Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

August 31, 2001

How do we know what's going on in Macedonia?

What is really going on in Macedonia? Anyone who claims to know, with certainty, is a liar. For the Balkans is a region shrouded in a thick impenetrable mist, dark with the shadows of hidden protagonists, and ulterior motives. It is, in short, a mystery wrapped in an enigma, one that cannot be understood at a distance – if it can be understood by outsiders at all.


This is the reason for my upcoming journey to the region: to get up close enough to focus in on the real story of why and how NATO's arrow pierced the heart of this broken country. Distance has been a real problem, from the beginning, in covering the ongoing saga of US intervention in the Balkans: the sheer physical distance between ordinary Americans and the truth, has been a major obstacle – one that we are only recently attempting to overcome....


Regarding the Macedonian crisis, we have had to depend, as always, on the mainstream media – the only nongovernmental institutions with the resources on the ground – to act as intermediaries between us and the truth. Every day we present what we think of as the best and most informative of these intermediaries, as links – and yet, still, we are acutely aware that the picture we are presenting is only an approximation of the truth. Without people on the ground, reporting directly from the scene of the crime, we can't precisely pinpoint the culprit: we can only infer, deduce, and – in the end – make an educated guess.


We are outsiders, and we cannot know the truth from the outside looking in. To get some rudimentary understanding of the forces at work, and the likely outcome, it is necessary, in the end, to go there and see the reality firsthand. Otherwise the truth can be elusive. Take, for example, the recent death of British paratrooper Ian Collins, NATO's first casualty in Macedonia. Does anybody really know how and why he died?


I covered this incident in my last column, and will only briefly reiterate the details here. Collins and a companion were driving on the road from Skopje to Kumanovo when, suddenly, their journey came to an abrupt and tragic end. Collins was severely injured, and taken to Camp Bondsteel, and then to a hospital in Skopje, where – five hours after the incident – he died on the operating table. That is all we know for sure.


What we don't know, first of all, is who killed Ian Collins, or why they did it. The official NATO story – one dutifully echoed by the Anglo-American media – is that, as the [UK] Independent put it, "Macedonia's campaign of hate leaves NATO suffering first casualty." By failing to hail NATO troops as their saviors and liberators, and instead treating them like what they are – an occupying army – the Macedonian media and some sectors of the government "incited" a "boy gang" – as the Times so felicitously phrased it – to stone Collins to death. According to this version of events, Collins was hit in the head with a large piece of concrete thrown by rampaging Macedonian youths. The Times quotes one alleged eyewitness, 18-year-old Sima Stojic, as saying that he saw them do it, and not only that but "I know the name of the kid who threw the concrete that hit the vehicle."


The media – particularly the British media – has taken this story and run with it. But is it true? Shortly after the first news reports of Collins' death were posted on the Internet, there were a lot of reasons to entertain doubts about the veracity of the official line. To begin with, Sima Stojic, the chief witness, popped up again, this time on Macedonia A-1 TV, denying that he had ever told the Times any such story:

"'I haven't seen anything,' says the alleged eyewitness. 'I told them that the situation is very bad, and when they asked me if I've seen the stoning of the British soldiers, I told them that it happens occasionally, but that I have no information about this specific case.'"


And not only that, but, he says, they offered him money if he would refrain from speaking to other reporters. Mr. Stojic has announced that he will sue the Times – hopefully for libel, since, in British law, this puts the defendant at a disadvantage. Britain's repressive libel laws have often been used to quash dissent – witness the outrageous silencing of LM magazine – and it'll be refreshing to see this sword cut the other way, for once. Go for it, Sima! Take 'em for all they've got!


Secondly, we don't know exactly how Collins died. The official story is that Collins' head injuries were the result of being hit with a large piece of cement. But according to Dnevik newspaper, the medical staff that treated the injured soldier claims he had head injuries which could not have been the result of being hit with a rock. According to personnel at Skopje Medical Center, where Collins was treated, the upper part of the British soldier's skull was fractured, and the main brain artery severely damaged. Reality Macedonia reports the doctors' claim that, "most probably," he was fatally injured when the vehicle was upended.


Thirdly, we don't know have a clear idea of the circumstances in which Collins' death occurred. What were two lone British soldiers doing riding down the road from Skopje to Kumanovo, without an armed escort, at a time when tensions against Westerners were running high? The official story would have it that Collins and his companion were on a routine mission, when suddenly they were set upon by drooling Macedonian barbarians with bloodlust in their eyes. It was, we are supposed to conclude, a random incident of mindless hate-filled violence. But, hey, wait a minute....


Sima Stojic denies telling the Times, or anyone else, that he witnessed the incident, let alone that he knows the identity of the assassins. Furthermore, it turns out that their mission may have been far from routine. By the time the Macedonian police arrived – tipped off by an anonymous caller – the scene had been cleaned up, and the vehicle – they were told – already repaired. Dnevik and other sources maintain that, according to NATO, the two soldiers were carrying secret documents of great importance – and that this accounts for the commandeering of the crime scene and the complete takeover of the investigation by NATO. Never mind that the incident occurred on Macedonian soil, and is properly the province of the local police authorities. NATO is dropping the presumption of Macedonian sovereignty very early on in this game.


The Western news media, instead of trying to discover the truth, is busy – as usual – fulfilling its appointed role as NATO's servitor. An Associated Press dispatch by Danica Kirks avers that American medics on the scene were surrounded by a "hostile mob" that gave them the finger, and records for posterity the dimwitted insights of Staff Sgt. Edna Flores: "On the way back I started thinking `Oh my God, where have I been?' As I drove away, I realized we were not safe." Duh-uh! Yes, that's right, Sgt. Flores – you left safety behind when you joined the military. According to the AP story, she also declared, with some befuddlement, that "members of the crowd were making obscene gestures, shouting, waving their hands, yelling in a language the medics couldn't understand." But what did else did she expect? This is Macedonia, Edna, not Manhattan – you're in somebody else's country.


News accounts of the Ian Collins incident – and the regional crisis in general – are permeated with an air of astonishment at this atmosphere of growing Macedonian antipathy to the West. However, Ms. Kirka has a ready explanation for the hostility, even if Sgt. Flores is clueless:

"Nowhere is this hard-line anti-NATO sentiment more clear than in the media, which is still largely state-controlled, and there's no better example than its coverage of Collins' death. While NATO said Collins was struck by a flying projectile, Macedonian media suggested he may have died in some other way. Some reports said the incident was suspicious because reporters who went to the scene later found no evidence of a destroyed car and that NATO waited for hours before announcing the death. 'We doubt the incident happened at all,' an unnamed Interior Ministry official was quoted as saying by the country's major daily newspaper, Dnevnik."


What the interior ministry official probably meant to say is that "we doubt the incident happened at all the way NATO says it did" – and where is the evidence to contradict him? Indeed, since NATO has impounded the evidence, and refused to let the Macedonians in on the investigation: we (and the Macedonians) have to take their word for it.


Indeed, Operation "Essential Harvest" seems to embody the same farcical elements that characterized Operation Allied Force. Ms. Kirka goes on to report on the propaganda campaign being waged by NATO to pressure the Macedonians to ratify the sweeping concessions made to the Albanians:

"Aware that its message of being the guarantor of the peace deal is not reaching the general public, NATO has taken out newspaper advertisements, featuring an explanation of the mission and photos of the two senior generals, smiling benevolently."


All the benevolent smiles in the world, plus all the newspaper ads money can buy, are not enough to convince an occupied people to willingly give up their sovereignty. In the new Europe that British troops and their American allies are building, however, there is no longer any such thing as national sovereignty – to insist on it is a hate crime, and its defenders are "extremists," "hardliners," and, according to this morning's [August 30] New York Times, nothing less than shrieking "hawks." An article by Carlotta Gall, "A Macedonian Hawk Vows to Extend Pursuit of Rebels," condemns its subject – interior minister Ljube Boskovski – in its very title.


Writing a New York Times headline so as to give the story a not-so-subtle spin has become a high art at the Gray Lady, but surely this one is a classic. How and why is Boskovski a "hawk"? Apparently for repeating what the NATO-crats have themselves been handing out, that "NATO's operation to collect weapons from rebels was only a 'symbolic disarmament.'" As Colonel Paul Edwards, NATO's chief of the operation, put it, ''No one is going to remove every weapon in this region. I come back to our position that the rebels' offer to disarm is a statement of intent that they seek to pursue their goals in the political process and not through fighting." He added: ''The collection process is but one part of a process heading toward peace'' – that is, the collection process is largely symbolic, just as Boskovski said.


Boskovski is described as a "hawk" no less than three times during the course of Ms. Gall's article, including the title – but on what basis? Perhaps because "he warned that his anti-terrorist police would seize any remaining illegal weapons as soon as NATO was finished with its 30-day mission." But what else are the "anti-terrorist police" supposed to do other than seize illegal weapons in the hands of insurrectionists? Gee, it's funny, but the Times has a curious double-standard when it comes to the gun control issue: guns in the hands of, say, David Koresh, are strictly verboten, but a Kalishnikov cradled in the arms of an "oppressed" Albanian is nothing to get too excited about.


The truth about Macedonia – and about the Balkans in general – is still not known or even suspected by the American public. Our intermediaries – the news media – merely parrot what NATO tells them, and all the complaints about Macedonia's "state-controlled" media apply to our own in spades: they might as well be government-run for all the independence they show. This underscores the vital importance of's mission to Macedonia – now expanded, I am happy to say, to include not just myself but also Christopher Deliso, a travel writer and scholar of Byzantine art and culture, who knows the country well.


Not that I was afraid to plunge all alone into the heart of darkness, you understand, but as various news reports of bombings, kidnappings, and other incidents reached the West, several friends intervened and suggested that I take along a friend. If anyone can brave the uncertainties of such a volatile landscape – and such a volatile companion as myself – then it is the good-natured and levelheaded Chris Deliso, whose excellent work has recently begun to appear on this site. Chris, a graduate of Oxford, where he majored in Byzantine studies, is precisely the kind of scholar that wants to encourage and utilize in the fight for a noninterventionist foreign policy – knowledgeable, committed, idealistic and yet very much at home in the real world.


It costs what is, by our standards, a lot of money to send two reporters to the Balkans. Of course, the amount involved is peanuts as far as the US government and its academic and political amen corner are concerned: they drop that kind of money without a thought. On the other hand, it is, for us, a considerable amount, and we have to raise it from you, our readers and supporters. I don't mind asking for your dough, in this case, because I know that you're going to get your money's worth. And I also know that many of you realize how much is at stake in Macedonia, and in the entire region.


Already, we are hearing voices raised asking whether NATO ought to stay longer – and implying increased US participation. John McCain, whose usefulness to the Albanian lobby in the US has been documented in this space, is already agitating for an extension of the NATO presence: "To go in and come out quickly is certainly desirable, but history tells us that it's difficult to accomplish these operations in a short period of time," said McCain. "In fact, they are rarely accomplished in a short period of time." "If it takes longer," says McCainite Sen. Chuck Hagel, "it takes longer."


As the US slowly sinks into the Macedonian quagmire, will none speak out against the madness? As we destabilize a government that, up until a few months ago, was praised by the US as a model of multiethnic democracy, will no one raise a voice in protest? If we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the Kosovo war, only this time on a larger scale – and with much less excuse – then let us at least have the opportunity to bear witness to it. It is only possible, however, because of you and your generous contribution. If you haven't already contributed to help keep the best foreign news site on the web, then now is the time to do it. We are making strides every day, breaking news and speaking truth to power – but it doesn't come cheap. Contributions, I remind you, are tax-deductible – so why give it to the government when you can give it to us? They aren't going to get away with it in Macedonia, without a full exposure on the Internet – but only if you help to make it possible.

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