Rummaging Through the Ashes

Last week’s organized campaign of ethnic violence aimed at Kosovo’s Serbs petered off Saturday, with the arrival of NATO reinforcements and announcements they were prepared to shoot to kill. Diplomatic and media attacks continued, though, and the spin machine honed over the years to justify the illegal occupation of this Serbian province is hard at work to overcome the fallout from this latest outrage.

Chinese state news agency called the pogrom “premeditated genocide,” echoing the statements of several Russian and Serbian officials. It is perhaps too strong a term, but perhaps not. Though the actual consequences were around 30 deaths, 800+ injuries, over 30 churches and monasteries and hundreds of private homes torched, and some 3800+ people forced from their homes, the intent behind the Albanian pogrom was to physically destroy and displace all ethnic Serbs living in the territory of Kosovo. Even according to the Hague Inquisition, that counts as genocidal intent.

Albanians To Blame

Though overwhelming evidence forced them to blame the Albanians for the pogrom – some 51,000 men took part in the orchestrated three-day campaign – NATO and UN officials still attempted to minimize their culpability. Even as viceroy Holkeri conceded that the rampage had been “taken over by extremists,” he tried to minimize the extent of what happened and expressed relief Albanian leaders had condemned the violence. Some of his UN colleagues noted that as late as Friday, Albanians had “condemned only the attacks on international peacekeepers, civilians and religious sites but not on Serbs.” And NATO’s Southern Flank commander, Admiral Gregory Johnson, had no patience for political doublespeak: he called what happened by its true name: ethnic cleansing.

The perpetrators Holkeri vowed to find happen to be in his pay. The UN-funded “Kosovo Protection Corps,” was implicated in the pogrom, and it consists largely of “former” KLA terrorists. It might also be worth assessing the complicity of many NATO troops, who frequently stood by and did nothing to stop the Albanian rampage.

According to the UNMIK situation report on Tuesday, the occupied province was relatively quiet, and Albanians were planning several rallies to support NATO’s intervention (in 1999, not last week).

Graphic Hatred

An Albanian girl walks through the ruined Serbian church, under the blood-red graffiti declaring: “Death to Serbs” (BBC)

An Albanian man is urinating on the charred ruins of St. George’s church in Prizren, Monday, March 22, as another Albanian immortalizes the moment on his camera-phone. The ruins have also been defiled with graffiti celebrating the KLA (“UCK”). (AP/Pier Paolo Cito)

Spinning Away

BBC had the audacity to criticize Serbian media for “making their own mark on the conflict.” Yet the coverage of the crisis by this official medium of the British government was hardly a benchmark. BBC ventured a feeble attempt at criticizing NATO’s 1999 intervention, wrapping it with worn-out propaganda clichés. Its photo essays on the pogrom were more often misleading than informative. And if the Belgrade daily Blic is to be believed, it was BBC’s European editor who justified propagating the “Serbs drowned Albanian boys” story by saying he had to “explain to the world public why the clashes [sic] occurred” somehow.

The Washington Post noted Monday that the boys were eulogized as “martyrs” at their funeral, a clear enough indication that they were used to justify the KLA-organized pogrom. Also, the reporter interviewed Serb villagers from the other side of the river who maintained that the boys had been playing on the other, Albanian side. Any Serbs who lived there had been ethnically cleansed long ago – ergo, none could have possibly chased the boys to their deaths. The story was a lie.

Even though the allegation was repeatedly denied by UNMIK as unfounded, the press never backed off. They simply added “Albanians believed” to the charge that Serbs chased the boys into their deaths, and kept citing it as the cause of the “clashes.” Meanwhile, the suspected architect of the story blaming the Serbs, professional KLA propagandist Halit Barani, was reportedly arrested Sunday, but released without explanation. There was no mention of this in Western press.

Offensive Diplomacy

The London Sunday Times claims that “most diplomats concede that Kosovo’s final status… has to be resolved urgently for any chance of lasting peace” and that committees are already “[poring] over maps in far away capitals.” Most commentaries on last week’s events fell rather neatly into two categories: those who support Kosovo’s independence now, and those who support interim solutions that would bring it about eventually.

Among the advocates of immediate independence are of course KLA leader Hashim Taqi, “President” Rugova and “Prime Minister” Rexhepi. Rugova also insists on inviolability of borders. Trouble is, of course, in deciding which borders are sacrosanct. Why Kosovo’s, and not Serbia’s? Plus, neither Rugova nor Rexhepi would likely object if offered to annex western Macedonia or parts of southern Serbia to some independent Kosovo.

Rogue diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s stale braying about the need to give Kosovo independence, blaming everyone but the Albanians for the pogrom, ruined an otherwise fair report in the New York Times (Nicholas Wood, March 21). He and Wolfgang Petritsch, another Imperial “negotiator” and former Balkans viceroy, called for independence in statements to Reuters on Tuesday.

One Catholic charity, while condemning “the violence,” clamored for solving the “most profound causes” of the problem. Since they invoked the KLA propaganda from 1999 (“Operation Horseshoe”) and blamed the rampage on Albanian unemployment, it’s easy to see what their “solution” would entail. But as any observer worth his salt will tell you, Albanians aren’t attacking Serbs, Macedonians and Roma because they are jobless or bored – but because of profound ethnic hatred they harbor towards non-Albanians.

More Nation-Building?!

This understanding has apparently failed to register among most commentators. According to people who tend to apply this kind of reasoning to all social problems, since nation-building in Kosovo has obviously failed, the only possible solution is to try again.

Thus the statist web-magazine Transitions Online argued for partition in their weekly analysis, urging the Empire to abandon “high-minded principles and political concepts” for the sake of saving the “brave new world of benign interventionist internationalism and nation building.” They also call for “a comprehensive long-term program that would marginalize the UCK elements and foster civic life and values within the ethnic Albanian community.” Because one can just overturn several centuries of cultural development overnight, of course.

One professional meddler even suggested the pogrom was a good thing, because it made partition and independence of Kosovo “easier than before.” Worse yet, this learned opinion of Denisa Kostovicova, previously known for her thoroughly wrong “analysis” of Serbian elections, is at the end of a Guardian article that supposedly rejects ethnic cleansing! Such cognitive dissonance is common in commentaries about Kosovo, all of which condemn “violence” (but not its perpetrators), but defend the NATO intervention that is ultimately responsible for it.

British analyst Jonathan Eyal blamed NATO’s “complacency” for allowing the pogrom to happen and conceded that its mandate is self-contradictory, but did not suggest the occupation itself be scrapped.

Former Swedish PM Carl Bildt, former Kosovo viceroy and longtime peace envoy in the Balkans, wrote in Financial Times on Monday that “what there was of international policy on Kosovo [went] up in flames.” But he blamed not the NATO aggression and occupation, or ethnic hatred driving the KLA, but unemployment (!). Rather than admit the utter failure of the very concept of nation-building to which he has dedicated years of his career, Bildt understandably argues for more of it. But as last week’s orgy of hatred suggests, no amount of international indoctrination will make Albanians tolerate (let alone love) Serbs, or vice versa.

Bildt’s misguided ideas were echoed by editors of Japan Times, who believe that “Serbs and ethnic Albanians must learn to live with each other. The international community must redouble its efforts to help find a compromise that allows both groups to live together in peace.”

Three words: Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

Belgrade’s Reaction

Contrary to what most media reported, Serbian PM Vojislav Kostunica’s cantonization proposal did not amount to partition or independence. According to him it is merely a way of ensuring the survival of Serbs in face of Albanian-dominated government institutions. Both as a province of Serbia and now as an occupied KLA fiefdom, Kosovo has had a statist management – everything was under government control. When that government is run by Albanians, with a 90% majority and no respect for anyone’s wishes (or lives), it’s a mite hard to live there, as the Serb exodus in the latter half of the XX century ought to have demonstrated beyond any doubt.

Rasim Ljajic, Serbia-Montenegro’s human rights minister (and a Muslim, if that matters any) said Thursday that “it is now clear that the Albanians want not only an independent, but also an ethnically pure Kosovo and that the international community must change its policy.”

But the strongest position Belgrade can muster is to insist on enforcement of 1244, which is but a fig leaf for the occupation, though it has both legal and moral grounds to demand full reintegration of Kosovo into Serbia. This eagerness of Belgrade to “cooperate” with institutions and governments that have clearly transgressed against Serbia, reflected in their eagerness to accept “reality” created by NATO and the KLA at the expense of “principles,” is their greatest weakness.

Empire’s Fault

Last week, during the pogrom, was one year since the US-led “coalition” attacked Iraq. Official excuses for that invasion have been proven entirely imaginary. This Wednesday is five years since the US-led NATO did the same thing to Serbia, with equally specious justifications. It has been said that Kosovo was the precedent that made Iraq possible.

In making any sense of what happened not just last week, but five years ago and over the past 15 years in general, one has to understand the bitter background of the situation, which the American Empire did not resolve as much as force into an “illogical, immoral, and utterly untenable rearrangement of the Balkan architecture” (Trifkovic). As the cognitive dissonance and nonsensical arguments of appeasers and interventionists demonstrate, any solution for Kosovo and the Balkans that proceeds from the presently maintained false premises will be a failure as spectacular and bloody as last week’s pogrom, or worse.

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Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.