Articles on the Kosovo Conflict



By Roger Lippman

April 03, 2006

(Originally published here.)

Media Lens Forum

To Media Lens:

Your MEDIA ALERT: DISAPPEARING GENOCIDE (The Media And The Death Of Slobodan Milosevic) was quite on the mark about the Iraq war – but once it got on to Milosevic and Kosovo, it pretty much fell apart.

You claim,

“… [T]he lies about Kosovo provided a template and justification for the subsequent lies surrounding the "humanitarian intervention" in Iraq.”

How short is your memory! In my lifetime, at least, the template began with Vietnam. And, of course, Chile, Nicaragua, and numerous other interventions – all justified in their day as protecting them, or us, from some horror or other. While the current generation of reporters may have learned its craft in the Kosovo era, let’s get one issue out of the way to start with: the media role in the Kosovo war, whatever its merits or demerits, was nothing new.

Wars fought by the US are always for self-proclaimed humanitarian causes, and the media are generally there to cheer-lead. Alexander Cockburn certainly knows this, and if he weren’t so intent in putting in a good word for Milosevic at any opportunity, he could have taken a broader view.

Your Alert then goes on for three paragraphs about the NATO intervention in Serbia being based on lies. In this section there is no mention of just what it is that you consider to be untrue, so readers are left to guess or make assumptions.

Finally we get to the heart of the matter: In 1999, the media talked about genocide in Kosovo, but since the death of Milosevic, that word has disappeared.

You write,

“British media were filled with hundreds of claims of genocide in Kosovo.”

Could be, but the samples provided do not support this assertion. The media quotes are all in the vein of preventing genocide.

The sole exception cited: "There are already grounds for considering events in Kosovo as genocide." ('Time, now, to raise the stakes,' April 4, 1999) It gets close but is notable mainly in its uniqueness among the quotes offered. From your sampling, it is not accurate to say that “British media were filled with hundreds of claims of genocide in Kosovo.” When read carefully, none (with the one possible exception) actually says genocide had happened.

Rather, they were filled with warnings of Serbian plans for genocide. And there was good reason to be fearful, in the face of Serbia’s widespread 1998 campaign of atrocities in Kosovo, involving mass expulsions, killings, and destruction of villages; and given the experience in Bosnia, where, according to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, genocide was in fact committed by Serbian forces.

Almost too late, after half a million Kosovo Albanians fled Milosevic’s forces, Western forces came to the consensus that genocide could not be allowed to happen again, after Bosnia and Rwanda. And killings on the scale of those precedents were averted in Kosovo.

This is why it should be no surprise that by 2006, reporters were not saying that genocide happened in Kosovo. The genocide didn’t “disappear” in 2006; it was prevented in 1999. While Milosevic had a plan for mass killings and total expulsions of Albanians from Kosovo – a plan already underway by the time of the intervention – the plan could not be completed, due to NATO’s action. NATO and Clinton saved the Albanians of Kosovo, whether or not we like the way it was done, or the way the media portrayed it.

Lest I be accused of supporting “humanitarian intervention,” I will be clear that I do not believe humanitarian concerns were the primary motivation for NATO’s Kosovo intervention. Certainly there was pressure to prevent another Rwanda or Bosnia. But Western governments are entirely capable of ignoring humanitarian crises. NATO got involved because Milosevic was destabilizing the whole region, interrupting business as usual, and on track to start a war that could have involved NATO members on opposing sides. NATO’s rescue of the Albanians was a fortunate side effect.

Meaning of genocide

Quite aside from your misinterpretation of the collection of quotations that are strung together, this Alert is singularly unequipped to deal with the question of genocide in Kosovo for one fundamental reason: You never address the meaning of the word.

There is controversy over the definition of genocide. A good place to start would be the internationally-recognized legal definition, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948:

"...acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group... by killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction, in whole or in part."

By this definition, a solid argument can be made that genocide was actually committed by Serbian forces in Kosovo. Furthermore, the Genocide Convention requires its signers to take action to prevent, suppress, and punish the crime of genocide.

Some argue that the legal definition is too narrow or that the term is devalued by misuse. One would wish, however, that an article such as this Alert would at least try to define the word it purports to discuss.

Media Lens sources

The sources you quote to support your case are hardly experts on the Balkans. Few if any have spent significant time in Kosovo or Bosnia.

• Phillip Hammond and Edward Herman can regularly be found downplaying Serbian war crimes and blaming the victims. Their “Srebrenica Research Group” is dedicated to denying the Srebrenica massacre of 8000 Bosnian civilians, and on the event’s tenth anniversary, they held a press conference at the UN, not to offer solidarity with the victims, but to insult the survivors and to minimize the number killed. Herman once co-authored a useful book with Noam Chomsky, but clearly he has since lost his way.
• Neil Clark is referred to as a “Balkans specialist.” This would be the same Neil Clark who described Milosevic as a “prisoner of conscience” at The Hague, and who said that his “worst crime was to carry on being a socialist”. (New Statesman, 11 Feb. 2002) Worse, that is, than wrecking Yugoslavia, killing 100,000 Bosnians, and trying to empty Kosovo of its 2 million Albanians?
• John Pilger, for all his good work, is another writer who succumbs to inaccuracy, preconception, and ideological blindness when he blunders into Yugoslav issues. He views the Serbian war crimes in Kosovo as “random brutality,” ignoring the coordinated campaign by many levels of Serbian forces, implemented well before NATO intervened. (New Statesman, 15 Nov. 1999)

Media Lens inaccuracies

Media Lens notes,

"This month, Tanner notes that in the spring of 1998 a new group, the Kosovo Liberation Army - which in fact was funded by the CIA - organised an insurrection that spread rapidly across the province ..."

Here, you introduce your own misleading half-truth. While the CIA certainly assisted and used the KLA (and the KLA used the CIA), the KLA was formed some years earlier, and generally opposed by the US until it became useful. Your implication that the KLA was a creation of the CIA, and was created as late as 1998, is false. It’s sort of a mystery why a group such as Media Lens, which generally speaks in solidarity with victims of oppression, here finds itself repeating the slanders of the war criminals.

How ironic that you conclude by comparing Tony Blair’s rhetoric with that of Hitler. You seem to have missed completely the point that Milosevic’s actions in Kosovo (and Bosnia), while on a much smaller scale, were comparable to Hitler’s in Poland and elsewhere. There are many eyewitness reports that support this comparison. For one of the latest, see the reflections of Gordana Igric, a Serb writer, on the death of Milosevic: The Dark Side of Milosevic, March 15, 2006.

Clearly Media Lens is expressing a political agenda here. That’s fine, but it should not be cloaked as a campaign for media accuracy, especially since Media Lens is introducing its own inaccuracies. Your point that the media collaborate in war-making by repeating government lies is well taken. But you are wrong about Kosovo.

Roger Lippman is the editor of Balkan Witness – news, background, and progressive perspectives on the Yugoslav wars.


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