September 25, 2003

Return to the Crime Scene
Kosovo and Bosnia Revisited

by Nebojsa Malic

Nearly three years after he left office, Bill Clinton was Emperor again – at least in the minds of worshipful Balkans peons, who cheered him on as he strutted down his namesake boulevard in Pristina and pontificated about good and evil in Srebrenica.

Clinton deserves some credit because he at least visited only the scenes of his own crimes; he left Macedonia to George W. Bush, perhaps for a similar ego trip after his reign. Perhaps that is not quite fair. What Reuters called the "Balkans lap of honor" wasn’t entirely a celebration of Clinton’s ego, but also a powerful propaganda show for the benefit of the Empire, aimed to "highlight the peace gains of the previous Democratic administration." (AFP) Clinton’s showboating was a message that even if the current Emperor is in some difficulty over his Mesopotamian adventure, the Empire itself is not in question.

False Honors and Bogus Tolerance

Clinton began his visit in Kosovo, where he was greeted by cheering throngs of adulating Albanians. Upon arrival, he said that he was "very pleased to see things look so well." (AFP) Either he wasn’t paying attention, or – more likely – he didn’t care.

Media coverage of the visit recycled the 1999 propaganda, including the arbitrary figure of "estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians… killed during the crackdown." (AP)

The main event was his speech at Pristina University, site of several grisly murders during Kosovo’s "liberation" from international law, where Clinton was also granted an honorary degree. Clinton confessed to an ethnically pure crowd that he was "honoured to have been part of ridding Kosovo of the scourge of oppression." (AFP)

He should really tell that to Albanians oppressed by the KLA thugs, who murder and extort them freely. Or to Albanians who believe they are oppressed by the international protectorate that bars them from statehood. Or perhaps to Kosovo’s non-Albanians, exposed to constant Albanian violence, shrinking in numbers, invisible in public and living in ghettos. But Albanians won’t blame Clinton, and non-Albanians don’t take him seriously anyway.

During the speech described by the media as conciliatory, the former Emperor asked the Albanians, "don’t you want to get even?" (AFP) Note the form of the question, implying it would be the expected and natural thing to do. He also referred to "you" (Albanians) and "them" (Serbs and others), and said he wanted "you" to be free. (AP) No one should care about "them"; they are only things, anyway.

The Farce in Potocari

Bosnia was Clinton’s pet issue in the 1992 election, and his first "nation-building" experiment. On Saturday, he attended the ceremony for victims of Srebrenica at the new memorial shrine in nearby Potocari. There he opened a political monument to a politicized massacre, delivering an insipid speech brimming with clichés, hypocrisy and outright lies. Then he paid a visit to the dying ayatollah Izetbegovic.

The Potocari speech, carried in fragments by wire services and newspapers, sounds like standard Clintoniana. For example, he claimed that "for much of [Bosnia’s] history, [Muslims], Croats and Serbs have lived together in peace." (AFP) What kind of history books has he been reading? But there is more:

"We must pay tribute to the innocent lives, many of them children, snuffed out in what must be called genocidal madness." (BBC)

How is the alleged killing of 7000 (more on that later) "genocidal madness," but starving 500,000 children isn’t? Well, when the first is done by the designated villain and the latter by the indispensable nation, the first is an atrocity beyond the pale, and the second is the price "worth it." Modernist logic personified.

"Bad people who lusted for power killed these good people simply because of who they were." (NY Times)

Bad people? Good people? Who was he addressing, children? And who is Clinton to lecture about evils of lust, of all things?

"[P]ride in our own religious or ethnic heritage does not require or permit us to dehumanize or kill those who are different" (AP)

This must have been spoken from experience.

"I hope you can build on the bedrock of Srebrenica in Bosnia-Hercegovina a place where all children are safe and loved and able to live out their dreams" (AFP)

Certainly Srebrenica, a tragedy surrounded by a tangled web of lies and propaganda, is just the perfect foundation for raising Bosnia’s children.

"Children must be taught to hate." (NY Times)

Was this a lapse of tongue, lapse of pen, or a lapse in judgment? Even if he’d said, "Children must not be taught to hate," that would sound hollow at the dedication of a shrine dedicated to teaching just that.

"I hope you will teach them instead to trust," he said, and to choose "the freedom of forgiveness over the prison of hatred, tomorrow’s dreams over yesterday’s nightmares." (NY Times)

Nice words, but consider the source – and the occasion. The Potocari memorial is a shrine to vengeance and hatred, not forgiveness and hope. Many Muslims in attendance felt that way, as did their political leader, who spoke afterwards.

Media Madness

The Clinton visit gave the mainstream media a chance to indulge in propagandistic exaggeration of the worst kind. Familiar clichés were trotted out to describe what allegedly happened in Srebrenica: "the worst organized slaughter since World War II" (Reuters), "the worst massacre in Europe since the end of World War II" (AP), "Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II" (AFP and BBC), the "worst war crime in Europe since World War II," (NY Times).

Absent the actual truthful information, speculation about the scale of Bosnian atrocities ran rampant: "up to 8000" were killed in Srebrenica, and "260,000" in the entire war, said the AP; Reuters "estimated 8000 killed" in Srebrenica, and "some 200,000" in Bosnia; "more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys" in Srebrenica, and "more than 250,000 people" altogether, claimed the BBC, while the AFP lowered it somewhat to "more than 200,000." The BBC also noted that the memorial in Potocari was designed to eventually contain "Ten thousand white tombstones." Only the New York Times, while dutifully repeating the number of "more than 7000" in Srebrenica, did not speculate on the total death toll in Bosnia, at least not on this occasion.

Both figures come from the claims made by the Muslim government during the war, and have never been independently verified. The International Red Cross said they received "7,599 enquiries regarding people who went missing in the town. Only 22 people have been found alive; the mortal remains of 1,083 others have been identified." Also, "currently, the identities of 6,461 Srebrenica-related individuals are recorded in an ICRC-managed… database." Here are some very real numbers, even if they only indicate that the fate of some 6500 people is unknown. But no one bothers to cite them.

All reporters embellished their accounts with strong and vivid language, presenting sheer speculation as established truth. In their eagerness, they often contradicted themselves and the official story. For example, Reuters claimed that Srebrenica was "95 percent" Muslim before the war. The actual figure is 72 percent. Muslims were a majority either way, so why lie? Funny thing is, every Reuters story on Kosovo mentions a "95 percent Albanian majority." Magic numbers, sloppy editing, or something else altogether?

Then there are attempts to capitalize on the identity and age of the deceased. AFP cites, for example, the burial of the Delic family – a father and three brothers, aged 33, 25, and 20. Yet the Reuters story says:

"107 victims were laid to rest alongside 882 already buried here, among them three Delic brothers and their father, the youngest 17 and the oldest 75."

This clearly implies the youth and the senior were among the Delics. BBC did even worse:

"The victims included three Delic brothers and their father - the youngest 17 and the oldest 75."

While Reuters could use the excuse of sloppy editing, the BBC clearly lied.

Why is mentioning the age so important? Because it creates the impression that the victims were civilians, boys and old men, not conscripts in the Muslim military, as all males above the age of 16 had to be by law. (Though executing POWs is also a war crime, it doesn’t have the visceral impact of "genocide" and is thus far less politically useful. The Muslims and their backers knew exactly what they were doing.)

But as a local reporter for Transitions Online indicates, "Since July, 881 bodes have been buried here, and, of them, four were under 18 years old, [emphasis NM] while the oldest victim was 75." Yet Clinton spoke, of "innocent lives, many of them children" – and the press repeated in unison.

Obviously, Bill Clinton’s loose relationship with the truth isn’t the only problem here. The specter of Jayson Blair still haunts Western journalism.

Hatred and Entitlement

Munira Subasic, president of Mothers of Srebrenica, is quoted by Transitions Online:

"Clinton said there was nothing he could do to stop it because there was always someone who was slowing down the process of Western intervention, and I believe him. I think he is an honest man."

Even if they were somehow honest, Clinton’s calls to forgiveness and rebuilding in Potocari fell on deaf ears. Speaking at the same ceremony, the highest Bosnian Muslim official, Sulejman Tihic, said:

"Everybody knew about the concentration camps, genocide and the other ways of crime. They knew who was participating in it. They knew who was the criminal and who was the victim." (NY Times)

This is rhetoric typical of the wartime Sarajevo regime: long on name-calling, claims of moral purity, and serious accusations aimed at emotional impact, but utterly devoid of evidence. Tihic’s words also continued the policy of deliberate ingratitude to the Muslim government’s benefactors, calculated to shame them into even more favorable behavior. Whatever anyone does for this cabal, it will never be enough to satisfy their feeling of entitlement.

Consider the words of Ahmija Delic, a former Srebrenica resident:

"Even if someone killed all the cheniks, [sic]" she said, using the word for Serbian nationalists, "I cannot forgive. They were not human beings and it was a shame for the rest of the world to allow one people to carry out these killings. […] Clinton could have helped this not to happen," she said. (NY Times, emphasis NM)

The ignorant NYT reporter did not know that in modern Muslim parlance, "chetniks" are Serbs in general, not just ‘nationalists.’ Ms. Delic clearly believes that Serbs were collectively responsible for mass murder, that this makes them inhuman, and that they deserve collective extermination. Because Clinton was perceived to have the ability to ‘help,’ he was also perceived to have the obligation. And because he did not exterminate the Serbs, as Ms. Delic desired, he obviously did not do his job well.

If Clinton’s policies really aimed at peace, and his speech at reconciliation, he failed on both counts.

The Politics of Empire

In their coverage of Clinton’s visit to Srebrenica, AFP cited a local Serb, Novo Mladenovic: "Clinton is not coming here for us or for them, but rather so that his picture from Srebrenica will be broadcast in the United States."

At the time when war criminal Wesley Clark is championed as the likeliest Democratic challenger to Bush the Younger, supported even by some otherwise reasonable people, it seems logical for Clark’s political patron and former boss to stump for his favorite in their Balkans battlefields. It would also seem logical for Americans to look at their former Emperor, his favorite to become the next one, and the current one, and understand that all three believe in power and force. They use them in different places, and mask them with different platitudes, but does that really make a difference?

It shouldn’t.

– Nebojsa Malic

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Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo, and contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for appears every Thursday.


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Illusions of Truth and Justice

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