One Liz Payne, of something called the British Peace Assembly, was given an entire page in the 23 March Morning Star in which to propagate a pack of lies about the war in Kosovo and NATO’s intervention twenty years ago.
Yes, a pack of lies — not just a biased or one-sided account: “In Yugoslavia, imperialism saw not only the opportunity of ridding Europe of any last vestiges of socialism, splitting the country into controllable and exploitable statelets and securing access to high quantities of mineral resources, including the valuable lignite deposits of Kosovo, but also of testing the potential strength of the NATO alliance, its strategies, its military hard and software and its potential to win the support of the majority of the population of member countries”
It is difficult to know where to start with such a farrago of lies, distortions and misrepresentations, but let’s start with one very obvious fact: this is not, in fact an article but a speech, reproduced in the Morning Star because, presumably the paper agrees with it. It is a speech to a conference organised by the “Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals” (linked, I’ve discovered, to something called “the Club of Generals and Admirals of Serbia”) and the World Peace Council — a body that has its roots in the Stalinist Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) and the “World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace” which, in November 1950, adopted the new name World Peace Council (WPC).
The guiding principle of the WPC lay in the Cominform’s doctrine that the world was divided between “peace-loving” progressive forces led by the Soviet Union and “warmongering” capitalist countries led by the United States. This needs to be borne in mind when reading Ms. Payne’s account of what happened in Kosovo.
Most obviously, she gives no background to events beyond stating that “imperialism” had deliberately broken up Yugoslavia. Nothing is said about the Bosnian war that immediately proceeded, and directly led to, events in Kosovo. In fact the breakup of Yugoslavia — as the life imprisonment of Radovan Karadzic reminded us last week — was not the result of Western “imperialist” scheming but, rather, of the machinations of the then president of Serbia, the Serb-nationalist Slobodan Milosevic, and secondarily of his Croatian counterpart, Franjo Tudjman.
Serbian expansionist chauvinism, central to the Belgrade government, disrupted former Yugoslavia and made it into a slaughterhouse for its national component parts. The Serb regime pursued policies akin to primitive dark-ages imperialism in which non-Serbs were massacred or driven out and Serb colonists planted in their place, making the territory organically part of “Greater Serbia”. Its objective was genocide and its methods were genocidal.
The Bosnian War was marked by a string of massacres, mainly carried out by Serb forces. In the spring of 1992 a group of Bosnian Serbs calling themselves the White Eagles unleashed hideous violence against the Muslims of Visegrad. Thousands of men, women and children were killed, many driven to the bridge over the Drina and shot, their bodies thrown in the river. More “exemplary” Serb and Croat massacres of Muslims followed and the international response was... minimal. Far from rushing to intervene, Western politicians from John Major and Douglas Hurd to the EU leaders and Bill Clinton, were reluctant to do anything that might antagonise the Serbs and maintained an arms embargo that did nothing to restrain the Serbs, but severely hampered the Bosnian Muslims’ ability to defend themselves.
The only practical achievement of the “international community” before 1995 was to install a few hundred UN peacekeepers into selected towns in Bosnia (designated as “Safe Areas”) to protect (mainly Muslim) refugees, and the establishment of “no-fly zones” supposedly for the same purpose. Both were ineffective. When limited air strikes in late May 1995 resulted in nearly 400 peacekeepers being taken hostage, a consensus quickly emerged within the UN and among the troop-contributing countries that, however limited, NATO air strikes would do more harm than good.
The UN force would return to “traditional peacekeeping principles”. This sent the not-so-subtle message to the Bosnian Serbs that they were now free to pursue their preferred strategy. That strategy, called “ethnic cleansing,” involved using murder, rape, expulsion and imprisonment on a large scale to Muslims (and, to a lesser extent, Croats) from territory the Bosnian Serbs wished to claim. The Bosnian Serb forces implemented their strategy with horrifying results.
In July, Serb forces turned their focus to Srebrenica, a small village, supposedly a “Safe Area” near the eastern border with Serbia, swollen with some 60,000 Muslim refugees. The Serb forces under Ratko Mladic marched in, brushed aside the 400-strong Dutch “peacekeeping” forces (who lay down their arms without resistance) and systematically separated men and boys from the rest of the refugees. In the course of the next four days nearly all the Muslim males – 7.400 of them – were killed. It was the worst mass murder in Europe since World War Two.
That’s why, when the US and its allies (including Britain) finally came to the aid of Kosovo in 1999¸ there was good reason to believe that in their clumsy, unreliable and inconsistent way, they were protecting the Muslims. Slobodan Milosevic had begun a campaign against the Albanian Muslims of Kosovo that had all the signs of a prelude to genocide. In one of the earlier moves in Milosevic’s Serb chauvinist offensive, the limited autonomous status that Kosovo had in the later years of Yugoslavia was revoked.
Ninety per cent of its population is ethnic Albanian. Ruled from Belgrade, it had been in effect, for most of the time since 1913, a colony of Serbia. With the shameful memory of what had just happened in Bosnia, no principled socialist could simply oppose the NATO intervention (as distinct from maintaining political independence and refusing to give political endorsement, as we did) — let alone denounce it in the preposterous terms that Liz Payne uses. “The day before the first bomb fell, prime minister Tony Blair told Parliament that Britain was ready to take military action ‘primarily to avert what would otherwise be a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo’. The military objective of weakening the (Serb) army and so increasing its costs that it would be forced out of the province altogether, leaving it prey to Kosovan big business [sic] and its Western backers, was never mentioned.”
By every principle of democracy and socialism, the ethnic Albanians were entitled to self-determination. By every principle of democracy and socialism they were entitled to the backing and support of consistent democrats and socialists. Yet we had at the time the strange phenomenon of many socialists backing the Serbs against the ethnic Albanians!
The Morning Star at the time reported events from the point of view of Milosevic and uncritically reproduced and echoed the Serb government’s denunciations of the Kosovan resistance, the KLA. The fact that the same Morning Star now publishes the transcript of a lying, Serb-chauvinist speech that makes no mention of Milosevic’s genocidal record and no mention of the rights of the Albanian Muslim majority in Kosovo, shows that it remains, when it comes to its international coverage, as mired in a crude and thoroughly dishonest view of the world as it ever was.
During the conflict, roughly a million ethnic Albanians fled or were forcefully driven from Kosovo. As of 2010, some 3,000 people were still missing, of whom 2,500 are Albanian, 400 Serbs and 100 Roma: none of this is even hinted at in Liz Payne’s speech.
The forerunner of Solidarity denounced those, like the Morning Star, who supported Milosevic at the time: “Where a ‘good’ ‘socialist’ imperialism counterposed to our own imperialists does not exist, they invent one, and plump for — the nearest thing to Hitler’s Germany in contemporary Europe! They long for a socialist or anti-imperialist Fatherland — and settle for Milosevic’s genocidal imperialism!
“Victims of the long ingrained habit of believing what they need to believe, they draw conclusions not from analysis and exploration of the world as it is but out of the fantasy and imagination of minds from which both the facts of the real world and all remnant of democratic or socialist principle were long ago banished!
“They are the reductio ad absurdum of a once powerful current, the obscene last kick of a degenerate line”.
• Throughout this piece, for the sake of consistency, I have used the spelling “Kosovo”, but in the 1990s the forerunner of Solidarity used the spelling favoured by the Albanian Muslims: Kosova.
I’ve struggled for a long time maintaining a belief in the “left” after the Balkan wars in which self proclaimed leftists defended Milosevic and the genocidal nationalist Serbs. Serbia has always been expansionist and genocidal and staunchly a theocratic and ethnocentric culture and society. If you are not an Orthodox Slav you can be killed raped or treated like dirt. The brief respite that was Yugoslavia under Tito was an anomaly.
Thank you for your excellent piece.