National Post ( Canada )
March 22, 2004 Monday National Edition
SECTION: Comment; George Jonas; Pg. A10
HEADLINE: Cleansing Serbs, courtesy of NATO
SOURCE: National Post
BYLINE: George Jonas
The Western powers that went into Kosovo to prevent ethnic cleansing have ended up presiding over it. Last week, nearly 1,000 Serbs fled their homes after Albanian Muslims attacked Serb Christians in their churches and villages. They were the latest of about 200,000 Serbs driven from the province since NATO bombed Serbia into submission in 1999. Last Friday, news agencies quoted Admiral Gregory Johnson, U.S. Commander of NATO forces for Southern Europe , as saying that “this kind of activity almost amounts to ethnic cleansing.”
Admiral Johnson added a wistful comment: “That’s why we came here in the first place.” The remark indicates that after 200,000 refugees, the coin may be dropping even for NATO’s brass.
To stop the expulsion of Kosovar Albanians by Serbs, NATO engaged in a war that ended up facilitating the expulsion of Serbs by Albanians. Had this been an unforeseeable result, it might be excused — but it was entirely predictable. Had it been the West’s aim to wrest Kosovo from Serbia, NATO’s entry into the conflict on the side of ethnic Albanians would have made sense — but the West had no such aim. In terms of our own policies and interests, including humanitarian considerations, NATO action in Kosovo can only be described as a mystery.
Why did the West go to war in Kosovo? Probably for three reasons. One, to make the world safe for multiculturalism; two, to appease the Muslim world; and three, to avert another humanitarian tragedy in Europe. Though hardly evil motives, in the circumstances all three amounted to a profound misreading of the time and place to which they were being applied.
The West’s leaders during the period — from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to Gerhard Schroeder and Javier Solana — emerged from a 60s generation of peaceniks and flower children. Previously, this group opposed NATO and most things it stood for. But once they’d captured the alliance from within, they used it to counter the perceived threat of Serbia’s emergence as an ethnocentric nation state, and to impose their pet multicultural model on the Balkans.
Bent on using NATO as a kind of formaldehyde for the preservation of the status quo, Western leaders failed to notice three things. The first was that Albanians had even less interest in multiculturalism than Serbs; the second, that the Muslim world wasn’t being appeased; and the third, that for every Albanian saved from being ethnically cleansed in the region, a Serb was being condemned to it.
As justification for NATO’s intervention, Mr. Clinton often invoked comparisons with the Holocaust. In a May, 1999, speech, for instance, the U.S. president declared the allies were bombing Yugoslavia to put an end to regimes that persecute people on the basis of “how they worship or who their parents were.” It was a good sound bite — except Yugoslavia ‘s ethnic Albanians weren’t being expelled because of their ancestry or their choice of worship. If the thuggish regime of Slobodan Milosevic was trying to drive them out of Kosovo, it was because they’d been fighting the Serbs for the mastery of the region.
Comparisons with the Holocaust were bogus. Unlike the Albanians of Kosovo, the Jews of Europe didn’t dispute a square inch of land with any nation within whose borders they lived. As a group, Jews didn’t seek autonomy, let alone independence. As individuals, many didn’t even want to preserve their personal identities as Jews; they preferred to assimilate. Jews were no threat to any nation’s territorial or cultural integrity. In contrast, most ethnic Albanians wanted Kosovo to be Albanian as much as most Serbs wanted it to be Serbian. In protracted disputes of territorial ownership, atrocities and expulsions, unjustified and tragic as they may be, are hardly unnatural or unexpected.
In any event, one thing was clear. Should the expulsion of Albanians warrant comparisons with the Holocaust, so would the expulsion of the Serbs. In August, 1999, after the National Post carried a picture of two Serb widows, Jelica Milanoc and Jelica Cimborovic, both in their 80s, sitting grimly on their balconies in the town of Podujevo with a British trooper guarding them, I wrote that “expelling old ladies hasn’t stopped in Kosovo. It now continues under NATO’s colours , including Canada’s.”
NATO’s war in Kosovo didn’t stop ethnic cleansing; it only elevated it from Mr. Milosevic’s project to a project sponsored by the West. Even earlier, by holding an umbrella over the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the Western democracies opened another door to Osama bin Laden in Europe . According to Yossef Bodansky, director of the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, by 1998 the KLA was being bolstered by Islamist warriors arriving from Iran, Algeria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Chechnya. “The financial and logistical system that sustains them in Albania and into Kosovo is run by bin Laden,” Bodansky wrote in the same year.
NATO started bombing Serbia a year later; in another year and a half, twin columns of black smoke spiralled into the sky over Manhattan. So much for the flower children’s war appeasing the Muslim world.