La NATO bombarda la Jugoslavia
Seeing Yugoslavia Through a Dark Glass:
Politics, Media and the Ideology of Globalization
by Diana Johnstone
10 August 1998
COVERT ACTION QUARTERLY
No 65, Fall 1998
Years of experience in and out of both mainstream and alternative
media have made me aware of the power of the dominant ideology
to impose certain interpretations on international news. During
the Cold War, most world news for American consumption had to
be framed as part of the Soviet-U.S. contest. Since then, a new
ideological bias frames the news. The way the violent fragmentation
of Yugoslavia has been reported is the most stunning example.
I must admit that it took me some time to figure this out, even
though I had a long-standing interest and some knowledge of Yugoslavia.
I spent time there as a student in 1953, living in a Belgrade
dormitory and learning the language. In 1984, in a piece for In
These Times , I warned that extreme decentralization, conflicting economic
interests between the richer and poorer regions, austerity policies
imposed by the IMF and the decline of universal ideals were threatening
Yugoslavia with "re-Balkanization" in the wake of Tito's death
and desanctification. "Local ethnic interests are reasserting
themselves", I wrote. "The danger is that these rival local interests
may become involved in the rivalries of outside powers. This is
how the Balkans in the past were a powder keg of world war." Writing
this took no special clairvoyance. The danger of Yugoslavia's
disintegration was quite obvious to all serious observers well
before Slobodan Milosevic arrived on the scene.
As the country was torn apart in the early nineties, I was unable
to keep up with all that was happening. In those years, my job
as press officer for the Greens in the European Parliament left
me no time to investigate the situation myself. Aware that there
were serious flaws in the way media and politicians were reacting,
I wrote an article warning against combatting "nationalism" by
taking sides for one nationalism against another, and against
judging a complex situation by analogy with totally different
times and places . "Every nationalism stimulates others", I noted. "Historical
analogies should be drawn with caution and never allowed to obscure
the facts." However, there was no stopping the tendency to judge
the Balkans, about which most people knew virtually nothing, by
analogy with Hitler's Germany, about which people at least imagined
they knew a lot, and which enabled analysis to be rapidly abandoned
in favor of moral certitude and righteous indignation.
However, it was only later, when I was able to devote considerable
time to my own research, that I realized the extent of the deception
-- which is in large part self-deception.
I mention all this to stress that I understand the immense difficulty
of gaining a clear view of the complex situation in the Balkans.
The history of the region and the interplay of internal political
conflicts and external influences would be hard to grasp even
without propaganda distortions. Nobody can be blamed for being
confused. Moreover, by now, many people have invested so much
emotion in a one-sided view of the situation that they are scarcely
able to consider alternative interpretations.
It is not necessarily because particular journalists or media
are "alternative" that they are free from the dominant interpretation
and the dominant world view. In fact, in the case of the Yugoslav
tragedy, the irony is that "alternative" or "left" activists and
writers have frequently taken the lead in likening the Serbs,
the people who most wanted to continue to live in multi-cultural
Yugoslavia, to Nazi racists, and in calling for military intervention
on behalf of ethnically defined secessionist movements  -- all supposedly in the name of "multi-cultural Bosnia", a country
which, unlike Yugoslavia, would have to be built from scratch
The Serbs and Yugoslavia
Like other Christian peoples in the Ottoman Empire, the Serbs
were heavily taxed and denied ownership of property or political
power reserved for Muslims. In the early years of the nineteenth
century, Serb farmers led a revolt that spread to Greece. The
century-long struggle put an end to the Ottoman Empire.
The Habsburg monarchy found it natural that when one empire receded,
another should advance, and sought to gain control over the lands
lost to the Ottoman Turks. Although Serbs had rallied to the Habsburgs
in earlier wars against the Turks, Serbia soon appeared to Vienna
as the main obstacle to its own expansion into the Balkans. By
the end of the nineteenth century, Vienna was seeking to fragment
the Serb-inhabited lands to prevent what it named "Greater Serbia".
The Austro Hungarian Empire took control of Bosnia-Herzegovina
and fostered the birth of Albanian nationalism (as converts to
Islam, Albanian feudal chieftains enjoyed privileges under the
Ottoman Empire and combatted the Christian liberation movements).
Probably because they had been deprived of full citizens' rights
under the Ottoman Turks, and because their own society of farmers
and traders was relatively egalitarian, Serb political leaders
throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were extremely
receptive to the progressive ideals of the French Revolution.
While all the other liberated Balkan nations imported German princelings
as their new kings, the Serbs promoted their own pig farmers into
a dynasty, one of whose members translated John Stuart Mill's
"On Liberty" into Serbian during his student days. Nowhere in
the Balkans did Western progressive ideas exercise such attraction
as in Serbia, no doubt due to the historic circumstances of the
country's emergence from four hundred years of subjugation.
Meanwhile, intellectuals in Croatia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire increasingly rankling under subordination to the Hungarian
nobility, initiated the Yugoslav movement for cultural, and eventually
political, unification of the South Slav peoples, notably the
Serbs and Croats, separated by history and religion (the Serbs
having been converted to Christianity by the Greek Orthodox Church
and the Croats by the Roman Catholic Church) but united by language.
The idea of a "Southslavia" was largely inspired by the national
unification of neighboring Italy, occurring around the same time.
In 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire seized the pretext of the
assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand to declare war
and crush Serbia once and for all. When Austria-Hungary lost the
world war it had thus initiated, leaders in Slovenia and Croatia
chose to unite with Serbia in a single kingdom. This decision
enabled both Slovenia and Croatia to go from the losing to the
winning side in World War I, thereby avoiding war reparations
and enlarging their territory, notably on the Adriatic coast,
at the expense of Italy. The joint Kingdom was renamed "Yugoslavia"
in 1929. The conflicts between Croats and Serbs that plagued what
is called "the first Yugoslavia" were described by Rebecca West
in her celebrated book, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, first published in 1941.
In April 1941, Serb patriots in Belgrade led a revolt against
an accord reached between the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany.
This led to Nazi bombing of Belgrade, a German invasion, creation
of an independent fascist state of Croatia (including Bosnia-Herzegovina),
and attachment of much of the Serbian province of Kosovo to Albania,
then a puppet of Mussolini's Italy. The Croatian Ustashe undertook
a policy of genocide against Serbs, Jews and Gypsies within the
territory of their "Greater Croatia", while the Germans raised
SS divisions among the Muslims of Bosnia and Albania.
In Serbia itself, the German occupants announced that one hundred
Serbian hostages would be executed for each German killed by resistance
fighters. The threat was carried out. As a result, the royalist
Serbian resistance (the first guerrilla resistance to Nazi occupation
in Europe) led by Draza Mihailovic adopted a policy of holding
off attacks on the Germans in expectation of an Allied invasion.
The Partisans, led by Croatian communist Josip Broz Tito, adopted
a more active strategy of armed resistance, which made considerable
gains in the predominantly Serb border regions of Croatia and
Bosnia and won support from Churchill for its effectiveness. A
civil war developed between the Mihailovic's "Chetniks" and Tito's
Partisans -- which was also a civil war between Serbs, since Serbs
were the most numerous among the Partisans. These divisions between
Serbs -- torn between Serbian and Yugoslav identity -- have never
been healed, and help explain the deep confusion among Serbs during
the breakup of Yugoslavia.
After World War II, the new Communist Yugoslavia tried to build
"brotherhood and unity" on the myth that all the peoples had contributed
equally to liberation from fascism. Mihailovic was executed, and
school children in post-war Yugoslavia learned more about the
"fascist" nature of his Serbian nationalist "Chetniks" than they
did about Albanian and Bosnian Muslims who had volunteered for
the SS, or even about the killing of Serbs in the Jasenovac death
camp run by Ustashe in Western Bosnia.
After the 1948 break with Moscow, the Yugoslav communist leadership
emphasized its difference from the Soviet bloc by adopting a policy
of "self-management" supposed to lead by fairly rapid stages to
the "withering away of the State". Tito repeatedly revised the
Constitution to strengthen local authorities, while retaining
final decision-making power for himself. When he died in 1980,
he thus left behind a hopelessly complicated system that could
not work without his arbitration . Serbia in particular was unable to enact vitally necessary reforms
because its territory had been divided up, with two "autonomous
provinces", Voivodina and Kosovo, able to veto measures taken
by Serbia, while Serbia could not intervene in their affairs.
In the 1980s, the rise in interest rates and unfavorable world
trade conditions dramatically increased the foreign debt Yugoslavia
(like many "third world" countries) had been encouraged to run
up thanks to its standing in the West as a socialist country not
belonging to the Soviet bloc. The IMF arrived with its familiar
austerity measures, which could only be taken by a central government.
The leaders of the richer Republics -- Slovenia and Croatia --
did not want to pay for the poorer ones. Moreover, in all former
socialist countries, the big political question is privatization
of State and social property, and local communist leaders in Slovenia
and Croatia could expect to get a greater share for themselves
within the context of division of Yugoslavia into separate little
A this stage, a gradual, negotiated dismantling of Yugoslavia
into smaller States was not impossible. It would have entailed
reaching agreement on division of assets and liabilities, and
numerous adjustments to take into account conflicting interests.
If pursued openly, however, it might have encountered popular
opposition -- after all, very many people, perhaps a majority,
enjoyed being citizens of a large country with an enviable international
reputation. What would have been the result of a national referendum
on the question of preservation of Yugoslavia?
None was ever held. The first multiparty elections in postwar
Yugoslavia were held in 1990, not nationwide in all of Yugoslavia,
but separately by each Republic -- a method which in itself reinforced
separatist power elites. Sure of the active sympathy of Germany,
Austria and the Vatican, leaders in Slovenia and Croatia prepared
the fait accompli of unilateral, unnegotiated secession, proclaimed
in 1991. Such secession was illegal, under Yugoslav and international
law, and was certain to precipitate civil war. The key role of
German (and Vatican) support was to provide rapid international
recognition of the new independent Republics, in order to transform
Yugoslavia into an "aggressor" on its own territory. 
The political motives that launched the anti-Serb propaganda campaign
are obvious enough. Claiming that it was impossible to stay in
Yugoslavia because the Serbs were so oppressive was the pretext
for the nationalist leaders in Slovenia and Croatia to set up
their own little statelets which, thanks to early and strong German
support, could "jump the queue" and get into the richmen's European
club ahead of the rest of Yugoslavia.
The terrible paradox is that very many people, in the sincere
desire to oppose racism and aggression, have in fact contributed
to demonizing an entire people, the Serbs, thereby legitimizing
both ethnic separatism and the new role of NATO as occupying power
in the Balkans on behalf of a theoretical "international community".
Already in the 1980s, Croatian and ethnic Albanian separatist
lobbies had stepped up their efforts to win support abroad, notably
in Germany and the United States , by claiming to be oppressed by Serbs, citing "evidence" that,
insofar as it had any basis in truth, referred to the 1920-1941
Yugoslav kingdom, not to the very different post-World War II
The current campaign to demonize the Serbs began in July 1991
with a virulent barrage of articles in the German media, led by
the influential conservative newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine
Zeitung (FAZ). In almost daily columns, FAZ editor Johann Georg
Reismüller justified the freshly, and illegally, declared "independence"
of Slovenia and Croatia by describing "the Yugo-Serbs" as essentially
Oriental "militarist Bolsheviks" who have "no place in the European
Community". Nineteen months after German reunification, and for
the first time since Hitler's defeat in 1945, German media resounded
with condemnation of an entire ethnic group reminiscent of the
pre-war propaganda against the Jews .
This German propaganda binge was the signal that times had changed
seriously. Only a few years earlier, a seemingly broad German
peace movement had stressed the need to put an end to "enemy stereotypes"
(Feindbilder). Yet the sudden ferocious emergence of the enemy
stereotype of "the Serbs" did not shock liberal or left Germans,
who were soon repeating it themselves. It might seem that the
German peace movement had completed its historic mission once
its contribution to altering the image of Germany had led Gorbachev
to endorse reunification. The least one can say is that the previous
efforts at reconciliation with peoples who suffered from Nazi
invasion stopped short when it came to the Serbs.
In the Bundestag, German Green leader Joschka Fischer pressed
for disavowal of "pacifism" in order to "combat Auschwitz", thereby
equating Serbs with Nazis. In a heady mood of self-righteous indignation,
German politicians across the board joined in using Germany's
past guilt as a reason, not for restraint, as had been the logic
up until reunification, but on the contrary, for "bearing their
share of the military burden". In the name of human rights, the
Federal Republic of Germany abolished its ban on military operations
outside the NATO defensive area. Germany could once again be a
"normal" military power -- thanks to the "Serb threat".
The near unanimity was all the more surprising in that the "enemy
stereotype" of the Serb had been dredged up from the most belligerent
German nationalism of the past. "Serbien muss sterbien" (a play
on the word sterben, to die), meaning "Serbia must die" was a
famous popular war cry of World War I . Serbs had been singled out for slaughter during the Nazi occupation
of Yugoslavia. One would have thought that the younger generation
of Germans, seemingly so sensitive to the victims of Germany's
aggressive past, would have at least urged caution. Very few did.
On the contrary, what occurred in Germany was a strange sort of
mass transfer of Nazi identity, and guilt, to the Serbs. In the
case of the Germans, this can be seen as a comforting psychological
projection which served to give Germans a fresh and welcome sense
of innocence in the face of the new "criminal" people, the Serbs.
But the hate campaign against Serbs, started in Germany, did not
stop there. Elsewhere, the willingness to single out one of the
Yugoslav peoples as the villain calls for other explanations.
From the start, foreign reporters were better treated in Zagreb
and in Ljubljana, whose secessionist leaders understood the prime
importance of media images in gaining international support, than
in Belgrade. The Albanian secessionists in Kosovo or "Kosovars"
, the Croatian secessionists and the Bosnian Muslims hired an
American public relations firm, Ruder Finn, to advance their causes
by demonizing the Serbs . Ruder Finn deliberately targeted certain publics, notably the
American Jewish community, with a campaign likening Serbs to Nazis.
Feminists were also clearly targeted by the Croatian nationalist
campaign directed out of Zagreb to brand Serbs as rapists .
The Yugoslav story was complicated; anti-Serb stories had the
advantage of being simple and available, and they provided an
easy-to-use moral compass by designating the bad guys.
As the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina got underway in mid-1992, American
journalists who repeated unconfirmed stories of Serbian atrocities
could count on getting published, with a chance of a Pulitzer
prize. Indeed, the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting
was shared between the two authors of the most sensational "Serb
atrocity stories" of the year: Roy Gutman of Newsday and John
Burns of The New York Times. In both cases, the prize-winning
articles were based on hearsay evidence of dubious credibility.
Gutman's articles, mostly based on accounts by Muslim refugees
in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, were collected in a book rather
misleadingly entitled A Witness to Genocide, although in fact
he had been a "witness" to nothing of the sort. His allegations
that Serbs were running "death camps" were picked up by Ruder
Finn and widely diffused, notably to Jewish organizations. Burns'
story was no more than an interview with a mentally deranged prisoner
in a Sarajevo jail, who confessed to crimes some of which have
been since proved never to have been committed .
On the other hand, there was no market for stories by a journalist
who discovered that reported Serbian "rape camps" did not exist
(German TV reporter Martin Lettmayer ), or who included information about Muslim or Croat crimes against
Serbs (Belgian journalist Georges Berghezan for one ). It became increasingly impossible to challenge the dominant
interpretation in major media. Editors naturally prefer to keep
the story simple: one villain, and as much blood as possible.
Moreover, after the German government forced the early recognition
of Slovenian and Croatian independence, other Western powers lined
up opportunistically with the anti-Serb position. The United States
soon moved aggressively into the game by picking its own client
state -- Muslim Bosnia -- out of the ruins.
Foreign news has always been much easier to distort than domestic
news. Television coverage simply makes the distortion more convincing.
TV crews sent into strange places about which they know next to
nothing, send back images of violence that give millions of viewers
the impression that "everybody knows what is happening". Such
an impression is worse than plain ignorance.
Today, worldwide media such as CNN openly put pressure on governments
to respond to the "public opinion" which the media themselves
create. Christiane Amanpour tells the U.S. and European Union
what they should be doing in Bosnia; to what extent this is coordinated
with U.S. agencies is hard to tell. Indeed, the whole question
of which tail wags the dog is wide open. Do media manipulate government,
does government manipulate media, or are influential networks
Many officials of Western governments complain openly or privately
of being forced into unwise policy decisions by "the pressure
of public opinion", meaning the media. A particularly interesting
testimony in this regard is that of Otto von Habsburg, the extremely
active and influential octogenarian heir to the defunct Austro-Hungarian
Empire, today member of the European Parliament from Bavaria,
who has taken a great and one might say paternal interest in the
cause of Croatian independence. "If Germany recognized Slovenia
and Croatia so rapidly," Habsburg told the Bonn correspondent
of the French daily Figaro , "even against the will of [then German foreign minister] Hans-Dietrich
Genscher who did not want to take that step, it's because the
Bonn government was subjected to an almost irresistible pressure
of public opinion. In this regard, the German press rendered a
very great service, in particular the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
and Carl Gustav Ströhm, that great German journalist who works
for Die Welt."
Still, the virtually universal acceptance of a one-sided view
of Yugoslavia's collapse cannot be attributed solely to political
designs or to sensationalist manipulation of the news by major
media. It also owes a great deal to the ideological uniformity
prevailing among educated liberals who have become the consensual
moral conscience in Northwestern Euro-American society since the
end of the Cold War.
Down With the State
This ideology is the expression in moralistic terms of the dominant
project for reshaping the world since the United States emerged
as sole superpower after the defeat of communism and collapse
of the Soviet Union. United States foreign policy for over a century
has been dictated by a single overriding concern: to open world
markets to American capital and American enterprise. Today this
project is triumphant as "economic globalization". Throughout
the world, government policies are judged, approved or condemned
decisively not by their populations but by "the markets", meaning
the financial markets. Foreign investors, not domestic voters,
decide policy. The International Monetary Fund and other such
agencies are there to help governments adjust their policies and
their societies to market imperatives.
The shift of decision-making power away from elected governments,
which is an essential aspect of this particular "economic globalization",
is being accompanied by an ideological assault on the nation-state
as a political community exercising sovereignty over a defined
territory. For all its shortcomings, the nation-state is still
the political level most apt to protect citizens' welfare and
the environment from the destructive expansion of global markets.
Dismissing the nation-state as an anachronism, or condemning it
as a mere expression of "nationalist" exclusivism, overlooks and
undermines its long-standing legitimacy as the focal point of
democratic development, in which citizens can organize to define
and defend their interests.
The irony is that many well-intentioned idealists are unwittingly
helping to advance this project by eagerly promoting its moralistic
cover: a theoretical global democracy that should replace attempts
to strengthen democracy at the supposedly obsolete nation-state
Within the United States, the link between anti-nation-state ideology
and economic globalization is blurred by the double standard of
U.S. leaders who do not hesitate to invoke the supremacy of U.S.
"national interest" over the very international institutions they
promote in order to advance economic globalization. This makes
it seem that such international institutions are a serious obstacle
to U.S. global power rather than its expression. However, the
United States has the overall military and political power to
design and control key international institutions (e.g., the IMF,
the World Trade Organization, and the International Criminal Tribunal
for Former Yugoslavia), as well as to undermine those it dislikes
(UNESCO when it was attempting to promote liberation of media
from essentially American control) or to flout international law
with impunity (notably in its Central American "back yard"). Given
the present relationship of forces, weakening less powerful nation-states
cannot strengthen international democracy, but simply tighten
the grip of transnational capital and the criminal networks that
flourish in an environment of lawless acquisition.
There is no real contradiction between asserting the primacy of
U.S. interests and blasting the nation-state barriers that might
allow some organized defense of the interests of other peoples.
But impressed by the apparent contradiction, some American liberals
are comforted in their belief that nationalism is the number one
enemy of mankind whereas anything that goes against it is progressive.
Indeed, an important asset of the anti-nation-state ideology is
its powerful appeal to many liberals and progressives whose internationalism
has been disoriented by the collapse of any discernable socialist
alternative to capitalism and by the disarray of liberation struggles
in the South of the planet.
In the absence of any clear analysis of the contemporary world,
the nation-state is readily identified as the cause of war, oppression
and violations of human rights. In short, the only existing context
for institutionalized democracy is demonized as the mere expression
of a negative, exclusive ideology, "nationalism". This contemporary
libertarian view overlooks both the persistence of war in the
absence of strong States and the historic function of the nation
state as framework for the social pact embodied in democratic
forms of legislative decision-making.
Condemnation of the nation state in a structuralist rather than
historical perspective produces mechanical judgments. What is
smaller than the nation state, or what transcends the nation state,
must be better. On the smaller scale, "identities" of all kinds,
or "regions", generally undefined, are automatically considered
more promising by much of the current generation. On the larger
scale, the hope for democracy is being transferred to the European
Union, or to international NGOs, or to theoretical institutions
such as the proposed International Criminal Court. In the enthusiasm
for an envisaged global utopia, certain crucial questions are
being neglected, notably: Who will pay for all this? How? Who
will enforce which decisions? Until such practical matters are
cleared up, brave new institutions such as the ICC risk being
no more than further instruments of selective intervention against
weaker countries. But the illusion persists that structures of
international democracy can be built over the heads of States
that are not themselves genuinely supportive of such democracy.
The simplistic interpretation of the Yugoslav crisis as Serbian
"aggression" against peaceful multi-cultural Europe, is virtually
unassailable because it is not only credible according to this
ideology but seems to confirm it.
It was this ideology that made it possible for the Croatian, Slovenian
and Albanian secessionists and their supporters in Germany and
the United States in particular to portray the Yugoslav conflict
as the struggle of "oppressed little nations" to free themselves
from aggressive Serbian nationalism. In fact, those "little nations"
were by no means oppressed in Yugoslavia. Nowhere in the world
were and are the cultural rights of national minorities so extensively
developed as in Yugoslavia (including the small Yugoslavia made
up of Serbia and Montenegro). Politically, not only was Tito himself
a Croat and his chief associate, Edvard Kardelj, a Slovene, but
a "national key" quota system was rigorously applied to all top
posts in the Federal Administration and Armed Forces. The famous
"self-management socialism" gave effective control over economic
enterprises to Slovenians in Slovenia, Croatians in Croatia and
ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The economic gap between the parts
of Yugoslavia which had previously belonged to the Austro-Hungarian
Empire, that is, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia's northern province
of Voivodina, on the one hand, and the parts whose development
had been retarded by Ottoman rule (central Serbia, the Serbian
province of Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia) continued
to widen throughout both the first and second Yugoslavia. The
secession movement in Slovenia was a typical "secession of the
rich from the poor" (comparable to Umberto Bossi's attempt to
detach rich Northern Italy from the rest of the country, in order
to avoid paying taxes for the poor South). In Croatia, this motivation
was combined with a comeback of Ustashe elements which had gone
into exile after World War II.
The nationalist pretext of "oppression" was favored by the economic
troubles of the 1980s, which led leaders in each Republic to blame
the others, and to overlook the benefits of the larger Federal
market for all the Republics. The first and most virulent nationalist
movements arose in Croatia and Kosovo, where separatism had been
favored by Axis occupation of the Balkans in World War II. It
was only in the 1980s that a much milder Serbian nationalist reaction
to economic troubles provided the opportunity for all the others
to pinpoint the universal scapegoat: Serbian nationalism. Western
public opinion, knowing little of Yugoslavia and thinking in terms
of analogies with more familiar situations, readily sympathized
with Slovenian and Croatian demands for independence. In reality,
international law interprets "self-determination" as the right
to secede and fom an independent State only in certain (mostly
colonial) circumstances, none of which applied to Slovenia and
All these facts were ignored by international media. Appeals to
the dominant anti-State ideology led to frivolous acceptance in
the West of the very grave act of accepting the unnegotiated breakup
of an existing nation, Yugoslavia, by interpreting ethnic secession
as a proper form of "self-determination", which it is not. There
is no parallel in recent diplomatic annals for such an irresponsible
act, and as a precedent it can only promise endless bloody conflict
around the world.
The New World Order
In fact, the breakup of Yugoslavia has served to discredit and
further weaken the United Nations, while providing a new role
for an expanding NATO. Rather than strengthening international
order, it has helped shift the balance of power within the international
order toward the dominant nation states, the United States and
Germany. If somebody had announced in 1989 that, well, the Berlin
Wall has come down, now Germany can unite and send military forces
back into Yugoslavia -- and what is more in order to enforce a
partition of the country along similar lines to those it imposed
when it occupied the country in 1941 -- well, quite a number of
people might have raised objections. However, that is what has
happened, and many of the very people who might have been expected
to object most strongly to what amounts to the most significant
act of historical revisionism since World War II have provided
the ideological cover and excuse.
Perhaps dazed by the end of the Cold War, much of what remains
of the left in the early nineties abandoned its critical scrutiny
of the geostrategic Realpolitik underlying great power policies
in general and U.S. policy in particular and seemed to believe
that the world henceforth was determined by purely moral considerations.
This has much to do with the privatization of "the left" in the
past twenty years or so. The United States has led the way in
this trend. Mass movements aimed at overall political action have
declined, while single-issue movements have managed to continue.
The single-issue movements in turn engender non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) which, because of the requirements of fund-raising, need
to adapt their causes to the mood of the times, in other words,
to the dominant ideology, to the media. Massive fund-raising is
easiest for victims, using appeals to sentiment rather than to
reason. Greenpeace has found that it can raise money more easily
for baby seals than for combatting the development of nuclear
weapons. This fact of life steers NGO activity in certain directions,
away from political analysis toward sentiment. On another level,
the NGOs offer idealistic internationalists a rare opportunity
to intervene all around the world in matters of human rights and
And herein lies a new danger. Just as the "civilizing mission"
of bringing Christianity to the heathen provided a justifying
pretext for the imperialist conquest of Asia and Africa in the
past, today the protection of "human rights" may be the cloak
for a new type of imperialist military intervention worldwide.
Certainly, human rights are an essential concern of the left.
Moreover, many individuals committed to worthy causes have turned
to NGOs as the only available alternative to the decline of mass
movements -- a decline over which they have no control. Even a
small NGO addressing a problem is no doubt better than nothing
at all. The point is that great vigilance is needed, in this as
in all other endeavors, to avoid letting good intentions be manipulated
to serve quite contrary purposes.
In a world now dedicated to brutal economic rivalry, where the
rich get richer and the poor get poorer, human rights abuses can
only increase. From this vast array of man's inhumanity to man,
Western media and governments are unquestionably more concerned
about human rights abuses that obstruct the penetration of transnational
capitalism, to which they are organically linked, than about,
say, the rights of Russian miners who have not been paid for a
year. Media and government selectivity not only encourages humanitarian
NGOs to follow their lead in focusing on certain countries and
certain types of abuses, the case by case approach also distracts
from active criticism of global economic structures that favor
the basic human rights abuse of a world split between staggering
wealth and dire poverty.
Cuba is not the only country whose "human rights" may be the object
of extraordinary concern by governments trying to replace local
rulers with more compliant defenders of transnational interests.
Such a motivation can by no means be ruled out in the case of
the campaign against Serbia . In such situations, humanitarian NGOs risk being cast in the
role of the missionaries of the past -- sincere, devoted people
who need to be "protected", this time by NATO military forces.
The Somali expedition provided a rough rehearsal (truly scandalous
if examined closely) for this scenario. On a much larger scale,
first Bosnia, then Kosovo, provide a vast experimental terrain
for cooperation between NGOs and NATO.
There is urgent need to take care to preserve genuine and legitimate
efforts on behalf of human rights from manipulation in the service
of other political ends. This is indeed a delicate challenge.
NGOs and NATO, Hand In Hand
In former Yugoslavia, and especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Western
NGOs have found a justifying role for themselves alongside NATO.
They gain funding and prestige from the situation. Local employees
of Western NGOs gain political and financial advantages over other
local people, and "democracy" is not the people's choice but whatever
meets with approval of outside donors. This breeds arrogance among
the outside benefactors, and cynicism among local people, who
have the choice between opposing the outsiders or seeking to manipulate
them. It is an unhealthy situation, and some of the most self-critical
are aware of the dangers .
Perhaps the most effectively arrogant NGO in regard to former
Yugoslavia is the Vienna office of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki.
On September 18, 1997, that organization issued a long statement
announcing in advance that the Serbian elections to be held three
days later "will be neither free nor fair". This astonishing intervention
was followed by a long list of measures that Serbia and Yugoslavia
must carry out "or else", and that the international community
must take to discipline Serbia and Yugoslavia. These demands indicated
an extremely broad interpretation of obligatory standards of "human
rights" as applied to Serbia, although not, obviously to everybody
else, since they included new media laws drafted "in full consultation
with the independent media in Yugoslavia" as well as permission
meanwhile to all "unlicensed but currently operating radio and
television stations to broadcast without interference" .
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki concluded by calling on the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to "deny Yugoslavia
readmission to the OSCE until there are concrete improvements
in the country's human rights record, including respect for freedom
of the press, independence of the judiciary and minority rights,
as well as cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia".
As for the demand to "respect freedom of the press", one may wonder
what measures would satisfy HRW, in light of the fact that press
freedom already exists in Serbia to an extent well beyond that
in many other countries not being served with such an ultimatum.
There exist in Serbia quite a range of media devoted to attacking
the government, not only in Serbo-Croatian but also in Albanian.
As of June 1998, there were 2,319 print publications and 101 radio
and television stations in Yugoslavia, over twice the number that
existed in 1992. Belgrade alone has 14 daily newspapers. Six state-supported
national dailies have a joint circulation of 180,000, compared
to around 350,000 for seven leading opposition dailies .
Moreover, the judiciary in Serbia is certainly no less independent
than in Croatia or Muslim Bosnia, and almost certainly much more
so. As for "minority rights", it would be hard to find a country
anywhere in the world where they are better protected in both
theory and practice than in Yugoslavia .
For those who remember history, the Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
ultimatum instantly brings to mind the ultimatum issued by Vienna
to Belgrade after the Sarajevo assassination in 1914 as a pretext
for the Austrian invasion which touched off World War I. The Serbian
government gave in to all but one of the Habsburg demands, but
was invaded anyway .
The hostility of this new Vienna power, the International Helsinki
Federation for Human Rights, toward Serbia, is evident in all
its statements, and in those of its executive director, Aaron
Rhodes. In a recent column for the International Herald Tribune,
he wrote that Albanians in Kosovo "have lived for years under
conditions similar to those suffered by Jews in Nazi-controlled
parts of Europe just before World War II. They have been ghettoized.
They are not free, but politically disenfranchised and deprived
of basic civil liberties". The comparison could hardly be more
incendiary, but the specific facts to back it up are absent. They
are necessarily absent, since the accusation is totally false.
Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have never been "politically disenfranchised",
and even Western diplomats have at times urged them to use their
right to vote in order to deprive Milosevic of his electoral majority.
But nationalist leaders have called for a boycott of Serbian elections
since 1981 -- well before Milosevic came on the scene -- and ethnic
Albanians who dare take part in legal political life are subject
to intimidation and even murder by nationalist Albanian gunmen
In order to gain international support, inflammatory terms such
as "ghetto" and "apartheid" are used by the very Albanian nationalist
leaders who have created the separation between populations by
leading their community to boycott all institutions of the Serbian
State in order to create a de facto secession. Not only elections
and schools, but even the public health service has been boycotted,
to the detriment of the health of Kosovo Albanians, especially
the children .
Human Rights Watch's blanket condemnation of a government which,
like it or not, was elected, in a country whose existence is threatened
by foreign-backed secessionist movements, contrasts sharply with
the traditional approach of the senior international human rights
organization, Amnesty International.
What can be considered the traditional Amnesty International approach
consists broadly in trying to encourage governments to enact and
abide by humanitarian legal standards. It does this by calling
attention to particular cases of injustice. It asks precise questions
that can be answered precisely. It tries to be fair. It is no
doubt significant that Amnesty International is a grassroots organization,
which operates under the mandate of its contributing members,
and whose rules preclude domination by any large donor.
In the case of Yugoslavia, the Human Rights Watch/Helsinki approach
differs fundamentally from that of Amnesty International in that
it clearly aims not at calling attention to specific abuses that
might be corrected, but at totally condemning the targeted State.
By the excessive nature of its accusations, it does not ally with
reformist forces in the targeted country so much as it undermines
them. Its lack of balance, its rejection of any effort at remaining
neutral between conflicting parties, encourages disintegrative
polarization rather than reconciliation and mutual understanding.
For example, in its reports on Kosovo, Amnesty International considers
reports of abuses from all sides and tries to weigh their credibility,
which is difficult but necessary, since the exaggeration of human
rights abuses against themselves is regularly employed by Albanian
nationalists in Kosovo as a means to win international support
for their secessionist cause . Human Rights Watch, in contrast, by uncritically endorsing the
most extreme anti-Serb reports and ignoring Serbian sources, helps
confirm ethnic Albanians in their worst fantasies, while encouraging
them to demand international intervention on their behalf rather
than seek compromise and reconciliation with their Serbian neighbors.
HRW therefore contributes, deliberately or inadvertently, to a
deepening cycle of violence that eventually may justify, or require,
This is an approach which, like its partner, economic globalization,
breaks down the defenses and authority of weaker States. It does
not help to enforce democratic institutions at the national level.
The only democracy it recognizes is that of the "international
community", which is summoned to act according to the recommendations
of Human Rights Watch. This "international community", the IC,
is in reality no democracy. Its decisions are formally taken at
NATO meetings. The IC is not even a "community"; the initials
could more accurately stand for "imperialist condominium", a joint
exercise of domination by the former imperialist powers, torn
apart and weakened by two World Wars, now brought together under
US domination with NATO as their military arm. Certainly there
are frictions between the members of this condominium, but so
long as their rivalries can be played out within the IC, the price
will be paid by smaller and weaker countries.
Media attention to conflicts in Yugoslavia is sporadic, dictated
by Great Power interests, lobbies, and the institutional ambitions
of "non-governmental organizations" -- often linked to powerful
governments -- whose competition with each other for financial
support provides motivation for exaggerating the abuses they specialize
Yugoslavia, a country once known for its independent approach
to socialism and international relations, economically and politically
by far the most liberal country in Eastern Central Europe, has
already been torn apart by Western support to secessionist movements.
What is left is being further reduced to an ungovernable chaos
by a continuation of the same process. The emerging result is
not a charming bouquet of independent little ethnic democracies,
but rather a new type of joint colonial rule by the international
community, enforced by NATO.
Diana Johnstone was the European editor of In These Times from 1979 to 1990, and press officer of the Green group in the
European Parliament from 1990 to 1996. She is author of The Politics of Euromissiles: Europe in America's World (Verso/Schocken, 1984) and is currently working on a book on
the former Yugoslavia. This article is an expanded version of
a talk given on May 25, 1998, at an international conference on
media held in Athens, Greece. [top]
1) "The Creeping Trend to Re-Balkanization", In These Times, 3-9
October 1984, p.9. [back]
2) "We Are All Serbo-Croats", In These Times, 3 May 1993, p.14.
3) "Ethnically defined" because, despite the argument accepted
by the international community that it was the Republics that
could invoke the right to secede, all the political arguments
surrounding recognition of independent Slovenia and Croatia dwelt
on the right of Slovenes and Croats as such to self-determination.
4) See Svetozar Stojanovic, "The Destruction of Yugoslavia", Fordham International Law Journal, Volume 19, Number 2, December 1995, pp 341-3. [back]
5) For an excellent and detailed account of the economic and constitutional
factors leading to the breakup of Yugoslavia, see Susan Woodward,
Balkan Tragedy, Brookings Institution, 1995. [back]
6) Recognition of the internal administrative borders between
the Republics as "inviolable" international borders was in effect
a legal trick, contrary to international law, which turned the
Yugoslav army into an "aggressor" within the boundaries its soldiers
had sworn to defend, and which transformed the Serbs within Croatia
and Bosnia, who opposed secession from their country, Yugoslavia,
into secessionists. This recognition flagrantly violated the principles
of the 1975 Final Act (known as the Helsinki Accords) of the Conference on, now Organization for, Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), notably the territorial integrity of States and nonintervention
in internal affairs. Truncated Yugoslavia was thereupon expelled
from the OSCE in 1992, sparing its other members from having to
hear Belgrade's point of view. Indeed, the sanctions against Yugoslavia
covered culture and sports, thus eliminating for several crucial
years any opportunity for Serbian Yugoslavs to take part in international
forums and events where the one-sided view of "the Serbs" presented
by their adversaries might have been challenged. [back]
7) In Washington, the campaign on behalf of Albanian separatists
in Kosovo was spearheaded by Representative Joe DioGuardi of New
York, who after losing his Congressional seat has continued his
lobbying for the cause. An early and influential convert to the
cause was Senator Robert Dole. In Germany, the project for the
political unification of all Croatian nationalists, both communist
and Ustashe, with the aim of seceding and establishing "Greater
Croatia", was followed closely and sympathetically by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), West Germany's CIA, which hoped to gain its own sphere
of influence on the Adriatic from the breakup of Yugoslavia. The
nationalist unification, which eventually brought former communist
general Franjo Tudjman to power in Zagreb with the support of
the Ustashe diaspora, got seriously underway after Tito's death
in 1980, during the years when Bonn's current foreign minister,
Klaus Kinkel, was heading the BND. See Erich Schmidt-Eenboom,
Der Schattenkrieger: Klaus Kinkel und der BND, ECON Verlag, Düsseldorf, 1995. [back]
8) This point is developed by Wolfgang Pohrt, "Entscheidung in
Jugoslawien", in Bei Andruck Mord: Die deutsche Propaganda und
der Balkankrieg, edited by Wolfgang Schneider, Konkret, Hamburg, 1997. A sort of climax was reached with the 8 July
1991 cover of the influential weekly Der Spiegel, depicting Yugoslavia as a "prison of peoples" with the title
"Serb Terror". [back]
9) The slogan was immortalized in the 1919 play by Austrian playwright
Karl Kraus, "Die letzten Tage der Menschheit". [back]
10) Albanians in Albania and in Yugoslavia call themselves "Shqiptare"
but recently have objected to being called that by others. "Albanians"
is an old and accepted term. Especially when addressing international
audiences in the context of the separatist cause, Kosovo Albanians
prefer to call themselves "Kosovars", which has political implications.
Logically, the term should apply to all inhabitants of the province
of Kosovo, regardless of ethnic identity, but by appropriating
it for themselves alone, the Albanian "Kosovars" imply that Serbs
and other non-Albanians are intruders. This is similar to the
Muslim party's appropriation of the term "Bosniak", which implies
that the Muslim population of Bosnia-Herzegovina is more indigenous
that the Serbs and Croats, which makes no sense, since the Bosnian
Muslims are simply Serbs and Croats who converted to Islam after
the Ottoman conquest. [back]
11) The role of the Washington public relations firm, Ruder Finn, is by now well-known, but seems to have raised few doubts as
to the accuracy of the anti-Serb propaganda it successfully diffused.
See especially: Jacques Merlino, Les Vérités yougoslaves ne sont pas toutes bonnes
à dire, Albin Michel, Paris, 1993; and Peter Brock, "Dateline Yugoslavia: The Partisan Press", Foreign Policy #93, Winter 1993-94. [back]
12) No one denies that many rapes occurred during the civil wars
in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, or that rape is a serious violation
of human rights. So is war, for that matter. From the start, however,
inquiry into rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina focused exclusively on
accusation that Serbs were raping Muslim women as part of a deliberate
strategy. The most inflated figures, freely extrapolated by multiplying
the number of known cases by large factors, were readily accepted
by the media and international organizations. No interest was
shown in detailed and documented reports of rapes of Serbian women
by Muslims or Croats."
The late Nora Beloff, former chief political correspondent of
the London Observer, described her own search for verification
of the rape charges in a letter to The Daily Telegraph (January
19, 1993). The British Foreign Office conceded that the rape figures
being bandied about were totally uncorroborated, and referred
her to the Danish government, then chairing the European Union.
Copenhagen agreed that the reports were unsubstantiated, but kept
repeating them. Both said that the EU had taken up the "rape atrocity"
issue at its December 1992 Edinburgh summit exclusively on the
basis of a German initiative. In turn, Fran Wild, in charge of
the Bosnian Desk in the German Foreign Ministry, told Ms Beloff
that the material on Serb rapes came partly from the Izetbegovic
government and partly from the Catholic charity Caritas in Croatia.
No effort had been made to seek corroboration from more impartial
Despite the absence of solid and comprehensive information, a
cottage industry has since developed around the theme. See: Norma von Ragenfeld-Feldman, "The Victimization of Women: Rape
and the Reporting of Rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1992-1993", Dialogue,
No 21, Paris, March 1997; and Diana Johnstone, "Selective Justice in The Hague", The Nation,
September 22, 1997, pp 16-21. [back]
13) See Peter Brock, op.cit. See also, Diana Johnstone, op.cit. A Witness to Genocide by Roy Gutman was published by Macmillan,
14) Martin Lettmayer, "Da wurde einfach geglaubt, ohne nachzufragen",
in Serbien muss sterbien: Wahrheit und Lüge im jugoslawischen
Bürgerkrieg, edited by Klaus Bittermann, Tiamat, Berlin, 1994. [back]
15) Interview with Georges Berghezan, 22 October 1997. [back]
16) Jean-Paul Picaper, Otto de Habsbourg: Mémoires d'Europe, Criterion, Paris, 1994,
pp 209-210. [back]
17) See: Barbara Delcourt & Olivier Corten, Ex-Yougoslavie: Droit
International, Politique et Idéologies, Editions Bruylant, Editions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 1997. The authors, specialists
in international law at the Free University of Brussels, point
out that there was no basis under international law for the secession
of the Yugoslav Republics. The principle of "self-determination"
was totally inapplicable in those cases. [back]
18) The matter is complex and far from transparent, but there
is some grounds to believe that both the Western hostility to
and Serbian voters' support for Slobodan Milosevic and his ruling
Serbian Socialist Party, is the fact that his government has been
slow to privatize "social property" using the same drastic methods
of "shock treatment" applied in other former socialist countries.
19) From his experience in Zagreb, British sociologist Paul Stubbs has written critically about "Humanitarian Organizations and
the Myth of Civil Society" (ArkZin, no 55, Zagreb, January 1996):
"Particularly problematic is the assertion that NGO's are `non-political'
or `neutral' and, hence, more progressive than governments which
have vested interests and a political `axe to grind'. [...] This
`myth of neutrality' might, in fact, hide the interests of a `globalized
new professional middle class' eager to assert its hegemony in
the aid and social welfare market place. [...] The creation of
a `globalised new professional middle class' who, regardless of
their country of origin, tend to speak a common language and share
common assumptions, seems to be a key product of the `aid industry'.
In fact, professional power is reproduced through claims to progressive
alliance with social movements and the civil society whereas,
in fact, the shift towards NGO's is part of a new residualism
in social welfare which, under the auspices of financial institutions
such a the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, challenges the idea that states can meet the welfare needs of
all. [...] A small number of Croatian psycho-socially oriented
NGOs have attained a level of funding, and a degree of influence,
which is far in excess of their level of service, number of beneficiaries,
quality of staff, and so on, and places them in marked contrast
to those providing services in the governmental sector. One Croatian
NGO, linked to a US partner organisation, has, for example, received
a grant from USAID for over 2 million US dollars to develop a training programme
in trauma work. The organisation, the bulk of whose work [...]
is undertaken by psychology and social work students, now has
prime office space in Zagreb, large numbers of computers and other
technical equipment, and is able to pay its staff more than double
that which they would obtain in the state sector. [back]
20) At the time, some 400 radio and television stations had been
operating in Yugoslavia with temporary licenses or none at all.
The vast majority are in Serbia, a country of less than ten million
inhabitants on a small territory of only 88,361 square kilometers.
21) Figures from "State Media Circulation Slips", on page 3 of
the June 8, 1998 issue of The Belgrade Times, an English-language
weekly. There is no doubt that press diversity in Serbia has profited
from the extremely acrimonious contest between government-backed
media (which are not as bad or as uniform as alleged) and opposition
media seeking foreign backing. Without this ongoing battle, the
government would almost certainly have managed to reduce press
pluralism considerably, but it is also fair to point out that
the champions of independent media need to keep exaggerating the
perils of their situation in order to attract ongoing financial
backing from the West, notably from the European Union and the
Soros Foundation. Private foreign capital is also present: the relatively mass
circulation tabloid Blic is German-owned. [back]
22) Serbia is constitutionally defined as the nation of all its citizens,
and not "of the Serbs" (in contrast to constitutional provisions
of Croatia and Macedonia, for instance). In addition, the 1992
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) as well as the Serbian Constitution guarantee
extensive rights to national minorities, notably the right to
education in their own mother tongue, the right to information
media in their own language and the right to use their own language
in proceedings before a tribunal or other authority. These rights
are not merely formal, but are effectively respected, as is shown
by, for instance, the satisfaction of the 400,000-strong Hungarian
minority and the large number of newspapers published by national
minorities in Albanian, Hungarian and other languages. Romani
(Gypsies) are by all accounts better treated in Yugoslavia than
elsewhere in the Balkans. Serbia has a large Muslim population
of varied nationalities, including refugees from Bosnia and a
native Serb population of converts to Islam in Southeastern Kosovo,
known as Goranci, whose religious rights are fully respected,
and who have no desire to leave Serbia. [back]
23) After obtaining support from Berlin and the Vatican for war
against Serbia, Vienna on July 23, 1914, delivered a 48-hour ultimatum
to Belgrade containing a list of ten demands, of which the Serbian
government accepted all but one: participation of Austrian officials
in suppressing anti-Austrian movements on Serbian territory. This
refusal was the official reason for Austria's declaration of war
on July 28, 1914, which began World War I. See Ralph Hartmann, Die ehrlichen Makler, Dietz, Berlin, 1998, pp.31-33. Hartmann, who was East German ambassador to Yugoslavia
from 1982 to 1988, sees German policy toward Yugoslavia as a relentless
revenge against the Serbs for the events of 1914 which led to
the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. [back]
24) The March 24, 1998 report of the International Crisis Group entitled "Kosovo Spring" notes that: "In many spheres of life, including politics, education
and health-care, the boycott by Kosovars of the Yugoslav state
is almost total." In particular, "Kosovars refuse to participate
in Serbian or Yugoslav political life. The leading Yugoslav political
parties all have offices in Kosovo and claim some Kosovar members,
but essentially they are `Serb-only' institutions. In 1997 several
Kosovars accused of collaborating with the enemy [i.e., the Serbian
State] were attacked, including Chamijl Gasi, head of the Socialist
Party of Serbia in Glagovac, and a deputy in the Yugoslav Assembly's
House of Citizens, who was shot and wounded in November. The lack
of interest of Serb political parties in wooing Kosovars is understandable.
Kosovars have systematically boycotted the Yugoslav and Serbian
elections since 1981, considering them events in a foreign country."
The ICG, while scarcely pro-Serb in its conclusions, nevertheless
provides information neglected by mainstream media. This is perhaps
because the ICG addresses its findings to high-level decision-makers
who need to be in possession of a certain number of facts, rather
than to the general public.
Gasi was not the only target of Albanian attacks on fellow Albanians
in the Glogovac municipal district, situated in the Drenica region
which the "Kosovo Liberation Army" (UCK) tried to control in early 1998. Others included forester
Mujo Sejdi, 52, killed by machinegun fire near his home on January
12, 1998; postman Mustafa Kurtaj, 26, killed on his way to work
by a group firing automatic rifles; factory guard Rusdi Ladrovci,
ambushed and killed with automatic weapons apparently after refusing
to turn over his official arm to the UCK; among others. On April
10, 1998, men wearing camouflage uniforms and insignia of the
Army of Albania fired automatic weapons at a passenger car carrying
four ethnic Albanian officials of the Socialist Party of Serbia
including Gugna Adem, President of the Suva Reka Municipal Board,
who was gravely injured; and Ibro Vait, member of the National
Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and President of the SPS district
board in the city of Prizren. Numerous such attacks have been
reported by the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug, but Western media have shown scant interest in the fate of ethnic
Albanians willing to live with Serbs in a multi-ethnic Serbia.
25) In March 1990, during a regular official vaccination program,
rumors were spread that Serb health workers had poisoned over
7,000 Albanian children by injecting them with nerve gas. There
was never any proof of this, no child was ever shown to suffer
from anything more serious than mass hysteria. This was the signal
for a boycott of the Serbian public health system. Ethnic Albanian
doctors and other health workers left the official institutions
to set up a parallel system, so vastly inferior that preventable
childhood diseases reached epidemic proportions. In September
1996, WHO and Unicef undertook to assist the main Kosovar parallel health system,
named "Mother Theresa" after the world's most famous ethnic Albanian,
a native of Macedonia, in vaccinating 300,000 children against
polio. The worldwide publicity campaign around this large-scale
immunization program failed to point out that the same service
had long been available to those children from the official health
service of Serbia, systematically boycotted by Albanian parents.
Currently, the parallel Kosovar system employs 239 general practitioners
and 140 specialists, compared to around 2,000 physicians employed
by the Serbian public health system there. Serbs point out that
many ethnic Albanians are sensible enough to turn to the government
health system when they are seriously ill. According to official
figures, 64% of the official Serbian system's health workers and
80% of its patients in Kosovo are ethnic Albanian.
It is characteristic of the current age of privatization that
the "international community" is ready to ignore a functioning
government service and even contribute to a politically-inspired
effort to bypass and ultimately destroy it. But then, Kosovo Albanian
separatists, aware of the taste of the times, like to speak of
Kosovo itself as a "non-governmental organization".
These facts are contained in the "Kosovo Spring" report of the International Crisis Group. [back]
26) The ICG "Kosovo Spring" report noted that the two main Kosovar human rights groups, Keshelli
and the Helsinki Committee, closely linked to nationalist separatist
leaders, "provide statistical data on `total' human rights violations,
but their accounting system is misleading. For instance, of the
2,263 overall cases of `human rights violations' in the period
from July to September 1997, they cite three murders, three `discriminations
based on language...' and 149 `routine checkings'. By collating
minor and major offences under the same heading, the statistics
fail to give a fair representation of the situation. Kosovars
further lose credibility by exaggerating repression when speaking
to foreign visitors." [back]
© Diana Johnstone
many thanks to Diana Johnstone and Covert Action Quarterly
contact Covert Action Quarterly: email@example.com
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