Seven Misconceptions about the Organized Atrocities in Kosovo
By Michael Sells
April 15, 2000

  This page is extracted from
  Human Rights Archives on the Genocide in Bosnia (and the attempted genocide in Kosovo) 

1. The UN should be in charge of response to such situations.

This position was argued by former presidential candidate Bill Bradley at Tufts University, November 29, 1999. For the UN's record in the Balkans, see above. As the Washington Post noted (p. A42, 1 December 1999):

Mr. Bradley wants the United States to intervene less around the world and let the United Nations do more. But to a large extent, the United Nations works only if the U.S. leads. In Bosnia, for example, Mr. Bradley says the key would have been "to get multilateral efforts to intervene earlier before things reach the point where there is only a military option." But that is exactly what Mr. Clinton did, and exactly why he failed; while the U.S refused to bring military pressure to bear, while it deferred to the United Nations for four years, 300,000 people were killed. Was the United States right not to play "policeman" in Rwanda and to allow the genocide to take place? Should it not have intervened in Kosovo or in Haiti--and if not, what would Mr. Bradley have done about the atrocities in one and the boat people in the other?

A similar point could be made about almost all of the critics of the NATO campaign. With the UN, by its own admission, complicit in genocide in Bosnia, we are left with a dilemma. It is inhuman to propose that the UN of Yasushi Akashi and friends should have been entrusted with protecting Kosovars from ethnoreligious extermination. Yet, if NATO acts in Kosovo without UN authorization, what can prevent others from acting on their own elsewhere? This is a valid issue, the major of our time. To raise the issue and offer constructive suggestions is wise. To criticize those who acted to prevent a planned genocide in Kosovo by stating that the UN could and should have been in charge is vacuous. (For the precise plan of the attempted genocide, advertised and detailed in Serbia for years, see Section 2, following.)

2. The NATO action caused the horror.

Response: The savage expulsion of Kosovar Albanians had been planned since Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomy in 1989. It was taking place before the NATO operation. See

Expulsion and/or annihilation of the Kosovar Albanian community was the official policy of Milosevic's then governing partner Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party and has been advocated across the political spectrum in Serbia, including among allegedly pro-democracy politicians such as Vuk Draskovic. For the ideology and plan of the attempted genocide, which had begun before the NATO operation, see the specific program by the Radical Party and the resolutions of the Serbian Unity Congress. I urge those concerned with NATO actions in Kosovo to read the first two documents below, and to compare them to, item by item, to Ustashe leader Artukovic's program for treatment of Jews in the WWII Ustashe state. For those who claim comparisons to WW2 are an exaggeration, please read the programs below carefully and then read the accounts of Srebrenica where such ideas were put into actions.

(Danielle Sremac, who has been featured on NBC and CNN as representing the "Institute for Balkan Studies," was a member of the Serbian Unity Congress (SUC) and was an official representative in the U.S. for the government of indicted war-criminal Radovan Karadzic. Neither NBC nor CNN has properly identified her connections. The SUC, which supports "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia and Kosovo, has given large campaign contributions to key present and former members of Congress, including Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham who echoes Slobodan Milosevic in equating the perpetrators with the victims. The recipient of the most SUC contributions by far is Rep. Dan Burton. Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who opposed U.S. action to stop the killing in Bosnia, accepted numerous contributions from extreme Serb militants, including key members of the SUC. (More on Rep. Hamilton here.) See Serbian Unity Congress PAC contribution list.

Yossef Bodansky of the House Republican Task Force was a featured speaker at a 1996 SUC fund raiser in Detroit (SUC quarterly report, 1/1/97). Bodansky, whose pro-Belgrade articles are now notorious, is cited as an authority by the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee in a 1/16/97 article which proudly proclaims Bodansky's connection to the House Republican Task Force.) For a full exposť of these and other connections by Senators James Inhofe and Larry Craig, Representative Helen Chenoweth, The Rockford Institute and its journal Chronicles, Pat Buchanan, The League of the South, The John Birch Society and its newsletter The New American, Srjda Trifkovic, Radovan Karadzic, Danielle Sremac, The Serbian Unity Congress and other members of the GOP right-wing, see my essay:
   The GOP Right, The Belgrade Lobby, and NeoConfederacy Groups: Multiple Connections.

For a sequel to the above article, tracing further connections between the movement for a White Christian America and the Belgrade Lobby, see my article:
   'Mutt America', The Religio-Racist Right and the Balkan Genocide.

[See also mention of Bodansky here.]

A significant portion of the U.S. Left also refused to support action to resist the attempted genocide in Kosovo. From Noam Chomsky to Edward Said, leaders of the Left showed an almost total ignorance or indifference to ten years of Serb nationalist atrocities in the Balkans and to the longstanding, openly publicized plan to annihilate the Kosovo Albanian community and expel the survivors, where they would live for the indefinite future in refugee camps along the borders of unstable countries like Macedonia. For a refutation of the ignorance and distortion of one leftist critic (Christian Parenti) regarding Kosovo, see Kosovo: The Devil and the Details, by Roger Lippman, Peter Lippman, and Dave Lippman. See also the Balkan Witness site maintained by Roger Lippman.

3. NATO shows a double standard by not intervening in Burma, Chechnya, Rwanda, Sudan, and other places.

Reponse: NATO is a European alliance. In 1994 its mandate was changed from defense against Soviet aggression to protecting the peace and security of Europe. NATO has no mandate to operate in Africa or Asia. Africans and Asians would not take kindly to the forces of their former colonizers, even when those forces were sent to help them in humanitarian ways. The world should respond better to genocide and atrocities wherever they occur. African peacekeeping forces, such as the Nigerian peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, do not have adequate resources and need the support of industrial nations. But that does not mean NATO should turn a blind eye to genocide in Europe. Should the NATO nations have done more to stop the Rwanda and should they do more to stop other atrocities in Africa and Asia--yes, but not as a NATO operation.

It is a malicious argument to demand that because one has failed in the past or cannot help in every area and achieve utopia, one should do nothing where one has the resources to stop genocide.

4. "Only" a few thousand Kosovars were killed and thus the NATO operation was unncessary.

It will be years before we know how many were killed. Fewer were killed than Milosevic (and the paramilitary forces supported by Milosevic) wanted and as we had feared when, as in Bosnia, communication with the victim civilian captives was cut off. The point of the NATO operation was to PREVENT the planned genocide from succeeding, instead of sitting back, as the UN did in Bosnia, and watching a three-year slow-motion mass slaughter. The NATO operation succeeded to the extent that the killing did not reach the level of mass extermination envisioned by Serbian leaders of all major parties in Serbia since 1989. The point of intervention is to prevent genocide and, if it is successful, we should respond positively, rather than feeling bitter and somehow cheated that the fatalities were fewer than feared.

5. The NATO action destroyed a strong anti-Milosevic opposition in Serbia.

This claim ignores the nature of the anti-Milosevic opposition. The vast majority of those demonstrating against Milosevic in 1996-1997 were demonstrating not against the policy of ethnoreligious extermination, but in protest of the fact that Milosevic did not pursue that policy successfully. There was virtually no criticism of the three years of genocide in Bosnia or of the plans and rhetoric for expulsion and/or destruction of Kosovar Albanians. The major opposition parties favored the destruction of Kosovar Albanians. (See Seselj's Radical Party program link above under # 2.) The general summary of the Full Report of the Helsinki Commission for Human Rights in Serbia shows how whatever opposition did exist had been crushed by 1998:

In the course of 1998 the thorough groundwork was laid for the war in Kosovo. It enjoyed both public and tacit backing of almost entire political scene in Serbia. Adoption of the Public Information Law demonstrated that Serbia was devoid of political alternative or of genuine pluralism, in the true sense of the word. Hence a small number of the mass media, by mounting resistance to the regime, morphed into its sole opponents. Simultaneously, by pursuing an independent editorial policy they remained beyond the regime's reach and became its harshest critics. This provoked a brutal crackdown on the media, resulting in closure of several newspapers, notably of the most prominent independent, political daily in Serbia Naša Borba.

The University Act, which made part of the general campaign of establishing state control over all the institutions, had two short-term goals: elimination of "inadequate" professors and other educational professionals from university, and forcing the students to renounce any political activities and engagement. Indicative of the regime's intentions was the statement of Vojislav Šešelj, president of the Serbian Radical Party and spokesman for all the authorities' moves in Glas Javnosti (1 March 1999): "We put things into order at universities, we did the same thing with the media, and we intend to do the same thing with the judiciary. With this step by step approach everything in Serbia will be put into order."

(For more Helsinki Commission reports on human rights in Serbia, click here.)

6. The NATO operation shows how the Serb people are demonized in the West.

The media do use misleading generic terms (the Croats, the Serbs) to depict those forces that commit atrocities in the name of their nation. But the sad fact is that much of the Serbian population is radicalized and supports policies of ethnoreligious extermination. The radicalization stems in part from the successful effort of war criminals like Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic (indicted for genocide by the Hague Tribunal) to portray any criticism of their actions as a criticism of all Serbs. Their success is reflected in the widespread acceptance by Serbs that criticism of particular Serb leaders and the atrocities they committed in the name of Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church are an attack against all Serbs. The major obstacle to finding individual responsibility for atrocities, rather than generic guilt for all Serbs, is the tendency among a large majority Serbs now to react to any criticism of the atrocities of a Karadzic or Mladic as if Karadzic and Mladic did indeed stand for the true aspirations and essence of the Serb nation, and the ability of Karadzic or Mladic supporters to portray any Serb who opposes atrocities as a "traitor" or not a "true Serb". Pretending Serbian society has not been rotted by 15 years of virulent nationalism and extreme violence will do nothing to help that small but valiant group of Serb dissidents, from political activist Vesna Pesic to persecuted journalists, who are working for a decent and just Serbia.

7. These are age old antagonisms; it is the nature of Balkan peoples to exterminate one another.

This ugly stereotype was used for three years to allow "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia. There have been tensions in "the Balkans" (if one wished to lump a group of disparate countries and cultures together arbitrarily under this name) for centuries as in every region of the world. But the tragedy in Yugoslavia and in Kosovo was caused in large part by Serbian religious nationalist militarization of the Kosovo story and symbols in 1989, the revocation of Kosovo's autonomy, and the stirring up of a mass psychology of fear and hatred. There is nothing inevitable about such acts of destruction carried out by particular political, religious, military, and intellectual leaders. The Bridge Betrayed examines how the Kosovo issue and heritage were abused and manipulated to create a cycle of fear, hate, and atrocity.

For further discussion of the issues above, see the Human Rights Watch World Report for 1999.

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This page is extracted from
Human Rights Archives on the Genocide in Bosnia (and the attempted genocide in Kosovo)

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