10.The Refugee Burden Inside Serbia
What has not been discussed in the international media is the fact that Yugoslavia has already been bearing what is one of the biggest refugee burdens, per capita,of any country in the world. Almost 1 million refugees from the earlier cycles of war since 1991-92 have fled into Yugoslavia, mostly Serbia. These include not only Bosnian Serbs and Croatian Serbs, but also Croatian Catholics and Muslims who feared for their safety in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.
Yugoslavia has received no substantial international aid to support, resettle or accommodate these refugees. Many have been absorbed into the society. With the start of the Kosovo bombings by NATO, about one-third of the total refugee flow did not move toward the Albanian or Macedonian borders, but rather moved further up into Serbia. Some, of course, went into the Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro. Those moving into Serbia did so largely to escape the KLA, and by late April 1999 it was clear from interviews with some Kosovar Albanian men of fighting age who had fled the bombing into Albania proper that they wished to return to their Kosovo homes rather than be forced to stay in the camps and face coercion by the KLA.
Bombing the Refugees into Compliance:
There is very little doubt but that the bulk of the refugee problem relating to the Kosovo dispute is the result of the NATO bombing exercise. There are those who claim that the Yugoslav Government initiated a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" under the cover of the bombing, but there is little real evidence to support this.
Indeed, every time the US Administration, the UK Government or NATO have talked of "compelling evidence" they never actually showed it. The television coverage of understandably distraught refugees coming across the borders into Albania and Macedonia told the tale, requiring only a few words of "interpretation", often from genuinely concerned humanitarian workers who had already bought the argument about "ethnic cleansing".
That is not to say that atrocities, other than those very real atrocities committed by air power, did not occur. There may well be evidence that violations of human rights occurred on all sides. But it is known through hard intelligence that the KLA intended to use "the KLA Air Force" NATO as the cover for its ground operations. These operations were mostly based around intimidation of the people in whose name the KLA was ostensibly fighting: the Kosovo Albanians.
The view, propagated by outside observers (who had never been into the area or studied it), that "the Serbs" wanted to "cleanse" Kosovo of "ethnic Albanians" is ludicrous. There were 20 national groups living in Kosovo, all in relative harmony most of the time. That the residents of Albanian origin caused most of the problems for the Yugoslav authorities is well-known, but the problems mostly stemmed from the fact that many were illegal immigrants from Albania, in Yugoslavia for economic reasons. By the 1990s, however, there was a new generation of Albanian Kosovars, born in Yugoslavia, not in Albania.
For the most part, the Yugoslav Government was (and claims still to be) happy to have them in the country; after all, one third of all Yugoslavs are not Serbs, in any event. As noted earlier, Serbia is the most multinational, multi-religious state in the Balkans.
So when it appeared that a massive exodus was occurring as a result of the bombing (aided by the actions of the KLA and, presumably, some by-now angered Serbian paramilitary groups), it was clear to the Yugoslav Government that the problem was enormous. "We do not want Kosovo emptied of people," many Yugoslavs have told me in different ways, "even though there is now much anger between the Serbs and the Albanians, who each blame the other for the bombing and the terror."
So Yugoslavia attempted during the first 30 days of the bombing to close the Albanian and Macedonian borders, in order to persuade Kosovars to return to their homes. When the exodus was in full swing, US and NATO authorities supported by the sanctimonious voices of such politicians as British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, a man embroiled in personal ethical scandals claimed that it was as a result of Serbian "ethnic cleansing". When the refugee flow slowed, the same officials claimed that it must be because "the Serbs" were holding the refugees as "human shields".
Clearly, from the Clinton viewpoint, no action taken by the Yugoslavs could be allowed to be seen as normal or reasonable.
Inevitably, when the flow of rhetoric had numbed the Western audiences, the predictable cry of "rape camps" went up from left-wing sources, who felt that such a crime must be taking place, given the fact that "the Serbs" were "less than human". It is worth noting that the original claims of "rape camps" in the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict were proven false, and the journalists who originally propagated the stories did so on speculation, not on fact. But the mud stuck. It is probably true that rapes have occurred during the current conflict. Certainly, the KLA, having worked with the Bosnians and Iranians during the earlier psychological war, knew that they had to have rapes in order to get attention. But in such an instance, the natural, or logical suspicion, for such activities would fall on the KLA rather than the Serbs, who are so keenly attuned to the horror of an accusation they have faced before.
It is also relevant to note that the statistics for Yugoslavia for the crime of rape are on a par with the rape statistics for most Western countries. Is the implication of the propaganda that something special triggers "mass rapes" and "rape camps" among people not normally so disposed?
The NATO (mainly US) bombings of the Kosovar tractor and car convoys noted earlier in this report began at a time when the refugees were starting to move back toward their homes. Many had realized the futility of crossing the border. So the four convoys hit that day were all comprised of Kosovars returning home, not "fleeing the Serbs". It could be argued that for the Kosovars of all nationalities to arrive at a settlement and to stop running from the bombs would represent a disaster for the Clinton policy.
Weare aware that the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department each warned the Clinton Administration that the bombing would trigger a mass flight of the population of Kosovo. It was initially believed by professional intelligence analysts and defense officers in the US that the Clinton team had ignored the warning because of na´vetÚ. But this was not so.
The Clinton team wanted to create a steady stream of refugees in order to justify prolonging the bombing. And they relied on the KLA to help in this regard. It could equally be argued that the Clinton team (speaking here of Clinton, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeline Albright, not the professionals) wanted a state of ongoing bombing to continue without significant ground force involvement.
This would be a low-cost (in human terms), low-risk way to achieve their aims. But clearly it was a policy which could not be sustained. The Armed Forces of the US, and NATO, inevitably would insist on either withdrawal or "completion" of the job.
Environmental Pollution & Trade Disruptions
The environmental damage caused by the bomb-ing of Yugoslav oil refineries, petro-chemical plants and fertilizer facilities alone is obvious. As well, of course, the dropping of 10,000 tonnes of ordnance by the NATO aircraft in the first 30 days of the assault also leaves a legacy to be dealt with over many years, as the ordnance problem in post-war Cambodia demonstrated. But in addition to this, even by Day 30 of the bombing, oil was seeping into the Danube from destroyed Yugoslav facilities. An oil slick some 15km long and some 20 meters wide was already damaging the ecology of the river.
Apart, of course, from the disruptions to Yugoslav trade, the destruction by NATO of at least five major bridges across the Danube meant that this important river no longer was open for international traffic. Clearance could take six months after the conclusion of hostilities. The closure of the Danube shuts off one of the most important trade links across Europe, literally cutting off cargo movement from Western Europe to Eastern Europe. This is in many ways a slightly less-significant parallel to the closure by Israel of Egypts Suez Canal during the 1967 Six Day War. Then, commercial sea traffic was forced to go around the Southern Africas Cape of Good Hope instead of through the Canal.
This meant the construction of new types of ships, longer transit times and therefore significantly higher costs for goods forced to make the longer voyage. The same will be true of the East-West trade which relied on the Danube artery. The cost to Germany, Austria, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria and, of course, Yugoslavia, will be significant. And other countries which relied on the Danube as part of an East-West freight link will also be affected.