Things told and things seen
by Diana Johnstone (12-23-99)

[ encourages you to reproduce this article in full, including this note.]

The recent Report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Kosovo is subtitled: "As Seen, as Told". The part of the report covering the mayhem that went on during the NATO bombing, between March 24 and June 10, is "as told" -- to be specific, "as told" by ethnic Albanians refugees.

The second part deals with events in Kosovo since NATO occupied the province. This part is not simply "as told" but "as seen" by the many Western observers who flooded back into Kosovo with the occupation armies of KFOR.

The difference between things "told" and things "seen" is highly significant.

As the OSCE report confirms, the violence in Kosovo escalated dramatically when the NATO air strikes began on March 24. Information about the 78-day period of NATO bombing comes essentially from 2,764 interviews with refugees in Albania and Macedonia. These "victim and witness statements" were made according to "refugee interview forms" prepared precisely with the aim of collecting evidence _against Serbian leaders_ for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In short, the aim of the interviews was not to get a full understanding of a complex situation, or to gather evidence on all the crimes that may have been committed by all sides during a period when air raids and civil war broke down law and order, but solely to gather statements that could be used against Belgrade.

As was to be expected, the ethnic Albanian refugees told their Western interviewers what they wanted to hear.

Several of the most harrowing tales told by ethnic Albanians about their Serb adversaries have turned out to be totally false: notably the reports of thousands of bodies thrown into the Trepca mines, among others. It is reasonable to suspect that other stories were also untrue.

Raimonda, the young Albanian woman who claimed to be killing Serbs to avenge the ghastly murder of her little sister, turned out to have made up the whole story for the benefit of the Western TV journalist looking for real-life drama. Later, her little sister was found to be alive, well and unharmed. The girl's relatives shrugged this off: "If her little lie helped the Albanian cause, that's just fine", her father reportedly commented. It is unlikely that this attitude is unique or even rare.

There were many reasons for ethnic Albanians to flee Kosovo during the air strikes: fear of violent reprisals by infuriated Serbs who blamed them for the NATO attack, expulsion by Serb security forces clearing the border area in preparation for an expected invasion from Albania, fear of the air raids, fear of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or even -- and this is the reason given by Cedomir Prlincevic, head of the Pristina Jewish community -- orders from KLA leaders to leave in order to advance the cause. All these reasons may have contributed to the mass exodus. (See note # 2 at end)

However, the only explanation that Western interviewers wanted to hear was also the only explanation that could improve a refugee's standing with the ever more powerful KLA: Serbian atrocities.

What really happened during the bombing remains uncertain. The powers in control of the terrain -- NATO and the KLA -- are strongly motivated to support the worst possible version of Serb behavior. Even so, no material evidence has been found yet for mass killings.

On the other hand, the daily persecution of non-Albanians in Kosovo since the NATO-led KFOR took over the province is beyond doubt. The OSCE report makes this quite clear. The murders and ethnic cleansing of Serbs and Roma (gypsies) are going on day after day right under the eyes of the Western military forces.

Kosovo is a place where the alienation and fear between two communities was fed for years by lies, rumors and false accusations. Serbs genuinely feared Albanians, and Albanians genuinely feared Serbs, often on the basis of wild rumor. The first thing outside mediators should have done was to sponsor a patient, serious and fair effort to establish the truth. On the contrary, by endorsing every accusation against Serbs, and ignoring crimes against Serbs, the United States and its NATO allies have given carte blanche to violence against them. Ethnic Albanian children are growing up in the belief that nobody really blames them for hunting down elderly "Skrinje" (the ethnic slur for Serbs) and beating them to death.

And who is most to blame? War is the worst evil. By bringing war to Kosovo, NATO brought out the worst in a certain number of Serbs, and the worst in a certain number of Albanians. The people of Kosovo have been guinea pigs in a macabre experiment: how do people react when they are bombed? How do they react when they are told that the bombing is to detach part of their country? How do they react when they are told the bombing is on their behalf? The screeching noise, the terrifying explosions, the fires, the destruction are administered from a safe distance. Then the observers go in and take notes.

Most people in Kosovo -- including ethnic Albanians -- were safer under Serbian rule than they are now. Kosovo is more than ever a dangerous place, a land of hatred.

But there is one little oasis of safety: Camp Bondsteel. The biggest overseas United States base since Vietnam has been built in Kosovo. U.S. armed forces personnel are secure in Kosovo. The citizens are not.


Note # 1 - To read other articles by Diana Johnstone, please click on Articles by Author or go to

Note # 2 - For Cedomir Prlinecvic's account of how he and other Jews were driven from Kosovo by the KLA with, he charges, NATO's knowledge and complicity, click on Driven from Kosovo or go to

Note # 3 - For the report from Spanish forensic scientists that started the world-wide challenge to NATO's massacre stories, click on Spanish Scientists: Serbs Not Guilty! or go to

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