOC and Serbian society in general believe consensual sex between two adults of the same gender is an abomination. The erroneous conflation of pedophilia with homosexuality is evident in Jovanovic’s book in reproduced headlines and a book review by Dr. Ivan Poljakovic. As well, it bears clarifying that someone can be a pedophile, i.e. attracted to children, yet never act on it. It’s the sexual act that makes pedophilia a crime. 

[§] www.montenegrointernational.org, June 10, 2021.

[**] Angelovski, Ivan, “Serbian Church Accused of Sex Abuse Cover-up, Balkan Insight, November 1, 2021.

[††] Krsmanovic, Kacusa, Pobjeda, May 16, 2021.

A Historical Template for Today's Racism

           In 1898, Wilmington, North Carolina was a majority black town. Three of the city’s 10 aldermen and 10 of its policemen were black; there were black postmasters and magistrates, a black county jailer and treasurer, a black federal customs agent, a black state senator and U.S. representative. Two banks were black-owned, as was a newspaper. Blacks owned property and some were quite wealthy. Black professionals included lawyers and doctors. 1898 was about 12  years after Reconstruction had collapsed in other states of the former Confederacy. For a group of influential white men, this was intolerable. They formed a conspiracy to reverse gains achieved by black citizens – through whatever means necessary, including violence.

            They planned and organized for months before the 1898 election. A massive propaganda campaign raised the (false) specter of the black man as the rapist of white women. White-owned newspapers published blatant lies, provoking hatred, anger, and violence against black people. White supremacists organized vigilante groups who armed themselves, while businesses refused to sell firearms to black citizens. Whites intimidated and threatened black people and their allies – if they voted, their property would be burned and they and their families would end up dead.  

            In the event, 60 black men were murdered; 50 blacks and white allies were banished from Wilmington forever; their businesses and homes were burned; a majority black city (56%) became majority white, as people fled to safety elsewhere. The black population eroded to 18.3% in 2018, black voters in North Carolina plummeted from 126,000 in 1896 to 6,100 in 1902. In 1899, only 21 of Wilmington’s black citizens registered to vote; only five went to the polls.

           “The killings and coup in Wilmington inspired white supremacists across the South. No one had ever seen anything like it. Wilmington’s whites had mounted a rare armed overthrow of a legally elected government. They had murdered black men with impunity. They had robbed black citizens of their right to vote and hold public office. They had forcibly removed elected officials from office then banished them forever. They had driven hundreds of black citizens from their jobs and their homes. They had turned a black-majority city into a white citadel.”[*]

          Though the coup organizers were perfectly comfortable calling themselves “white supremacists,” they disguised the nature and cause of the 1898 events, characterizing them as a race riot instigated by blacks. They must have known that what they did would not be well-received by everyone, particularly in the North (though anti-black sentiment was also widespread there, evidenced by how quickly Northerners accepted the white supremacists’ lie). The myth of the Wilmington ‘race riot’ was accepted throughout the country until 2006 when an investigation initiated by two black state legislators published a 480-page report describing what really happened.[†]

          “It concluded that the coup was a ‘documented conspiracy’ by Wilmington’s white elite to overthrow a legitimately elected government ‘Through violence and intimidation.’ White supremacists statewide were incited to violence by Josephus Daniels and his News and Observer [newspaper], the report said. Federal and state authorities failed ‘at all levels’ to respond to the violence or punish the perpetrators. The report concluded that the coup and killings led directly to strict residential segregation in Wilmington, decades of Jim Crow discrimination, and the disenfranchisement of the state’s black citizens.”[‡] 

          This is the history that today’s white supremacists (many would deny the label) don’t want taught in our schools. It wasn’t taught in my elementary or high school, university or law school. It wasn’t even known until 2006! This hidden history and the myths created to disguise it have assured that racism lives on, allowing dominant white society to deny it, arguing that we are a post-racial society and, in fact, white people are the disfavored group whose rights are jeopardized.

          The fear that lies at the heart of MAGA is the same fear that motivated the white citizens of Wilmington in 1898 -- the fear of being a minority, ruled by black people, the fear of losing white privilege, the fear of being treated the way ‘we’ have treated ‘them.’ Today it’s known as “The Replacement Theory.” The one commonality among the January 6, 2021 insurgents was their residence in a county where the white share of the population was in decline.[§]

          Though white rage is more obvious today, it has been a major force since emancipation. While the South was defeated in the Civil War, that defeat was not accepted by a broad swath of citizens of the Confederacy and it has haunted this country ever since. Among the most obvious examples are the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, the Aryan Brotherhood, The Order, and the Posse Comitatus. Militias formed throughout the country. The media presented them as separate, isolated, and aberrant groups, whose leaders were mentally unstable. Just so, Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, was treated as a disturbed individual acting on his own with a couple co-conspirators. In fact, he was a member of the KKK, connected to the “white power movement’s war-on-government leadership . . . .”[**]  According to Kathleen Belew, author and history professor, supposedly disparate groups were all part of the White Power Movement.

          Those who organized the January 6, 2021 insurrection don’t need to reinvent a strategy for a coup. Wilmington provides it. Whether they are even aware of it, their efforts are eerily similar. Widespread propaganda (i.e. lies – Trump won the 2020 election); fear-mongering; stripping power from election officials who can’t be controlled; destroying ballots; stuffing ballot boxes; gerrymandering; passing voting laws and regulations aimed at eliminating black votes; using threats, intimidation, and violence. As Gellman writes, “[T]he chaos wrought on that day was integral to a coherent plan. In retrospect, the insurrection takes on the aspect of a rehearsal.”[††]



 

 

[*] Zucchino, David, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, New York: Grove Press (2020), p. 329.

[†] In 1951, Helen Edmonds, a black scholar, debunked the white myth in a meticulously researched doctoral thesis. White supremacists were still dominant and were able to bury it.

[‡] Zucchino, 341.

[§] Pape, Robert A., “The Jan. 6 Insurrectionists Aren’t Who You Think They Are,” Foreign Policy (January 6, 2022).

[**] Belew, Kathleen, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts (2018), p. 213

[††] Gellman, Barton, “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,” The Atlantic, December 6, 2021.

No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service . . . .

Everyone’s familiar with this notice put up by private businesses. It also applies to schools and many public spaces. Are our children allowed to go to school barefoot? Without shirts? Why then is a mask so different, particularly when it’s intended as a public health measure. This is not tyranny. It is not the last step toward totalitarianism. It is not fascist (that overused and misunderstood word). 

 

Given the every person for themselves, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps American culture, I shouldn’t be surprised at the vitriol that this one little piece of cloth has generated. Attempts to stress community responsibility are labeled socialist (now a pejorative for many) or, from people of a certain age, communist. Caring for our neighbor used to be a value. All religions preach it. 

 

Please, just accept the little (temporary) inconvenience of a mask and we’ll get through this together, as a community. For children, masks can be fun, when every day is Halloween!