Damage Control in the Balkans

In March 2004, tens of thousands of Albanians rampaged across Kosovo, the occupied Serbian province then still nominally under UN and NATO authority. After three days of murder, arson, pillage, and ethnic cleansing, the 1999 myth of the noble "Kosovar" victims looked to be in tatters. Within weeks, however, the media machine was in overdrive and working the spin. From being initially described as a modern-day Kristallnacht and unmistakable ethnic cleansing, the pogrom was first sanitized into "ethnic clashes" (implying it was a two-sided affair), and eventually not mentioned at all — except as an argument why Kosovo should become an independent Albanian state (!).

Outfits like the IWPR, a government-funded NGO, gave ample space to KLA partisans to make the case about the pogrom really not being the Albanians’ fault. They even published a piece by KLA boss Hashim "Snake" Thaci, who argued that the real culprits were those evil Serbs, and the "international community" for denying his "Kosovars" their statehood.

The support for Thaci and the KLA was bipartisan; though renewed engagement in the Balkans looked like a Kerry policy in 2004, it was adopted as the Bush II platform in early 2005. The end result was the February 2008 "declaration of independence" by the Albanians.

If this sounds like a cautionary tale concerning the possible ramifications of the December 2010 Marty report, well, it should be. A month after the Swiss investigator made public the allegations that Thaci and the KLA were not only terrorists, but also murderers, drug and slave traffickers and dealers in stolen human body parts, the damage control is already in full swing.

The Art of Deflection

"Americans should feel betrayed" by the contents of the Marty report, began a January 8 op-ed in the Washington Post, written by Chuck Sudetic. Once a glory-hound reporter in the Balkans, then from 2001-2005 an employee of the Hague Inquisition (ICTY), Sudetic is noted as the "co-author" of ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte’s famous memoir, where the charges of Albanian organ trafficking were first mentioned in the West.

That introductory sentence, however, is the strongest sentiment in the entire article. When it comes to what should actually be done about the hideous atrocities attributed to Thaci, Sudetic calls only for a "forceful public statement and … tough closed-door diplomacy." The Empire should examine Marty’s evidence, he argues, then set up yet another para-judicial body (or leave it to the ICTY, perhaps?) to put the suspects on trial. If any witnesses survive by then, of course. If the Albanians stall, the Empire should "force the resignation from public office of those responsible for the lack of cooperation." Scary!

Eventually, however, Sudetic flips all his cards over: "Washington should also ensure that Serbia, Russia and other countries do not misuse the Council of Europe report to undermine Kosovo’s legitimacy."

For something to be undermined, it first has to exist. That is not the case with the legitimacy of "Kosovo." There simply isn’t any, Empire’s pathetic word games aside.

BBC’s Manufactured Dissent

During the 1999 attack on what was then Yugoslavia, the BBC was one of the vocal NATO cheerleaders (its correspondent from the NATO HQ later got the job as Alliance spokesman). So it is both amazing and infuriating to hear Alistair Burnett, editor of BBC’s The World Tonight, talk about "reassessing Kosovo" today.

On one hand, Burnett is refreshingly frank when he says:

"The offensive against Serbia in 1999 was presented by western leaders as a humanitarian act to prevent widespread ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s Albanian population by Slobodan Milosevic’s forces. This was widely accepted by western commentators at the time and since then reporting of the conflict in western media has been largely been framed as a story of Albanian victims and Serb aggressors."

Notice he doesn’t mention that every word of this reasoning, and the ensuing media coverage, was a lie. What he says is merely that "some of the recent commentary… has challenged this account and questioned whether the intervention and support for independence were misguided."

Oddly enough, one of the examples he quotes is Sudetic’s WaPo op-ed. Yet as his own words show, Sudetic emphatically did not challenge the notion of "independent Kosovo"; quite the contrary. Burnett’s other example, Neil Clark, has actually been arguing against the Kosovo war for a decade, and that without using euphemisms such as "misguided."

Burnett then had former UN administrator Gerard Galucci on his show, as yet another critic of the current situation.

Wishful Thinking

Galucci, an American, used to be the UN administrator in the city of Mitrovica. South of Mitrovica, the occupied province is dominated not just by Albanians, but by the KLA. The few non-Albanians that survive there live in ghettos, where the only thing between them and brutal death are barbed-wire enclosures and NATO "peacekeepers" — the very troops responsible for their predicament. In Mitrovica, though, the local Serbs made a stand on the bridge across the Ibar river and stopped the KLA in 1999. In that small strip of land in the north of the occupied province, Serbs actually survive — and other communities live unharmed. Thaci’s thugs have been trying to "reintegrate" Mitrovica ever since.

In May 2009, Galucci started a blog dedicated to Kosovo issues, "Outside the Walls." His position has been that of a reasonable individual seeking peace through splitting the difference. Since anything short of unequivocal endorsement of the KLA is taken for radical dissent, the KLA have labeled him a "Serb propagandist."

In a recent essay for TransConflict, Galucci argued that Kosovo was a "mess" that needed to be "cleaned up." But what does he suggest? That the "quint" of KLA sponsors should work with Russia to "clean up the mess." Had they been inclined to do so, they would not have endorsed the KLA’s declaration of independence in the first place! And he seems to believe that in return for Serbian recognition of KLA’s state, the Empire would recognize "Serbian interests, including economic and commercial and vis-à-vis the Church and the Serbian-majority north."

Even the current quislingocracy in Belgrade, absolutely obedient to Empire’s every whim, has not dared recognize the "Republic of Kosova." As for the Empire, its policy towards the Serbs has been rather consistent since the early 1990s: they are not allowed to have any interests at all.

Power and Right

Insofar as there is any dissent among the mainstream Western media concerning Kosovo, it falls in the range between Sudetic and Galucci. Both consider the "independent state of Kosovo" as an established, irreversible, legitimate fact, and have said as much, openly.

Hashim Thaci and his supporters have dismissed Marty’s report the same way they lashed out at the coverage of the March 2004 pogrom: it was all "Serbian propaganda," aimed at "tarnishing the image" of the KLA and its glorious war. Though not in the way he intended, Thaci is right. The argument is a gigantic Freudian slip, a glimpse of the KLA leader’s understanding what his "republic" is really based on.

Everything about the 1999 war was a lie. The alleged atrocities that NATO was allegedly responding to, the alleged plan for mass ethnic cleansing, the alleged mass murder of Albanians — fiction, all. That fiction was used to commit a crime against peace, seize a portion of a country by force, and turn it over to a criminal enterprise that actually committed atrocities and ethnic cleansing, actually trafficked in drugs, sex slaves, and human body parts.

Thaci’s claim to statehood is simple: Albanians deserve a state because the Serbs targeted them for genocide, they are a majority in the province, and they have effective control. The first claim is absolutely false. The second is a consequence of ethnic cleansing and abuse alternately encouraged and tolerated by the post-1945 Communist government in Yugoslavia. And the latter amounts to the "right" of conquest — by Imperial force, at that.

But force can only settle the matters of power, not right. In 1999, NATO’s force put the KLA into power. What happens when that power is diminished?

The truly damning part of Marty’s report is not the sordid list of KLA’s atrocities. It is the revelation that the Empire and European powers backing the KLA have been fully aware of Thaci’s crimes, yet chose for years to not just turn a blind eye, but suppress any knowledge of them in general. They may now be willing to throw Thaci under the proverbial bus to get rid of the major inconvenience the Marty report represents, but they are nowhere near abandoning their lethal fantasy of an "independent Kosovo."

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.