The bloody truth about Kosovo

No amount of whitewashing can cover up the mess the Clinton administration has on its hands in Yugoslavia.

Published December 14, 1999 12:30PM (EST)

The State Department released a report last week titled "Ethnic cleansing in Kosovo: an accounting." But if you're searching for a full picture of the toll on both sides of the conflict, you'll have to look elsewhere. The main purpose of this document seems to be damage control.

As more and more evidence surfaces that the estimates of Albanian deaths offered during the war were greatly exaggerated, the powers that be desperately attempt to prove that the numbers were large enough -- 10,000 according to the report -- to justify their actions. What the "accounting" fails to account for is Kosovo's grim post-war reality.

According to Jiri Dienstbier, the U.N. special representative on human rights in the former Yugoslavia, "the spring ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians accompanied by murders, torture, looting and burning of houses has been replaced by the fall ethnic cleansing of Serbs, Romas, Bosniaks and other non-Albanians accompanied by the same atrocities."

I was in San Francisco on April 15 when President Clinton told the American Society of Newspaper Editors: "We are in Kosovo because we care about saving lives and we care about the character of the multi-ethnic, post-Cold War world." And just in case we didn't get it, he repeated that our military involvement was guided by "the principle of multi-ethnic, tolerant, inclusive democracy. We have been fighting against the idea that statehood must be based entirely on ethnicity."

But Kosovo is fast becoming a state based entirely on ethnicity. According to the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, 150,000 non-Albanians have fled Kosovo since NATO declared victory -- the result of what the high commissioner called "a disturbing pattern" of killings, beatings and kidnappings promulgated by Albanians. About as far as you can get from "multi-ethnic, tolerant and inclusive."

Of the 40,000 Serbs once living in Pristina, only 400 are left; 40,000 to 50,000 Gypsies have fled; the 300 Croats whose families had lived in the province for 700 years left in October for Dubrovnik; and the president of Pristina's Jewish community fled to Belgrade, condemning the "pogrom against the non-Albanian population."

And not only does the Kosovo Liberation Army remain armed and murderous, it now has political legitimacy. A report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe cites case after case of KLA members spearheading the campaign of terror against non-Albanians.

Yet the president had the gall to stand at his press conference last Wednesday and include in a list of his foreign policy successes "Kosovo, which I am very, very proud of." Even Hashim Thaci, the thuggish Kosovar Albanian leader, acknowledges that "the spiral of violence and insecurity is rising."

But the president of the United States is proud; the forces of the loyal opposition are silent; and the media, now that the "Crisis in Kosovo!" theme music has been filed away, has moved on to more pressing matters like the latest minute-to-minute New Hampshire polls and the books George W. is or isn't having read to him.

The Albanian atrocities are not just going unacknowledged and unlamented -- they're going uninvestigated. The International War Crimes Tribunal is mandated to investigate only crimes committed "during the armed conflict in Kosovo." And since, according to the NATO powers, the province is now enjoying the fruits of peace, the murderers can go on murdering with impunity. They know that the only retribution they have to fear is from the toothless U.N. police force.

In his triumphant visit to Kosovo last month, the president waxed lyrical to the flag-waving throngs: "The time for fighting has passed ... The international community will stand by you." In fact, the fighting has grown only more bitter, and the international community hasn't even sent the U.N. mission in Kosovo the $25 million it needs to continue paying for public services and salaries. "That's the price of half a day's bombing," lamented a senior U.N. official.

Our political class is all too adept at refusing to address any crisis that does not score high in this week's polls -- especially when it has prematurely declared victory. The energy is expended instead on orchestrating Presidential Pyrrhic Victory Tours and releasing State Department reports that whitewash the bloody truth. And on the other side of the aisle, the Republican front-runner gives a highly touted foreign policy speech that does not even mention Kosovo. Sic transit gloria Milosevic.

So the legitimate question of when America should intervene and when its intervention does more harm than good is left unexamined or reduced to a caricature about isolationism. Kosovo, meanwhile, remains like one of the thousands of cluster bomblets NATO planes left behind -- deadly and ready to claim more innocent victims every day.

By Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

MORE FROM Arianna Huffington

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Al Gore