happens in Kosovo, Europe must prepare for war. A new era begins. In the
worst case the war will lead to the bombing of a sovereign state. In the
best case it may fall short of bombing but a huge NATO military force will
enter Kosovo to keep apart visceral ethnic enemies. In either case it will
Guardian Weekly, week ending March 28, 1999.
power of television is such that the world can watch Brian Lara in one of
the most nail-biting cricket matches ever, carry the team to victory with
a combination of iron determination, controlled skill and genius. The
slow-motion television pictures of Lara’s final four runs made the
hearts of six million West Indians soar and fly. After that kind of
cricket there was nothing as sweet as the cool rainy breeze and the pelau
on the pot.
an hour later, CNN shows some of the shocked, distressed, displaced faces
of the ethnic Albanians: the old, children and men riding like cargo on
the backs of trucks in Kosovo. We are told there are some 500,000 of them
on the move, across snowy ragged mountains. Cargo: a distressing
association in Europe. In 1945, Jews were piled in such a way on freight
trains and taken away. Then it was called “the final solution”. Now it
is called “ethnic cleansing”.
a man called Hitler was responsible for persecuting a race, which over the
years had become assimilated into Germany. They said it would never happen
again. The murders haven’t but the persecution has. This time by a man
called Slobodan Milosevic, the President of Yugoslavia. Two weeks ago,
Milosevic threw down the gauntlet, and virtually told the US special
envoy, Richard Holbrooke, that threat of air strikes or not, he was not
signing any damn Western-brokered peace pact. Holbrooke failed in his
mission to get Milosevic to agree to the immediate ceasefire in Kosovo,
and the peace pact that includes stationing NATO troops in the province
where the ethnic Albanian KLA is fighting for independence from Serbia.
Hours later, the Serbian army and paramilitary police blasted their way
into the heartland of territory held by the Kosovo Liberation Army,
sending 30,000 refugees fleeing. NATO kept true to its threat and went on
an air strike offensive, bombing Serbian targets. As I write, already 30
Yugoslav aircraft have been shot down or destroyed on the ground so far
and several strategic defence areas bombed. NATO is aiming to wipe out
Milosevic’s air defences, but it is hard to see what good this will
experts say the air strikes alone will not bring Milosevic to his knees.
They claim that air strikes without the support of ground troops can never
win a war. In fact, the strikes may have the opposite effect of creating
more nationalism and backing for a government which has obviously adopted
ethnic cleansing as a policy.
refugee numbers have swollen to 500,000. The unravelling of the Balkans
has begun. It is only a matter of time before Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia,
Montenegro, Greece and Turkey are drawn into the conflict.
sad thing about this war, as opposed to South Africa, or Israel, where the
oppressed have a clear goal - that of liberation, or the prospect of a
homeland - this is a lose-lose situation.
the White House, Bill Clinton is balking against sending in the ground
troops. He is worried, and snapping at the hounding reporters: “This
isn’t a 30-second commercial break. I can’t give you a yes or no
answer.” He has a point. Clinton is holding off ground forces. He
can’t justify to his people that Serbia, a sovereign state, presents
either a strategic threat to the US, or any NATO country for that matter.
In any event this war will be hugely expensive and Serbia’s rugged
terrain so difficult that even Hitler was unable to penetrate it.
only real threat to Europe is that of the refugees themselves from a
geo-political point of view. Ultimately, Europe will have the
responsibility of mopping up the half a million and growing refugees. What
CNN doesn’t tell us is that it is a more European than American concern.
“Washington is as always indispensable. But if troops do go in, only
4,000 of the 28,000 will be American. Though command and control will be
American, the risk of casualties and credibility will be European.” (The
Guardian Weekly, London)
there is hope. This is a television war. The television lens can at times
prevent the worst: apart from being roughly uprooted, losing their home
and belongings, or dying for want of special medical attention, the
refugees are still somewhat protected by NATO troops and NGK supplies.
They have life, but little else, since they are escaping to neighbouring
Albania, the poorest country in Europe. The Guardian Weekly of London:
“There are no winners here. In any case, its hard to see how, when the
bombs stop, life without slaughter can exist in Kosovo.” There is no
reason for anybody to interfere, but one: that of a moral responsibility.
At what point do we stop looking away, or changing channels? The world
looked away when right wing death squads operated in Columbia, Guatemala,
Indonesia, Algeria, and a dozen other countries. We looked away from
Rwanda and Bosnia until it was almost too late. We look away from the
Congo where six African armies are at loggerheads. Most recently we looked
away when just two weeks ago, in Somalia and Eritrea, 40,000 men died
fighting in seven days, over a disputed border.
is a time for stocktaking. Still in the afterglow of Tuesday’s amazing
cricket victory, we are able to rejoice that we are a free people with
essential human rights and freedoms. We are relatively safe. We may live
in a small remote island in the New World (and we have our problems), but
we can teach the Old World powerful lessons in tolerance.
have also learnt from the television wars that we need to guard our
freedom with a fierce vigilance. We may not be at war, but in order to
stay out of it we have to fight daily battles against intolerance, and
racism. We’ve seen what intolerance can do on television - in the
stunned faces of those who have witnessed slaughter, and will witness it
again and again.