Articles on the Kosovo and Bosnia Conflicts
Noam Chomsky on Kosovo
By Roger Lippman
June 21, 2006
Letter to the editor of the New Statesman
In his 19 June interview with Andrew Stephen of the New Statesman, Noam Chomsky, if he is quoted accurately, makes an egregiously false statement about the 1999 Kosovo war. Chomsky, speaking of Serbian actions in Kosovo, says that "there were terrible atrocities, but they were after the [NATO] bombings."
Editor, the New Statesman:
Information on Serbian killings and displacements of Kosovo Albanians, before the NATO intervention, is readily available to anyone who would look for it.
In 1998, starting more than a year before NATO intervened, Serbian forces engaged in widespread killings of Albanians, destruction of villages, and expulsions of the civilian population. (1)
Serbian authorities killed over 1900 Albanians, burned over 40,000 houses and flats, and looted extensively in the year before the NATO intervention. (2)
About 460,000 people had been expelled from their towns and villages before the beginning of NATO’s intervention. (3)
In its March 1999 report on the situation in Kosovo, the International Helsinki Foundation (IHF) observed:
The IHF has for 15 months drawn attention to the pattern of large scale attacks and reprisals of Serbian security forces and paramilitary militia. We believe that this pattern suggests a coherent policy aimed at a future partition of Kosovo following the decimation of its Albanian social and political fabric — where residents have not been killed or physically forced from their homes, they leave for fear of state terror that uses torture, mutilation, and degradation to achieve its ends. (4)
Prof. Chomsky is an expert on many subjects, but the Yugoslav wars are not among them, and he is poorly served by his choice of information sources. Chomsky's ill-informed denial of the war crimes of Serbian forces is an injustice to the victims of Milosevic's crimes.
(1) Report on Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Kosovo in 1998, No Peace Without Justice (pages 25-49), February 1999 (Word document)
(2) Report on the violation of human rights and freedoms in Kosova in the course of 1998, Council for The Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (Prishtina), January 22, 1999.
(3) UNHCR Kosovo Crisis Update, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, March 30, 1999.
(4) Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, March 30, 1999.
The relevant portion is section 2. For the details supporting that section, look at earlier IHF Reports and Appeals. They are indexed from http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/?sec_id=58. Select 1998 or 1999.
Chomsky misrepresents the Dutch investigation of the Srebrenica massacre. In the interview, he states,
So later they added charges [against Milosevic] about the Balkans, but it wasn't going to be an easy case to make. The worst crime was Srebrenica but, unfortunately for the International Tribunal, there was an intensive investigation by the Dutch government, which was primarily responsible - their troops were there - and what they concluded was that not only did Milosevic not order it, but he had no knowledge of it. And he was horrified when he heard about it. So it was going to be pretty hard to make that charge stick.
But the Dutch report (part 3, chapter 6) actually says,
It is also not known whether Milosevic had any knowledge of the continuing Bosnian-Serb offensive that resulted in the occupation of the enclave. After the fall of the enclave, Milosevic made no mention to that effect to the UN envoy Thorvald Stoltenberg – he was too much of a poker player to reveal anything. On the other hand, Milosevic did express himself clearly later, in 1996, when he dropped the question to a group of Bosnian-Serb entrepreneurs as to ‘what idiot’ had made the decision to attack Srebrenica while it hosted international troops when it was obvious that, in any event, the enclave would eventually have been bled dry or become depopulated. It is not clear to what extent that statement had been intended to clear his responsibility for those events. [Emphasis added.]
Chomsky has taken an inconclusive statement from the Dutch report and distorted it to fit his ideology and his preconceptions.
Thanks to Michael Bérubé for calling this to our attention.
For more on the failings of the Dutch report, click here
David Watson's response to the Chomsky interview
Michael Bérubé's response to the interview
Response to the interview by Oliver Kamm