Dear Friends

DF 9 - Yugoslavia (April 99)

Dear Friends,

When I was a kid, I used to think about The West playing Monopoly, while The East played Chess.

Just the other day, in the guest book, I was asked about Yugoslavia. Watching the horrors unfold on the T.V. in my hotel rooms here in South America, I must respond. However, I think it's important to state my position before I go any further because it is a position I will have to defend at some time, and I am going to embrace some delicate subjects; so please bear with me while I outline my thinking. This doesn't come easy.

I generally have a flippant approach to life. I'm disrespectful to the establishment because it shows no respect to the need for change, and the reins of power are held in the bunched fists of the privileged few. I mock the radicals because they are so angry that they often make matters worse; and they take too much convincing that change should involve some improvement. They always want to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I have no political allegiance, nor any conventional religious belief. I understand feelings of kinship and the need to belong. I have a fair reading on globalisation and the problems of our species. This is probably because of a perspective to life given me by my childhood and my job. It doesn't make me right, but it does give me more objectivity than I might otherwise have had. I'm not afraid to change my mind, daily if necessary, and adjust my stance on an evolving topic. My values alter much more slowly, and my principles hardly at all.


Having waded through the historical differences, political bias, self-serving outrage and conflicting ideologies. Having listened to the bleeding heart pacifists and the gung-ho generals. Having absorbed the propaganda and seen it for what it is; the clumsy efforts of the newcomers and the more subtle spin of the old hands. I formed the opinion that action was preferable to inaction. However, the action of NATO is wrong. Morally and effectively.

By morally, I mean that the member nations have broken the law, no matter how well-intentioned, nor how it was perceived to be necessary. There is now a shouting match. You started it! No we didn't, you did! It's all your fault! No it's not it's your fault! A newly unwrapped article from the Geneva Convention of the 1940's is quoted by NATO as the legal basis for the bombing. The fact is The United Nations has been bypassed; and, toothless as it may appear, the UN must remain the highest authority. NATO can't pick and choose; OK for Iraq, (UN resolution numbers were quoted then until we were all dizzy) but not for Serbia. Sorry, it doesn't wash. The thinking is off-whack and dangerously arrogant. Also, the incompetence and lack of perception at this level of violence, is truly frightening.

By effectively, I mean that bombing has inflamed the situation. It may degrade Serbian military but it won't finish it. NATO will eventually lose on every front. Not only will it lose the Balkans. It will lose respect. It will lose support from within and, perhaps most significantly, it has already lost its important status as a defence organisation. NATO is now an aggressor, whether it likes it or not. NATO (sic) has made a big mistake. Big cops. Loose guns. Imperialists. This is the kind of language you can expect to hear. They will not be trusted by different cultures, away from the Atlantic rim. It will not be long, if a global war is averted, before other fragile territories are brutalised into shape, by different big boys with guns, confident; now that the UN is impotent, and now that NATO is licking it's wounded pride, daring not to get involved; after this fiasco. And, if a global war is not averted I will be expected to fight for (or at least support) NATO, and I'm going to find that difficult, very difficult indeed.

I don't suppose the NATO leaders expected things to turn out so badly. Any more than the animal rights activists in England had anything other than the best intentions, when they released the non-indigenous farm mink into the countryside. Radical tactics x bad strategy = more harm than good.

There would now appear to be three options. 1) (My choice) Stop the bombing immediately and relinquish authority to the U.N. This time showing more respect for that organisation and all of its members. Replace aggression with compassion, and prioritise the helpless innocents on all sides. 2) Launch an all out assault on Beograd, and then figure out what to do, without enough forces on the ground, half the rest of the world re-arming their missiles, and a monumental refugee situation. Not forgetting, (and this is directly attributable; even Zeljco Raznatovich aka Arkan can't believe it) a united Serbian force, that will eat NATO alive. Just as I and my friends would, if you tried such a stunt in my country, in such an arbitrary fashion; and I am a peaceful man. But that is the effect of aggression. People with great differences are drawn together, in the face of a common threat, and in the name of survival. This is a problem with it's origins lost in the mists of time. NATO, would have to accept the responsibility of course, of having now turned the situation into a world-wide mess. The third alternative is, I suppose, a war of attrition? God save us.

I'm going to digress for a moment.

I did not grow up amongst the sewage of the 'Yellow River', as it was euphemistically known, in Beirut. But, when I was there in '66/'67, I do remember the Palestinian refugees who lived in that Hell-Hole. Whatever went before, no-one can escape from the fact that children started their lives there. The only source of drinking water was 'up there' from the sprinklers on the 'American Highway', as the sign from the bridge screamed to the unfortunates below. Built, I might add, with American money in return for the privilege of docking facilities for the U.S. fleet in the Mediterranean, but you won't find that in any history books. The water was unattainable, however, to those in the shit below. It was reserved strictly for the decorative shrubs that lined the route from the gold market in the city, to the 'Casino du Liban' some thirty or so klicks south. I can't tell you how disgusting it was, enough to say I felt an empathy with the escapees, who took their dignity, and their focus, to the Bekaa Valley.

Most Americans that I've met are fantastic, energetic, creative, enthusiastic people. All of them are appalled when they hear this story, and for the first time there's a glimmer of understanding when they see their flag being burned. It's not their fault, of course it isn't, Americans are taught nothing about the rest of the world. But it's not the Palestinians' fault either, nor the Israelis', from their close perspectives. It's just the way things turned out. We must understand though, that governments of all textures do some unpleasant things at times. Not all of them for the reasons that they state. That's why our bloody democracies, hard won and still flawed in many ways, are the best option we have in the future. For the simple reason that the leaders can be removed if they misbehave; with no particular reference to the man who can't keep his gun holstered. Totalitarianism, of whatever flavour, does not offer that choice. This is why the United Nations organisation must be supported. Previously closed societies are seeing the benefits of a market economy and cultural exchanges; who knows what may follow. Once people start trading freely they often gain confidence, in any case different cultures will bond with the simple exchange of ideas, people are like that. Once you remove the fear, and the lust for power and the ignorance, it's amazing how folks get on.

I'm a lucky person. I've had the opportunity, as an adult, to travel the world for nigh on forty years. Music, as I've said many times, transcends politics, religion, language and culture. I have learned that people are good. I love Americans. I love Cossacks. I love Jocks, Paddies and the Welsh. I love Germans and French, Scandinavians and Spanish. Chileans, Bolivians, Argentinians, Brazilians. Aussies and Kiwis. Faroe Islanders. Russians, Georgians, Armenians. Japanese, Africans, Gypsies, Jews, Arabs et al. Of course I love the English, and of course I love the desperate Kosovar refugees, and of course I love the Serbians. Our leaders of course, fall into quite a different category. That's where I stand in these sad times.

What a step for us all it would be, were Nelson Mandela to be offered, and find the strength to accept after his present tenure, the position of Secretary General to the United Nations. That organ's HQ to be transferred immediately to Pretoria for a period of ten years. Dream on Cervantes.

We have differences. Vive le difference, as we say in Europe.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Gillan
Copyright © Ian Gillan 1999

Return to:
return to DF index