Bombing the baby with the bath water

Each missile worsens the humanitarian disaster that NATO is supposed to be preventing.

Published March 31, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

The airstrikes against Yugoslavia were supposed to stop the Milosevic war machine. The ultimate goal is ostensibly to support the people of Kosovo, as well as those of Serbia, who are equally victims of the Milosevic regime.

In fact, the bombing has jeopardized the lives of 10.5 million people and unleashed an attack on the fledgling forces of democracy in Kosovo and Serbia. It has undermined the work of reformists in Montenegro and the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and their efforts to promote peace.

The bombing of Yugoslavia demonstrates the political impotence of President Clinton and the Western alliance in averting a human catastrophe in Kosovo. The protection of a population under threat is a noble duty, but it requires a clear strategy and a coherent endgame. As the situation unfolds on the ground and in the air day by day, it is becoming more apparent that there is no such strategy. Instead, NATO is fulfilling the prophecy of its own doomsaying: Each missile that hits the ground exacerbates the humanitarian disaster that NATO is supposed to be preventing.

It's not easy to stop the war machine once its power has been unleashed. But I urge the members of NATO to pause for a moment and consider the consequences of what they are doing. Analysts are already asking whether the airstrikes are still really about saving Kosovo Albanians. Just how far are NATO members prepared to go? What comes next after the military targets? What happens if the war spreads? All of these terrifying questions must be answered, although I suspect that few will want to live with the historical burden of having answered them.

The same questions crowded my mind as I sat in a Belgrade prison on the first day of the NATO attack on my country. Whiling away the hours in the cell I shared with a murder suspect, I asked myself what the West's aim was for "the morning after." The image of NATO taking its finger off the trigger kept coming to mind. I've seen no indication so far that there is a clear plan to follow up the Western military resolve.

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My friends in the West keep asking me why there is no rebellion. Where are
the people who poured onto the streets every day for three months in 1996
to demand democracy and human rights? Zoran Zivkovic, the opposition mayor
of the city of Nis, answered that last week: "Twenty minutes ago my city
was bombed. The people who live here are the same people who voted for
democracy in 1996, the same people who protested for 100 days after
the authorities tried to deny them their victory in the elections. They
voted for the same democracy that exists in Europe and the U.S. Today my
city was bombed by the democratic states of the U.S.A., Britain, France,
Germany and Canada! Is there any sense in this?"

Most of these people feel betrayed by the countries that were their
models. Only yesterday a missile landed in the yard of our correspondent
in Sombor. It didn't explode, fortunately, but many others have in many
other people's yards. These people are now compelled to take up arms and
join their sons, who are already serving in the army. With the bombs falling
all around them, nobody can persuade them -- though some have tried -- that
this is only an attack on their government and not their country.

It may seem cynical that I am writing this from the security of my office
in Belgrade -- secure, that is, compared to Pristina, Djakovica, Podujevo
and other places in Kosovo. But I can't help asking one question: How can
F-16s stop people in the street killing one another? Only days before the
NATO aggression began, Secretary-General Javier Solana suggested establishing a
"Partnership for Democracy" in Serbia and the other countries of the former
Yugoslavia to promote stability throughout the region. Then, in a rapid
U-turn, he gave the order to attack Yugoslavia.

With these attacks, it seems to me, the West has washed its hands of the
people, Albanians, Serbs and others, living in the region. Thus the sins
of the government have been visited on the people. Is this just? There are
many more factors in the choice of a nation's government than merely the
will of the voters on Election Day. If a stable, democratic rule is to be
established, and the rise of populists, demagogues and other impostors
avoided, the public must first of all be enlightened. In other words there
must be free media. NATO's bombs have blasted the germinating seeds of
democracy out of the soil of Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro and ensured that
they will not sprout again for a very long time. The pro-democratic forces
in Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serbian entity, have been jeopardized and
with them the Dayton peace accords. NATO's intervention has also given the
green light for a local war against Montenegro's pro-democracy president,
Milo Djukanovic.

The free media in Serbia has for years opposed nationalism, hatred and war.
As a representative of those media, and as a man who has more than once
faced the consequences of my political beliefs, I call on President
Clinton to put a stop to NATO's attack on my country. I call on him to
begin negotiations that aim at securing the right to a peaceful life and
democracy for all the people in Yugoslavia, regardless of their ethnic

As a representative of the free media, I know too well the need for people
on all sides of the conflict to have information. Those inside the country
need to be aware of international debate as well as what is happening
throughout this country. The international public needs the truth about
what is happening here. But in place of an unfettered flow of accurate
information, all of us hear only war propaganda -- Western rhetoric
included. Of course, truth is always the first casualty in war. Here
and now, journalists are also being murdered.

Radio B92 is continuing its work as much as the circumstances of war
permit. It is continuing to broadcast news on the Internet, via satellite and through a large number of radio
stations around the world that continue to carry its programs out of

By Veran Matic

Veran Matic is editor in chief of Belgrade's banned Radio B92 and a leading peace activist. He has won many international awards for media and democracy, the latest being last year's MTV Europe "Free Your Mind" award. Early this year he was named one of this year's 100 Global Leaders for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum.

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