Jaksic: NATO Strikes from a Balkan Perspective

Date: Mon, 19 Jul 1999

AirstrikeDr. Bozidar Jaksic
E-mail Jaksicatinstifdt.bg.ac.yu


Twentieth century in Europe is ending where it started - in the Balkans. It is also ending in the same way as it started - with Balkan wars that grow into international conflicts. This spring internal Balkan contradictions, conflicts and animosities have led to the action denoted by the unusual name of "mercy angel" or "NATO air strikes". These are just euphemisms for a brutal aggression from the air against the country whose citizen I am (Yugoslavia). The proclaimed objectives of the action, as presented to the public, were the "prevention of humanitarian catastrophe", i.e. the protection of the Albanian ethnic community in Kosovo, and struggle against the political regime of Slobodan Milosevic. The actual effects are disastrous: a new, much more serious humanitarian catastrophe of Kosovo Albanians, with over three-quarters of a million refugees and displaced persons; exodus of the Kosovo Serbs into Serbia and Montenegro (about 25 percent of their total number by 20 June); civilian casualties throughout Serbia and Montenegro; destroyed industrial plants, traffic and other infrastructure, schools and hospitals, electricity transmission equipment, bridges connecting people in both physical and symbolic senses. As for the environmental catastrophe, its proportions are such that I prefer not to talk about it at all, in order not to disturb the peaceful sleep of respectable citizens of West European countries.

In bringing this disaster about NATO policy, led by the USA, and the policy of Slobodan Milosevic were complementary rather than opposed. Namely, I consider the dilemma "either NATO or Slobodan Milosevic" to be a false one, a mere propaganda trick of the two sides. If I oppose NATO aggression against my country that does not mean I support Milosevic's policy. If I am an opponent of Slobodan Milosevic's policy that does not mean I support NATO military actions against my country. How could I, after all, when for two and a half months, together with ten million Yugoslav citizens, members of all ethnic communities, I was playing "Russian roulette" and could have any time become part of the "collateral damage" that the next day NATO spokesman Jamie Shea would mention with a smile, and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair would contemptuously ignore. I will not deny, therefore, that I am speaking on my own behalf, pro domo sua, and hopefully to the benefit of ordinary people, citizens of Yugoslavia. I reject both policies. Indeed, I hold both policies responsible for the unending chain of suffering to which human beings in the Balkans have been exposed in the recent past, in the present, and in the future.

I will try to substantiate the thesis about the complementarity between the policy of NATO (USA) and the policy of Slobodan Milosevic, because I think this is important for any attempt at articulating an alternative to the policy formulated at meetings such as those at Davos or those of G 8 countries.

Without the slightest doubt, Slobodan Milosevic's regime is repressive, not only against minority ethnic groups such as Albanians, but against Serbs and Montenegrins as well. Repression and selective terror, an all-encompassing system of war propaganda, daily bombardment of the population with propaganda, rousing hatred against others, particularly neighbors, a disastrous economic policy, general pauperization of the population - here are just some of the features and results of this policy. The attitude toward the University and the independent media as evidenced by the repressive laws adopted in 1998 are just the tip of the iceberg of a comprehensive system of repression. One does not have to belong to the Albanian ethnic community (and non-Serbs make up one-third of the general population) in order to experience the repressive spirit of the regime. Ill-devised and even worse enforced laws are a fertile soil for legal anarchy. Countless decrees with the force of law issued by the Government make citizens totally helpless before the power and arbitrariness of the authorities. The feelings of powerlessness and despair, coupled with feelings of hatred and rage, are the basic characteristics of frustrated citizens. If one adds poverty, unemployment and fear of an uncertain future, it becomes easier to understand how the citizens of Yugoslavia easily fall prey to the populist policies of either ruling or opposition parties.

Last year the repression against the Albanian population rose to the level of state terror whose first victims were members of the Albanian ethnic community in Kosovo. Their response to state terror often consisted of individual and group terror which also furthered human suffering. The response of the state organs to this terror was brutal. Particularly violent was the raid on the Albanian villages in the Drenica area in February 1998, when more than 80 men, women and children were killed. This typical punitive expedition was presented to the Yugoslav public as an "action against terrorists". Albanians for their part also responded with terrorist actions, most frequently murders and kidnappings. The spiral of hatred and violence in Kosovo kept spreading and accelerating. By the beginning of NATO aggression on 24 March this year about 2,000 people had been killed, while about 50,000 had fled as refugees to other countries or as displaced persons to Montenegro. According to the findings of the research I conducted in the beginning of 1999 in Montenegro there found shelter Albanians fleeing from state terror, and to a lesser extent members of other ethnic groups, fleeing from the terror of those who were fighting for an "independent Albanian Kosovo".

Slobodan Milosevic's Kosovo policy should have been curbed and neutralized. Are bombs and cruising missiles destroying the bridges of Novi Sad, about 500 km away from Kosovo, the best means to this purpose? Hasn't the bombing encouraged Slobodan Milosevic' policy to intensify violence in Kosovo? Has NATO aggression not added the suffering of all Yugoslav citizens to the suffering of the Albanian people? Isn't the destruction brought about by two and a half months of bombing in Kosovo so great that nobody will ever again wish to be "protected" by NATO? Possibly, NATO wanted to stop with military means a policy characterized by "ethnic cleansing" and crime; but it enabled, and itself committed, crimes on a far wider scale. Along with all the collateral damage for citizens of Serbia, it also caused collateral gains for Slobodan Milosevic's policy. It made possible a partial realization of the dream of every Serbian chauvinist of a Kosovo with no Albanians. To flee from areas affected by bombing and other military operations is an expression of a natural human instinct for survival. (Serbs were also fleeing Kosovo to Serbia, but those facts are little known.) Besides, the bombing served as a pretext for crimes that forced over three-quarters of a million Albanians into exile. This "job" Slobodan Milosevic's policy could do at the pace of, let's say, 50,000 people a year; but NATO bombing helped to achieve in eleven weeks the results for which Milosevic would have needed 15 years! NATO, then, by its action attained what it wanted to prevent. It caused a humanitarian catastrophe on a far wider scale and enabled Slobodan Milosevic's policy, "on the ground" and in the noise of NATO jets and bombs and cruising missiles, to eliminate whomever and however it deemed suitable. It turned Yugoslavia into a "free hunting district" for his policy! It directly prevented what it wanted to attain: the protection of Albanians in Kosovo and the dismantling of Slobodan Milosevic's political regime. If anyone in the Balkans targeted by NATO air strikes has managed to remain a normal human being, he/she must be astounded by this short-sightedness of NATO (USA) policy. Other detrimental consequences - such as the growth of anti-Western and anti-democratic mood among Serbian citizens, the exodus of Serbs after the arrival of NATO troops in Kosovo, disturbances in the international legal system, erosion of the prestige of the UN, tensions along the lines Moscow-Washington or Peking-Washington - are too well known to be specifically mentioned here.

If NATO by its aggression against Yugoslavia supported what it wanted to pull down - Slobodan Milosevic's regime - and destroyed what the developed countries should have supported (the basis for a dignified human life for all citizens of Yugoslavia), most reactions of Slobodan Milosevic's political regime were conducive to NATO's ends. Violence against Yugoslavia was responded to by the regime with more violence and crimes against Albanians in Kosovo. Along the way, martial law was proclaimed which made possible the issuing of a series of decrees annulling the already fragile civil rights and liberties; there was also exemplary terror (the assassination of a journalist), and all citizens were delivered to the mercy of whimsical state institutions. The regime took advantage of NATO aggression as an opportunity to silence the opposition, proclaiming any dissent to be treason and canceling the possibility of publicly expressing any opinion dissonant from the official state propaganda. Nowadays, all Yugoslav television stations, including sports channels, broadcast news programs of the state TV. The dream of one and only propaganda message has come true! There is symbolism in the fact that on 24 March 1999, the same day when "NATO air strikes" began, the government in Serbia closed down the independent and widely popular Radio B92. Instead of this radio station, citizens of Yugoslavia began listening to the sound of the American B-2 and B-52 planes.

After the beginning of NATO aggression the policy of Slobodan Milosevic did most for the policy of NATO and USA by enhancing repression and crimes against Albanians in Kosovo. Huge waves of Albanian refugees fleeing from both repression and the bombs of those who were allegedly "protecting" them overflowed Macedonian and Albanian borders with Yugoslavia. It is as if NATO sought to make true at least a part of the political dreams of Mr Zoran Lilic, former president of FR Yugoslavia and the actual deputy prime minister of the federal Government, who once "kindly" offered the Kosovo Albanians to go to Albania across the mountain with a symbolic name - Prokletije (the Damned Mountain). As if NATO met the wishes of Dr Vojislav Seselj, Serbian deputy prime minister, who announced that in the case of NATO bombing there would be no more Albanians in Kosovo. By the crimes committed against Albanians "in the name of the defense of the Serbian cradle", Slobodan Milosevic's policy turned public opinion of the world against Serbs and provided the basis for after-the-fact political and moral justifications of the destruction of a country and ruining the material foundation of life of its inhabitants. And the acceptance of "Russian help" to "bring the process back to the UN", which was actually nothing but a Russian endeavor to reappear on the world scene in the role of a significant (powerful) actor, enabled NATO to supply retroactively its aggression against Yugoslavia with a legal basis as well.

Thus the policies of Slobodan Milosevic and NATO (USA) mutually complemented and helped each other. NATO propaganda used to the utmost the tragedy of endless lines of refugees from Kosovo to Albania and Macedonia, while Milosevic's propaganda handled the images of the destruction of Serbia in the same way. Nobody seemed to understand that these series of TV images at one side and the other were just aspects of one and the same human tragedy. Of course, what is especially tragic for Yugoslav citizens was that in none of the Yugoslav media could they learn anything on the enormous tragedy of their Albanian co-citizens. Slobodan Milosevic's policy needed NATO bombing for keeping Yugoslav citizens from realizing that due to a wrong policy (of apartheid, promoted by Serbian and Albanian sides alike) enforced for several decades, Kosovo had already been lost for Serbia before the first NATO bomb fell. Similarly, at this moment, in a ruined country, he can rule without disturbance and glorify the victory over the "NATO armada". The question is only - for how long! On the other hand, NATO needed Slobodan Milosevic's policy in order to reclaim the meaning of its existence lost after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Hence Milosevic's policy turns out to be an expression of NATO's internal needs. Slobodan Milosevic has been implementing his policy of force and violence for more than ten years. If such people did not exist, NATO would have to invent them. And yet, there are very few presidents of West European governments, foreign ministers, career diplomats, or generals, who have never had the "honor" to sit on Slobodan Milosevic's sofa, like at a sort of psychoanalytic therapy session. It took more than ten years for Western governments to realize what the citizens of Yugoslavia knew all along: that Slobodan Milosevic' policy is not part of the solution, but rather the core of political problems in the Balkans. In the meantime, representatives of Western governments and international institutions cynically did their business with Milosevic enhancing his political power and prestige, at least at home, where these contacts have served him well to consolidate his position. And with 100,000 policemen, you hardly need any other basis of legitimacy to rule an impoverished country. Western ruling circles supported him even against the will of the Serbian citizens. Suffice it to recall the great three-month civic protest in Serbia in winter 1996/96! Milosevic was, and I am afraid will remain, the "natural" partner of the policy of USA and other Western governments and institutions; of a policy that is often a combination of cynical pragmatism and incompetent neo-colonialist arrogance. And the citizens of Yugoslavia must stay content with the slight comfort that Milosevic's policy, having risen on the wings of the Kosovo crisis, has exhausted all its potentials and will disappear with the establishment of the international protectorate in Kosovo. To put it simply - Kosovo was the birthplace of Milosevic's power, it might also be its grave.

Some parts of the Balkans are doubtless the deepest pockets of European poverty: Bosnia, Albania, Serbia with Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia... Today's Yugoslavia is not only poor, but also a devastated country. The society has been torn by internal conflicts and external pressures. Who now remembers the economic embargo, introduced in 1993 and then alternately relieved and strained from time to time! Yugoslav industrial production is hopelessly outdated, and this spring it has also been physically destroyed by NATO attacks. Traffic and other infrastructure as well. In the 1990s, the economy has been ruined to such an extent that the level of production has fallen by 50 percent, while many factories had not been using more than 25 percent of their production capacities even before the bombing. The citizens of the country have become so impoverished that a middle class can no longer be said to exist. An extremely narrow stratum of the nomenklatura and war profiteers, comprising about 3-5 percent of the population, holds both capital and power in their hands, while over 90 percent of the population live on the verge of minimum of vital needs or below. The system of citizen savings has been completely ruined, so that it currently amounts to 2 DEM per capita annually. External debt of the country amounts to about 12 billion dollars, and interest increases this debt at the rate of 800 million dollars per year.

At this moment the citizens of Yugoslavia are discouraged and helpless: NATO planes in the sky, Milosevic on the ground! They are being pushed into isolation by both the so-called international factors, and Slobodan Milosevic's policy, their life being reduced to a beastly struggle for survival. The world cannot isolate itself from what is going on in the Balkans, it cannot escape into "splendid isolation". Neither can the Balkans isolate itself from the world. Or more precisely - it can, but only briefly and at the expense of its own citizens.

I am convinced that the citizens of Yugoslavia deserve a better fate. Only a policy that will turn hatred into love, hostility into trust, and poverty into affluence, that will replace fields of pain by joys of life, has the right to call itself alternative and humane. Such a policy of economic prosperity, human rights and non-violence, the policy of trust in the human striving for freedom, can put an end to the latest Balkan tragedy and prevent its spreading. I am finishing here, in a belief that a hand of welcome and assistance offered to the citizens of Yugoslavia to help them take the road of economic, cultural and political prosperity, will be a test for any policy which wants to present itself as an alternative to Davos.

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