Kosovo Burning

It is Déjà vu in Kosovo, back to 1999. After four years of creeping secession and covert ethnic cleansing, the Albanians have taken the next step and begun a war on UNMIK, KFOR, and whatever Serbs remained after the 1999 war. Throughout the occupied province, Serb houses and churches are burning, UN offices and KFOR troops are under fire, and those non-Albanians who survived the ethnic cleansing of the past four years are fleeing for dear life, as mobs of well-armed and apparently closely coordinated Albanians continue their rampage. Since Wednesday, March 17, Kosovo has been a war zone.

“Clashes” With Reality

Almost all media reports from Kosovo described the situation as “inter-ethnic violence” or “clashes,” implying there were battles between Albanians and Serbs. Very few noted that the only real clash was in Mitrovica, where the Serbs have organized resistance, while in the helpless Serb enclaves throughout Kosovo Albanians rampaged with impunity. Also missing was the fact that besides Serbs, Albanian mobs were openly attacking KFOR and UNMIK personnel.

Here is how one UNMIK official, fleeing Albanian mobs in Gnjilane (in the US sector), described the situation:

Kristallnacht is under way in Kosovo,” the official told B92 on condition of anonymity. “What is happening in Kosovo must unfortunately be described as a pogrom against Serbs: churches are on fire and people are being attacked for no other reason than their ethnic background,” he added.

Consider now the words of KFOR commander, German general Holger Kammerhoff, who warned that “thousands of ethnic Albanians that attacked KFOR, the police, Serb enclaves and churches should be aware of robust reserve forces.” (Reuters) Note how clearly he identifies the attackers and their targets.

The Daily Telegraph’s headline was just as precise: “Kosovo in flames as Albanians renew war on Serbs.” Interestingly, the story suffers from cognitive dissonance, as the correspondent’s words and “editorial guidance” passages often contradict each other. Here is the correspondent:

“Ethnic Albanians rose against the Serb minority across Kosovo yesterday in coordinated attacks the five-year peace in Kosovo was shattered… thousands of Albanians armed with heavy automatic weapons and hand grenades clashed with Serbs… It is thought that hardline Albanian political parties had been stoking existing tensions before the violence broke out.”

He also quotes UNMIK spokesman Derek Chappell:

“This is a very large, comprehensive uprising… We are getting reports in all the time, from all over Kosovo. Wherever there is a Serbian population there is Albanian action against them… These are well organised extremists leading these attacks…”

According to UNMIK, 14 Serbian churches have been destroyed. Church sources put the number at 22. There are no more Serbs in Pristina – the last have been evacuated by KFOR – and the same is happening in half a dozen other enclaves.

The Kosovo human rights Ombudsman, Marek Nowicki, said Thursday that “there exists the intent to cleanse this land from the presence of all Serbs.”

Clearly, what is taking place is not “clashes,” but a pogrom by the Albanians against the Serb population wherever possible. UNMIK and KFOR troops are also targets, whenever they stand in the way of Serb-killing.

A Spin on Murder

Attacks of Albanian mobs are only one aspect of the pogrom, though. For whatever reason, Western media is covering the crisis in a way that absolves Albanians of responsibility and obstructs the extent of their persecution of Serbs. Classifying the situation as “clashes” and Albanian militants as “protesters” or “demonstrators” (what exactly are they protesting, or demonstrating against – the existence of Serbs?) are just two specific examples.

BBC’s main report on Kosovo, around 2300 GMT on March 17, called the situation “inter-ethnic clashes” and “protests” by Albanians. BBC’s analyst Gabriel Partos also spoke of “clashes,” strongly implying that it was a two-sided fight and that Albanians were provoked by Kostunica’s statements. Papers such as the New York Times and the Guardian also repeated the “clashes” definition, and implied Serbia was somehow responsible.

But the worst media atrocity was the incessant repetition of the blood libel broadcast by Kosovo Albanian TV just as before the first wave of attacks was underway: that Serbs chased a group of Albanian boys into the river Ibar Tuesday, where three drowned in the rapid currents. Sometimes it was a “gang,” sometimes a group of children, sometimes they had a dog – the story varied, but they were always Serbs.

UNMIK’s press briefing from March 17 (PDF) mentions that one boy, Fitim Veseli, alleged something – though not what. Subsequent statements by UNMIK personnel indicated that the boy did not claim a Serb attack in the statements to them – only to the Albanian media. All too eager to run such a story, they published Veseli’s allegations as fact. Agencies and wire services picked up the refrain and appended it to all stories from Kosovo, until it became fact by virtue of repetition. Editors at one paper even coined the phrase “retaliatory drownings” (The Daily Telegraph).

That the Western media chose to disseminate demonizing disinformation is not surprising. They’ve done so about the Serbs, specifically, for over a decade – and longer in some other instances. What should be shocking is the sheer banality of their evil. According to reporters of the German-owned Serbian daily Blic, the BBC European News editor told them his network “has not received any other news while he has to explain to the world public why the clashes occurred.” So they lied, and they keep on lying. Nothing personal; just laziness.

“Serbian Rampage”

Hearing the news from Kosovo, small but angry crowds in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis attacked mosques in those cities. Despite the efforts of Serbian police to stop them, and even the appeal of the bishop in Nis, the mosques were set ablaze. It was an immoral, cowardly act, and one which will most likely antagonize Serbia’s Muslim population – ironically, themselves victims of Albanian terror in Kosovo. Western media, however, played it for all it was worth, imputing moral equivalence between organized Albanian pogroms and Serb hooliganism, grasping at straws to retain the well-worn stereotype built so painstakingly over the years. Both are immoral, of course, and neither justifies the other, nor is justifiable by anything rational. However, the Serbian government has already pledged to rebuild the torched mosques. If the Albanians have their say, all the Orthodox churches in Kosovo will be gone forever. Therein is the difference.

Appeasement Now!

The New York Times suggested Thursday that “the violence reflected a growing impatience among Kosovo’s Albanian majority about the future of the province.”

Certainly, Albanian leaders from Hashim Taqi to Ibrahim Rugova, have used the occasions to call for independence. Albanian members of the Kosovo “parliament” proclaimed that “the only way to calm Kosovo was to declare it independent.” (Reuters)

In a Friday editorial in the Washington Post, the Albanians’ onetime advisor and eminence grise of Washington politics, Morton Abramowitz, confirmed the violence was committed – and even planned – by Albanians. But he blamed Serbia and the EU for that, noting the West only ever listens to violence, and that withholding independence from the deserving Albanians incurred their wrath. Abramowitz argues that “freeing Serbia” from Kosovo – and Montenegro, while at it – would help “fundamental reform” and stabilize the Balkans. Besides, now that Albanians have made their hatred of Serbs abundantly clear, what is the point of trying for a multiethnic democracy? Independence is now the only solution.

UNMIK spokesman Chappell has a theory about the attackers: “They hate the progress of the last four years and this is their final attempt to destroy any ethnic integration.” (The Daily Telegraph) But there has been no “progress” in integration whatsoever – unless one deems it such when the murder rate drops from one Serb a day to one Serb a month. And though progress towards independence – a topic dear to Albanians – has been slow, but steady, it appears their patience has run out. Albanians have played the fait accompli card once before, using NATO’s occupation to expel most Serbs. Now they want to finish the job. So it is a “final attempt,” after a fashion – at the Final Solution.

There is no doubt the pogrom’s goal is to force the issue and leave UN/NATO no choice but to recognize the fait accompli. And there appears to be no question as to whether Washington’s interventionist establishment – gathered around Abramowitz and the International Crisis Group – firmly believes that pogrom should be rewarded, and Albanians’ wrath appeased. What a marvelous “coincidence,” such synchronicity bordering on predestination.

Last Chance

By March 19, Reuters finally seemed to recognize the truth:

“Albanians are trying to cleanse the Serbs and create a fait accompli before any talks,” said a Western source on condition of anonymity. “Anyone with political experience can see that.”

The question now is not what Kosovo’s Imperial overlords can or cannot see, but what they plan to do about it. At this point, NATO is issuing what amounts to empty threats. UNMIK is still in denial about what is happening. Washington and Brussels offer meaningless condemnations of “violence,” as it if was somehow committing itself. Meanwhile, Serbs are being ethnically cleansed wholesale, many are being murdered, and their history is going up in flames. The occupation of Kosovo – illegal, immoral and irrational from day one – has now been emphatically demonstrated as such. Kosovo is burning, but the West is only vexed over what tune to fiddle.

The Alliance, so full of bluster when it bombed Serbia from afar, now seems both unwilling and unable to stop what is effectively genocide, or at the very least a humanitarian catastrophe. Both reasons, people may remember, cited in justification of the original intervention in 1999. What is happening in Kosovo right now is a direct consequence of that intervention. When KFOR and UNMIK ousted Serbian law enforcement and military – indeed, the Serbian state and society – from Kosovo in June 1999, they assumed responsibility for the protection of all in the province. From the first exodus of over 250,000 non-Albanians in 1999, to the present pogrom, they have consistently failed in that responsibility. They should start living up to it right now, this very minute – or admit failure, leave forever, and pay damages to the victims of their criminal stupidity. And leave the resolution of the conflict to people who are both willing and able to see it through. In the meantime, any blood spilled in the province over the past four days, and likely to be spilled yet, is on NATO’s hands.

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.