Inside Gaddafi’s tent: colonel’s Yugoslav connection

Muammar Gaddafi had a few friends in the Balkans, too

Having a laugh: Tito and young Gaddafi (right)

As the leading country of the Non-Aligned movement during the Cold War era, Tito’s Yugoslavia kept close ties with North African regimes: guys like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar al Gaddafi figured prominently as political partners and Tito’s personal friends.

Gaddafi’s Libya was particularly engaged in this bilateral economic and cultural cooperation. Among the many African students who regularly attended Yugoslav universities, the Libyans were perhaps the most distinctive. In 1981, a group of Libyan students formed a band called Green Wings, releasing an LP in Belgrade appropriately called Jamahiriya, sung in an obscure mix of Arabic and Serbo-Croatian:

In the same way he had been on good terms with many Western leaders, Gaddafi remained persona grata for the majority of post-Yugoslav states. The countries continued to keep ties with the colonel’s regime, promoting industrial links in the North African region. Apparently, Serbia was (and still is) interested in selling weapons, building armament factories and military hospitals in Libya, whereas Bosnians are currently stepping in the Libyan construction business and the Croatians already have nine registered companies in the country, employing 500 workers.

During the 1990s, Gaddafi remained loyal to his fellow autocrat, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, backing Orthodox Serbs against the Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims. He was seen with former Croatian and Bosnian leaders Stipe Mesic and Haris Silajdzic, as well as with the recently elected president of Kosovo, Behgjet Pacolli and the current Serbian president Boris Tadic. Tadic’s last visit to Gaddafi’s tent was in April 2010, when he congratulated the colonel on his 41 years in power. The previous year, Muammar presented Boris with a medal.

Nice tent, Mo': Serbian president Tadic with Gaddafi

Although, not everyone managed to win Gaddafi’s heart. In what would turn out to be a diplomatic disaster in 2010, Kosovar president Pacolli flew his entire staff to the desert to try and persuade the dictator to change his pro-Serbian stance on the issue of Kosovo’s independence. The Economist reported that upon their arrival to his tent, Gaddafi ordered Pacolli and his staff to sing and dance. When they ran out of tunes, he dismissed them “with words to the effect that he would never recognise Kosovo as long as their leaders remained American poodles.”

Well, he kind of managed to keep his promise. In the meantime, the Serbian nationalists have opened a Facebook page under the title Support for Muammar al Gaddafi from the people of Serbia. The page currently has more than 76,000 likes, about the size of a small Serbian city. Who knows, if only they had all flown to the desert to fight the rebels, their beloved colonel might have still been alive today.