Macedonia and the Western press

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 121 – May 21, 2001

Originally published here.

 

PressInfo 118 offers an independent analysis of 11 reasons why Macedonia is at the brink of war. Number 119 deals with the way the United Nations was forced out of Macedonia and not employed in Kosovo at the time when it could have made a difference. In short, there was a hidden agenda. PressInfo 120 deals with how Macedonia is also responsible, and not only a victim, in the process towards its fatal crisis now.

This one deals with insufficient, or deceptive, media coverage, and with Western democracies.

 

Where is the free press?

We have explained that the 43,000 NATO/KFOR “peace”-keepers can not control or seal off the border around the territory it has occupied and is tasked with stabilising and controlling. Has it turned the blind eye to Albanian military activity all the time? This mission is much larger than the UN ever was in former Yugoslav territories and much more heavily armed.

Very few journalists have investigated the good story: how is it possible for KLA which was officially dissolved in September 1999 to keep on fighting (or be the root of fighting) inside both Serbia and Macedonia. Who helped them to do that?

If a UN mission had failed to the same extent, hundreds of journalists, experts and commentators would have renewed the anti-UN chorus of the 1990s: the UN is incompetent, bureaucratic, too expensive and inefficient, it’s too weak. There is no peace to keep! We need more muscle!

Now it is NATO, private American mercenaries, CIA in bed with more or less criminal, hardline elements in the Balkans and no similar (anti-NATO) chorus is heard. One may wonder: who controls the free press?

Will future historians – – like Chalmers Johnson today in “Blowback” – – reveal to us that journalists, NGOs, clergy and Peace Corps volunteers have functioned as cover for CIA and possibly other intelligence agencies and their cloak-and-dagger covert operations, that citizens around the world are targets of psychological warfare?

If you think this is to carry it too far, this is what a former CIA analyst, Melvin Goodman, says [Read more…]

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With Milosevic gone, what shall the West do?

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 102 – October 23, 2000

Originally published here.

 

The Milosevic-West symbiosis

In handling the Balkan crisis the last ten years, the United States and European countries could have chosen a pro-active policy based on conflict analysis and a fair, principled implementation. They could have avoided today’s intellectual, political and moral cul-de-sac and avoided the bombing last year. They would not be de facto protectors of Bosnia and occupiers of Kosovo/a.

Most Western actors grossly underestimated the complexities of the Balkans, they were occupied with the end of the Cold War, they chose to perceive it all in simplified black-and-white terms. They never acted to only help the parties solve their problems, but were guided by their own more or less nationalist, competing interests in the Balkans. And then, above all, there was the “Milosevic factor.”

The West is cosmologically burdened with a tendency to write simplifying, fail-safe recipes for the solution of extremely complex economic, constitutional, historical and structural conflicts: one issue, two parties, decide who is good and who is bad, elevate yourself to judge and solve the conflict by punishing the culprit rather than attack the root cause of the problems that stands between the opponents and the structure around them that made them quarrel.

The name of the game was Milosevic. More than any other single factor the love/hate relationship between him and the West has determined the course of Western conflict-(mis)management this last decade. He was the bad guy par excellence; he was also a man who could – and did – deliver when he had put his signature on a deal; he was the actor who could be blamed for anything that went wrong whether in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo or Serbia itself.

When the West recognized that it had lost a decade of perfectly possible violence-prevention in the case of Kosovo and the man also continued to stand up against pressure – and not, in that situation, without support from the citizens of Yugoslavia – it began calling him, for the first time, “cruel dictator.” [Read more…]

War for war’s sake? U.S. military interventions after the Cold War

By Håkan Wiberg

Written 2000????

In the debate on a war on Iraq, many interpretations are proposed as to what it is “really” about: Disarming Iraq of possible weapons of mass destruction to satisfy UN resolutions? Toppling the Iraqi government by invasion and/or subversion? Introducing democracy by occupation? Getting US control over the Iraqi oil by occupation? Getting US geopolitical control over the whole oil region with bases, etc.? Fighting terrorism? Deflecting domestic criticism of various scandals – or international criticism on, e.g. Palestine? Feeding the military-industrial complex? Testing new weapons, tactics and strategies on the ground?

Rather few of these really contradict each other, unless presented as the one and only motive – which is in our complex world a very unlikely situation. It will obviously take many years to get a balanced and well-documented picture of the true motives of the US administration and its various factions, so no attempt at such a premature assessment will be made here.

The point of the present article is merely to locate one apparent lacuna in the debate, which only seems to get visible when we collate several cases to see what they have in common. Few seem to have pointed at “war for war’s sake”. By this I do not refer to any grotesque pre-WWI (and later fascist) ideologies about war as being healthy in itself, but rather to the advantage the initiator expects to have from a war, whatever its outcome. The main thesis is that having a war now and then is a way for US administrations to try to counteract the global long term changes in the distribution of economic power (where it has gone down) and military power, where it is stronger than ever. More specifically, the thesis is that the relative weight of these kinds of power has been shifting in favour of economic power for a long time, which gives the USA an interest in greater relative weight being given to military power. [Read more…]

The information war about Kosovo

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 62 – April 15, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.

 

“Most people around the world probably think that war and media are separate. When there is a war, the media tell us about it as objectively as they can under the often difficult circumstances. But in today’s information society, every war is two wars: that on the ground and that in the media. Weapons communicate and communication is a weapon. We must ask what interests determine what we are told and what we are not told?

The history of warfare makes one thing abundantly clear,” says TFF director Jan Oberg, “namely that we can safely assume that we are not told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In NATO’s war with Yugoslavia, there is reason to paraphrase Hamlet – ‘there is something rotten in the state of the media.’

This is what you can read about the use by the United States of information in times of war:

“Psychological operations (PSYOP) are operations planned to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. PSYOP are a vital part of the broad range of US political, military, economic, and informational activities. When properly employed, PSYOP can lower the morale and reduce the efficiency of enemy forces and could create dissidence and disaffection within their ranks. There are four categories of military PSYOP; strategic, operational, tactical, and consolidation. PSYOP, which are used to establish and reinforce foreign perceptions of US military, political, and economic power and resolve.”

Other countries work with PSYOP, too. Let’s remember that when we watch television. And let’s ask some questions when we do:

 

• IS THERE A LARGER STORY BEHIND WHAT WE SEE ON THE SCREEN?

Balkan conflicts not only have a Balkan but also a world order dimension. For instance, did you ever hear about the National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 133 entitled “United States Policy towards Yugoslavia” labelled “SECRET SENSITIVE”? A censored version was declassified in 1990 and largely confirmed NSDD 54 from 1982 the objective of which included “expanded efforts to promote ‘quiet revolution’ to overthrow Communist governments and parties” while integrating the countries of Eastern Europe into a market economy.

 

• WAR REPORTING – BUT NO CONFLICT JOURNALISM

Media tend to focus on today’s ‘story.’ But there is a larger frame [Read more…]

Bombings – incompatible with humanitarian concerns

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 60 – March 24, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.

 

“NATO’s unwise, counterproductive and non-legal bombing of sovereign Yugoslavia is justified by President Bill Clinton, EU and other Western leaders and media with reference to humanitarian concerns. Supposedly air strikes serve to stop ethnic cleansing, future massacres, refugee flows, and prevent innocent children and women from being killed. Diplomatically expressed, this comes from the marketing department. Bombings will produce what it purports to prevent,” says Dr. Jan Oberg, TFF’s director, right after the bombing campaign has started. According to Oberg, this argument lacks credibility for the following reasons:

 

NO VIOLENCE-PREVENTION

Why did the West do absolutely nothing before this crisis became violent? There were many opportunities for a negotiated solutions. TFF, for instance, has suggested a variety of options since 1992 that could have prevented violence and the killing we’ve seen the last year. In no other conflict has there been so many early warnings and so little preventive diplomacy. Kosovo’s catastrophe was among the most predictable of all. It is intellectual nonsense that ‘everything else has been tried and NATO bombings was the only option left.’

 

HUMANITARIAN WORK MADE IMPOSSIBLE BY NATO THREATS

The immediate consequence of the threats of NATO air strikes is that OSCE’s Verification mission had to be withdrawn and that almost all humanitarian organizations withdrew to protect their staff. More refugees are now running over the border to Macedonia. With fewer ears and eyes on the ground, its free for all sides – NATO included – to step up the killing.

 

THIS WILL MAKE SERBS AND ALBANIANS HATE EACH OTHER (MORE)

NATO bombings will be perceived as a punishment of Serbs and a clear support to Albanian hardliners. [Read more…]

Questions before bombing Serbia

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 47 – October 1, 1998

Originally published here

 

“What on earth would be the POLITICAL AIM of bombing Serbia now? Violence has been used by both parties for almost a year. Some 250.000 people may already be displaced, homes and towns torched and destroyed. KLA is defeated and Serbia’s government has declared that the war is over, provided KLA’s military struggle does not resume.

Before the UN Security Council, NATO or other actors in the international ‘community’ decides to carry out air strikes throughout Serbia, it would be wise to ponder a few questions, problems and risks and come up with some answers. I offer some of both in what follows,” says Jan Oberg who, with his TFF colleagues, has conducted analyses and served as a citizen diplomat in the region since 1992.

 

• IF WE BELIEVE NATO MILITARY INTERVENTIONS WOULD STOP THE KILLING, ETHNIC CLEANSING AND MASSACRES, WHY HAS IT NOT HAPPENED LONG AGO?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 
1) The international “community” is not a community when it comes to managing conflicts. There are too many solid national interests and the EU is divided internally with Germany and the UK being more interventionist than the rest. And they cannot act without the United States. 2) Bombings of Serb facilities will unavoidably be interpreted as a support to (violent) secessionism. Thus, Kurds, Palestinians, Turk Cypriots, people in the Basque province and in Chechenya, to mention some, may be encouraged – and the West doesn’t exactly want that. 3) It can’t be done without ignoring the Russians – but they are on their heels anyhow. 4) Perhaps no bombings is really contemplated; it’s all a game. But then there is a public relation problem vis-a-vis citizens: why do statesmen solemnly declare their moral outrage, threaten tough measures and thereby create expectations worldwide about resolute action – fully well knowing that they won’t do anything? 5) Powerful actors may see it fit to wait and “fail” with preventive diplomacy in order to present military options as “necessary.”

 

• IS THIS COMPATIBLE WITH INTERNATIONAL LAW?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 
1) It is probably the first time NATO bombs a sovereign, recognised state in support of a movement whose stated aims are complete independence and integration with a neighbouring state. 2) Bombings would [Read more…]

Kosovo/a – Half truths about demography and ethnic cleansing 

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 43

Lund, August 23, 1998

“There are dangerously many half truths and biases in the reporting from Kosovo/a. The generalised media image of the conflict shapes public opinion which in turn threatens to push politicians into action that will have counterproductive effects on the ground,” says Jan Oberg, head of TFF’s Conflict-Mitigation team, upon returning from yet another mission to Belgrade, Prishtina and Skopje.

“The standard media story about Kosovo the last six months goes like this:

‘Kosovo is a province in Serbia inhabited by about 2 million people, 90 per cent of whom are Albanians and 10 per cent Serbs. The dissolution of Tito’s Yugoslavia started in 1989 when Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic repealed the autonomy which the province had enjoyed since 1974. The region is characterised by extreme poverty and systematic human rights violations by Serbian authorities against the Albanians, to the extent that one is justified in calling it a police state or an ‘apartheid’ system. The Serb ‘offensive’ is an attempt by Belgrade to ethnically ‘cleanse’ the province. It looks like a repetition of Bosnia and, thus, something must be done to stop it.’

I have come to believe,” says Oberg, “that this standard media story is based on the KISS Principle – Keep it Simple, Stupid. [Read more…]

Security and Identity in former Yugoslavia

By Håkan Wiberg
Presumably written 1995 or 96

Introduction

The concatenation of conflicts in former Yugoslavia are of a complexity that makes them difficult to fathom for the great majority of external observers, in particular mass media and politicians. This complexity derives from the high number of actors in various phases, as well as from the varying characters of actors and from the fact that different dimensions of security have played – and continue to play salient roles.

When external actors have tried to relate to this set of conflict, the heritage of the Cold War has apparently played a great role. Its essence is not to be found in the specific propaganda themes in 1991, rather in a general pattern of perception. It can be summarized in three main axioms:

1. There can be no more than two actors in a conflict.
2. These actors are states.
3. Among these, one is good and one is bad.

In virtually every situation, however, the actors have never been less than three, and even then only after great simplification. Peoples have been just as much actors as states, and – with few exceptions – the actions of these actors are a matter of bad and worse, rather than good and bad, at least if judged by generalizable morality rather than political expediency.

In addition, it must not be forgotten that the former Yugoslavia had an appallingly bad prognosis in its last period of existence by a wide range of indicators. [Read more…]

Reflections on the prospects of peace for Yugoslavia

By Johan Galtung

Yugoslavia Conference, OIFF, Stadtschlaining, 13-17 November 1991

1.  Conflict genesis; conflict processes, conflict perception

To see bombs fall on Dubrovnik and the presidential palace in Zagreb, to see Vukovar and Osijek in ruins, is to see ourselves as the Europeans we are: aggressive, unable to handle conflict in a mature manner, destroying some of the best in ourselves. For one who lived over a period of four years (1973-1977) in Dubrovnik as the first Director-General of the Inter-University Centre this holds no surprise.  The tension was there all the time.  The emotions are centuries deep.  But that in no way diminishes the tragedy, and does not explain why Yugoslavia had a generation of relative peace.

There were many reasons: the function of Italian fascism, and particularly of German Nazism as common enemy strong enough to bridge the many gaps, of which the Serb-Croat gap may be the broadest; the charismatic leadership of Tito the Croat; the myth, and reality, of the partizan movement as all-Yugoslav in spite of the strong Croat leanings toward Italy-Hungary and Austria-Germany. The idea of building a New Man through a Third Way socialism, including samo upravljenje, the self-management which in principle was a gigantic decentralization effort, decreasingly credible, was also used to transcend these gaps.  So was nonalignment as foreign policy, building links to all countries. [Read more…]