While the media obsessed over Monicagate, the Yugoslav province of Kosovo became the latest Balkan entity to undergo a form of genocide peculiar to Eastern Europe known as ethnic cleansing. Even though the newspapers and TV have been stuck on impeachment, you can still follow the crisis in cyberspace, where news and human rights organizations have websites, as do every faction in the Balkans.
Under threat of NATO air strikes, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Albanian-backed rebels have begun peace talks in France, following the recent massacre of 45 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. President Clinton said US troops might be sent to the area as part of another NATO peacekeeping force, but after the debacle in Bosnia, Congress is skeptical.
Ironically, as traditional journalism dumbs down, news agencies are using their websites for in-depth reporting. For example, the website for ABC News <www.abcnews.com>, has "A Beginner's Guide to the Balkans" with a history, timeline, pictures and biographies of the major players. Internet-only news agencies covering the Balkan crisis include Mario Profaca's "Mario's Cyberspace Station" <mprofaca.cro.net>, based in Croatia, and the London-based "Out There News" <www.megastories.com>, headed by veteran Reuters reporters John West and Paul Eedle.
According to "OTN," 90 percent of people living in Kosovo are ethnic Albanian, but asking why Serbs care so much about Kosovo "is like asking Zionist Jews why they care so much about East Jerusalem ... For nationalist Serbs, Kosovo is like Jerusalem, so holy in their mythology that possession of it is vital to their survival." The article states that Serbia's hard-on for Kosovo goes back to 1389, when Serbian Prince Lazar was defeated by the Ottoman Turks.
But why rely on news reports when every combatant has a website? For the Serbian point of view there's the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Official Web Site" <www.gov.yu>, which traces Serbian persecution from the death of Prince Lazar through to "Islamic extremism" and "Albanian terrorism" today. Made to look like the website for a news organization, the Serb Ministry of Information website <www.serbia-info.com> has the latest Serb propaganda.
A recent press release translated
remarks made by Serbian Deputy
Prime Minister Ratko Markovic to the Serbian parliament. Markovic, who
is heading the Serbian delegation to the peace talks, described Kosovo
as "the spiritual home-land of Serbia ... the main artery of whole
from which all the parts of that nation are getting their life essence
Based in the Hotel Grand in Kosovo's capital of Pristina, Media Center Pristina <www.mediacentar.org> provides daily news clippings from a Serbian perspective and offers "competent fixers and stringers (interpreters) to the journalists and TV/Radio crews for the region of Kosovo and Metohija." Representing the views of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo is the website for the Serbian Democratic Movement, "Kosovo.Com" <www.kosovo.com>, which finds itself "between two opposite extremes -- the undemocratic regime in Belgrade and the secessionist Albanian movement, which both keep to their unreconcilable positions and threaten this area with a new war."
The easiest way to tell who's who in Kosovo is how they spell it -- the Albanians spell it Kosova. The website for the breakaway Republic of Kosova <www.kosova-state.org> carries reports, statements and press releases from the secessionist government of Ibrahim Rugova. The Kosova Information Center <www.kosova.com> has daily news from the Albanian perspective, and another website for news with an Albanian slant is "Kosova Crisis Center" <www.alb-net.com>. Created by Albanian students, "Crisis Center" also documents "factual material that unveils a systematic pattern of Serb atrocities and aggression against everything Albanian in Kosova."
Kosova Task Force, USA <www.justiceforall.org> is a spin-off of the Bosnia Task Force, USA, which held rallies to draw public attention to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Supported by major Islamic organizations in North America, it seeks US recognition for an independent state of Kosova. At a page with tips for dealing with the media, the Task Force notes: "The tragedy in Kosova is not only about the loss of life, but also about the lack of coverage. In this media-driven world that we live in, it is unfortunate that public policy and public outcry are often a function of the coverage that they receive."
Translated pronouncements of the rebel Kosova Liberation Army can be found at "Zëri i Kosovës / Voice of Kosova" <www.zik.com>, a weekly Albanian newspaper published in Switzerland. "We ask from NATO and UN to force the Serb retreat from the territories of Kosova and enable the refugees a safe return back to their destroyed and robbed homes," states the KLA's 14th Political Declaration. "Otherwise, the Kosova Liberation Army will continue their fight for independence."
America's military presence in the Balkans also has websites. "BosniaLINK" <www.dtic.mil/bosnia> is the official Department of Defense information system about US military activities in Operation Joint Guard, the NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. With more information than you thought should be available about a military operation, the site even lets you send email to the troops. "Task Force Eagle" <www.tfeagle.army.mil> claims to be "the premiere site for current information about the events in the American sector of Bosnia." The website has photos of "recent and significant events" in Bosnia, including how peacekeepers celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and visits by Hootie and the Blowfish and the Los Angeles Lakers cheerleaders.
Finally, there's the International Crisis Group <www.crisisweb.org> a nongovernmental organization chaired by former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who recently brokered an agreement in Northern Ireland. ICG supports a large-scale military intervention in Kosovo by the US and Europe, warning that the failure to do so now could cause even more chaos in the future.
"After 10 years of hesitation and cowardice in its dealings with Mr. Milosevic, the international community must be willing to confront him with military force if necessary," ICG asserts. "The prospect of a shooting war over Kosovo may not be attractive to policymakers in the West, but it may be the only way to avoid massive bloodshed and long-term conflict in Kosovo, which could in turn destabilise Yugoslavia and neighbouring countries for years to come."
Not that you'd know if from the evening news.
The problem with the Balkans is that there are too many of them. Not only Christian Orthodox Serbia, Roman Catholic Croatia and Muslim Bosnia, but Kosovo, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia, Albania, parts of Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, et. al.
Over the millennia, a succession of overlapping powers -- Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Nazi, Communist, NATO and United Nations -- have tried to stop the locals from exterminating each other by imposing various nation states with shifting boundaries and degrees of autonomy. But periodically the Balkans undergo a form of anarchy known as Balkanization, which tends to drag the rest of the world down with it, like in 1914, when a Serbian nationalist assassinated Austro-Hungarian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, setting off World War I.
Serbia is responsible for most of today's ethnic cleansing, but the Croats first coined the phrase during World War II, when they became allies of the Nazis and "cleansed" their territory of Jews, gypsies and some 350,000 Serbs. After the war, Croatia was rejoined with Yugoslavia, which became a people's republic ruled by Marshal Tito, a Croat, who managed to suppress regional uprisings until his death in 1980.
Some in the Balkans tried to live together, and Sarajevo in particular prided itself on being a place where people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds could get along. But the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo was the Woodstock for cosmopolitanism, and when the Iron Curtain began to unravel in 1990, so did Yugoslavia.
The latest round of Balkanization began in 1989, when Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic gave a nationalist speech in Kosovo's capital of Pristina, renewing the centuries-old call for a "Greater Serbia." Yugoslavia revoked the province's autonomy and began a crackdown against ethnic Albanians, who comprise 90 percent of Kosovo's two million people. Next, Croatia declared independence, and fighting broke out there. To stop that civil war, Europe and the US recognized Croatia and Slovenia as independent states, but then Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence, and Bosnian Serbs declared independence from Bosnia.
As 14,000 UN peacekeepers looked on, a 44-month civil war ensued among Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims that included ethnic cleansing, the creation of a million refuges, and a siege of Muslim villages and "safe havens," which finally stirred international outrage when Serb forces lobbed a mortar round into a Sarajevo marketplace, slaughtering 68 people. NATO belatedly attempted to strike back, but the Serbs took UN peacekeepers hostage and the world backed down. When Serbs shelled Sarajevo a year later, NATO launched more extensive air strikes and the Serbs finally lifted their siege.
In November 1995, a peace accord worked out in Dayton, Ohio, divided Bosnia into a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serbian republic, both supervised by a central government. To keep the peace, NATO dispatched 50,000 troops to Bosnia, including 20,000 US soldiers, 6,900 of whom are still there.
NATO's occupation calmed Bosnia, but in February 1998 a guerilla war broke out in Kosovo. After 10 years of nonviolent resistance to Serbian repression, a new insurgency of ethnic Albanians called the Kosova Liberation Army (independence-minded Albanians spell the province with an "a" at the end) began small military operations, including kidnapping ethnic Serbs. The Serbian police and Yugoslav Army responded in kind, leading to the recent massacre of 45 ethnic Albanians.
As the warring parties begin peace talks in France, more than 2,000 Albanians and Serbs have already been killed in fighting, and more than 100,000 people are homeless. About 800 unarmed international "verifiers" are in Kosovo to monitor a so-called ceasefire, while 5,000 NATO troops are waiting across the border in Macedonia to extract the verifiers if necessary. Concerned that Balkanization could further spread to Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey, NATO is pushing the two sides to accept a deal giving Kosovo more autonomy while remaining a part of Yugoslavia.
-- Compiled from articles posted at the websites of news organizations and nongovernmental organizations including ABC News <www.abcnews.com>, Associated Press <www.ap.org>, Out There News <www.megastories.com>, Human Rights Watch <www.hrw.org>, and International Crisis Group <www.crisisweb.org>.