Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Serbia owed justice in Kosovo

Japan Times, 7/2/07

No commentator likes to sound like a conspiracy nut. But if that is the fate of anyone who tries to challenge the distortions involved in painting Serbia as criminally guilty over Kosovo and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, then so be it.

Let's go back to the beginning. When Nazi Germany tried to occupy Yugoslavia during World War II, the Croat and Muslim minorities there backed the Nazis in their campaign against the mainly Serbian resistance. Even the Nazis are said to have been impressed by the brutality with which the Croatian forces — the dreaded Ustashi — set out to massacre and cleanse whole villages and even towns of their Serbian populations. Some 1 million Serbs died as a result, many of them in the Croatian death camp at Jasenovac, said to rival some Nazi Holocaust operations in scale and atrocity.

With the war over, Serb revenge seemed inevitable. But the Yugoslav resistance leader, Tito, managed to restrain passions by allowing Serbian domination of the central government while dividing the nation into semi-autonomous regions with mixed ethnic populations. But it was an uneasy compromise, as I saw on the ground in the former Yugoslavia of the '60s and as even we in distant Australia probably realized better than most.

There we saw frequent attacks by recalcitrant Ustashi elements on Yugoslav diplomatic missions and the large Serbian immigrant community. We took it for granted that in any breakup of post-communist Yugoslavia it would be insanity to ask the large Serbian minorities in Croatia and Bosnia to accept rule by their former pro-Nazi Croatian and Muslim oppressors. But insanity prevailed, thanks largely to pressure from Germany, Britain and the United States, all seeking to expand influence into yet another Eastern Europe ex-communist nation.

In short, the subsequent fighting was inevitable, as were the atrocities, by all sides. But the Serbs could at least claim they were seeking mainly to recover some of the towns and villages they had lost under the Nazis. Much is made of Serbian revenge killings in the Bosnian district of Srebrenica in 1995. But we see no mention of the wartime and postwar killings of Serbs in that area, which had reduced the Serbian population from a prewar level of over half to less than one third. Nor do we find much mention of the atrocities involved in expelling hundreds of thousands of Serbs from Croatia.

Enter the Kosovo problem.

To assist the Muslim side during the 1992-1995 Bosnian fighting, British and U.S. intelligence organs resorted to the extraordinary recruitment and training of Islamic extremists from Afghanistan's anti-Soviet wars of the 1980s. Help and training was also given to Albanian Muslim extremists setting up their Kosovo Liberation Army to launch guerrilla attacks against isolated Serbian communities. (These long-suspected facts were confirmed by Britain's former environment minister Michael Meacher writing in The Guardian newspaper recently).

Even more extraordinary was the way Serbian attempts to prevent or retaliate against those KLA attacks were denounced as the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo's Albanians (ironically it was the KLA that invented the term, to describe its plan to drive out the Serbian minority). The U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization move to bomb Serbia into submission followed soon after, even though it was the KLA, not Belgrade, that violated a 1998 ceasefire organized by the U.S.

The propaganda war used to justify Western policies over Kosovo was unrelenting. We were told that 500,000 ethnic Albanians had been killed there by the Serbs (miraculously we are now given a figure of around 10,000). Much was made of a 1989 speech by former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic said to call for "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo. But one has only to read the speech to realize it said the exact opposite — that it was a call for moderation in handling ethnic Albanian hostility to a justifiably stronger Serbian political presence there; the idea that the 10 percent Serbian minority there would set out deliberately to expel the large ethnic Albanian majority was patently absurd from the start. Yet that absurdity has regularly been trundled out by allegedly objective Western commentators relying heavily on the 1999 flight of ethnic Albanians to neighboring Macedonia as proof. But that flight was temporary, and came after the U.S./NATO bombing attacks, not before. Some of it was also staged.

Almost nowhere do we see any mention of the hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and moderate ethnic Albanians since expelled permanently from Kosovo by the now dominant extremists. Meanwhile we are supposed to be annoyed by Belgrade's and Moscow's resistance to a Kosovo independence that would almost certainly see the remaining ethnic minorities even further victimized.

The implications for the future are frightening. The propaganda victory over Kosovo seems to have convinced our Western policymakers that they can say anything they like on any issue and rely on spin, black information and a lazy or compliant media to get away with it.

The 1999 ultimatum given Belgrade over Kosovo was pure blackmail: Either you agree to our demands, no matter how unreasonable (including the demand to put not only Kosovo but also Serbia under NATO military occupation), or we use our dominant air power to wreck your economic and social infrastructure. The subsequent destruction of Serbia's industries, including its only car factory, was pure vandalism.

Even Belgrade's willingness to accept a Kosovo under the control of moderate ethnic Albanians was rejected, in favor of the KLA Muslim extremists the U.S. had long supported. Ironically some of those extremists have now joined al-Qaida's anti-U.S. jihad.

On the 50th anniversary of their original unification, the EU powers congratulated themselves on the way they had kept Europe free of war ever since 1945. They did not seem even to notice how they had just gone to war with a European nation called Serbia. Serbia was the one European nation to resist Nazi German domination (the others either surrendered or collaborated). Its capital, Belgrade, was viciously bombed as a result. The next time it was bombed was by a NATO that included Germany and many of the other former collaborator nations, this time to force it to submit over Kosovo. Little wonder the Serbs remain angry.

Gregory Clark is a former Australian government official and currently vice president of Akita International University. A translation of this article will appear at www.gregoryclark.net

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