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Srebrenica Revisited | The Nation

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Srebrenica Revisited

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During the Balkan war of 1912, Leon Trotsky was a war correspondent for a group of liberal Russian and Ukrainian newspapers. He understood that pan-Slavic and Christian Orthodox chauvinism was a crucial element in Russian tyranny--just as it is today in the warped worldview of our ally Yeltsin--and he wrote of the atrocities committed in Kosovo that Russian indulgence made it much easier for Serbian and Bulgarian gangs "to engage in their Cain's work of further massacres of the peoples of the Crescent in the interests of the 'culture' of the Cross." Quoting a Serbian soldier whose civil and political conscience had been revolted, Trotsky reported:

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Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, longtime contributor to The Nation, wrote a wide-ranging, biweekly column for the magazine...

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The horrors actually began as soon as we crossed the old frontier.... The darker the sky became, the more brightly the fearful illumination of the fires stood out against it. Burning was going on all around us. Entire Albanian villages had been turned into pillars of fire.... Dwellings, possessions accumulated by fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, were going up in flames.

But most Europeans found that they could contemplate the immolation of obscure Muslims with relative equanimity. As indeed can we. In order to understand the shame of what has lately occurred (or better say recurred) in Kosovo, one must revisit the shame of what occurred at Srebrenica. It is unlikely that even the Serbian "irregulars" in Kosovo have exceeded what they accomplished in that Bosnian "safe haven" in July 1995: the organized killing and interment of perhaps 10,000 male captives. That hecatomb was carved out and filled up as US satellites whirled calmly overhead recording the information, and as NATO troops stood by and exchanged pleasantries with the overworked executioners. Even Richard Holbrooke, a man trained to realpolitik in a hard school, had the grace to look embarrassed and awkward when asked what the United States knew and when it knew it.

Srebrenica, however, was described by many liberals, and accepted by the Clinton Administration, as "a blessing in disguise." It so horrified and terrified the Bosnian leadership that it brought them to the conference in Dayton, Ohio. And so grateful was Slobodan Milosevic for the forbearance of Washington in understating and even concealing his role in the mass murder that he consented to come to Dayton also, and to become the valued co-sponsor of a Pax Americana. From this glorious page of diplomacy it was but a step to a whole new chapter: a NATO assault on what seems to most Serbs like all of Serbia, with the ethereal war machines flying high over the continuing pogrom while soliciting another handshake from--the same Milosevic himself! To get the worst of so many worlds--if the expression is not itself an insult to so many victims past, present and future--one has to have a regime that is numb to all questions of history and all matters of principle.

You can forget all the half-baked nonsense about Kosovo being Milosevic's "Holy Land" or his Jerusalem. It would be more accurate to call it his Sudetenland or his Anschluss. In Kosovo, thanks to the Albanian boycott of the rigged elections, his party gets 20 percent of its seats. In Kosovo in April 1987, thanks to a quick-change from Balkan Stalinism to Balkan national socialism, he was able to don the mantle of racial and populist demagogue. (There is live footage of the clumsy and obvious staging of this provocation.) It would cost him his head, never mind his job, if he backed down too fast. But, in the cleansing interval that was both provoked and provided by the threat of air attacks on other parts of Yugoslavia, he may have won enough ground and displaced enough people to call for another Dayton, and perhaps to get Yeltsin and Holbrooke to help broker it.

One says "other parts of Yugoslavia" because our heroic President and Commander in Chief could not have been more wrong, in his patronizing speech on Day One, than in referring to Kosovo as "a province of Serbia." Internally speaking, it is a formerly autonomous region of former Yugoslavia. Its constitutional autonomy was unilaterally revoked by Milosevic when he began his seizure of power and his demented campaign to redefine Yugoslavia as a Serbian mini-empire. Externally speaking, the frontier demarcating Kosovo from Albania is recognized, by international treaties, only as a Yugoslav border. Should Montenegro secede from the rump federation, as Montenegrin democrats wish, there will be no more "Yugoslavia" for Kosovo to belong to. It would be nice to believe that there was anyone in Washington who had allowed for this possibility or pondered its implications. But then, just you try asking whether Kosovo, in the United States design, is intended to get its autonomy back, or to become a part of Serbia, or to be subject to an improvised partition, or to become independent, or to federate with a future "Greater Albania" (which would itself be an ugly metastasis of the model Greater Serbia). Blank looks are what you get. These people don't think, and probably can't think, beyond the next news cycle. Which is why another Dayton may succeed another Srebrenica. The likeliest endgame is obviously a de facto partition/annexation of a cleansed Kosovo; the precise objective proposed by Milosevic's then-crony Dobrica Cosic back in 1988.

As humanitarian concern increased--over the question of how well protected were billion-dollar Stealth machines--I called Srdja Popovic. As the chief human rights lawyer and dissident of old Yugoslavia, he has only recently decided to identify himself as a Serb, and to do so as a further means of denouncing Milosevic. I wondered if anyone from the Administration had been in touch with him lately. No, he said, not since 1992. "I told them then that intervention was required for the sake of Serbia as well as Bosnia and Macedonia and Croatia and Kosovo. They hated this idea so much that they never called me again. What they do now is sporadic and improvised, and I have the feeling that they have not thought it through at all." That's a bad feeling. Even worse is the suspicion that a carve-up might have been in the works from the start.

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