Bosnia Journal -- January-March, 1999

Peter Lippman

Wednesday, March 31, 1999

Hello friends,

There is something like a real war now in Yugoslavia, with a mass expulsion of Albanians from Kosovo going on at the same time. The horror of what is going on is too much to comprehend or to contemplate all at once. I suppose that is because I am close-there have been other wars before.

At first I was supportive of the intervention, as I saw it to be the only answer to the Serbian aggression. Now I have lost all taste for arguing; I only feel horror. I don't know how I'll feel tomorrow.

Here is my latest journal, covering part of February, and all of March. I am sending you what I have watched and listened to, as usual. It feels a little inappropriate to send anything that is not preoccupied with the current events. But life goes on, for those of us who are lucky.

I am starting this posting with my last entry, from yesterday, so that you'll know what I'm thinking now.

Peace, Peter


Tuesday, March 30, 1999

The bombing of Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro is going into its seventh night now, and there's not much else I can think about. Somehow I am managing to get my work done. It seems strange that it's calm here in Sarajevo, of all places. You'd never know there was a war going on there, or that there had even ever been one here, from the looks of people on the street.

A few nights ago a couple of Yugo airplanes tried to invade Bosnia air territory, but they were shot down immediately. There were rumors that they were trying to defect, or coming to bomb the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo, or heading towards the SFOR base in Tuzla, which is most likely. I suppose they would like to stir things up here and destabilize relations between Serbs and everyone else in this country. I don't think they will be successful, and I don't feel worried about more attacks.

Anything could happen, but no one I've talked to is worried. However, I heard what sounded like an air-raid siren a couple nights in a row, around midnight. I was typing at my computer. The other night, I heard that, and what did I do? I saved my document. If a 1,000 bomb came through the roof, at least I wouldn't lose my work. In the RS foreign workers are leaving and there have been some demonstrations and mini-incidents, but nothing serious.

There's an ongoing debate about the correctness of the intervention, with most of my American friends probably against, and I don't blame them, and all of my friends here for it, and I don't blame them either. Here, they're not thinking about the Albanians, just about revenge. They're saying "They should keep going, they should flatten Yugoslavia."" I'm sad because this used to be a beautiful country. I used to love all of this country and everyone in it. Now, that's just about impossible. And it will probably be impossible for an American to show his face inside of Serbia for the next 50 years.

The mass expulsion of Albanians is absolutely horrifying. They are burning villages and cities alike. They have been hunting down intellectuals. Rugova is in hiding. Rumors about Surroi being killed haven't been confirmed. 100,000 new refugees, 4,000 an hour crossing the border into Albania, already the poorest

Saturday, January 23

Kosovo: In Racak last Friday (the 15th) a massacre took place, leaving 46 civilians dead, including 3 women and two children. There is a world wide outrage right now, but I doubt there will be any appropriate steps taken. If around 2,000 could be killed last year, and 250,000 displaced, and 30,000 homes destroyed, and the international community did approximately nothing, what's a couple of little massacres now and then?

I note that there was a massacre of around 500 in the Congo sometime in the last month, with precious little outcry.

Wednesday, February 3

It seems like things are coming to a head in the region, or it may all just be "news." Foremost, of course, is the latest round of threats by NATO against Milosevic. He and the Kosovars must show up in France by sundown, or else. They must negotiate a peace including a withdrawal of the Serbian forces and autonomy for the Albanians, but no independence, or else. Or else bombing, I guess.

People here are reacting slowly, because they've seen it so many times before. As I wrote in a letter,

"Here, people are mostly ignoring the present round of NATO threats. Having watched a few of those, I think most people are convinced that nothing will come of it, and that Milosevic will die a natural death in the comfort of his home, surrounded by his adoring family. Or at least that he will survive to wreak havoc on the Balkans for a few more years, until there's nothing left of Serbia but Belgrade, and the destitute (local) masses swarm over him and pull off his skin and yank out his teeth.

"Those are two scenarios that are more likely than a NATO bombing. At least for the next couple of weeks. People are more involved with other things, like staying warm, paying the gas bill, getting back home, etc. There is sympathy with Kosovo, but not solidarity."

Maybe something will happen. Maybe Clinton is waiting til Starr indicts him. Or perhaps the West has had enough embarrassment. Now they are already talking about troop levels in Kosovo. I'd say that's counting chickens before the barn door is opened. A lot will happen before American soldiers are patrolling the borders of an autonomous Kosovo.

Today's rumor- I mean news--in the local paper was that Milosevic will propose a trade in France: he will allow Kosovo to be partitioned, in return for the annexation of the Republika Srpska to Serbia. This has caused a great alarm here. But I don't think it's a possibility, as long as NATO is here to semi-enforce Dayton.

There have been speculations all along that Milosevic is playing to sacrifice Kosovo, to lose it while looking like he tried valiantly to save it. This plays in with the death-wish theory, perhaps based on the fact that both of his parents committed suicide. But I don't believe M. wants to give up any part of Kosovo. I do believe he'll have to, sooner or later, by virtue of the numbers against him.

Not that the West is interested at all in democracy or self-determination for the Kosovars. Could care less. They might even end up rolling over the KLA at some point, when they get around to it.

Meanwhile there will be another round of arbitration on the status of Brcko, which has been replayed every year since Dayton. Both parties swear it must belong to their entity, respectively. The logical thing would be to make it a "district," i.e., not in either entity. Any of the three possibilities will result in all hell breaking loose, probably. It would be interesting if that happens right around the time that NATO bombs Serbia, if it does.

Also the Croat extremists are making noises about creating a third entity of their own, like the Republika Srpska. All this would be preparatory to annexation to Croatia when the time comes. In several cities in Bosnia last week there appeared a poster appealing to Croats and Serbs to get rid of the Westendorp (the High Rep) and his "occupying forces." The Croats are pissed because Westendorp has been throwing his weight around more than usual lately, dealing a little more roughly with those who are obstructing refugee return and similar things.

Whoever thought up the idea of nation states in the first place shoulda had his brain rearranged.

Sunday, February 14

The Serbs and Kosovars are meeting in Rambouillet, France. They've been at it a week, and haven't sat in the same room yet. Hill and the others have been doing shuttle diplomacy between the first and third floors of the 14th century royal hunting lodge. What a lodge. With lodges like that, I'd like to see their townhouse.

The Serbs have obstructed, and the Albanians aren't necessarily so forthright either, although I would be hesitant in their place too. Soon the big shots, Albright and Vedrine and Cook, are going to come in and throw their weight around.

NATO is threatening bombing raids on Serbia every day but they don't mean it. Milutinovic, president of Serbia (the man who "pardoned" me so I could leave the Pristina district jail early), came to France and warned that Serbia would be another Vietnam if they bombed, but that's not true either.

The Serbs demanded a hairdresser for one of their Kosovo representatives. They also demanded a piano, but didn't get it. They have representatives of every ethnic group in Kosovo, except the Kosovo Serbs and Albanians. That leaves Turks, Romany, Egyptians (!), and Goranci. Somebody tell me what are Goranci. Meanwhile, the representatives of the Kosovo Serbs have arrived at Rambouillet, are camped outside the lodge, and are saying that Milosevic is going to betray them.

Last October Holbrooke signed a stillborn deal with Milosevic, allowing him to leave 20,000 ethnic cleansers in Kosovo, while the West would install 2,000 (it ended up being ~1,000) potential hostage "verifiers." It already looks like there will be another dead-on-arrival deal. The international diplomats again want to leave about 4,000 civilian-killers in Kosovo. Their ten points include no independence for the Albanians. (There is a movement in the U.S. Congress, led by Engel as usual, to change that, but this is just a sideshow.)

There is talk of making various kinds of deals with Milosevic in order to get him to allow Kosovo renewed autonomy. Such as lifting sanctions, promising not to arrest him, or even, as Lord Owen suggested, trading part of the RS for part of Kosovo! Scum!! He's one of the diplomats who, during the Bosnian war, proposed various kinds of partition of Bosnia, which ended up encouraging the separatists. E. from Modrica told me, "He's my personal enemy, just like Karadzic. How dare he suggest they give away my home to Milosevic!"

The Kosovars are in a bad position. They have little to gain from the enforced negotiations. The proposed autonomy is much weaker than that they enjoyed in the 70s and 80s. The Serbs have been insisting the last few days that the Albanians sign the 10 points, as they have done, and then they can sit together. I'm sure the Albanians won't do this. And the international diplomats are insisting that the political arrangement in Kosovo be worked out before the security arrangement, but the Albanians are understandably very curious about whether they'll have any security at all.

Judging by the op-eds of a lot of honchos, this party in Rambouillet is more about making things nice for NATO, so that nothing will spoil their 50th-anniversary celebration in D.C. this spring. With the present pathetic approach, however, there will be more atrocities to come.

Saturday, February 20

Yeltsin has warned "hands off Serbia," making it obvious that there is not unity in the Contact Group. The Serbians have been exploiting this. Meanwhile 51 American fighter planes have been flown to Europe in preparation for possible bombing. This is theatrics, but it could turn into something else. The money for gas for those planes just to get them to Europe could probably have fixed a few hundred roofs in this country. If there is a failure to conclude an agreement at the conference and bombing happens in Serbia, that will unsettle everything. That will be very interesting, especially if I am still in the Republika Srpska when it happens. I don't hope it happens and I don't hope I'm here if it happens. .Graffiti for Arkan and other nationalist symbols are everywhere. Also many signs left over from last fall's election campaign, including pictures of Poplasen, and his party president in Serbia, Seselj. Seselj and Arkan are chetnik heroes, "covered with gore," as someone wrote. Banja Luka is a pretty city, a large flat valley surrounded by mountains, but not steep ones as in Sarajevo. The river Vrbas runs through the center of town, and there's a medieval fortress sitting on one of its banks. Meanwhile, the streets of Sarajevo have become less safe as the weather warms up and the layer of icy snow on the roof starts melting and falling. Near the center of town a piece of roof tile fell on a woman, putting her in the hospital. This may have been something that was damaged during the war, and then loosened by the ice. Later a large chunk of ice fell on a girl, and she is in critical condition. It's best to walk in the middle of the street until things stabilize.

Wednesday, March 24

The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia started a few hours ago. A lot of people here did not believe that it was finally going to take place, but it did. I was more or less inclined to say it was going to happen.

II hope they only destroy military targets, although I know that won't happen. The Serbian news already report deaths of women and children. I know that if that weren't true, they'd make it up, so there's no way to know the truth from official Serbian sources. They also said they shot down a plane, which NATO denied.

I know this is going to be bad. The Serbians aren't going to just roll over. I can't see how this will work out ok for the inhabitants of Kosovo (the Serbs too), without an occupying, peacekeeping force on the ground. And I doubt NATO really has a plan for that.

I have looked at some of what the pacifists in the U.S. are writing. They are saying, "Wait, don't bomb, there are alternatives." I like that but don't see the alternatives. They are calling for negotiations. That was tried. As one of my professors told me in a course on the Mid-east conflict, when I proposed UN troops in Israel, "This is Alice in Wonderland stuff."

I can only hope. I know NATO doesn't have the right motives. They are clear as day on that. They want "stability in Europe at the end of the 20th century," and they want to have a nice anniversary party at the end of April. But on the way, they might save thousands of lives.

I'm convinced that Milosevic aims to wipe out or expel as many Albanians as he can. That will happen if he is allowed to do it. So, as I wrote in a letter, is NATO's violence more objectionable than that of the Serbian government? I don't think there's any other way for M to be stopped at this point, since the West has been teaching him for ten years that he can do what he wants.

The worst-scenario theory I heard today was that the Russians will get involved, and then the "big powers will work out their differences on Balkan terrain," as has happened before. That made me nervous. But I am thinking that Russia gets too much aid $$ from the West to get directly involved.

Meanwhile there's not much effect here, so far. The airports were closed in Bosnia. There will be some tension in the RS, which there still is anyway, since the firing of Poplasen and the Brcko decision. There are still sporadic demonstrations, and there were a couple of low-grade attacks on cars and offices belonging to the international community, with no injuries.

Thursday, March 25

The bombing lasted all night and then there was a pause. This could last a long time, because the Serbian government is not going to give in. There is a lot of protest around the world against this, on the street and at the government level, all the way to the U.N. Meanwhile, my landlady came in and said, "I'm so happy. Clinton is a great guy! He should have 50 women, not just one." This from someone who lived through the war here, who has a sniper's bullet in her refrigerator - her refrigerator in her kitchen.

Here's a report from the Kosovo news service, reinforcing my approval of the NATO attack:

Serbian forces have set to fire Podujevo, Albanian population is surrounded from all sides Podujevo, March 24. (kosovapress)

This evening, Serbian military-police forces have set on fire to the city of Podujevo. The left side of the city is in flames, every house, club, and other objects of this city starting from Podujevo to Letanc, is in flames, now. The state of civil population, according to the latest information, is very dramatic. The population is surrounded from the both sides, in the first side, by Serbian military-police forces, and in the other side from the armed Serbian civil people, coming from Serbia. It is informed also, that all telephonic lines are cut off, communication is completely interrupted.

This happened before NATO's attack, and has been happening for a year. Did the pacifists lift a finger, paint a protest sign, write a letter, during that time? Did they know, or care, where Kosovo is?

I am starting to get a lot of e-mail asking how things are here. The sun is shining, and life goes on pretty much as normal. Only the grand opening of the rebuilt Olympic stadium has been delayed, because the airports are closed, and Olympic officials can't get in.


Balkan Witness Home Page

Articles Index