Kosovo one year later: from Serb repression to NATO- sponsored ethnic cleansing


What has been the result of NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia? Edward S. Herman and David Peterson investigate.

Now a little more than one year after the ending of Nato’s 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia and the beginning of Nato control of Kosovo (June 10-12, 1999), the mainstream media have been exceedingly reticent in offering the public serious retrospectives on the war and its aftermath. One reason for this may be that Nato’s bombing campaign and year-long occupation not only failed to realise most of Nato’s proclaimed objectives, but the intervention also produced a far higher level of ethnic violence than had existed previously, first against ethnic Albanians, then later against all ethnic minorities. As the Norwegian foreign affairs analyst Jan Oberg notes, ‘the largest ethnic cleansing in the Balkans (in percentage that fled) has happened under the very eyes of 45,000 Nato troops’ in occupied Kosovo.

True, Nato did eventually succeed in getting Belgrade to withdraw the Serb army from Kosovo. But in the process, Nato’s bombing campaign triggered a Serb military response against ethnic Albanians that Nato officials themselves had predicted would occur and that was based not on the unprovoked nastiness of Serbs but rather on rational military calculations. Expulsions were greatest where fighting was heaviest, mainly in territories controlled by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Indeed, in the words of the OSCE, much of the refugee flow was designed ‘to keep main communications routes open to supply Serb forces with material, fuel, and food.’

Moreover, although Nato had denied any collaboration with rebel forces during the bombing, top Nato officials now admit that KLA guerrillas were ‘constantly on the phone to Nato,’ and that Nato had ‘instigated’ a major KLA offensive (Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2000). President Clinton may have announced that the main purpose of bombing was ‘to deter an even bloodier offensive against innocent civilians in Kosovo’ (March 24, 1999), but as the bombing increased it exponentially (as well as adding Nato’s contribution to Albanian pain), that aim was clearly not met.

With the increase in violence following the bombing, Nato officials quickly announced that the Serb attacks and expulsions would have taken place anyway, under a pre-arranged plan the Serbs allegedly called ‘Operation Horseshoe.’ But no mention had ever been made of such a plan prior to the bombing, and a pre-war German Foreign Office report had even denied that Serb actions in Kosovo constituted ‘ethnic cleansing’; instead, the report found that the Serb military campaign was designed to quell an insurgency. The fact that Belgrade was willing to allow 2,000 OSCE observers into Kosovo (although the OSCE contingent never exceeded 1,400), and that it objected strongly to their removal before Nato launched its bombing, is also inconsistent with a planned ‘Operation Horseshoe.’

As the retired German Brigadier General, and now a consultant with the OSCE, D. Heinz Loquai argues in his recent book, Der Kosovo- Konflikt Wege in einen Vermeidbaren Krieg (The Kosovo Conflict: The Road to an Avoidable War), the German Foreign Ministry’s revelation two weeks into the war that it possessed intelligence confirming the existence of ‘Operation Horseshoe’ was an outright fabrication culled from Bulgarian intelligence reports and the imagination of Nato military propagandists. None of this, however, has prevented apologists for Nato’s war from repeating the lie that Operation Allied Force was justified by the imminent implementation of this mythical plan to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Kosovo of its Albanian population. (On June 11, 2000, the ineffable George Robertson asked Jonathan Dimbleby on ITV to ‘imagine if almost 2 million refugees had been expelled...if Milosevic had succeeded with that ethnic cleansing.’)

In the face of the Nato-induced surge in violence in March and April 1999, Nato officials changed course and proclaimed that their new main objective was returning the Kosovo Albanians to their homes quickly and safely; and with the help of the media Nato successfully portrayed the bombing as a response to the mass exodus rather than its cause. But even this new objective was met only in part--the Albanians who had fled Kosovo did return quickly, but their safety and welfare were compromised by several factors. One was that Nato bombs had killed and seriously injured many hundreds of fleeing Albanians. Nato also used both deadly cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions in Kosovo, a choice of weapons not conducive to the long-run safety of the returnees. To date, an estimated 100 people have been killed and many hundreds injured by exploding fragmentation bombs. The toll from depleted uranium--radiation-induced illness--will come later, as it has in Iraq.

Nato’s bombing also contributed heavily to infrastructure damage, and reconstruction has been slow. Nato’s generosity was largely exhausted in providing resources to destroy and kill--the estimated cost of the military operations against Yugoslavia has run in excess of $10 billion, whereas the resources spent for humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Kosovo have been well under $1 billion. Thus, hundreds of thousands remain homeless, jobless, and lacking in basic facilities.

Nato’s occupation also failed to bring law and order to Kosovo. This was partly a consequence of the destruction, poverty, and exacerbated hatred produced by the war. But it was also a result of the fact that, in direct violation of UN Resolution 1244 which called for the ‘demilitarisation’ of the KLA, under Nato authority the KLA has been incorporated into a ‘Kosovo Protection Corps,’ thereby legalising and legitimating what until then had been an armed rebel force. This, plus the Nato bias in favour of the KLA and against the Serbs in general, has helped institutionalise a system of crime, violence, and pervasive fear, mainly damaging to the minority Serbs, Roma and Turks, but also adversely affecting most Kosovo Albanians. On top of this, organised crime has soared throughout the region. According to a study by the International Crisis Group, the areas of southeast Serbia (both Kosovo and parts of Serbia proper) where the KLA’s influence remains greatest have become the preferred ‘Balkan route’ for the ‘heroin trail’ between Turkey and Western Europe.

It must be admitted, however, that Nato did succeed in ‘teaching the Serbs a lesson.’ But what exactly was that lesson? Certainly not that ethnic cleansing is unacceptable to the Western conscience. Although Nato allegedly waged war to terminate ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and although an agreement of June 9, 1999, stipulated that Nato would ‘establish and maintain a secure environment for all citizens of Kosovo,’ under Nato’s occupation somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of Serbs and Roma have left Kosovo, mainly because of KLA harassment, home burnings, and killing, and a large fraction of Kosovo’s Jews and Turks have also fled. Thus the biggest story of Nato’s 12-month occupation is that under its watch Kosovo has been subjected to a truly massive multi-ethnic cleansing. For the media, however, Nato is trying to do its best under difficult circumstances, and Milosevic remains the only villain in sight. And they fail to see that the only lesson taught the Serbs by Nato has been ‘Don’t mess with us’-a lesson devoid of moral content.

Now one year later, Nato’s policies have not brought peace and stability to Kosovo and the Balkans. Kosovo is still legally a part of Yugoslavia, but while a Nato protectorate it has been turned over to the Albanians and KLA. This has allowed them to do a fine job of ethnic cleansing, but has made Kosovo a cauldron of hatred and violence and a likely base for further instability and warfare. Unwilling to provide large resources for rebuilding, Nato has no

solutions and no evident ‘exit strategy.’ This was not ‘humanitarian intervention,’ it has been an irresponsible misuse of power that made a bad situation worse, gilded over with lofty


Edward Herman is co-editor of Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis (Pluto, 2000); David Peterson is a Chicago-based researcher and journalist.

Just off the press from Pluto:

Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis, edited by Philip Hammond and Edward S. Herman, with a Foreword by Harold Pinter. This book, with sections on ‘The West’s Destruction of Yugoslavia,’ ‘Seeing the Enemy,’ and ‘Reporting the War Around the World,’ aims to challenge the received wisdom, subjecting both the war, and the media coverage it received, to critical scrutiny. David Chandler, Diana Johnstone, John Pilger, Peter Gowan, Raju Thomas, Thomas Deichmann, Jim Naureckas, are among the 23 contributors drawn from across the globe. Described as ‘essential reading’ (George Gerbner) and ‘an overpowering volume’ (Robert McChesney), this book comprehensively explores ‘the simplifications, demonology, obfuscations, passivity, and partisanship of much of the Western media’ (Peter Golding).