Saying It Ain’t So

What Albanian separatists did in occupied Kosovo in four mid-March days resulted in over 30 deaths, the destruction of over 30 churches and hundreds of homes and vehicles – but more so, threatened to yank off the idyllic mask the occupiers and the compliant media have been forcibly keeping on things for nearly five years.

More than anything, the savagery of organized Albanian mobs should have put paid to the fanciful false notions of Albanians as noble, innocent victims of wicked Serbs, Kosovo as a democratic, multi-ethnic paradise, and NATO’s occupation as the Right Thing To Do. Not surprisingly, this did not happen. Instead, the UN has removed the spokesman who inconveniently denied the Albanian blood libel universally used to rationalize the pogrom. Though UNMIK and NATO are contemplating what to do next, Albanians and their supporters are working furiously to spin the story away from fact and into useful fiction.

Uncomfortable Truths

In his public statements, UN viceroy Harri Holkeri at first tried to minimize the violence, only to face fierce criticism. Perhaps rethinking his eagerness, he told the hometown paper:

“When the dark side of the human mind comes out like this, the international community should not delude itself… We need to change the strategy somehow, find something new”, Holkeri mused on the way back to Pristina. “This multi-ethnicity is not working as we thought it would.” (Helsingin Sanomat)

He is not alone in that understated belief. One Financial Times columnist frankly said, “NATO’s Kosovo dream is dead.” According to a very reluctant AP reporter, “interviews with U.N. officials, diplomats and other officials speaking on condition of anonymity show a mission in uproar, shocked at the strength of extremist elements of the ethnic Albanian population”:

Swedish Brig. Gen. Anders Braennstroem’s fury is evident as he describes some of his soldiers narrowly escaping death in the rampage, and he vows to meet any further violence with force.

“I am going to protect the minorities that were nearly killed and ethnically cleansed last week,” he said. “And I will use every means I have. I have 3,000 soldiers with weapons in their hands.”

Braennstroem is echoing the words of NATO’s Southern Commander, Admiral Gregory Johnson, who was not afraid of naming things properly. Even the Prime Minister of Slovakia – a new NATO member of unquestioned loyalty – has already begun questioning the Alliance’s policies in Kosovo. And Czech peacekeepers frankly testified that “Kosovo Albanians are destroying property, burning houses, chasing people away and even lynching them.” (The Prague Post)

Damage To The Cause

As UNMIK and NATO began to comprehend the horror of the pogrom – if not yet their dishonorable role in making it possible – Albanians and their sympathizers bemoaned “Kosovo’s damaged image” that seldom-shown photos of burning churches inflicted upon their Cause.

Keenly aware of falsehoods underlying their assumptions, Albanian partisans ranging from Holbrooke and Abramowitz to Taqi and Rugova attempted to invert the argument and claim that the denial of “reality” could only be solved by its apotheosis – rewarding the Albanians’ terror with official recognition of Kosovo as theirs.

Last week’s selection of articles from London’s Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) dwelled on how Belgrade benefited from the pogrom, how Kosovo Albanians foolishly lost world sympathy, how Albanians were “hostages” of just about everyone (especially Belgrade), and how the entire thing was really UNMIK’s fault. The centerpiece was an article by no other than KLA fuehrer Hashim “Snake” Taqi, which sought to minimize and rationalize the “violence,” threaten the evil Serbs (who were, naturally, to blame for it), and demand independence. If there were ever any doubts as to IWPR’s agenda before, there should hardly be any now.

Albanian sympathizers lurk in other places, too. Last Friday, David Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations ran an op-ed in the L.A. Times and a couple of other papers insinuating that Serbs were to blame for the “clashes,” and that the Bush government has neglected the frustrated Albanians’ legitimate aspirations. The day before, Belgrade daily Blic claimed Phillips had organized a secret meeting between Richard Holbrooke, Hashim Taqi, and a Kerry campaign advisor. The claim may or may not be true, but given Phillips’s publicly proclaimed beliefs, it certainly sounds plausible.

Strange “Coincidences”

Then there is the issue of timing concerning several political initiatives and news stories. The aggressively interventionist International Crisis Group just published a report attacking Serbia and advocating greater pressure on the Kostunica government, which it calls “Milosevic-era without Milosevic.” Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro’s interchangeable president/prime minister and a paid servant of Washington, told Financial Times on Sunday he would raise the issue of Montenegro’s secession soon. Just five days before the pogrom, the US Institute of Peace proposed to “push” Serbia in the desired direction, and on March 17th hosted Hashim Taqi’s presentation on the virtues of Albanian-run, independent “Kosova.”

Last Thursday, the Christian Science Monitor published a dispatch from Bosnia declaring it “no terror toehold” and a “nation-building model” for other interventions. The same article appeared in the Seattle Times. Just about every claim therein was specious, misleading or outright false. Bosnia was the intervention that served as a precedent for Kosovo, invoking similar “moral” arguments, and the amply documented claim that its Muslim government has been friendly with Islamic terrorists is anathema in interventionist circles.

Demented Deceit

Next to this affinity for useful fabrications, the willingness of the media to ignore inconvenient truths should not be surprising. For example, everyone noted the March 24 attack that resulted in the death of two UN policemen, avoiding any mention of the attackers’ actual or possible identities – as is usually the case when they are likely Albanian. But four days later, Britain’s Sunday Telegraph published a disturbing discovery: the attackers were indeed Albanians, pretending to be Serbs!

As the gunmen opened fire with Kalashnikovs, they were heard speaking Serbian. According to a senior security official, however, when one gunman was shot by a survivor, he instinctively screamed in Albanian: “I’ve been hit.”

Afterwards the gunmen were forced to hijack a passing Mercedes when their getaway car failed to start. Security officials said that police officers gave chase for several miles, exchanging fire with gang members, but failed to capture them.

Soon after, however, Kfor troops raided a local Albanian-owned farm where they found two Kalashnikovs and a corpse with gunshot wounds, believed to be that of the gunman hit in the attack.

With the exception of Australia’s The Age, no one else picked up the revelation.

A Conspiracy of Lies

During and after the pogrom, only people untainted by previous association with the rape of Kosovo – such as Admiral Johnson – were able to refer to the events by their proper name. Everyone with skeletons in their closet tried their hardest to bend the truth to avoid the blame. Whether it is Javier Solana, who helmed NATO during the 1999 attack, or the wire services that provided the Alliance and the KLA with alibis by dutifully parroting their “information,” so many people stand to lose if the truth about Kosovo ever surfaces that they have established a conspiracy of lies, whether deliberately or by default.

After all, it is no longer the question of whether there exists a conscious effort in the media to rationalize intervention in the Balkans. Every story, every wire, every commentary related to the region – and even some that aren’t – include offhanded (false) references to “10,000 dead” and “oppressed” Albanians, or “200,000 dead” in Bosnia and “7000 Muslim men and boys” killed in Srebrenica. Any news from Serbia somehow includes a mention that Slobodan Milosevic is “on trial for genocide at the UN tribunal in The Hague,” or a similar phrase. And while somewhat less ubiquitous, “experts” of the notorious International Crisis Group appear with alarming frequency in news stories from the region, dragging the all-too-willing reporters along their line of thinking.

Truth’s Devastating Consequences

For whatever reason – money, power, access, influence, prestige, personal gain, vanity; their name is a legion – the media have eagerly and devotedly lied about the Balkans (and more) for at least the past 15 years, if not more. A whole corps of presstitutes arose to prominence thanks to fabricated or embellished atrocity stories from the Yugoslav Succession Wars.

So many Pulitzers were handed out and books sold that exposing their authors as liars – or exaggerators – could bring the entire media establishment tumbling down. At least that is what they fear. So long as Jayson Blairs and Jack Kelleys can be presented as anomalies, the rest of the press can go on lying as before. They lied about Iraq, about the Balkans – about what else? It would be anybody’s guess.

Exposing the edifice of lies that is the “media Balkans” would destroy more than just the reputations of journalists and politicians involved. To a global hegemon reliant upon the perception of omnipotence more than its actuality – and a government dependent on continued belief of its subjects in their freedom of speech (even as there is less of it by the day) – the consequences would be devastating.

But the world would be a better place.

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 debuted in November 2000.