Lubomyr Prytulak   Comment   23-Apr-1999   Thoughts on Kosovo
Thus, there is nothing new in this NATO action against the Serbs.  We have already seen its pattern before in Ukraine and Russia namely, the West intervenes, the economy is devastated, and the best and the brightest are lost to the West.  The details differ from case to case, but the fundamentals remain the same.
Please read also UKAR coverage of the 23-Apr-1999 NATO bombing of the Serbian TV studios.
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The Expulsion of the Kosovars,
the Destruction of the Yugoslav Economy:
Great Stupidity or Great Evil?

Lubomyr Prytulak

Ignore the rhetoric, pay attention to what is happening.

If one pays attention to the rhetoric surrounding the NATO bombing of Serbia, then one may get the impression that the event is unprecedented in recent history.  However, if one ignores the rhetoric and steps back and describes what is happening in the simplest terms, then one may get the impression that it is just more of the same.  What, in the simplest terms, is happening?

Economies are destroyed, populations are transferred.

The West, under the leadership of Bill Clinton, is once again intervening in the affairs of a Cyrillic-alphabet Slavic nation this time, Serbia.  I say "Cyrillic-alphabet" to include mainly Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Serbia and to exclude mainly Poland and the Czech Republic.  The effect of Bill Clinton's intervention is to destroy the economy of yet another Cyrillic-alphabet Slavic nation, and to trigger another population transfer.  At the moment, the refugees are Kosovar Albanians and not Serbs, but as the economy of Serbia has been destroyed, a flood of Serbian emigrants and refugees can be expected as well.

More accurately, brains are drained.

There is much talk of returning all Kosovar refugees to Kosovo, but this is unrealistic.  Obviously, a large proportion will never return, and the ones who don't return will tend to be the best and the brightest who find opportunity in the West and in Israel.  For example, the Kosovars who have been welcomed to Canada will enjoy freedom of movement within Canada, and after seeing this land of milk and honey up close and for a long time, some substantial proportion of them can be expected to choose to stay in Canada rather than returning to their war-ravaged and unstable land.  Israel, in turn, has explicitly invited the refugees that it has taken under its wing to make Israel their home, though I noticed that it was mainly the children who were waving the Israeli flags that were handed them for the photo opportunity, with some of the adults looking pointedly away from the camera as they held their Israeli flags limply in their hands.  Somehow, both children and adults had all been persuaded to don Israeli T-shirts, white with the Shield of David in blue on the front.  In any case, it will be predominantly the reject Kosovars who have not been offered a place in the West or in Israel who will be returned to Kosovo.  And now that the Serbian economy has been devastated, there will be a flood of emigrants and refugees from Serbia as well and of course those who have the initiative to leave, and find the means, will tend to be the best and the brightest as well.

A recurring pattern.

Thus, there is nothing new in this NATO action against the Serbs.  We have already seen its pattern before in Ukraine and Russia namely, the West intervenes, the economy is devastated, and the best and the brightest are lost to the West.  The details differ from case to case, but the fundamentals remain the same.

Is there any alternative?

But is Bill Clinton trapped into doing the only thing that was possible to do?  I think not.  The problem of the Serbs does have an alternative solution, and a greatly superior one.  The problem of the Serbs is not that they are stupid, and not that they are evil.  The problem of the Serbs is that they are misinformed, which is hardly surprising given that they live in a police state with totalitarian control over the media.  In support of this view, Lawrence Weschler writes that what popularity the Milosevic policy toward the Kosovars enjoys among Serbs is engineered by the Milosevic stranglehold on the media:

Of course, that popularity owes much to the fact that the Milosevic regime has maintained a virtual stranglehold on the country's major media for more than a decade; in that time average Serbs have not been exposed to anything resembling a balanced let alone minimally factual account of developments in their region.
(Lawrence Weschler, Mind Sets: Beyond Victimhood, The New Yorker, 12Apr99, p. 25)

Slobodan Milosevic and his cohort bear the overwhelming responsibility for fomenting the calamity we are now witnessing.  In a cynical grab for power, and through the expert use of propaganda and other fascist methodologies, they whipped the people into a frenzy.
(Lawrence Weschler, Mind Sets: Beyond Victimhood, The New Yorker, 12Apr99, p. 25)

In case any doubt remains as to the thoroughness of Milosevic's control of the Yugoslav press, we note that the Committee to Protect Journalist's 1999 list of the Top Ten Enemies of the Press gives Milosevic first place:

Yugoslavia's President Slobodan Milosevic

Suppression of the press through intimidation, assault, crippling fines, and license denials all codified in a draconian media law imposed in October is a prime weapon in Milosevic's arsenal of control.  Intensified with the onset of the NATO bombardment, Milosevic's repression of all independent media has quelled every opposition voice, imperiled journalists' lives, and filled the airwaves with hate speech.
Slobodan Milosevic

Bill Clinton's solution to the Serbs being misinformed, then, is not to inform them, it is to bomb them back into the stone age.

The alternative is to inform and re-educate.

The alternative solution to the problem of the Serbs is to free them from the totalitarian thought control that their dictators have imposed on them, and to re-educate them.  One conclusion that could be underlined in such a re-education campaign is the illegitimacy of any ethnic group claiming sovereignty over a territory on the grounds that it controlled that territory at some point over the past two thousand years what unacceptable chaos it would create to all existing borders if such claims were granted any legitimacy, and what claims by non-Serbs to presently-held Serbian territory would be thereby encouraged!  Another conclusion that could be underlined is the devastation that inevitably descends upon any people who practice ethnic cleansing.  Another conclusion that could be underlined is how successful have been nations that permit ethnic and religious and linguistic diversity.  Another conclusion that could be underlined is how unsuccessful have been nations that are totalitarian.  Yet another conclusion that could be underlined is the intellectual bankruptcy, and the economic and political incompetence, of the present Serbian leadership, and of the urgency of replacing it.

Particularly targeted for attack and demolition might be an emotional predisposition to nurture grievances:

This kind of fascism draws most of its strength from a sense of historical grievance and of the nation-as-misunderstood-victim a national self-pity zealously husbanded, nurtured, and sustained from one generation to the next in a process that often seems to verge on the pathological.

This is what we seem to be dealing with in Serbia, a country whose overriding foundation myth, far from celebrating a triumph, glorifies a six-hundred-year-old botched defeat, one that continues to cry out for vengeance.
(Lawrence Weschler, Mind Sets: Beyond Victimhood, The New Yorker, 12Apr99, p. 25)

When the people of the Balkans are not stirred up to hatred by their leaders, they live in peace and intermarry.  It takes demagogues to rekindle their ethnic consciousness and to stir up their sense of grievance.  Therefore, what the misinformation of the Serbian demagogues has recently built up, the information of the West could readily tear down:

It's not as though people in this region have historically been incapable of living together.  Through most of their history they did just that; the rate of ethnic intermarriage in cities like Sarajevo was almost a third in the last years before the war.  Rather, it's that to the extent that they thought of themselves as Serbs or Croats or Kosovars or Bosnian Muslims or suddenly started thinking of themselves that way all over again their core identity arrived pickled in the brine of historic victimhood.  Once they got started, these people were not only unable to forget the past; they could scarcely think of anything else.  Grievances half a century and even half a millenium old remained so vivid that, as was occasionally noted, it was as if the living had been transformed into shades haunting the far more substantial ghosts of the distant past, rather than the other way around.
(Lawrence Weschler, Mind Sets: Beyond Victimhood, The New Yorker, 12Apr99, p. 25)

Does America encourage Milosevic by setting a precedent?

Where have we seen the Milosevic tactics before? Strengthening group cohesion by nurturing a sense of historical grievance, by encouraging self-pity almost to the level of a pathology, by making half-century-old injuries more vivid than contemporary reality?  Why these are the tactics of the Jews and of the State of Israel!  Thus, one obstacle to anybody mounting an anti-Milosevic information war is that the style of thinking which needs to be demolished this being "pickled in the brine of historic victimhood" which Milosevic encourages in the Serbs can be seen to be the style of thinking responsible for the strength of the Jews of the diaspora and of Israel.  In his tactic for strengthening the group cohesion of the Serbs around a demagogue himself Milosevic is just following the precedent set by America's dominant class, the Jews, and by America's favorite protégé, Israel.  How, then, for the Americans to convince the Serbs of the error of this style of thinking, when Americans themselves condone or wouldn't it be more accurate to say, sanctify it among the Jews of the United States and of Israel?

To inform can be to deter.

The Serbs today, I expect, are stunned by the destruction of their infrastructure, which is to say that they never expected it, and which is to say in turn that they had never been informed of the losses that they were about to sustain.  And why not?  Why not inform the Serbs in advance of what they would lose unless they stopped mistreating the Kosovars?  Why not deter the Serbs by informing them of their imminent losses instead of failing to deter them and then being forced to inflict the losses?  Why not detail for the Serbs what they were about to lose, rather than leaving them with the illusion that they would lose little, with the effect that we see today the near-total ethnic cleansing of the Kosovars together with the near-total destruction of the Serbian infrastructure.  Here also we see a failure to use Western powers of informing and educating and persuading.

But what could a media blitz accomplish?

How much could be accomplished in such an re-education campaign depends only upon how much money would be spent.  I have no idea what today's war on the Serbs costs, but I guess that it is in excess of $100 million US dollars per day.  Let us for the sake of argument, then, say $100 million per day if this guess is off, it will not be by so much as to change any of my conclusions.

With the money being spent today a lot could be accomplished!

What kind of media blitz can be purchased for $100 million per day?  I would think a rather impressive one.  I would think a wholly irresistible one.  One hundred million dollars a day, day in and day out, could not fail to discredit Milosevic and to bring Serbian thinking into line with Western expectations.  That money could buy the best brains and talent that the Western information and entertainment industries had to offer.  Of course, one would agitate for the Serbian leadership to permit a free press, but one wouldn't have to wait for that, or count on it, because with such an ample budget one could parachute down upon the Serbs hundreds of thousands of shortwave receivers and miniature television sets, all designed to facilitate the avoidance of jamming and to receive Western broadcasts.  One could parachute down over Serbia a daily delivery of pamphlets and newspapers and magazines and books and phonograph records, and audiotapes and CD-ROMS.  One could send into Serbia countless agents to facilitate the spread of information.

In one way or another, then, one could blanket Serbian radio and television with minute-long bites and with hour-long documentaries.  One could smother the Serbs with facts and essays in pamphlets and magazines and books.  One could blanket Serbia with fictionalized accounts in novels and in films.  One could inundate Serbia's popular music with songs of peace and friendship.  The stream of information unleashed over Serbia could be convincing, masterful, compelling, and overwhelmingly.  What today's smart bombs are failing to accomplish utterly, yesterdays smart writers could have accomplished totally.  Where smart bombs dropped over Serbia pushed the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo to completion, smart newspapers dropped over Serbia could have stopped the ethnic cleansing from ever beginning.  Where smart bombs destroyed the Serbian infrastructure, smart documentary films could have left the infrastructure intact and could have modernized the Serbian economy.  The Serbs could have been welcomed into the modern world instead of being humiliated and traumatized and devastated by it.  The West's information and media industries could have been strengthened to the tune of $100 million per day, instead of the West's military-industrial complex.  The heroes of the information war could have counted how many Serbs they had convinced, instead of having the heroes of the shooting war counting how many Serbs they had killed.  A Slavic nation could have been strengthened and enriched, instead of devastated and plundered.  The Kosovars could have remained living peacefully in their own land, instead of being murdered and expelled.

Wag The Dog with four differences.

What I am proposing is a Wag The Dog media blitz, but with four differences: (1) The media blitz would be directed not at Americans, but at Serbs.  (2) Whereas the Wag the Dog media blitz could not have been cheap, it could not have cost $100 million a day either.  With a budget as large as $100 million a day, a great deal more can be accomplished than was shown in Wag The Dog.  (3) Whereas the Wag The Dog media blitz was delivered for a few days, the Serbian media blitz would be delivered for weeks or months, and on a reduced scale, for years.  (4) Whereas Wag the Dog portrayed a media blitz that was all disinformation, the Serbian media blitz would be all information.

Invest in the Serbian economy.

Not to mention that some of the $100 million per day allocated for Serbia could be diverted away from the media blitz to be invested in the Serbian economy, thereby interesting Serbs in improving their standard of living, which to many of them would provide a tempting alternative to slogging off to war, as it already does today to many pacific people the world over.  Bill Clinton's preference is to throw the Serbs out of work, leaving them little else to do but to pick up arms so as to defend the integrity of their borders and to avenge their losses.

Is the NATO bombing attributable to Bill Clinton's total bankruptcy?

Bill Clinton's solution to the Serbian problem suggests that to the trait of moral bankruptcy that he has become notorious for can be added the trait of intellectual bankruptcy.  Perhaps it never occurred to him that it would be better for all parties concerned Americans, Kosovars, and Serbs if he unleashed information over Serbia instead of bombs.  Similar doubts concerning intellectual competence can be entertained with respect to all those who supported Bill Clinton's decision to unleash the US military.  Somehow, Clinton together with his advisers missed out on the simple fact that the underlying problem which if solved would resolve the entire Kosovo crisis was that Milosevic had control of the media and was misinforming the Serbs:

Obviously, a man's judgment cannot be better than the information on which he has based it.  Give him the truth and he may still go wrong when he has the chance to be right, but give him no news or present him only with distorted and incomplete data, with ignorant, sloppy or biased reporting, with propaganda and deliberate falsehoods, and you destroy his whole reasoning processes, and make him something less than a man.
(Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Adress, New York State Publishers Association, August 30, 1948, in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 1968, p. 1020a-1020b)

Or is the NATO bombing attributable to Bill Clinton's total evil?

On the other hand, as the loss is all on the Slavic and Albanian side and the gain is all on the side of the West, perhaps the cause of the NATO bombing is not so much Bill Clinton's incompetence as it is the re-implementation of a familiar Western plan.  One wonders who first encouraged and funded the Kosovo Liberation Army to shatter the peace that had reigned in Kosovo, and by killing Serbian policemen to provoke the Serbs to see as their only options a protracted guerrilla war, or a brief ethnic cleansing? There's a thread which if followed might fill out our understanding of what is happening in the Balkans today.  Was the Kosovo Liberation Army an indigenous idea, or did it receive some encouragement from interested but hidden parties?  Did the KLA receive any external funding, or any shipments of weapons, or any guidance or training from abroad?  Might it have been in somebody's interests to spark this conflict?  Might it be in anybody's interests to spark any similar conflict in Eastern Europe, as in Ukraine?

Bill Clinton's choice.

Thus, Bill Clinton's choice in this matter seems to be to accept the judgment that he is either very stupid or very evil.