Slobodan Milosevic. What are the first images that come to your mind on hearing this name? Burning villages? Detention camps? Mass graves? If so, you are yet another victim of one of the most brilliant and successful demonisation campaigns of modern times, a campaign continued by Adam LeBor in his new biography of the former Yugoslav leader.
The LeBor thesis is simple, and it is one we have all heard many times before. Milosevic, an "archetypal Communist Party official", rose to power by whipping up dormant Serb nationalism in the late 1980s. Through his desire to create a "Greater Serbia", he provoked the break-up of his own country and the "decade of war and misery" that followed. After the benign (though belated) intervention of the western powers, Slobo is now in his rightful place, a 9ft by 15ft prison cell in an old Nazi jail near The Hague.
Despite fascinating details such as how Milosevic's son Marko liked to have his swimming pool heated to 38C, the most revealing aspect of LeBor's "authoritative" account is what he fails to reveal. Any evidence that contradicts his central thesis is either omitted or sketched over in the most cursory fashion.
There is just one oblique reference in the entire book to the meeting at The Hague in October 1991 when, on being summoned to the negotiating table by the European Community "arbitrators"- Lord Carrington, Jacques Delors and Hans Van den Broek - the leaders of the constituent Yugoslav republics were presented with a paper, "The End of Yugoslavia from the International Scene". This document provided for the existing republic boundaries to become the new international ones.
In effect the death certificate of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, it was accepted by all the delegates except the Serbs, with Milosevic returning to Belgrade in disgust. "Yugoslavia was not created by the consensus of six men and cannot be dissolved by the consensus of six men", pleaded the man LeBor wants us to believe was responsible for the break-up and the carnage that followed.
On tracing Yugoslavia's tragic descent into war, LeBor's omissions become more frequent. He quotes Warren Zimmerman several times in the book, but fails to inform readers of how the US ambassador to Belgrade intervened personally to persuade the Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic to renege on the February 1992 Lisbon Agreement which provided for the peaceful reshaping of Bosnia.
No mention, either, of the way the US State Department sabotaged the efforts at peacemaking by Cyrus Vance and David Owen when they neared success in order to justify military action and the establishment of a de facto Nato colony in Bosnia. Milosevic's support for the anti-separatist Bosnian politician Adil Zulfikarpasic is recorded only as a footnote; while the malevolent interventions of the German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher are accorded just five lines. While Slobo is quite clearly LeBor's villain of the piece, the leaders of the secessionist republics receive rather more favourable appraisal. Milan Kucan, the leader of Slovenia, the first republic to break away, is regarded as "sensible"; Izetbegovic (a man who once wrote "there can be no peace or co-existence between Islamic and non-Islamic institutions") is "well-meaning"; while the Macedonian Vasil Tuporkovski is described as "American-educated" and "pro-western" - LeBor shorthand for someone of whom he thinks we should approve.
In Chapter 22, LeBor moves on to the Kosovo crisis, but once again tells only one half of the story. He talks of the way the "Albanian diaspora" provided funds for the up-and-coming KLA, but neglects to mention the enormous role western security forces played in the funding, arming and training of a terrorist group incontrovertibly linked to al-Qaeda. Predictably, LeBor blames Milosevic's "obduracy" for not accepting the Rambouillet peace plan in 1999, but does not mention appendix B to chapter 7 of the document which provided for the "free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout Yugoslavia, including associated airspace and territorial waters" for all Nato personnel. Silly old Slobo for not signing up for military occupation.
For all the fly-leaf boasts that LeBor had "unrivalled access to those closest to Milosevic", time and time again he falls back on the same discredited sources, either those with a personal axe to grind against Milosevic, or more often than not the testimony of a "senior US official". LeBor spends a whole page discussing the dastardly RAM plan, "the geographical outline for the future Greater Serbia", allegedly drawn out by Milosevic and high-ranking officers in the Yugoslav army, but concedes in his footnotes that "no copy of the plan as yet has been produced as evidence". He does, though, quote Louis Sell, the US diplomat, who remembers being shown a "covertly obtained document that revealed contingency plans by the military" that "may have been the RAM plan or something similar". The ubiquitous Sell is also quoted as saying that throughout the Srebrenica crisis Milosevic was "in direct personal contact with [Ratko] Mladic", despite the official and exhaustive Dutch government report into the massacre finding no evidence of political or military liaison with Belgrade concerning the killings.
In the chapter "Toppling Milosevic from Budapest", LeBor at least reveals how the US poured $70m into the Serb opposition coffers in their attempt to oust Slobo. But he fails to explain why the most powerful nation on earth believed a change of government in Belgrade was so important.
With Slobo now under lock and key and a "reform" government installed in Belgrade, western hegemony in the Balkans is complete. Lord Ashdown, who testified against Milosevic at The Hague, holds court as the new King of Bosnia; while in Kosovo, Camp Bondsteel, the US's biggest "from scratch" military base since the Vietnam war, protects the route of the $1.3bn trans-Balkan AMBO pipeline, guaranteeing western control of Caspian Sea oil supplies. What John Pilger calls the west's "strategic concept" - the destruction of Yugoslavia and its replacement with a series of weak and divided protectorates - has been achieved in little more than a decade.
It was all, says Pilger, "based on a marriage of lies, thanks largely to those journalists who acted as the handmaidens of great and murderous power". In his one-sided account of the break-up of Yugoslavia and his unjust vilification of the man who tried his best to hold his country together, LeBor fails to challenge those journalists.