by Diana Johnstone (2-28-00)
Comparison of two documents, a November 1999 International Crisis Group (ICG) paper on the Trepca mining complex, and a February 2000 article in the Toronto Star by ICG consultant Susan Blaustein, provides an exceptionally clear glimpse into the workings of the "international community".
The International Crisis Group is a high-level think tank supported by financier George Soros. It was set up in 1995, primarily to provide policy guidance to governments involved in the NATO-led reshaping of the Balkans. Its leading figures include top U.S. policy maker Morton Abramowitz, the eminence grise of NATO's new "humanitarian intervention" policy and sponsor of Kosovo Albanian separatists.
Last November 26, the ICG issued a paper on "Trepca: Making Sense of the Labyrinth" which advised the United Nations Mission In Kosovo (UNMIK) to take over the Trepca mining complex from the Serbs as quickly as possible and explained how this should be done. The February article by the ICG journalist represents a vulgarization of the anti-Serb position designed to prepare public opinion for carrying out the ICG policy. There will no doubt be more.
The ICG Paper: Manipulative Ambiguities
Trepca is a conglomerate of some 40 mines and factories, mostly but not all in Kosovo, notably including Stari Trg, "one of the richest mines in Europe" and the richest in the Balkans, currently shut down, and the Zvecan smelter, located northwest of Mitrovica and still being operated by Serb management. The ICG calls on UNMIK, headed by Bernard Kouchner, to cut through legal disputes over the industry's ownership and take over management of Trepca itself.
On July 25, Kouchner issued a decree that "UNMIK shall administer movable or immovable property, including monetary accounts, and other property of, or registered in the name of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or the Republic of Serbia or any of its organs, which is in the territory of Kosovo". The ICG paper concluded that "UNMIK and KFOR should implement a rapid and categorical takeover of the Trepca complex, including the immediate total shutdown of the environmentally hazardous facilities at Zvecan". What is really wrong with Zvecan is that it is run by Serbs and provides revenue to Yugoslavia.
But in the "game-plan of measures" recommended by the ICG, UNMIK is advised to instruct a "Zvecan environmental assessment team" to report on the status of the equipment and thereupon "advise as to what measures must be taken"... Environmental hazards are to be the pretext to shut down Zvecan and deprive the last Serbs in Kosovo of their livelihood. Meanwhile, "Stari Trg, one of the richest mines in Europe, must be potentially profitable again and should be a priority for donors interested in setting Kosovo on its feet".
The game-plan calls for a gradual start up of mining to reassure the "Kosovars", meaning ethnic Albanians, of their future. For although the ICG says that the "workforce and management of all Trepca facilities should be selected on a merit basis only", it adds that "no one with ties to the Belgrade regime should be considered" -- and it is habitual to identify all Serbs with "the Belgrade regime", even to ignore their existence other than as "agents of Milosevic".
This blatant takeover of valuable property in what is still nominally part of Serbia is of course justified as a necessary measure to reassure the oppressed Albanians. "The return to work of even a few hundred Kosovar miners would represent, for all Kosovars, the reclaiming of their patrimony".
The media event is easy to imagine. But if the ICG hostility toward the Serbs seems genuine, the love for the Albanians may be less than perfect. In the ICG's brief account of past ethnic clashes over Trepca management, underlying the habitual anti-Serb bias is the basic hypocrisy of dominant powers manipulating two peoples against each other. The ICG report notes that Trepca "has long stood for Kosovar Albanians as the symbol of Serbian oppression and of their own resistance", and recounts that after 1974, finally able to manage the Trepca facilities themselves, Kosovars "created thousands of jobs", but that "in 1981-82, a sort of `Trepca-gate' scandal -- in which Kosovar Albanian workers were accused of having stolen vast quantities of gold and silver -- was the pretext for firing many engineers and technicians". Whether the theft was real or merely a "pretext" is of no interest to the international community ... so long as the Serbs were in charge.
But afterwards? The report concludes that: "Simply handing Trepca over to the Kosovars is ruled out by the shortage of modern skills available locally, the need for internationally-verifiable standards to avoid corruption" as well as damage to the installations. And as for those "thousands of jobs" created by and for Kosovo Albanians, they are not on the international community agenda. "The social impact of the reduced work force would need to be balanced against the need for competitively based private investment", the ICG observes. Fortunately, the ICG finds that the young leadership of the "Kosovo Liberation Army" is "somewhat impatient" with the older Kosovo Albanian leadership group's interest in "a huge workforce" and prefers modernization that will require foreign investment capital. No wonder Washington chose to back the violent KLA.
The manipulative hypocrisy of the ICG policy designers is even more blatant concerning the Serbs. The ICG urges UNMIK to hurry up with the game plan for taking over the valuable mining complex _before_ Serbian elections so that a new government more to the West's liking cannot be accused of "losing Trepca". All Serbian leaders, including opposition leaders, the ICG observes, will have to protest when UNMIK takes over Trepca and the Zvecan smelter. "However they could exploit the argument that the `loss' was due to the pariah status of Milosevic himself, so that once again Serbia has lost assets due to his presence in office. So provided action were taken before any elections in Serbia it need not upset, and might contribute to, any strategy for unseating Milosevic." In short, the international community is going to take over Trepca whoever is in charge in Belgrade; better do it while Milosevic is there, so that the Western-backed "progressive, democratic" opposition can pretend it was the fault of Milosevic!
Media Propaganda: Familiarity versus Truth
Such cynicism is hard to surpass, but there is always room to add a few lies. This is the task of the media propaganda aimed at getting the general public to swallow the policies decided by elite think tanks and governments. The February 23, 2000 article in The Toronto Star by ICG senior consultant Susan Blaustein, "Mitrovica flashpoint for the next Balkan war", deserves a Jamie Shea award for the most shameless war propaganda of the month. The clichés are all there, "centuries-old hatreds" (not our fault, folks); then focus on the single culprit: Milosevic; the unreliable French seeking appeasement versus the need for the international community to display "backbone" and stand up to "Milosevic's test of its resolve". For Blaustein, it is Milosevic, of course, who is causing trouble in the city of Mitrovica because of his "keen financial interest" in the Trepca mining complex and the Zvecan smelter. NATO has occupied Kosovo and watched for eight months while Albanians murder, terrorize and drive out most of the non-Albanian population, but Blaustein is able to write (and the newspaper to publish) that: "The city is a lynchpin in Belgrade's `Greater Serbia' strategy of expelling non-Serbs from the region." The November 1999 ICG report noted that: "International financial officials have long recognized the minerals industry as being prime for money laundering" throughout the world because of its structure and suggested that "the interest of the Milosevic circle in exploiting the Trepca facilities might go beyond the simple operation of sharing out the profits." This speculation is taken a step further by Blaustein, who writes that the smelter in Zvecan "is widely believed to have served the regime as an efficient money-laundering mechanism". But in any case, if the Serbs are running Zvecan to their profit, why would they want to make trouble? Ah, that Milosevic! It is because "Mitrovica is Milosevic's only remaining foothold in Kosovo" so "he has decided to call the bluff of the international community". The world is one big "test of wills" where little guys are forever "calling the bluff" of giants so the giants will wipe them out. The little guys seem to enjoy doing that, don't ask why. Blaustein goes on to excuse the Albanians for recent violence and blame the French. It is not the Serbs who are being driven out of Kosovo, but the Albanians who are victims of "Milosevic's operatives" who "monitor, harass, terrorize and expel ethnic Albanian civilians who dare to live in or travel to the Serb side of town". The rocket attack on a bus carrying Serb civilians, which killed two of them, was "not unprovoked"; the Albanians were impatient with the international community for turning a blind eye to "Serbs' oppression of ethnic Albanians"... By not allowing mobs of angry ethnic Albanians to take over the last part of Kosovo where Serbs are still managing to live more or less normally, "international officials are abandoning the U.N.'s stated commitment to create and protect a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo", according to Blaustein. This tract is meant to cast the blame in advance for what Blaustein calls the "next Balkan war". It is in total contradiction to the facts of what has been happening in Kosovo during eight months of foreign occupation.
How then can anyone dare to write or publish such an article? The answer is that the propagandists are counting on the tendency of uninformed readers to mistake what is familiar for what is true. The cliches about "Milosevic" and "Greater Serbia" are familiar. The truth is not. If and when the "next Balkan war" breaks out and the "international community" takes full control of the Trepca industrial complex, the distracted public need not pay too much attention, since everybody already knows what it's all about: that evil dictator Milosevic is causing trouble again.
- Diana Johnstone, 28 February 2000
To read the Blaustein article, please go to http://emperors-clothes.com/articles/Johnstone/flashpoint.htm
Some articles which clarify what is going on in Yugoslavia: