April, 1999 Journal
By Peter Lippman
Wednesday May 5, 1999
The bombardment of Serbia goes on and besides that nothing much looks like news. Bridges, radio and tv stations, police stations, all kinds of military targets, and many non-military targets continue to be hit in most cities of Serbia. Civilian casualties increase, people are without electricity and water, gas and other necessities become scarce, and ordinary people are feeling what it is like to be in a war. The free press has been completely repressed, and editor Slavko Curuvija has been assassinated. Vuk Draskovic, the "democrat" of 1997, political chameleon and one of the original greater-Serbian nationalists, criticized the government, calling on it to stop lying, to stop saying that NATO was losing and that the Russians were coming. For this he got himself fired. Meanwhile tension rises in independent-minded Montenegro but the Yugoslavian intervention I expected a couple of weeks ago hasn't happened, yet. Someone commented that Milosevic couldn't handle two military fronts at once, so maybe this is the reason. There are occasional reports of accidental NATO bombings of civilian targets-a refugee convoy, a bus, a train-and some of these are certainly true-this is unavoidable-and some are a certainly made up by the Serbian regime. The Serbian population gets information about these accidents (I believe that's what they are, although they could have been avoided by not intervening), but not about the wholesale atrocities committed by the Serbs. As far as the Serbs know, if they know anything, the exodus of Kosovars is purely as a result of the bombing.
Meanwhile in Kosovo around 700,000 have been expelled from the country-at latest count 400,000 to Albania, 200,000 to Macedonia, the rest to Montenegro, Bosnia, and abroad. People are now streaming out of Kosovo not only because of direct threats from Serb paramilitaries but also because of starvation. Most shops are closed, and Serbs running the few shops left open are refusing to sell to Albanians. Paramilitary units in the countryside have been killing livestock. Mothers are running out of breast milk for their infants.
Reports are coming in consistently of young women being taken away and raped, young men disappeared, children used as live shields, men being forced to put on Serbian uniforms and dig trenches for the Serbs, and today of a massacre of 180 Albanians. Probably thousands have been killed, and we'll hear more comprehensive figures some day. There are some reports of KLA resistance, particularly in the northwest-this has been going on for some time. At least 800,000 Albanians remain in Kosovo, terrorized. Albin Kurti, leader of the independent student union whom I met with last year, has been arrested along with his family and brutalized.
Whether all this is the result of the NATO intervention or an already-prepared plan is academic, in my opinion. No answer to this question is going to solve the problem of what should be done now. In any case, it appears that nothing NATO is doing is mitigating the situation in Kosovo. The world is criticizing NATO for having made a big mistake, but I don't think that's so accurate. Certainly they did not make contingencies for the mass expulsion, and perhaps they expected the Serbian regime to roll over sooner. But I think the reason these things were allowed to happen is more because they don't matter to the West, than because it made a huge miscalculation. In this I will have to disagree with Edward Said and all my other favorite analysts of past years.
To my mind the main goal of NATO is in any case being accomplished-that is, Serbian military force and its ability to spread war around the region is being "neutralized." Containment is happening. What's being done to the Albanians looks bad, but that's secondary in the minds of the Western administrations. There's no such thing as solidarity with the Albanians.
This is a point that should be understood and taken up by the anti-war activists in the West. Now they are expending all their energy opposing the war as if it were another Vietnam, Grenada, or Panama. But there continues to be a war against the Albanians, and after NATO makes another deal with Milosevic or his successors, the Albanians will be screwed again, maybe permanently.
If I know anything from being in Bosnia more than 1and a half years, it's how little the fate of Bosnia meant to the "international community," as long as "regional stability" was upheld. The two million Bosnian refugees and displaced persons will spend the next couple of generations suffering and adapting, and forgetting and losing their culture, if not their language, living in Australia, the U.S., and Sweden. The forthright action by the West that could have prevented this atrocity in Bosnia could also have at the same time prevented what's happening in Kosovo. But it was never going to happen-not because the Western leaders are fools, but because they do not think in terms of preventing human tragedies, rhetoric notwithstanding.
The only thing that can possibly influence their actions is mass public response, and the peace/human rights movement has responsibility for that. But it completely failed to comprehend what was happening in Bosnia, and to a large extent the same thing is true now.
The U.S. Congress is debating support for ground troops and it looks like opposition is strong. So the most effective way of stopping the atrocities may be blocked, and the collective punishment of the Serbian people will thus be prolonged. This also makes it more likely that there will be another deal with Milosevic, possibly facilitated by the Russians, as a real defeat resulting from air attacks seems improbable. Another deal with Milosevic, perhaps partition of Kosovo, or continued Serb police presence there, is ok with the West, as long as the Serb regime has been "taught a lesson." How well this lesson will hold, is questionable.
For the most part reaction in Bosnia, on the part of the Muslims and Croats, is one of satisfaction. The desire for revenge at having been shot at in a fishbowl during 3 years of siege in Sarajevo is understandable, if unsavory to me. "Let them see how it feels" seems to be the predominant sentiment. The independent newspaper in Split "Feral Tribune" published the following open letter to Serbia:
Think and Imagine
"Imagine that NATO was holding positions around Belgrade and that no one could enter or leave from the city. Imagine that from tall buildings around the periphery of Belgrade NATO snipers were shooting at women and children. Imagine 8,000 dead children and women under 18 in Belgrade...
"Imagine drunk NATO soldiers destroying monasteries for the hell of it (really destroying them) and then saying that you burned them yourselves.
"Or maybe like this: Imagine if Karadzic's men had fired at factories and airports, instead of at people. Imagine if they had apologized for mistakes in bombing Dubrovnik. Imagine that the citizens of Vukovar had had bomb shelters, and if the residents of Sarajevo had held daily concerts on the city streets."
One point to this is, supposedly, that the Serbs should now think about how much worse it was for the victims of Serb expansionism. Of course, that won't happen. No one's suffering is worse than your own-same in Denver, same in Belgrade. And I note that the writer of this article did not call upon the Serbs to imagine what was happening to the Albanians! That is not foremost in the minds of the Bosnians-there's precious little solidarity here, either. One commentator called it "political autism."
I suppose another point is that the Serb aggression on Bosnia was terrorist, and the NATO attacks on Serbia are not. I don't know. Maybe it's a matter of scale, but I think that if a 1,000-pound bomb fell anywhere within 50 miles of me, I would be terrified.
* * *
Monday, April 5
The bombardment of Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo continues. at least 650,000, or one third, of the population has been displaced. These people are now in Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania, or on their way there. 50,000 are sitting at the border with Macedonia, waiting to get in. Macedonia has declared that it can't and won't take any more, and so NATO is setting up a camp to handle the people, until they can be sent to Turkey, Germany, and the U.S. Theoretically, that will be a temporary displacement. All these numbers and place names don't tell the story of the catastrophe. They don't tell that there are women giving birth at the border, while waiting in the mud and cold. Kids getting crushed when the crowd moves to get food, not having eaten for four days. Families separated. For instance, Lina's uncles are in Skopje, except for one, Hashim. Two nights ago I learned he was waiting at the border, and had been there for five days. Now, will he be allowed to rejoin his family, or be sent to Guantanamo?
We don't know anything about Lina's parents. Maybe Gjakova has not been emptied out yet. Eugen and his family made it out of Pristina on time, but I can't stop thinking about Linda, Edita, Noti, Leka, and all their parents. Are they hiding in basements? Crammed into locked trains? Prisoners in a stadium? Or worse? I follow the news of the emptying of Pristina, neighborhood by neighborhood: Dardania, Dragodan, Vellania where I slept, they're gone.
Conscious that things in some ways as bad as this, some ways worse, have happened in Asia and Africa in this decade, I still feel that this is a historical upheaval. Politics gone out of control. Genocide. It's not a cheapening of the word to use it in this context. A culture that has existed in this territory for at least 2,000 years, in spite of the denial of the Serbian nationalists, is torn up by the roots. That flowery statement translates into sealed trains, crushed children, disappeared men.
In Bosnia people do not quite have the strength to express outrage at any aspect of the situation. They have used up that strength being uprooted themselves over the past seven years. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the first day of the war, in 1992, also the first day of World War II, in 1941, and also the last day of that war, in 1945. People don't have much strength for other people's wars. What energy they do have is, in the Federation, mostly channeled into feelings of revenge: "Flatten them," and "Fewer Serbs, fewer problems; No Serbs, no problem."
In the Republika Srpska, the reaction is the opposite. The ongoing polarization of extremists and "moderates" has been put on hold while people on the street join to throw rocks and firebombs, sometimes grenades, at vehicles and offices of foreign organizations. Most of those have left the entity; only SFOR remains. Anger is at a boil. It started three weeks before the intervention, with the firing of Poplasen, who gives no indication that he has been fired, and the Brcko decision. The representatives of the international community proceed with their administrative tasks, but I wonder how much they can help people that are so angry.
Of course there are rational people throughout the country, but they are hiding in the woodwork now. Not only are the all-Bosnia joint institutions frozen, but the Croats can hardly bring themselves to work with their counterparts in the Federation. After Leutar was assassinated, they boycotted Parliament for a week; they are just back to work now.
The more I have learned about this place, the more I have realized it isn't a country after all. Today it is less so than ever. This is very disheartening. Not only the war, but especially that, has put new wind in the sails of those who want Bosnia split up. Meanwhile, ordinary people on all sides, that is, the DPs, get the worst end of it as everything that happens prevents them from going home.
Of all the cruel jokes, refugees are streaming into the country: Muslims from the Sandzak in Serbia, Serbs into the RS, and Albanians. The figure is now around 20,000, into a country that already has around 800,000 internally displaced persons of its own.
It's certain that the bombing, and the defeat of the Serbs, if that happens, will embitter the region for a generation or more. My hope is simply that the Albanians will be able to return home to a place where they are no longer demeaned, not to mention tortured, every day of their lives.
There are plenty of people, my friends at home, as well as all around the world, who want the bombing stopped. If I were at home and this were some place that I knew less about, I would be saying (and always have said) the same thing. But I know that Milosevic will not negotiate, and never did. He is the West's Frankenstein. They created him, let him get this way because for ten years they did not want to get involved on a level that would have prevented him from doing such crimes. I'm not even criticizing that; it's completely consistent with the way the U.S. and other administrations operate.
I don't know if people realize that this is a situation, on a smaller scale, like that of 1941; nothing reasonable could stop Hitler-and there was "negotiation" then too-and nothing civilized is going to stop the Serbian fascism. This is not a case of vindication or revenge, for me. I am equally sorry for all the suffering humans in the region. But the root of the suffering has to be pulled out.
Tuesday, April 6
Now half of Kosovo has been displaced. They are starting to airlift refugees off to Germany, Turkey, and Guantanamo in Cuba. The bombing goes on. Milosevic announced that there will be an Easter cease-fire. That means less than nothing. It's kind of a pathetic attempt, for him to think he can pull the same tricks that he has been playing all these years. It seems he doesn't notice the West has stopped listening.
They bombed the bridges over the Danube, that I used every day when I lived in Novi Sad. I'm sure the Serbian population is pretty well terrorized. I know they don't deserve that. They probably never even knew what was really going on in Kosovo. But meanwhile, they are holding the young Albanian men in stadiums, and I have no reason to believe that they will not kill tens of thousands of them.
There are between 25,000 and 30,000 displaced Serbs, Sandzak Muslims, and Albanians who have fled to Bosnia now. That's a small number of the total here, but difficult on top of the 800,000 Bosnians who are already internally displaced.
Sunday, April 18
I don't think I can travel alone any more in the RS, till things settle down. And they're liable to get worse before they get better.
The question is, how much worse? Over a million Kosovars are displaced now. Civilians are getting killed in Serbia. NATO has to look hard to find another bridge or refinery to bomb. And yet the atrocities are continuing in Kosovo, with guaranteed mass graves, chaos at the borders, split up families, and no more Kosovo.
It's obvious to me that NATO and its backers have no strategy. Why should they now, if they haven't for the last ten years? First they ignored and fake-negotiated with Milosevic until he was convinced he could keep doing whatever he wanted. That lasted until late last month. Then they bomb the hell out of Serbia, without any idea about how to really prevent the ensuing mass expulsion.
Part of the problem is lack of strategy. Another part is that they don't care. They (NATO & co.) are concerned with military strategy and not a strategy for the survival and welfare of the people concerned. That doesn't enter into the question. That's how they can destroy Serbia, allow the Kosovars to be expelled, thousands dead, no infrastructure or economy in all of ex-Yugo, a perfect recipe for more fascism and destabilization. Then they will figure out a way to make a deal with Milosevic again, or have him killed and make a deal with his replacements, a partition or something other than self-determination for Kosovo, and then they will say that they have waged a great struggle for democracy, and succeeded. Fooey.
Howard Clark, a great pacifist from the War Resisters International and someone who cares a lot about Kosovo, finally said that there are times when the militarist system makes it impossible for a non-violent solution to work, so let's get on with this and get to a point where we can make a protectorate out of Kosovo and fix things. Bravo for Howard Clark. Only, how do we get on with this?
I doubt there's any realistic option between a ground troop invasion and a negotiation/sellout. Maybe supporting the KLA, although they're weak. I have heard they have been recouping in the northwest around Pec, but I don't know at this point how significant that could be.
Meanwhile. the Serbs have continued to try and draw in neighboring countries, desperately hoping to complicate the situation and internationalize it in order to take some of the heat off of themselves. Crossing the border into Albania is one tactic. I suppose they would like to provoke an invasion from Albania in order to get world sympathy, or to draw in Russia or Greece, or to foment destabilization in Macedonia.
Some of these things may happen, especially Macedonia, where there are too many refugees and already-existing tension between Albanians and Macedonians. But it won't work in Albania, since is now basically NATO-land. And I'm still convinced the Russians aren't going to get involved. So I think Serbia is on its own. But Serbs aren't going to let go of Kosovo until they are really forced to. The bombing is destroying the country, but as inducement, it's not any more effective than shouting.
Last night I was at a neighbor of Vesna's here on the lake (at Ploce, Croatia) and we were watching Serbian television, which they receive via satellite. It was an amazing, strange, and sad production. First they showed footage of the Ministers of state holding a meeting on how to maintain the Serbian economy, with Milosevic at the head of the table. Then they showed rousing footage of their airplanes and rockets, which I can hardly believe exist anymore. Lots of Serbian flags, too. The next twenty minutes were devoted to anti-Kosovar Albanian propaganda, showing arms caches they had "found" belonging to the KLA. The funniest thing of all was a purse full of bullets, and on the outside of the purse was the emblem of the Open Society Fund, as if George Soros had personally financed weapons for the KLA. And I know that people believe that, maybe even the announcer-that's the sad part.
So this goes on and it will get worse before it gets better. Worse in Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo, and maybe in the RS here also. Bosnia is under the control of the SFOR troops, but the international organizations are still out of the RS, and the RS politicians are still boycotting the joint institutions of the government. "Incidents" are still happening. It could get worse, or just stay the same, but it probably won't get better as long as the intervention is still going on in Yugo.
Thursday, April 22
Yesterday I got together with Burhan and his girlfriend Ayten. They are both from Gostivar, Macedonia. As usual, we talked about the intervention in Yugoslavia. It is of course affecting Macedonia, where there are to date over 100,000 refugees that have suddenly poured in from Kosovo. Macedonia has its own problem of tensions between Albanians and Macedonians, mitigated by the fact that the Albanians have chosen to participate in the government, unlike in Serbia.
Burhan told me that tensions are increasing in Macedonia. Recently there was a soccer match between a team from Tetovo, mostly Albanian, and another, mostly Macedonian. Burhan said that "sports turned to politics," with the Albanian fans chanting "NATO, NATO!" and the Macedonian fans chanting, "Arkan, Arkan!" (Serbian war criminal currently operating in Kosovo). A large brawl followed the match. Burhan also told me that there was another fight in his high school between Albanian and Macedonian students, this time with some people ending up in the hospital.
Meanwhile the Macedonian government is opening and closing the border with Kosovo, letting refugees in and then preventing them from coming in. Demanding that thousands of them be sent to Turkey, Guantanamo, or who knows where, and preventing international aid convoys at gunpoint from delivering relief to large groups of refugees.
The latest news is that Serbian army units have committed ethnic cleansing on three villages in Montenegro populated by Albanians. Montenegro is the next target of Serbia, which has tried so far without success to spread the war to Bosnia, Albania, and Macedonia. I expect they'll have more success in Montenegro, where there are no NATO troops to maintain stability. "Yugoslav" troops have already entered into the demilitarized zone at Prevlaka, which overlooks Dubrovnik. This alarms Croatia, and they could be drawn in.
Yugoslavia is putting all kinds of pressure on the Montenegrin government to participate in the war against the Albanians, which it has so far refused to do. The latest is the demand to put the Montenegrin police, loyal to Djukanovic, under the command of the YU army. If this is pressed, there will be a big fight in Montenegro. I'd say this is possible in the next week or so. Montenegro also demanded that YU ships leave the port at Bar, and I don't think they're about to do that. This could be the end of the federation.
The level of threats from Russia also goes up and down. They say they're going to stand by Milosevic, then they say they're not going to get involved. They say they're going to send ships to the Adriatic, then they say they're not. Yeltsin is looking more like Clinton the vacillator. I don't believe Russia is going to get involved, but they are making me nervous occasionally.
The Serbian regime was never about to fold up and capitulate. Sacrificing his own people is not a new thing to Milosevic. Meanwhile he is emptying Kosovo, which certainly would have been more difficult without the involvement of NATO bombardments to justify it. Atrocities would have continued, but not at this scale. I wanted an intervention, but this didn't work. It's too late now, so what can be done to save Kosovo? As far as I can see, only a ground invasion, which there is more and more talk about. There will be a lot of blood if that happens, and the complications are unpredictable. But somehow, Milosevic and Serbian fascism has to be stopped. There has been a Balkan War in installments for eight years now, and this can't go on.