TRIBUNAL IN VIENNA/Austrian regime guilty of aiding U.S.-NATO war crimes

The 300 participants at the Dec. 4, 1999, Vienna Tribunal found leading members of the Austrian regime guilty of aiding and abetting U.S.-NATO war crimes against Yugoslavia.

The daylong Vienna Tribunal against the Austrian Regime for Assisting NATO Aggression against Yugoslavia took place at the Technical University in downtown Vienna. The tribunal had many points in common with war-crimes hearings held in Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece and nine U.S. cities. These hearings have been reported thoroughly on the International Action Center web page.

But the Vienna Tribunal also highlighted issues unique to Austria. For example, that a regime can aid an aggressive war without taking part in it directly. Also, that the European Union’s "rapid-strike force" threatens to drag the Austrian population into a war.

Speakers representing the international movement to bring charges against U.S.-NATO leaders included Zoran Stojanovic, professor of criminal law at Belgrade University and Ralph Hartmann, former ambassador of the German Democratic Republic in Belgrade. Hartmann, the author of a book about the Balkans crisis, also represented the German Tribunal against the NATO war.

John Catalinotto represented the International Action Center at the tribunal. He repeated Ramsey Clark’s earlier assertion that NATO must be abolished. IAC founder Clark’s 19 charges against U.S. and other NATO political and military leaders have been used as a model for other tribunal hearings around the world, including the one in Vienna.

Catalinotto outlined some of the more recent revelations in the mainstream press. These included the report that there were no mass murders by Yugoslav or Serb forces in Kosovo before or during the war, and thus no genocide. In addition, the U.S. military staff purposely targeted civilians and civilian structures in Serbia to pressure the Yugoslav government to surrender, according to a series of Washington Post articles in September.

Other international witnesses included Gordana Brun from the Environmental Ministry of Serbia, who testified about the role the U.S.-NATO war played in destroying the environment and its consequences for the health and living conditions of the Balkans peoples.

Cedomir Prlincevic, chairperson of the Jewish Community of Kosovo, also testified. He explained that not only did right-wing Kosovo Albanians drive out all non-Albanians and even Albanians who oppose the KLA from Kosovo, but the KFOR occupation forces did nothing to stop it.


Austrian regime’s guilt

The Yugoslav-Austrian Solidarity League, which had mobilized tens of thousands in Vienna against the war—mostly immigrants from Yugoslavia—had called for the tribunal. Many Austrian anti-war organizations and individuals participated, including the Austrian Peace Movement, the Communist Party of Austria and the Revolutionary Communist League.

A series of Austrian witness pointed out the specific steps the regime had taken that made its leading members guilty of aiding NATO’s war crimes.

Austria’s constitution commits the country’s political leaders to strict neutrality in any international conflict. Jurist Walther Leeb had little difficulty showing that the regime had violated its own basic laws through its support for NATO’s aggressive war.

In addition, in 1991 Austria, led by then-Foreign Minister Alois Mock had quickly joined Germany in recognizing the right-wing regimes in Slovenia and Croatian that split from Yugoslavia. Writer Hannes Hofbauer outlined Austria’s role for the last 10 years in the destruction of Yugoslavia.

Peace researcher Wilfried Graf showed that the so-called Rambouillet accord was really an ultimatum, since an appendix to it insisted that NATO forces had the right to occupy all of Yugoslavia. U.S. negotiators knew the Belgrade government could not accept such a condition. An Austrian politician, Wolfgang Petritsch, as the then European Union Special Representative, had delivered this ultimatum to the Yugoslavs. Petritsch was thereby guilty of setting up the provocation that launched NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign.

Others showed that the Austrian regime allowed NATO access to air space and transport to carry on the war.

At the end of the day, a jury of five progressive Austrians found the Austrian regime, especially Chancellor Viktor Klima, Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schüssel and Defense Minister Werner Fasslabend guilty, along with Petritsch and Mock.

After a wide-ranging discussion, the assembly seconded the guilty verdict with only four abstentions and no contrary votes.


European rapid-reaction force

The tribunal’s guilty verdict also accused the regime of damaging Austrian neutrality and threatening the population by working toward participation in a European rapid-reaction force. "The European Union will be militarized," the jury said, "and the role of Austria in the planned intervention army will be presented as a fait accompli."

Since June West European leaders have proposed creating such a force to allow the EU countries to act militarily without relying on Washington’s approval and support. Just like NATO, however, the European "rapid-reaction force" is aimed at imposing the policies of the world powers on oppressed countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The tribunal jury statement’s importance was underlined by the news from Helsinki, Finland on Dec. 11 that European leaders okayed the creation of this rapid-reaction military force, a contingent of 60,000 troops that could be operational by 2003.

The declaration said the EU should be able, "where NATO is not engaged, to launch and conduct EU-led military operations in responses to international crises."

U.S. Defense Minister William Cohen has often made clear that Washington prefers Europe increase military spending but keep its forces completely subservient to the Pentagon. The Europeans should buy U.S.-made weapons and provide cannon fodder for U.S.-led interventions, according to Cohen.

The future of the European force vis-à-vis NATO is still uncertain. Its role will undoubtedly be a source of conflict between Washington and the European capitals. But there are no doubts about its oppressive class character.

U.S. anti-imperialists can only welcome the Austrian anti-war fighters’ statement that they are ready to confront the European Union’s military just as they do NATO. And U.S. anti-war activists should likewise fight U.S. militarism and U.S. hegemony by demanding NATO be abolished.


Anti-Serb racism

Progressives in the U.S. are aware of the vicious government and media anti-Serb agitation of last spring. The Austrian government and media repeated the same slanders, except that in Austria these slanders built on a long history of anti-Slav and especially anti-Serb racism.

The Austrian ruling class had joined Germany in aggression against Serbia in two world wars, both of which Austria and Germany lost. Anti-Serb racism is a strong in Austrian ruling-class ideology as anti-Arab racism is in the U.S.

In addition, Yugoslavs, mostly from Serbia, are currently the largest immigrant group in Austria. And a right-wing politician, Jörg Haider, has raised his party’s vote to 30 percent and second place in parliament based mainly on anti-immigrant appeals. While any analogy oversimplifies, Haider could be called roughly the Austrian equivalent of Patrick Buchanan, but with more success at the polls.

Left-wing media representatives at the tribunal rightly accused the government and the big-business Austrian media of slander against a people—the Serbs—in their war propaganda.

It was thoroughly progressive that the anti-imperialist forces in Austria had joined during the war in solidarity with the Yugoslav community to fight against the U.S.-NATO war. The group held almost daily demonstrations, one as large as 28,000 in a city of fewer than 2 million.


Solidarity with Mumia

When the Austrian left held a demonstration last April in solidarity with U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, hundreds of people from the Yugoslav community in Vienna joined the protest.

The IAC speaker Dec. 4 ended his talk by describing the heroic role of Abu-Jamal in helping build solidarity with Yugoslavia against U.S.-NATO aggression with his letter explaining the issue last spring. The IAC representative also mentioned how Vienna’s immigrant Yugoslavs had answered with their own solidarity action by joining the protest for Mumia.

"With that kind of international solidarity, we can build a newer, better world," he concluded.


That same weekend, 300 people from 100 German peace organizations were meeting at the Kassel Peace Council in in Kassel, Germany, to evaluate the role of the peace movement during the war against Yugoslavia and to plan for the future.

Among the speakers at the two-day meeting was Wolfgang Richter of the Movement for Human and Civil Rights, the group that initiated the Berlin Tribunal to try the U.S. and NATO countries for war crimes.

John Catalinotto represented the IAC and was the final speaker to the assembly on Dec. 5. He described the U.S. anti-war movement and the growth of the tribunal movement worldwide.

The assembly endorsed a statement suggesting that member groups support the tribunal movement in Germany and help make it a success.

nternational Action Center
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fax: 212 633-2889


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