The New Kosovo War

A Diplomatic and Propaganda Assault

Last week’s report by the International Crisis Group advocating the “independence” of Kosovo seems to have been the first shot in an all-out propaganda war to decide the future of that occupied Serbian province. The report has received tremendous attention in the media, from wire services to official U.S. propaganda organs, coloring every mention of Kosovo for the past seven days. The ICG also followed the opening editorials by Nicholas Whyte and Gareth Evans with a second salvo, as board member Wesley Clark pontificated in the War Street Journal. What is perhaps most disturbing, there are growing indications that the Bush regime is sympathetic to ICG’s proposals.

This kind of media assault is unprecedented since the spring of 1999, and indeed represents the most serious rhetorical and diplomatic escalation of the Kosovo crisis since the war itself. It is as if the second war for Kosovo is already underway, launched by the very same people behind the first. This time, the bombs and bullets are editorials and polls; but the conflict will be no less deadly.

The Onslaught Continues

Following up on the ICG hype was once again Patrick Moore of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, whose “analysis” of an interview given the week before by Serbian president Tadic – which ruled out Kosovo’s independence – was basically a rehash of the ICG’s arguments. Indeed, Moore termed ICG’s report as “a growing body of international opinion.”

Certainly, judging by the sheer number and intensity of pro-ICG editorials, there is a disturbing amount of support for the Group’s position in the circles of power. For example, James Zirin of the Council on Foreign Relations, writing in the Sunday’s Washington Times, essentially repeated ICG’s talking points and peppered them with yet more dubious assertions and specious claims.

Another article in the European edition of Stars and Stripes, a U.S. military publication, revealed that the “report by the Brussels-based think tank was circulated to the media by the U.S. State Department’s headquarters in Pristina, Kosovo, but was not officially endorsed by the Americans” (emphasis added). So the State Department is acting as ICG’s paperboy now? How is that not an endorsement?!

The most recent shot so far has been an op-ed by Wesley Clark, former U.S. general and commander of NATO’s forces during the 1999 attack on Serbia, in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. Titled “Set Kosovo Free,” Clark’s pitch of the ICG report – he is on the Group’s board, after all – appropriates Emperor Bush’s rhetoric of “freedom,” spiced with his own Serbophobia.

He smugly claimed that “Kosovo has already held two democratic elections.” So did Poland in 1947; what’s his point? He also argued the province had somehow “developed the foundations of a modern, functioning economy.” This is how he describes terrorism, weapons-smuggling, drug-running, slavery, and extortion? No wonder his presidential bid crashed like an F-117.

The Speech Not Heard

On the other hand, the closest thing to Belgrade’s official line on Kosovo was completely ignored by the press. Special government envoy Nebojsa Covic spoke passionately to the European Parliament Commission in Brussels on Jan. 25; but as far as the mainstream media were concerned, that simply didn’t happen.

Now it may be slightly absurd that Covic is not only director of the government’s Kosovo Coordination Center, but also the head of a small opposition party, but that fact should make him more interesting to the media, not less. Instead, while the ICG gets the spotlight, Covic – and by extension, official Belgrade – is completely ignored.

Fears of an EU Commissar

Perhaps the best indicator of how this Washington-centered offensive is presented by the media is a statement by Erhard Busek, commissar of the EU’s Stability Pact (an initiative aimed at eventually annexing the Balkans to the Union). In an interview to Reuters on Jan. 27, Busek expressed fear that Washington could unilaterally recognize the independence of Kosovo. Now how on earth could he have received that impression?

Peculiar Polls

Belgrade, on the other hand, has been distracted by internal problems, and has not really responded to the media blitzkrieg surrounding the ICG report.

If any further statements, official or not, had in fact been issued, they would have been undercut by this week’s publication of poll results suggesting that most Serbians have accepted losing Kosovo. The poll was conducted in late December, and the size of the sample was only 2000 people, so it’s hard to say whether they accurately represent the public opinion in Serbia. There is no doubt, however, that many in the West want them to – not after the glee evident in Reuters’ report about the poll, that at the same time practically cheered for ICG’s recommendations. The timing of the poll is too convenient to be a coincidence – though that is certainly possible. It is just that there have been so many … coincidences regarding Kosovo lately, it isn’t hard to be instantly suspicious.

Diplomatic Default?

The silence of Serbian diplomacy in the face of this all-out Imperial assault on its sovereignty is deafening. Neither Foreign Minister Draskovic nor his ambassadors in Washington and Brussels have approached the media with a counterstory. The general impression is that they are at a loss as to how.

Most of the Milosevic-era diplomats have been purged (not that their training, better suited to a Cold-War world, would have been of any use now anyway), and the people who replaced them either have no diplomatic experience – or worse yet, have loyalties elsewhere. Instead of a Kaunitz, Metternich, or even a Talleyrand, Serbia has Draskovic, an eccentric ex-writer with paranoid delusions.

The Coming Battle

It appears that the diplomatic Battle of Kosovo has begun in earnest. On one side are the forces of Bushian “freedom” and Clintonian “humanitarianism,” champions of Empire and practitioners of terrorism. On the other isn’t Serbia, but just a handful of those who still believe in law and sovereignty as the last vestiges of order keeping civilization alive.

Kosovo has long been a cornerstone of Serbian cultural, ethnic, and religious identity, as a place where the last medieval prince of Serbia perished defending the faith and liberty of his people against the Turkish onslaught. Whether there is any truth to their motivations in the Serbian legends or not, the fact remains that Prince Lazar and his army rode out against the Turks in June 1389 fully aware that they might be defeated and destroyed, but choosing to stand and fight nonetheless. Now a similar choice is before their descendants, who seem absolutely unequal to the task.

No wonder the ICG and its allies are so bold: they can smell the cowardice and incompetence all the way to Washington.

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.