The 11th anniversary of the NATO intervention is now being commemorated in Serbia, yet few people have any idea why we were bombed. As time passes the ‘NATO aggression’ is becoming part of the dominant national mythology, according to which Serbs are forever innocent victims persecuted by international powers. Miloševic’s propaganda in which Western states appeared as ‘NATO criminals’, and their intervention as ‘completely unprovoked’, has taken deep roots. But there was a very good reason, alas!, why the Western states were impelled to intervene by force of arms.
What was happening then in Kosovo was something rather similar to what had happened in Bosnia a few years before. Judging by various independent reports and verdicts of the ICTY, the Serbian army, police and paramilitary units shelled and torched Albanian places, and killed and deported the civilian population en masse. The killing of the inhabitants (mainly women, children and the elderly) of Gornje Obrinje on 26 September 1998 became front-page news in the West. Despite the warnings of the European Union, Miloševic continued his criminal policy. By the beginning of 1999 thousands of Albanian villages had been shelled or burnt down, over 200,000 Albanians displaced, some 70,000 had found refuge in neighbouring states, and nearly 100,000 had sought asylum in the West. After special police units perpetrated a massacre in Racak, Western intervention became inevitable.
The escalation of violence against civilians and the ethnic-cleansing operations conducted by the Serbian forces were the immediate cause of the NATO bombing of FRY in March 1999, which is why it was termed a ‘humanitarian intervention’. But after NATO’s initial raids Miloševic did not stop – on the contrary, he intensified the crimes in Kosovo. Many state and public bodies participated in ‘cleansing’ the southern Serbian province of its population. Yugoslav army trucks and Serbian Railways trains were used to deport the population to the Macedonian and Albanian borders, the municipal services were used to remove corpses from the streets, and the Serbian police executed civilians and secretly transported their bodies to central Serbia using refrigerator trucks. The organisation and extent of the persecution following the start of the NATO bombing shocked the world.
It was soon understood that what was happening was an ethnic-cleansing operation on an unimaginable scale, which subsequently became known as Operation Horseshoe. It seemed that Miloševic was implementing a ‘final solution’ to the Albanian question. Only three weeks into the NATO bombing, the United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) registered over half a million displaced Kosovars, and several hundred thousand more who were internally displaced. The deported population had their personal documents and other proofs of Serbian citizenship confiscated, and were thus deprived of their individual identity. Up to June 1999, over 80% of the total population of Kosovo and over 90% of Kosovo Albanians had been driven from their homes. Around 10,000 Albanians were killed during the operation, which lasted less than three months. Thousands of houses were demolished by means of artillery, bulldozers, fire and explosives. Religious objects were not spared either – around 150 mosques were destroyed.
We in Serbia had no idea what was happening, of course. The state television broadcast images of destroyed bridges and TV towers, alongside occasional downed NATO aircraft. Some of us were in air-raid shelters, others fought bravely against the mighty NATO air-force, while Slobodan Miloševic and his assistants continued their joint criminal enterprise in Kosovo.
Following Miloševic’s capitulation and the withdrawal of the Serbian army and police from Kosovo, we became inundated with images of Serb refuges and torched Orthodox churches. The deported Albanians who returned to Kosovo together with the international forces revenged themselves against the Serb minority for the crimes committed by the Serbian state. Since that time, the commemoration of each anniversary of the ‘NATO aggression’ involves references to Serb victims, to Serb refugees, to depleted uranium, and to the illegitimacy of the bombing; but the true cause of NATO intervention or the terrible war crimes which the Serbian state committed against Kosovo Albanians is passed over in silence.
I hope that one of these years, at another commemoration of the ‘criminal NATO aggression’, some Serbian official will explain to us how it came about that our taxes were used to organise this persecution and these deportations, and more importantly why this is not being publicly discussed years after Miloševic’s death.
And finally, believe it or not, the NATO operation was not called ‘Merciful Angel’: it was Miloševic’s regime which invented this name in order to underscore the Western allies’ cynicism.
The author is a contributor to Wikipedia in the Serbo-Croat language.
Translated by Bosnian Institute, 25.03.2010.