War of Words

Following the defeat of efforts by Washington and London to ram the Ahtisaari plan through the UN Security Council earlier this month, the Empire seems to have pulled out all the stops in a campaign to achieve the independence of Kosovo, the Albanian-dominated, NATO-occupied southern Serbian province.

American and British ambassadors in Serbia have penned editorials in newspapers. Pro-independence "analysts" are spreading stories about how the "real agenda" in Belgrade is partition. Mainstream media in the West, from Reuters and AP to the New York Times, have run reports short on facts but long on speculation and wishful thinking. A top State Department official has come out openly endorsing independence. So has the German ambassador in Belgrade, creating a serious diplomatic incident.

Meanwhile, the Empire is trying to silence opposition to its Kosovo project within the EU, and seeking to bully Moscow with accusations of "repression" and "dictatorship." Having made a complete mess of the world in the past decade in attempting to dominate it, the American Empire is now stumbling into an open confrontation with Moscow over a sliver of land in the Balkans it illegally seized almost eight years ago.

Conspiracy Theories

Leading the propaganda onslaught was Marlise Simons, a New York Times reporter with much experience in manipulating reports from The Hague. Her reporting from the Milosevic "trial" has already been subject of extensive analysis, showing a clear pattern of misinformation and malice. Simons continued her efforts by attempting to spin the verdict of the World Court in March that found Serbia not guilty of atrocities in Bosnia. Now she has gone a step further; citing anonymous sources, Bosnian Muslim lawyer in the case, two Muslim judges who dissented from the ICJ ruling, and the professional Serbophobe Natasa Kandic, Simons has put together a claim that the verdict would have been different had the ICJ been given access to "secret documents" Serbia refused to provide.

Unlike the U.S., which has refused to furnish classified documents to both the ICJ (which it does not recognize) and the ICTY, Serbia has in fact provided classified documentation, only asking that it be protected from the public. Even the ICTY, on a mission to crucify Serbia as the mastermind of Balkans wars, complied with that request. The mysterious papers alleged to exist by Kandic and Muslim sympathizers are simply mythical. Simons’ story is so outlandish it hardly deserves to be labeled conspiracy theory. And yet, it was widely reported and quoted, without question, in the days following its publication.

The New York Times has also tried to insinuate that Moscow was giving up on its support for Belgrade. On the other hand, Russian leaders have been rather clear that they considered Kosovo an issue of principle, not of convenience. If U.S. and EU diplomats don’t understand what the Russians want, it’s only for the lack of listening.

Haze of Misinformation

Faced with Belgrade’s resolute rejection, proponents of independence have started to float rumors about Serbia’s "real agenda" – partition. Leading the pack here was ICG’s former Belgrade chief, James Lyon, who blogged about it on B92, that flagship of Imperial propaganda in Serbia.

However, Lyon’s theory was pretty conclusively blown to bits by James George Jatras, an attorney representing the Serbian National Council of Kosovo in the U.S. Writing this week, Jatras denied that either his clients, or the government in Serbia, actually wanted or advocated partition, and said it was a ploy aimed at overcoming the principled opposition to the separation of Kosovo.

Another propaganda missile was delivered by Reuters, which claimed on April 13 that the Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer was "working with Serbia on an acceptable way of implementing" the Ahtisaari plan. According to an interview Gusenbauer gave the agency, the Austrian government was working with President Tadic’s advisors to find a way for Belgrade to give in without losing face.

Serbian media reported that Gusenbauer had denied the story, saying he was misquoted (no such denial could be found in English-speaking press, however). President Tadic and his aides also disavowed the claim. However, Tadic’s point man on the Kosovo negotiating team, Leon Kojen, actually resigned in protest, claiming he could not work with people who could engage in such betrayal.

It is not clear whether the Reuters piece is outright misinformation, or if Tadic’s advisors – known for their maverick ways – have actually attempted to make a deal over Kosovo. Either way, the Serbian leadership has reaffirmed its opposition to independence.

Diplomatic Incident

Empire’s cause in Serbia suffered a significant setback last week, as Germany’s Ambassador Andreas Zobel gave an extremely undiplomatic presentation at a forum organized by an NGO supporting EU integrations. Following a storm of protests, he first claimed he was misquoted, but when presented with the sound recordings of his remarks, apologized if he had been "misunderstood." In truth, there was not much room for misunderstanding. To call attachment to Kosovo a "medieval myth" and threaten to open issues of other ethnic minorities in different regions of Serbia is hardly diplomacy. Ambassadors are not entitled to private opinions while in service, and this goes double for someone representing the country that currently leads the EU.

Belgrade’s protests to Berlin stopped short of demanding Zobel’s recall. It appears now that he will not be disciplined either, since his behavior was actually in line with German diplomatic guidelines. Far from a victory for Zobel, though, this incident has devastated the already meager support for the EU among the general population, and made the Serbs much more resentful of pontificating Imperial envoys.

Washington Comes Forth

Washington, however, proceeds with the plan, oblivious to hardening Serbian resistance. Nicholas Burns, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this week, clearly stated the State Department’s absolute support to Kosovo Albanians in their drive to independence. The following day, he delivered similar words in Congress, at a hearing organized by one of the staunchest Albanian supporters in the House, Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA).

Belgrade reacted quickly, issuing a "strong warning" to Washington not to think of unilateral recognition and showing no signs of preparedness to accept American diktat. It is unlikely Burns, Lantos & co. even heard, much less understood, the message.

Bully Like It’s 1999

It appears that Imperial diplomats, both in the U.S. and Europe, are operating on the conviction that Serbia will cave in once sufficient pressure is applied, while Russia can be bullied or bought off. It is a state of mind much like that of 1999, when NATO began its illegal war believing Milosevic would surrender within days. However, this is not 1999. Russians are still seething over being double-crossed back then. Serbia has suffered through over seven years of Imperial "friendship" and refuses to be pushed around any more. And the Empire, far from being the omnipotent arbiter of the world, has suffered one defeat after another ever since.

One could even argue that the 1999 bombing sowed the seeds of that defeat, demonstrating that even the mightiest military alliance on the planet could not overcome the stubborn resistance of a small country without resorting to subterfuge and lies. Kosovo was supposed to be the American Empire’s moment of triumph, a glorious victory transforming NATO on its 50th birthday and ushering in an age of never before seen American domination. Eight years later NATO is as impotent as ever, and the Empire is bogged down in the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan, bleeding lives and treasure while chasing ghosts. Unable to deal with these failures, the architects of 1999 are coming back to the scene of their crime, attempting to "finish the job" and gain a victory in hopes of resurrecting imperial fervor. Only this time, Serbia and Russia are looking for payback.

The battle for Kosovo is far from over.

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.