Back to Square One. A few days before the 5th Anniversary of the war against what was then called Yugoslavia, ethnic cleansing again reared its ugly head in the Balkans. Carl Bildt, most knowledgeable and clear-sighted former diplomat in the region, said that we saw five years of international policy go up in flames. Bildt is right in substance but his time perspective is too short; it is 15 years of Western conflict (mis)management policies that has gone up in flames.
And indeed, some have reasons to try to play down this catastrophe and its consequences: the international so-called community and its allies, the Albanian leadership in Kosovo.
When Milosevic and extremists on the Serb side committed crimes there in the 1990s, they were pointed out as the perpetrators, often before anyone had checked the events and circumstances. Whenever extremists on the Albanian side have committed crimes since 1999, it goes virtually unnoticed and unpunished and is described as "inter-ethnic" or "ethnically-motivated" violence that must - for the sake of appearances - be condemned. The UN's chief of mission, Harri Holkeri, called it mob violence and criminal activity in an misguided attempt to de-politicize the events. Then follows the mantras and the "shoulds" - the local parties should work for a multi-ethnic Kosovo, work closely with KFOR and UNMIK, respect Resolution 1244, work to realize (European) Standards before Status and should see to it that such bad things don't happen again.
This is the remarkably inept and evasive political response of the UN Security Council President of March 18, the EU's European Council of March 26, the US and of the governments in Europe. There are reasons to believe that the situation is much worse and ominous than we are told, both inside Kosovo and for the international community that has taken responsibility for the province.
In fairness, NATO commander Admiral Gregory Johnson called the spade a spade. He stated that the bloody clashes was "ethnic cleansing," that it was "orchestrated" and added, most appropriately, that he knew that "Kosovars are better than this."
From Honeymoon to Divorce
It seems that the international community is now facing a situation quite similar to the one Milosevic was facing: being seen by hardline Kosovo-Albanians (i.e. not by everyone) as an occupier that must be forced out to permit the emergence of the independent state of Kosovo. The international community has no better solution when violence flares up but to send more troops, as did Milosevic.
My conversations with Albanians and internationals in Kosovo late last year made it abundantly clear that the honeymoon between the two ended long ago. What is in the air is divorce. The international community believes the divorce will come peacefully when it drags its feet for several more years and talks master-like about Standards before Status followed by negotiations that may (or may not) lead to independence.
Albanian hard-liners have a different agenda: make life politically impossible, get rid of the remaining non-Albanian citizens and, if that is not enough, make life physically impossible for the UN, NATO-KFOR and OSCE. When the last Serbs, Roma, Askhalis, Bosniaks, Jews, etc. have left, there is no need for an international presence or protection anyhow.
And who could be surprised? Kosovo, the independent state, is much more important to them than the distant promise of European and transatlantic integration. Old-timers among the internationals in Kosovo understand this, newcomers there and most European politicians don't. They will, I guess, the day the US declares that it believes the Albanians should be rewarded for living up to Western standards and declared independent -- irrespective, of course, of reality on the ground. And thereafter, Kosovo will be a multi-decade problem and economic burden on the EU. That's not a bad exit strategy for Washington; it will maintain that it did the job in 1999 and have more important things to attend to - which indeed it has.
But the US will remain at one spot in Kosovo: the Bondsteel Base outside Pristina and Camp Monteith nearby. They are the largest and most expensive bases built since the Vietnam War and, funnily, the free press has said next to nothing about their existence since they did not match so well the noble motives stated by President Clinton. They cost around $ 180 million to operate per year and employ 7.000 Albanians. In February 2003, the US started also to build two new bases in the Bulgarian town of Burgas, Camp Sarafovo, and secured an agreement to use Bulgaria for its military operations against Iraq. Burgas happens to host the country's largest oil refinery. And, third, the air force is building a base in Constanta, that happens to be the centre of the oil industry in Romania.
All this has to do, of course, with AMBO, the Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria Oil Trans-Balkan pipeline. Oil will flow from the Caspian basin across the Black Sea to Burgas and this pipeline will pump it from there through Macedonia to the Albanian Adriatic port of Vlore. More about that in Chalmers Johnson's The Sorrows of Empire.
Thus, the war of 1999 about Kosovo had at least as much to do with the military-strategic-oil complex and European/US dependence on imported oil as it had to do with the oppression of Kosovo-Albanians. And it had less to do with Milosevic' human rights violations and more to do with the fact that he did not want to sell out and subordinate Yugoslavia and his own interests to those of neo-liberal globalization.
The Fools' Crusade -- to borrow the title from Diana Johnstone's free-of-illusions-book on international politics during the Balkan crisis -- continues unabated. Few policy-makers have learned anything during the last 10+5 years. But they have repeated for public consumption that, first, "we never make mistakes" and, second, "everything goes better by the day"; so much so, that they now believe it is true.
It's time to give the politics of Reality Show a reality check.
Unbiased Reporting Very Difficult Now
Leading mainstream media face a problem too. Could it be that the black-and-white image of all Albanians as moderate and innocent and as victims of generic Serb ethnic cleansing of the 1990s was a bit naive, if not false? Is it really possible that people on the appointed innocent side are able to commit the same type of crime now, after having been supported by the world against the Hitler-like "butcher of Belgrade"? Is it possible that they do so even under the very eyes and against the express will of history's largest peace-building mission that came in on the ticket of "humanitarian intervention" and have poured in billions of dollars in that tiny province to their benefit?
Honest reporting today would seem to be impossible without admitting, at least implicitly, that the earlier image was deceptive, built on propaganda, including lies and omissions, and on policy makers' opportunist ignorance.
So, they've got to maintain the image and do damage limitation. This is where the story about Serb youth with a dog - was it Serb too? - chasing the Albanian boys into the Ibar River, comes in handy as the event "that sparked it all off." If a simultaneous all-over-the-place ethnic cleansing against Serb enclaves and against other minorities shall be seen as a spontaneous reaction to such events, what about the attack on a Serb boy in Gaglavica on the 16th or the grenade thrown at Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova's private villa in Pristina on March 12?
At UNMIK's Press Briefing March 16, there is not a word about Serbs chasing these boys:
"The tragic case of the children lost in the River Ibar in Mitrovica continues to unfold today. Police were first informed of the possible drowning at 6 pm yesterday evening. A child had returned home and told their parents that at about 3:30 PM, near the village of Zubce, he and three other children had entered the river and had immediately got into difficulty in the water. He had reached the other side but his three friends had been swept away and lost as they attempted to cross the river."
UNMIK Police spokesperson, Derek Chappell, dismissed the story about the boys as untrue. The Beta News Agency in Belgrade reported this on March 17:
"UNMIK spokesman Derek Chappell said tonight that the survivor of yesterday's Ibar River drowning has told his parents that he and three friends entered the river alone and were immediately caught up in the heavy current. The boy managed to reach the opposite bank of the river, but his three companions were swept away. The incident happened at about 4.30 p.m. and police began a search of the river about an hour and a half later. Two bodies have been found so far. Today's violent incidents around Kosovo were sparked after claims that the boys had been chased into the river by Serbs with a dog. Chappell told media in Pristina tonight that this was definitely not true according to the account of the surviving boy."
According to the Daily Telegraph March 28, Derek Chappell "was 'moved to other duties' on the orders of senior UN mission officials, who are believed to think he had been too frank."
This does not prevent media around the world from repeating the story more than a week later and, whether intended or not, it makes the ethnic cleansing more understandable and installs a sympathy with the Albanian plight that was never offered the Roma, the Serbs or other minorities.
However, even if the story is true - that the Albanian boys escaped into the water and drowned because some Serbs with a dog chased them - does that justify what happened? And, if so, where is the proof that there was a causal connection between this admittedly sad event and the "spontaneous" response all over Kosovo within hours? So far we haven't seen them.
Here are the latest results of the "spontaneous" action, reported by Jeta Xharra in Pristina, for Institute of War and Peace Reporting:
"The latest attacks took place well after the ethnic rioting that saw 22 people killed and 600 wounded. About 150 international peacekeepers were injured during three days of violence, most of them caught in cross fire between Serbs and Albanians, rather than being targeted deliberately. About 4,366 people have been displaced, of whom 300 are Albanian and the rest Serbs, Roma and Ashkalis."
Other sources state that 28 people were killed and over 800 wounded but it is not clear whether that includes the internationals. An increasing number of internationals have been murdered, attacked and wounded during the last few weeks.
Material destruction is also extremely high. 30 Serbian Christian Orthodox churches and monasteries destroyed, about 360 Serb homes torched, and six villages populated by Kosovo Serbs are completely deserted.
In addition, international media showed footage from the funeral of the Albanian boys and the perfectly understandable grief of the Albanian community. We have seen no footage from the funerals of the 22 or 28 people who died in the following ethnic cleansing. Quite remarkably, I have not been able to find a single source of information as to their ethnic origin. And even more conspicuous, there has been extremely little coverage of the mentioned devastation of property, churches etc. How do you think it would have been covered if Serbs had done the same to Albanian citizens?
Politically correct media presents an image of it all as an isolated, spontaneous event. They give voice to people who maintain that the Kosovo-Albanians are deeply frustrated about the fact that the status of the province has not come closer to a decision and that there are still many problems in the region. That is true but does that really explain or legitimate this behaviour? Is it compatible with European standards to not dig in one's heels and say, enough! It was said repeatedly some years ago that Milosevic had lost the moral right to Kosovo; after five years of ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's minorities by hard-liners of the majority Albanians, isn't it time to ask: when will they lose the moral right to an independent Kosovo?
There is still no understanding for the Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo and their frustration of living, since 1999, in enclaves in a province that used to be their home. There is still a complete media neglect of the Serb refugees in Serbia, still about 500.000, the largest in Europe. Why? Simply because their existence there does not fit the image of them as the ethnic cleansers par excellence and the only ones.
Memory is short. CNN still uses Wesley Clark as an expert on the politics of Kosovo; he happens to be the man who was militarily responsible for destroying Yugoslavia and bombing civilians and civilian facilities in 1999. And the fact that Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, was met with angry protesters in Kosovo is presented with no background and, thus, comes through as an evidence that Kosovo-Serbs are pretty uncivilized. Their suffering the last 5 years has been made invisible and we are supposed to have forgotten that Solana, at the time NATO Secretary-General, was the highest civilian responsible for that shameful bombing.
To do otherwise and report without bias, of course, would be to admit the banality of the Reality Show and the black-and-white image. It would be to admit the truth that truth is the first victim, complexity the second and fairness the third casualty in times of war. Also in the supposedly free press.
In conclusion, the international community's political and media reaction is an evasive, subdued understatement of the embarrassing catastrophe.
According to the Tanjug Agency of March 27, 2004, Coordination Centre for Kosovo and Metohija chief Nebojsa Covic said that he had information according to which everything was being done to hush up last week's events in Kosovo: "I have information that efforts are being made towards hushing up the things and events that occurred from March 10 to March 20-something and to sweep all that under the carpet, even though UNMIK knows and has data about the participants in the ethnic cleansing of Serbs," Covic said as a guest on Radio-Television Serbia.
Chances are that he will be proven right.
Jan Oberg is the Director of the Transnational Foundation For Peace and Future Research in Sweden (http://www.transnational.org). © Copyright Jan Oberg and TFF 2004
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