Kosovo Serb Refugees: Unimportant Detail or The Real Ethnic Cleansing?

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Subject: Kosovo Serb Refugees: Unimportant Detail or The Real Ethnic Cleansing?

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Original sender: Panayote Dimitras <balkanHR@greekhelsinki.gr>

Kosovo Serb Refugees: Unimportant Detail or The Real Ethnic

Kosovo Serb Refugees: Unimportant Detail or The Real Ethnic Cleansing? 

Panayote Dimitras 
Greek Helsinki Monitor 
(2/7/1999, AIM Athens) 

"The real ethnic cleansing has just begun" kept repeating Greek media
and public figures (including the country's most popular one,
Archbishop Christodoulos). They were doing so not in early April 1999,
to refer to the abhorrent operation of Serb forces against Albanians
in Kosovo, but in mid-June 1999, to describe the certainly tragic mass
exodus of Serbs from the same region, resulting from fear of, or
actual "reprisal" attacks of Albanians against them. 

This phrase clearly indicated that all those Greeks went beyond
condemning the Serb exodus: they did not (want to) believe that there
had previously been a mass ethnic cleansing of Albanians. As another
very popular figure, composer Mikis Theodorakis claimed (in "Exousia"
26 May 1999), "a number of Western sources have proved the magnitude
of the deceit and the propaganda about Milosevic's 'ethnic cleansing'
of Kosovo." All these "neo-negationists" (just like the "Holocaust
denial" authors before them) would agree with -hastily considered as
liberal- Serb intellectual Aleksa Djilas. He told "RFE/RL's Watchlist"
(24 June 1999) that in Kosovo "maybe some massacres, maybe some rapes
did take place, perhaps even some crimes against humanity, but reports
of Serbian atrocities have been exaggerated." 

"NATO needs the massacres to justify its actions," Djilas added. "It
is a satanic propaganda" Mikis Theodorakis argued a month ago. "Why do
they bomb with such rage the towns and the villages of Kosovo,
inhabited by 90% Albanians? They obviously want to kill them, injure
them, terrorize them, and in the end expel them from their homes so
that CNN can film the refugee convoys and justify the other massacre
of the other non-combatants [in Serbia itself]." "RFE/RL's Watchlist"
editor Charles Fenyvesi concluded his interview with Djilas stating:
"he sounded just like the Germans who think that the worst atrocity of
World War II was the relentless Allied bombardment of their country."
A comparison also suited for Theodorakis. 

Some claim that the communist culture Djilas and Theodorakis grew up
in helps explain such statements: they are motivated by "primitive
anti-Westernism." However, they may also tend to reflect "primitive
nationalism." Both in Greece and in Serbia, ethnonationalism has been
remarkably intolerant towards the primordial, evil "other" identified
as the Muslims, be they Turks or Albanians. Djilas had argued
("Argument" April 1998, quoted in Noel Malcolm "Kosovo: A Short
History", p. xxxi) that "whatever Israel does to the Palestinians we
Serbs can do to the Albanians" 

French classicist and Greece expert Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who had
publicly opposed NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, offered the
following analysis of the recent "nationalist, and sometimes
hyper-nationalist, orientation of the Greek political scene" and one
of its emanation, the "Greek-Serb friendship" ("Eleftherotypia" 1 July

"This 'Greek-Serb friendship' is a phenomenon of very recent years.
Indeed, does anyone remember any reference to such a 'Greek-Serb
friendship' fifteen years ago? I believe that the 'Greek-Serb
friendship' is related to the reemergence in Greece, during the last
decade, of the old anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim phantasms. () I often
hear from Greek friends, in various versions and variants, the
following type of argument: Islam, both Turkish and Albanian encircle
Greece. As you know, this argument is not simply accepted by some, but
it is a deep-rooted perception. (...) It is totally irrational. In my
opinion it is a pure phantasm." 

Such phantasms have led so many Greeks and Serbs, as well as Russians
and other people brought up in societies based on Orthodox Christian
traditions, to overemphasize the "Serb dimension" of both the war
against Yugoslavia and the flight of residents from Kosovo. This is no
excuse though for Westerners, and especially human rights activists,
to deride such this dimension. In late June 1999, a delegation of
human rights activists from Balkan and Western NGOs - non-governmental
organizations - (both unfortunately and inappropriately including a
Danish parliamentarian) visited Moscow to inform Russian human rights
groups, parliamentarians and public opinion in general on the real
dimension of the Kosovo crisis. The visit's motivation was that,
throughout that crisis, Russians appeared to have tilted towards the
official Serbian position, though to a much lesser extent than Greeks. 

During the three-day related public meetings or briefings in the Duma
and the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Russians seemed to have no
problem to speak of Milosevic's main responsibility in the crisis.
However, they all disagreed with NATO's military reaction to it;
while, as the Serb exodus from Kosovo had started, they were
insistently probing the NGO delegates for their position on the
matter. This was happening the very day that UNHCR representative in
the region Paula Ghedini was telling BBC World (28 June) that "UNHCR
is concerned: we do not want the return of one population to lead to
the exodus of another;" and the BBC journalist was speaking of a
"terrible irony." Three days before (25 June), one of the leading NGOs
the world and one of the few with a continuous and consistent presence
in and reporting from the region, Human Rights Watch (HRW), had issued
Kosovo Flash #50 on "Violent Abuses by KLA Members: Beatings, Killings
and Rape Taking Place in Kosovo." So one expected the NGO activists to
immediately declare their concern and dismay at this new wave of
refugees and their condemnation of Albanian reprisals. 

Regretfully, this was not what emerged from many hours of related
exchanges and debates. To his credit, the Kosovar delegate, himself a
refugee, did so in several occasions. Most of his colleagues though
gave answers that created the impression they challenged the
legitimacy of all questions about Serb refugees. "How dare you ask
about them when we have had a genocide against Albanians?" appeared to
be the bottom line. When queried about NATO actions, not only most NGO
delegates firmly supported the strikes and were indignant of any
opposition voiced against them, but they could not find a word of
criticism for the whole NATO activity in the area. Never mind that HRW
again, as well as Amnesty International and a score of freedom of
expression groups, had publicly challenged, for example, the use of
cluster bombs against targets near civilian areas and the bombing of
the Serb radio and television (not to mention the denunciation of
NATO's misleading propaganda campaign). At moments, some delegates
appeared, in the words of one of their colleagues, to behave like
"NATO spin doctors." As if they were confirming the fears of the UNHCR
representative in Belgrade, Eduardo Arbleda, ("International Herald
Tribune" 29 June 1999) that "there is a risk the international
community will not maintain its objectivity and sensitivity." 

There was certainly a suspicion that many Russians who insisted so
much on the Serb exodus were biased and unwilling to acknowledge the
crisis' main problem, the massive, brutal and unprecedented for late
twentieth century Europe violations of the rights of Kosovo Albanians.
This impression was legitimized sometimes by an implied effort to just
equate the Albanian with the Serb exodus. Nevertheless, if one wanted
to win over the argument with Russians on such points, or even better
to convert them to what is the appropriate human rights approach, this
could not succeed through an almost complete depreciation of the
importance of the violations of the human rights of Serbs by Albanians
or by NATO. Or, even worse, by giving arrogant if not offending
answers. Such an attitude apparently created among many Russian
interlocutors similar suspicions about the true motivation of some NGO
delegates, and the possible use of double standards by them. If one
takes into consideration that, in the Duma, the parliamentarians who
the NGO delegation discussed with belonged to the reputed pro-European
political forces of Yabloko and Gaidar (including heralded human
rights personality Serguei Kovaliov), one wonders what, with their
antagonizing attitude, the human rights delegation hoped to achieve.
If one wants to help convince Russians to adopt European values, this
approach was certainly very counter-productive. 

The author of this article was a "dissenting" member of that NGO
delegation. Coming from Greece, a country where public opinion and
intellectuals are even farther away than the Russian interlocutors
from the liberal cosmopolitan values, he had for years appreciated the
international NGOs' constructive approach to Greek authorities and
other Greek interlocutors, in an effort to help improve the country's
human rights record. Hence, he was puzzled by the current attitude
towards Russian opinion makers. In his humble opinion, to avoid a
"dialog of the deaf" with forces coming from countries which have
lagged behind in adopting liberal political values, one must address
their concerns carefully and patiently. As he said in Moscow, NATO is
no credible source for deciding which human rights violations have
occurred in the Kosovo crisis; on he contrary, it too is not free from
allegations of humanitarian law violations. However, there is abundant
credible NGO material to make anyone state with certainty that there
was a brutal, and especially systematic and organized, ethnic
cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo. While the unquestionably condemnable
current violence against Serbs (but also Roma that no Russian seemed
to care to mention) is of much lesser extent and, especially, does not
appear to result from a systematic and organized Albanian plan. 

We all owe to the human rights values we fight for, and all states
including Russia pretend to adhere to, to make sure that the
International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia be empowered to
investigate and prosecute all related crimes. Russia must fully back
its work, as Serb public opinion (but also Greek, Russian and other
similar ones) would more readily accept the Court's verdicts if they
are not challenged by any side. This is a prerequisite for the misled
publics in these countries to be able to come to terms with truth. And
the truth is, as Pierre Vidal-Naquet put it to the Greeks, that
"Kosovars exist (...) [and they have suffered from] the most atrocious
massacres in Europe since 1945." 

The truth is also that, as he added, "nevertheless, the expulsion of
Sudet Germans from Czechoslovakia (immediately after the end of the
Second World War) was also a brutal form of ethnic cleansing, just
like what happened to Palestinians in Israel." Thus, a genuine human
rights advocate must argue today that, should Serbs end up permanently
leaving Kosovo as a result of present conditions, this will be
recorded as another brutal exodus of a "vanquished" people that can
only further dishonor humankind. 


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