By Niklas Pivic
Reading Noam Chomsky’s analyses of political power is always recommendable. Regardless of what one may think of him, his oft-piercing words penetrate the cobwebs that demagogues and kleptocracies throw out in order to maintain their own status quo.
When I was in high school, the war in Yugoslavia broke out.
My dad’s from Yugoslavia and our family sported a Yugoslavian surname, which lead to a bunch of kids coming up to me, asking which part of Yugoslavia I came from. Who do you side with? Even though I knew very little of the past conflicts that had affected Yugoslavia not only recently at the time, but since the start of the 20th century, it was clear to me that this was a war that was reported in disingenuous ways via mainstream media. I read some things, and then heard from my cousins via ICQ and the likes; while the media gaslighted people into thinking that Serbs were basically atrocious murderers, my cousin told me of NATO missiles that precision-bombed apartments belonging to resistance leaders.
I wish I’d had this book as the war went on.
This is not a hagiography, or any kind of finger-pointer, but rather a two-pronged book:
The first part is not written by Chomsky, but mainly by Davor Džalto (Editor) and Andrej Grubacic (Preface), who have constructed a clear-cut view of Yugoslavia from before, during, and after World War II; it helps a lot to understand the complex dealings within Yugoslavia, not to mention how they differed from their (at-times) allies, e.g. the Soviet Union.
The second part consists of a few articles written by and interviews with Noam Chomsky, most of which have appeard in the illustrious Z Magazine. Chomsky lays into NATO as he should, and he basically uses NATO statements to show how they went against the UN in every way, went against NATO member states (e.g. Greece and Italy) in attacking parts of Yugoslavia, and also what most probably lays behind the decisions of NATO; Chomsky radiates at his very best when he investigates the moral claims by the likes of Bill Clinton and NATO commanders, where they used “we couldn’t very well just have stood by and watched this happen” to explain something as horrific as their 78-day-long bombing of Yugoslavia, while doing nothing in countries where NATO could have stopped sheer atrocities.
It would be hard to criticise the makers of this book for anything, really; I found this book both enlightening and uplifting, as one has to understand our history in order to do better. Still, this will probably have no impact whatsoever on US foreign policy which has only escalated and progressed since.
To those who have followed mainstream media for news on the war in Yugoslavia this book will most likely be eye-opening; to me it was, especially where finding out how both the American and British government escalated the killings and why, and also of how mainstream media chose to not be more than stenographers to government.
Examples from the book:
This is by no means the only impressive feat of doctrinal management. Another is the debate over NATO’s alleged “double standards,” revealed by its “looking away” from other humanitarian crises, or “doing too little” to prevent them. Participants in the debate must agree that NATO was guided by humanitarian principles in Kosovo—precisely the question at issue. That aside, the Clinton administration did not “look away” or “do too little” in the face of atrocities in East Timor, or Colombia, or many other places. Rather, along with its allies, it chose to escalate the atrocities, often vigorously and decisively. Perhaps the case of Turkey—within NATO and under European jurisdiction—is the most relevant in the present connection.
Its ethnic cleansing operations and other crimes, enormous in scale, were carried out with a huge flow of military aid from the Clinton administration, increasing as atrocities mounted. They have also virtually disappeared from history. There was no mention of them at the fiftieth anniversary meeting of NATO in April 1999, held under the shadow of ethnic cleansing—a crime that cannot be tolerated near the borders of NATO, participants and commentators declaimed; only within its borders, where the crimes are to be expedited. With rare exceptions, the press has kept to occasional apologetics, though the participation of Turkish forces in the Kosovo campaign was highly praised. More recent debate over the problems of “humanitarian intervention” evades the crucial U.S. role in the Turkish atrocities or ignores the topic altogether.
NATO chose to reject
diplomatic options that were not exhausted and to launch a military
campaign that had terrible consequences for Kosovar Albanians, as
anticipated. Other consequences are of little concern in the West,
including the devastation of the civilian economy of Serbia by military
operations that severely violate the laws of war. Though the matter was
brought to the War Crimes Tribunal long ago, it is hard to imagine that
it will be seriously addressed. For similar reasons, there is little
likelihood that the Tribunal will pay attention to its 150-page
“Indictment Operation Storm: A Prima Facie Case,” reviewing the war
crimes committed by Croatian forces that drove some two hundred thousand
Serbs from Krajina in August 1995, with crucial U.S. involvement that
elicited “almost total lack of interest in the US press and in the US
Congress,” New York Times Balkans correspondent David Binder observes.
The suffering of Kosovars did not end with the arrival of the NATO (KFOR) occupying army and the UN mission. Though billions of dollars were readily available for bombing, as of October the U.S. “has yet to pay any of the $37.9 million assessed for the start-up costs of the United Nations civilian operation in Kosovo.” By November, “the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has yet to distribute any heavy-duty kits and is only now bringing lumber” for the winter shelter program in Kosovo; the UNHCR and EU humanitarian agency ECHO have also “been dogged with criticism for delays and lack of foresight.” The current shortfall for the UN mission is “the price of half a day’s bombing,” an embittered senior UN official said, and without it “this place will fail,” to the great pleasure of Miloševi?. A November donors’ conference of Western governments pledged only $88 million to cover the budget of the UN mission in Kosovo but pledged $1 billion in aid for reconstruction for the next year—public funds that will be transferred to the pockets of private contractors, if there is some resolution of the controversies within NATO about how the contracts are to be distributed. In mid-December the UN mission again pleaded for funds for teachers, police officers, and other civil servants, to little effect.
KFOR officers report that their orders are to disregard crimes: “Of course it’s mad,” a French commander said, “but those are the orders, from NATO, from above.” NATO forces also “seem completely indifferent” to attacks by “armed ethnic Albanian raiders” across the Serb-Kosovo border “to terrorize border settlements, steal wood or livestock, and, in some cases, to kill,” leaving towns abandoned. Current indications are that Kosovo under NATO occupation has reverted to what was developing in the early 1980s, after the death of Tito, when nationalist forces undertook to create an “ethnically clean Albanian republic,” taking over Serb lands, attacking churches, and engaging in “protracted violence” to attain the goal of an “ethnically pure” Albanian region, with “almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs … out of the province.” This “seemingly intractable” problem, another phase in an ugly history of intercommunal violence, led to Miloševi?’s characteristically brutal response, withdrawing Kosovo’s autonomy and the heavy federal subsidies on which it depended and imposing an “Apartheid” regime. Kosovo may also come to resemble Bosnia, “a den of thieves and tax cheats” with no functioning economy, dominated by “a wealthy criminal class that wields enormous political influence and annually diverts hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue to itself.” Much worse may be in store as independence for Kosovo becomes entangled in pressures for a “greater Albania,” with dim portents.
There are other winners. At the war’s end, the business press described “the real winners” as Western military industry, meaning high-tech industry generally. Moscow is looking forward to a “banner year for Russian weapons exports” as “the world is rearming apprehensively largely thanks to NATO’s Balkans adventure,” seeking a deterrent, as widely predicted during the war. More important, the U.S. was able to enforce its domination over the strategic Balkans region, displacing EU initiatives at least temporarily, a primary reason for the insistence that the operation be in the hands of NATO, a U.S. subsidiary. A destitute Serbia remains the last holdout, probably not for long.
Something else interesting happened after that. Yugoslavia brought the case to the World Court. The court accepted it and deliberated for a couple of years, but what is interesting is that the U.S. excused itself from the case, and the court accepted the excuse. Why? Because Yugoslavia had mentioned the Genocide Convention, and the U.S. did sign the Genocide Convention (after forty years). It ratified it, but with a reservation, saying it was “inapplicable to the United States.” In other words, the U.S. is entitled to commit genocide. That was the case that the U.S. Justice Department of President Clinton brought to the World Court, and the court had to agree. If a country does not accept World Court jurisdiction, it has to be excluded, so the U.S. was excluded from the trial on the grounds that it grants itself the right to commit genocide. Do you think this was reported here? Does any of this get reported?
All in all, a very needed book.
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