NATO’s war and the ethnic cleansing – Is there a way out?

By Johan Galtung

TFF PressInfo 70 – June 10, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.

 

“Where do I stand: very simply, I am against the NATO bombing, I am against ethnic cleansing, whether by Serbs or anybody else – for instance by the immigrants to North America who in the period 1600-1900 cleansed away about 10,000,000 American Indians. I find nothing original in my position. The only original position would be to be in favor of both, a view probably only entertained by arms dealers.

There are those who try to make us believe that you have to make a choice between NATO and Milosevic; if you are against one for sure you are in favor of the other. Nonsense. Early on in this horrible decade many of the same people tried to make us believe that you had to make a choice between the Gulf war and Saddam Hussein; again, perfectly possible to be against both.

Then, the second example of this terrible dualism, the terror of the false dichotomy as we academics say: there was no alternative, if you do not accept the NATO bombing it means that you are co-responsible for ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Nonsense.

There was an alternative and even a very good one: step of the number of observers in the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) from 1,200 to, say, 6,000, 12,000. Handies and binoculars, living in the villages, bringing in volunteers. But at the same time there was a civil war going on from February 1998, and one US ambassador had done what the US did in connection with the Gulf war: He (Gelbard) told Belgrade that the USA was of the view that KLA were terrorists – certainly also the Belgrade position.

The alternative would have been to close the border by extending the UN mandate on the Macedonian-Kosovo border, step up OSCE, and then call a major conference on South East Europe.

Nothing like this happened; as we know the war was decided early last fall; only a question of preparing the public through the media, and presenting Milosevic with an ultimatum he could not accept. The Rambouillet charade was about this. People started getting suspicious when they discovered that the media did not bring the text; it had to be dug out from obscure sites on the Internet.

I asked some journalists to make an inquiry in one of these 19 democracies, my own, Norway: no parliamentarian had read the text. Democracy is about informed participation.

The Serbs knew: loss of sovereignty and territorial integrity, unlimited NATO access to Serbia. No state signs itself into occupation and dismemberment. The Kosovars also knew: this was not the independence they wanted; it looked more like a protectorate under NATO. So they voted no. In some way or another they were made to change their vote well knowing that the combination No-Yes would release the bombing of the Serbs. It did, on 24 March, also releasing more hatred than ever of the Kosovars, among Serbs. Fresh in their memory was how the Croats have driven them out; with the help of USA and Germany.

Anyone could have told in advance; that the Kosovars would escape everybody knew. To claim the opposite is only possible if you live an isolated existence in some boys’ club in a war room, capable of whipping the media into obedience so that dissenting voices are not hear. There is a difference between now and last time in the Gulf, however: on the Internet anybody can read some of the most brilliant people of our time as a counterweight to lobotomized media who bring important information, like what Rambouillet was about, two month later. Too late for democracy, good enough for democratic totalitarianism (Zinoviev.)

Did NATO bombing bring about the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovars in addition to producing close to one million refugees, or would the Serbs have engaged in ethnic cleansing anyhow? Again, the alternative to NATO bombing was never to do nothing, as pointed out above. There are fascist forces among the Serbs, the chetniki, Arkan’s tigers, Seselj’s Eagles – it is almost unbelievable that the media and the tribunal have not focussed more on them. Why not – because Milosevic is the symbol of the Serbian nation and the Republic of Yugoslavia, he is the one they want to hit, not the key architects of the cleansing. But leaving that aside: this is one more case of a false dichotomy.

Of course the NATO bombing was stimulated, among other factors, by Serbian ethnic cleansing in Croatia and Bosnia – regardless of complex causes and others who did the same these were facts and the West (calling itself “the international community”) was frustrated, aggressive and said “never again”.

And of course the NATO bombing led to ethnic cleansing as pointed out above: just imagine the post-Rambouillet hatred and the comparison with August 1995. Three times have the Serbs been maneuvered into a minority positions exposed to their old enemies without the federal protection that was basic to Tito’s Yugoslavia: in Croatia, in Bosnia, in Kosovo. Three times have they overreacted, inexcusably, but not unexplainably.

Ethnic cleansing brought about the NATO bombing, the NATO bombing brought about more ethnic cleansing in a vicious circle of mutual causation. Murder, killing, destruction, hatred, trauma; NATO torturing the Serbs, the Serbs torturing the Kosovars, soon the time will come to the Kosovars.

 

How do we get out of this? Here is one set of ideas:

Peace, if wanted, could be near; guided by former UN General Secretary Perez de Cuellar’s advice to Genscher December 1991: be sure that any recognition is acceptable to minorities, that parts of Yugoslavia are dealt with symmetrically, and that there is a policy for Yugoslavia as a whole. But first a basic assumption that holds the key to a peace beyond ceasefire:

[0] Equal recognition of the suffering and rights of all: They are all victims, most of them more innocent than others, of a situation most nations would have found impossible. They need compassion, help; not guns and bombs. Divide them into “worthy” and “unworthy” victims, and peace becomes unattainable. They have all the same right to recognition and self-determination.

[1] Build on the symmetry Croatia-Bosnia/1995 and Serbia/1999: The 650,000 Serbian refugees in Serbia were in part driven out by the Croats/USA from Krajina/Slavonia August 1995. Serbian ultra-reactions included total condemnation of the international community, and “we can do the same”. The Western media found little or no space for their suffering. Hence, both must be recognized as basic problems, they must all be guaranteed their safe return. And then upgrade the status of Krajina/Slavonia in Croatia, and Kosovo/a in Serbia, possibly to republic status.

[2] A possible quadrilateral deal: A (Croats) gives return and status to B (Serbs), B gives return/status to C (Kosovars), C gives access to mineral resources/harbors to D (Slavic Muslims) and D inclusion of the Croat part of Bosnia/Herzegovina to A.

[3] A Yugoslav confederation: If some autonomy is given to all minorities in Yugoslavia we end up with close to 15 parts. “Jedinstvo”, a unitary or federal state, is out. But “bratstvo” as confederation of human rights respecting countries, is not.

 

So much for a peace outcome. For that to happen there has to be a peace process. Here are elements of a peace process:

[4] The killing on all sides stops, NATO/Serbia/KLA forces are withdrawn, NATO from the Balkans; Serbian and Kosovar forces from Kosova, UN forces with OSCE observers, with a composition acceptable to all parties, and in big numbers, take over.

[5] The UN Secretary General appoints a board of mediators known for wisdom and autonomy, like Jimmy Carter, Perez de Cuellar, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Mary Robinson, Richard von Weizsaecker for one-on-one dialogues with all parties to identify acceptable and sustainable outcome.

[6] The UN Secretary General convenes a Conference for the Security and Cooperation in South East Europe (CSCSEE), with all parts of Yugoslavia, and all SE European countries as members, with points like [1]-[3] on the agenda, pending the report from the team mentioned in [5] above.

[7] The Presidents of Slovenia and Macedonia convene a civil society conference, using expertise in all parts of Yugoslavia, to project images of future relations within ex-Yugoslavia, and does the same for future relations within South East Europe (in cooperation with, say, Hungary and Greece).

[8] The peoples of Yugoslavia are invited to participate in the peace process, forming multi-national dialogue groups all over, coming forward with concrete ideas based on local dialogues.

[9] Reconstruction is systematically used for reconciliation by having belligerent groups cooperating, doing the task together, not giving that enormous task away to outside entrepreneurs.

[10] If any border has to be drawn or redrawn the principles of the Danish-German 1920 Schleswig-Holstein partition are used.

 

However, however. I started by saying that I am against both NATO bombing and ethnic cleansing. Like most people in the world, I assume, perhaps not in belligerent Western Europe, filled with the self-righteousness of their interpretation of how society should be governed. Nine hundred years ago, when they launched the Crusades, it used to be their special interpretation of God and Jesus Christ, not Jewish, not Orthodox, not Muslim. They killed as many as they could lay hands on, limited only by their more artisanal killing technology those days.

As indicated above, I feel the problems of Yugoslavia can be solved, with more good will, more creativity, a little time and less dualism, less demonization. Milosevic is very far from a new Hitler. He does not have a new concept of world order, run from above. He is essentially an administrator of very unfortunate traits in the Serbian psyche, a megalomania and paranoia almost as high as that of the USA, about at the same level as can be found in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In addition there are elements of the mafia boss, but they are ubiquitous in these globalizing days.

The other problem, NATO bombing, is more problematic. But the bombers have one good question to which they have the wrong answer. The question is: what do we do when the doctrine of national sovereignty protects the state that insults the human rights of its own population?

The answer cannot possibly to insult these human rights even more. Rather, we could learn from the USA: there are federal crimes, and there is federal police pre-stationed all over. How about pre-stationing UN observers and UN troops all over as a preventive measure?

Human rights are universal. They are also indivisible, a country cannot detach the economic and social rights, accepting only the civil and political. Many criminals would like to do the same to the criminal code in their country as the USA does to the International Bill of Rights, ratifying one of the 16 December 1966 covenants, not the economic and social rights.

We are heading for a major world confrontation between the 19 NATO countries and, probably, much of the rest of the world, particularly the part caught in the US pincer move of expanding NATO eastward at the same time as they expand AMPO westward. Eurasia, the home of more than half of humanity is watching what happens with great anxiety. Who is next in line to be bombed? Or, could it be in Latin America, like Colombia, the USA not using NATO but using TIAP, the Latin American military system?

The world today has a major problem. That problem has a name. The name is not Milosevic, he is the small town villain. The name of the problem is United States of America.

Their sense of exceptionalism, being above ordinary states and nations, is attractive. To break that many international law paragraphs can only be justified if you are above the law, in a direct relation to a God of the universe who “created America to bring order to the world” (Colin Powell) or, in more secular terms, “a global nation with global interests” (Shalikashvili). Smaller states flock to the Exceptional one to reflect, like the cold moon, some of the light, not to mention the heat, burning the non-believers. An old Western tradition.

Let us hope that this intoxicating frenzy of violence to torture the Serbs into capitulation will be followed by some soberness. Preferably in time to prevent a Third world war.

 

* TV/Radio Interviews, Meetings; Sergels Torg, Stockholm May 24, 1999

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