NATO's Kosovo Colony
by Diana Johnstone
February 18, 2008
Across this last weekend, the Western
propaganda machine was working overtime, celebrating the latest
NATO miracle: the transformation of Serbian Kosovo into Albanian
Kosova. A shameless land grab by the United States, which used
the Kosovo problem to install an enormous military base (Camp
Bondsteel) on other people's strategically located land, is transformed
by the power of the media into an edifying legend of "national
liberation".__For the unhappy few who know the complicated
truth about Kosovo, the words of Aldous Huxley seem most appropriate:
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall drive you
mad."__Concerning Kosovo, truth is like letters written in
the sand as the tsunami of propaganda comes thundering in. The
truth is available--for instance in George Szamuely's thoroughly
informative piece last Friday here on CounterPunch. Fragments
of the truth sometimes even show up in the mainstream media, mostly
in letters from readers. But hopeless as it is to try to turn
back the tide of officially endorsed legend, let me examine just
one drop in this unstoppable sea of propaganda: a column by Roger
Cohen entitled "Europe's new state", published in the
Valentine's Day edition of the International Herald Tribune.
Cohen's op ed piece is fairly typical
in the dismissive way it deals with Milosevic, Russia and the
Serbs. Cohen writes: "Slobodan Milosevic, the late dictator,
set Serbia's murderous nationalist tide in motion on April 24,
1987, when he went to Kosovo to declare that Serbian 'ancestors
would be defiled' if ethnic Albanians had their way."
I don't know where Roger Cohen got that
quotation, but it is not to be found in the speech Milosevic made
that day in Kosovo. And certainly, Milosevic did not go to Kosovo
to declare any such thing, but to consult with local Communist
League officials in the town of Kosovo Polje about the province's
serious economic and social problems. Aside from the province's
chronic poverty, unemployment, and mismanagement of development
funds contributed from the rest of Yugoslavia, the main social
problem was the constant exodus of Serb and Montenegrin inhabitants
under pressure from ethnic Albanians. At the time, this problem
was reported in leading Western media.
For instance, as early as July 12, 1982,
Marvine Howe reported to the New York Times that Serbs were leaving
Kosovo by the tens of thousands because of discrimination and
intimidation on the part of the ethnic Albanian majority:
"The [Albanian] nationalists have
a two-point platform," according to Beci Hoti, an executive
secretary of the Communist Party of Kosovo, "first to establish
what they call an ethnically clean Albanian republic and then
the merger with Albania to form a greater Albania.
Mr Hoti, an Albanian, expressed concern
voer political pressures that were forcing Serbs to leave Kosovo.
"What is important now," he said, "is to establish
a climate of security and create confidence."
And seven months after Milosevic's visit
to Kosovo, David Binder reported in the New York Times (November
Ethnic Albanians in the Government [of
Kosovo] have manipulated public funds and regulations to take
over land belonging to Serbs. Slavic Orthodox churches have been
attacked, and flags have been torn down. Wells have been poisoned
and crops burned. Slavic boys have been knifed, and some young
ethnic Albanians have been told by their elders to rape Serbian
The goal of the radical nationals among
them, one said in an interview, is an "ethnic Albania that
includes western Macedonia, southern Montenegro, part of southern
Serbia, Kosovo and Albania itself."
As Slavs flee the protracted violence,
Kosovo is becoming what ethnic Albanian nationalists have been
demanding for years, and especially strongly since the bloody
rioting by ethnic Albanians in Pristina in 1981--an "ethnically
pure" Albanian region
This was in fact the first instance of
"ethnic cleansing" in post-World War II Yugoslavia,
as reported in The New York Times and other Western media, and
the victims were the Serbs. The cult of "memory" has
become a contemporary religion, but some memories are more equal
than others. In the 1990s, the New York Times evidently forgot
completely what it had said about Kosovo in the 1980s. Why? Perhaps
because meanwhile, the Soviet bloc had collapsed and the unity
of independent, non-aligned Yugoslavia was no longer in the strategic
interest of the United States.
Back to Milosevic in Kosovo Polje on April
24, 1987. An incident occurred when local police (under an Albanian-dominated
Communist League government) attacked Serbs who had gathered to
protest lack of legal protection. Milosevic famously told them,
spontaneously: "No one should beat you any more!" If
this is "extreme nationalism", perhaps there should
be more of it.
But nowhere do I find a trace of the statement
attributed to Milosevic by Cohen. In his speech to local party
delegates that followed, which is on the public record, Milosevic
referred to the "regrettable incident" and promised
an investigation. He went on to stress that "we should not
allow the misfortunes of people to be exploited by nationalists,
whom every honest person must combat. We must not divide people
between Serbs and Albanians, but rather we should separate, on
the one hand, decent people who struggle for brotherhood, unity
and ethnic equality, and, on the other hand, counter-revolutionaries
I turn again to Aldous Huxley for comfort:
"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."
But Huxley also said: "Great is truth,
but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence
about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects... totalitarian
propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than
they could have by the most eloquent denunciations."
Last Tuesday in Geneva, Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov tried to convey to journalists his grave
concern about the way the United States was handling the Kosovo
problem.__"We are speaking here about the subversion of all
the foundations and principles of international law, which have
been won and established as a basis of Europe's existence at huge
effort, and at the cost of pain, sacrifice and bloodletting,"
__"Nobody can offer a clear plan
of action in the case of a chain reaction [of further declarations
of unilateral independence]. It turns out that they [the United
States and its NATO allies] are planning to act in a hit or miss
fashion on an issue of paramount importance. This is simply inadmissible
and irresponsible," the Russian diplomat said. "I sincerely
fail to comprehend the principles guiding our American colleagues,
and those Europeans who have taken up this position," he
Roger Cohen dismisses such considerations
in five words: "the Russian bear will growl". Russia,
he adds, "will scream. But it's backed the wrong horse."
There are no issues here, no principles. Just growling and gambling.
"Milosevic rolled the dice of genocidal nationalism and lost",
says Cohen. __This is not only a false statement, it is a grotesquely
meaningless metaphor. Milosevic tried to suppress an armed secessionist
movement, secretly but effectively supported by neighboring Albania,
the United States and Germany, which deliberately provoked repression
by murdering both Serbs and Albanians loyal to the government.
Like the Americans in similar circumstances, Milosevic relied
too heavily on military superiority rather than on political skill.
But even the NATO-sponsored International Criminal Tribunal for
Former Yugoslavia in The Hague had to abandon any charges of "genocide"
against Milosevic in Kosovo. For the simple reason that there
was never a shred of evidence for such a charge.
Milosevic is no longer alive, and Russia
is far away. But what about the Serbs who still live in the historic
part of Serbia called Kosovo? Cohen takes care of that problem
in a few words: "Some of the 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo may
hit the road." __As Aldous Huxley pointed out, "The
propagandist's purpose is to make one set of people forget that
certain other sets of people are human."__Then you can tell
them to "hit the road".
The "Unique" Case
Russia has warned that Kosovo independence
will set a dangerous precedent, encouraging other ethnic minorities
to follow the example of the Albanians and demand secession and
an independent State. The United States has dismissed such concerns
by flatly asserting that Kosovo is "unique". Well yes,
Kosovo is a unique case, and is the only one recognized by the
United States until the next "unique case" comes along.
When legal criteria have been thrown out, we just have one "unique
case" after another.
The "uniqueness" claimed by
the United States is a propaganda construction. It is based on
the supposed "uniqueness" of Milosevic's repression
of the armed secessionist movement, which was not unique at all.
It was standard operating procedure throughout history and the
world over, in such circumstances. Deplorable, no doubt, but not
unique. It was minor indeed compared to the similar but endless
and far bloodier anti-insurgency operations in Colombia, Sri Lanka,
and Chechnya, not to mention Northern Ireland, Thailand, the Philippines
And unlike the counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,
which kill incomparably more civilians, it was carried out by
the legal, democratically elected government of the country, rather
than by a foreign power.
The propaganda "uniqueness"
is an abstraction. Like every place on earth, Kosovo is indeed
unique. But in ways that have nothing to do with the U.S. pretext
for taking it over and turning it into a military outpost of empire.
To know how a place is unique, you have
to be interested in it.
I have not visited Kosovo since before
the 1999 NATO war. On one occasion, in August 1997, I drove around
the province in a failing Skoda, at my own expense, just looking.
Driving in Kosovo was a bit risky, partly because of the number
of dead dogs in the road, and mostly because of local drivers'
habit of passing slower vehicles on hills and curves. In northern
Kosovo, just outside the town of Zubin Potok, this habit produced
one of its inevitable consequences: a head-on collision with serious
casualties, which shut down the two-lane highway for hours while
ambulances and police sorted things out.
Unable to proceed toward Pristina, I drove
back to Zubin Potok to pass the time on the shaded terrace of
a roadside restaurant. I was the only customer, and the lone waiter,
a tall, handsome young man named Milomir, gladly accepted my invitation
to sit down at my table and chat as I sipped glass after glass
of delicious strawberry juice.
Milomir was happy to talk to someone familiar
with the French city of Metz, which he had visited as a student
and remembered fondly. He loved to read and travel, but in 1991
he got married and now had two small daughters to support. Job
prospects were poor, even though he had been to university, so
he had no choice but to stay in Zubin Potok. As for Europe, even
if he could get a visa (impossible for Serbs anyway), he spoke
no language more Western than his mother tongue, Serbo-Croatian.
He had studied Russian (he loved the literature) and Albanian
as his foreign languages. He learned Albanian in order to be able
to communicate with the majority in Kosovo.__But such communication
was difficult. Milomir was very much in favor of a bilingual society,
and thought everyone in Kosovo should learn both Serbian and Albanian,
but unfortunately this was not the case. The younger generation
of Albanians refused to speak Serbian and learned English instead.
__The town of Zubin Potok was located near the dam on the Ibar
River built in the late 1970s to create hydraulic power. Coming
from Novi Pazar, I had driven along the 35-kilometer-long artificial
lake created by the dam, looking in vain for a nice place to stop.
It seemed that there must have been villages along the Ibar River
before the dam was built, and I asked Milomir about this. Yes,
he said, the artificial lake had flooded a score of old villages,
of ethnically mixed, but mostly Serb population. The Albanian
Communist authorities in Pristina had resettled the Serbs outside
of Kosovo, around the town of Kraljevo. There were about 10,000
This was a minor example of the administrative
measures taken to decrease the Serb population during the period,
before Milosevic, when Albanians were running the province through
the local Communist League.
Milomir was not complaining, but simply
answering my questions. He did not go too often (by bus--he had
no car) to the nearest large city, Mitrovica, because he was afraid
of being beaten by Albanians. This was just a fact of life, at
a time when (according to Western media) Albanians in Kosovo were
being terrorized by Serbian repression.
While we were chatting, a friend of his
came along and the conversation turned to politics. There was
a presidential campaign underway. The two young men wanted to
know which candidate I thought would be best for Serbia in the
eyes of the world. Milomir was tending toward Vuk Draskovic, and
his friend was for Vojislav Kostunica. Neither would dream of
voting for either Milosevic or Seselj, the nationalist leader
of the Radical Party.
_Zubin Potok Today
I have no idea what has become of Milomir,
his wife, his two daughters, or his friend. Zubin Potok is the
western-most municipality in the heavily Serb-populated north
of Kosovo. From the internet I learn that the population of Zubin
Potok municipality (including surrounding villages) has nearly
doubled since I passed through. It now comes to approximately
14,900, including about 3,000 internally displaced Serbs (from
other areas of Kosovo where the Albanian majority has driven them
out), 220 Serbian refugees from Croatia and 800 Albanians. The
local assembly is overwhelmingly dominated by Kostunica's Democratic
Party of Serbia, but includes two Kosovo Albanian representatives.
Up until now, schools, hospitals, and
other public services, as well as the local economy, have continued
to function thanks mainly to subsidies from Belgrade. The Albanian
declaration of Kosovo independence will create a crisis by demanding
an end to such vital subsidies--which, however, an "independent
Kosovo" is unable to replace. Moreover, bands of Albanian
nationalists are declaring that Zubin Potok "is Albanian"
and must be "liberated from the Serbs". They can be
seen on You Tube, using the Statue of Liberty as their symbol,
and threatening Serbs in Albanian rap. __The European Union is
moving in to provide law and order. But the "order"
they claim to be protecting is the one defined by the Albanian
nationalists. What does that mean to people like Milomir and his
For Roger Cohen, the answer is easy: "hit
Serbia, by the way, already has the largest
number of refugees in Europe, victims of "ethnic cleansing"
in Croatia and Kosovo. And Serbs cannot get visas or refugee status
in Western Europe. They have been labeled the "bad guys".
Only their enemies can be "victims".
_Before and After
Kosovo before the NATO war and occupation
was, nevertheless, a multiethnic society. The accusation of "apartheid"
was simply Albanian propaganda, as the Albanian nationalist leaders
chose to use that heavily-charged term to describe their own boycott
of Serbs and Serb institutions. Every police action against an
Albanian, for whatever reason, whether for suspicion of armed
rebellion or for ordinary crime, was described as a "human
rights violation" by the Albanian human rights network financed
by the United States government. __It was an extraordinary situation
that the Serbian and Yugoslav governments allowed an illegal separatist
"government of Kosovo", headed by Ibrahim Rugova, to
hold shop in the center of Pristina, regularly receiving foreign
journalists and regaling them with tales of how oppressed they
were by the horrid Serbs.
But the laws were the same for all citizens,
there were Albanians in local government and in the police, and
if there were cases of police brutality (in what country are there
no cases of police brutality?), the Albanians at least had nothing
to fear from their Serb neighbors. __Even then, it was the Serbs
who were afraid of the Albanians. Only outside Kosovo could anyone
seriously believe that it was the Albanians who were under threat
of "ethnic cleansing" (much less "genocide").
Such a project was simply, obviously, out of the question. It
was the Serbs who were afraid, who spoke of sending their children
to safety if they had the means, or who spoke bravely of remaining
"no matter what". __Later, in March 1999, when NATO
began to bomb Kosovo, Albanians fled by the hundreds of thousands,
and their temporary flight from the war theater was presented
as the justification for the bombing that caused it. The press
did not bother to report on the Serbs and others who also fled
the bombing at that time.
In Kosovo, in 1987, in Pristina and Pec,
I observed a peculiar sort of group behavior that reminds me only
of school playgrounds in Maryland in my childhood. A gang of kids
get together and by various signs, body language, and a minimum
of words, convey to some outsiders that they are excluded and
despised. I have seen Albanians act in this way toward stray Serbs,
especially old women. This variety of "mobbing" was
not violent in 1987, but turned so after NATO occupied the territory.
It was encouraged by the official NATO stamp of approval of Albanian
hatred for Serbs, delivered by bombs in the spring of 1999.
Of course, there must have been Serbs
who hated Albanians. But in my limited, chance experience, what
struck me was the absence of hatred for Albanians among Serbs
I met. Fear, yes, but not hatred. A great deal of perplexity.
Sister Fotina at the Gracanica monastery had a very Christian
explanation. We tried to help the Albanians care for their many
children, she said, and yet they turn against us. This must be
God's way of punishing us for turning away from Christianity during
the time of Communism, she concluded. She blamed her fellow Serbs
more than the Albanians.
The divine punishment has not been confined
to Christians, however. In the southernmost corner of Kosovo live
an ancient population called Gorani (meaning mountain people),
who converted to Islam under the Ottoman Empire, like most of
the Albanians. But their language is Serbian, and this is unacceptable
to the Albanians. Estimates vary, but it is agreed that at least
two thirds of the Gorani have left since NATO "liberation".
Pressure and intimidation have taken various forms. Albanians
have moved into the temporarily vacant homes of Gorani who went
to Austria and Germany to earn money for their retirement. The
NATO-protected Albanian authorities have found ways to deprive
Gorani children of schooling in the Serbian language. In the main
Gorani town of Dragash, an Albanian mob attacked the health center
and caused health workers to flee. Then, last January 5, a powerful
explosion destroyed the bank in Dragash. It was the only Serbian
bank still allowed to operate in the south of Kosovo, and served
mainly to transfer the pensions that allowed local Gorani to survive.
__As usual, the crime went unpunished.
David Binder, who used to report on Yugoslavia
for the New York Times, before he was excluded for knowing too
much, reported last November * on a long investigation of conditions
in Kosovo commissioned by the German Bundeswehr. The existence
of this report is proof that the Western governments, while publicly
claiming that Kosovo is "ready for independence", know
quite well that this is not true. Among other things, Binder reports:
The institute authors, Mathias Jopp and
Sammi Sandawi, spent six months interviewing 70 experts and mining
current literature on Kosovo in preparing the study. In their
analysis the political unrest and guerrilla fighting of the 1990s
led to basic changes which they call a "turnabout in Kosovo-Albanian
social structures." The result is a "civil war society
in which those inclined to violence, ill-educated and easily influenced
people could make huge social leaps in a rapidly constructed soldateska."
"It is a Mafia society" based
on "capture of the state" by criminal elements.
In the authors' definition, Kosovan organized
crime "consists of multimillion-Euro organizations with guerrilla
experience and espionage expertise." They quote a German
intelligence service report of "closest ties between leading
political decision makers and the dominant criminal class"
and name Ramush Haradinaj, Hashim Thaci and Xhavit Haliti as compromised
leaders who are "internally protected by parliamentary immunity
and abroad by international law."
They scornfully quote the UNMIK chief
from 2004-2006, Soeren Jessen Petersen, calling Haradinaj "a
close and personal friend." The study sharply criticizes
the United States for "abetting the escape of criminals"
in Kosovo as well as "preventing European investigators from
It notes "secret CIA detention centers"
at Camp Bondsteel and assails American military training for Kosovo
(Albanian) police by Dyncorp, authorized by the Pentagon.__In
an aside, it quotes one unidentified official as saying of the
American who is deputy chief of UNMIK, "The main task of
Steve Schook is to get drunk once a week with Ramush Haradinaj."
Who Goes and Who Stays
Schook has been fired by UNMIK, but UNMIK,
the nominally United Nations mission, is being taken over arbitrarily
by the European Union. The EU "mission" is a sort of
colonial government which, alongside NATO, plans to govern the
ungovernable Albanian territory. However, already movements of
armed Albanian patriots are planning their next "war of liberation"
against the Europeans.
So, after the Serbs, the Roma, the Gorani,
will the Europeans have to "hit the road"? Only the
Americans seem sure of staying. Ensconced in their gigantic "Camp
Bondsteel", they control the strategic routes from Serbia
to Greece, and incidentally offer the mass of unemployed Kosovo
Albanians their best-paying employment opportunities, notably
by taking menial and dangerous jobs serving U.S. forces in Iraq
The reality of this shameless land-grab
is available to all. I have written about it, Binder has written
about it, Szamuely has written about it, many Germans have written
about it. The Russians, the Greeks, the Rumanians, the Slovaks
and many others know about it. But in the Brave New World Order,
it does not exist. People don't know. __I leave the last word
to Aldous Huxley:
"Most ignorance is vincible ignorance.
We don't know because we don't want to know."
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools'
Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusion (Monthly Review
Press.) She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org_