Saturday, March 20, 2004

Here's why

In a comment on yesterday's Kosovo post, Havdala
reports this conversation:
Woman 1: The Serbs are fascists, right? This all started because they were trying to ethnically cleanse the other ones, what are they again?

Woman 2: Albanians.

Woman 1: That's right, Albanians. So now they're getting a taste of their own medicine.

Some people won't care until they can't leave the house without a burka. It's amazing to think that Yugoslavia was once nearly as popular as Spain for British tourists, now to listen to people you'd think it was Mars.

I can tell you exactly how that happens with an article from my own local newsrag, The Oregonian.

Here is the link to the LA Times story. It's biased enough, as you'll see, but the Oregonian makes it worse.

The Times headlines the story: "NATO Deploying More Troops as Kosovo Violence Continues"; the Oregonian: "NATO increases forces in Kosovo to end ethnic fighting." Notice that "violence" (which could be one-sided) becomes "fighting," which is two-sided.

The lead:
NATO sent more troops to Kosovo as violence flared Thursday for a second day and the United Nations struggled with the reality that five years of international intervention and billions of dollars in aid have not calmed the hatred between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

Notice whose "hatred" gets named first here. Just in case you haven't gotten the message, the Oregonian includes a large photo of one of two mosques destroyed in Serbia to protest the Albanian destruction of more than 100 Orthodox churches over the past five years. Just to reiterate, it was also wrong to burn the mosque, but if there's only one photo, they pick the one that represents reality as they see it, or as they want to present it. This is how the Oregonian displays its "truth."

After a nod to the fact that Serb churches were burned and "NATO forces evacuated dozens of Serbs as homes smoldered across Kosovo," the newspapers helpfully inform us:
Kosovo's majority 1.9 million ethnic Albanians are demanding independence and are angry over what they view as occupation by NATO forces -- a dynamic that led to the attacks against Serb villages and the torching of at least one U.N. vehicle.

It's the Palestinian situation. They're frustrated at the "occupation," and that "led to" the attacks against Serb villages.

Balkans "expert" Florian Bieber adds, "There's a considerable degree of frustration among ethnic Albanians toward the United Nations. The ethnic Albanians see a failure of getting independence. There's a great feeling of being let down." They're not trying to evict the Serbs and wipe out every vestige of Serbian culture. They're trying to get independence. Of course.

Kofi Annan, a follower of "the glass is not smashed to bits; it's half-full" school of state-building, said, "It shows that despite the progress that has been made since 1999, we have not come far enough." Here's the progress:
The unrest comes as Serbs throughout the region are bitter about high unemployment and disillusioned with the West, which they say rarely sympathizes with their problems and unfairly charges their politicians with war crimes. Nationalist Serbian political parties made gains in recent elections, and the violence in Kosovo -- where Serbs compose only 10% of the population -- could spark a revival of the kind of hate that roiled the Balkans throughout the 1990s.

High unemployment could be related to the fact that only Albanians are allowed to work in Kosovo; in fact, for any Serb to seen outside the "enclaves" is punishable by death. It's not "official," but the Albanians in control simply haven't pursued the perpetrators of the thousands of attacks against citizens of Kosovoover the past five years, which include murders and missing-person reports.

Which, in turn, puts the "Serbs compose only 10% of the population" into perspective. Albanians were a majority before the war, but 200,000 Serbs were driven out already, leaving these 80,000 to await their fate.
Many Serbs say the burning of mosques could incite Islamic extremists such as the Al Qaeda terrorist network and prevent the former Yugoslavia from eventually joining the European Union. But Serbs are also loath to relinquish Kosovo, which they consider sacred land where centuries ago their ancestors fought Turkish invaders.

When Patriarch Pavle spoke out against burning mosques, he said nothing about inciting extremists or any worries about joining the European Union. Since members of the EU have been among those standing watch over the destruction of Serbia and Kosovo, I wonder that they would even want to join, but that's their decision. All the same, the news piece makes them seem more interested in these external outcomes than in maintaining human rights.

Second point in a tightly packed paragraph, those Serbs are "loath to relinquish Kosovo . . . ." There is no reason to relinquish Kosovo. No one has bought it from them. The United States bombed the crap out of Serbia but hasn't yet taken away this piece of property. It has historical value to Serbia, even though it has a majority of non-Serbian residents. What if the non-Anglo majority of southern California decided to "return" San Diego through LA to Mexico? What if they decided to accomplish their goal through murder and mayhem? (I don't accuse the Hispanics of southern California of such a plan, but they have as much reason as the Kosovo Albanians have.)
"We are not fighting the Muslims. This is not a religious war," said Tomislav Nikolic, deputy leader of the ultra-right Serbian Radical Party, who condemned the mosque fires. He added that Serbs in Kosovo were "not attacked by Muslims but by the worst breed of terrorists."

Here's a Serb trying to calm Serb anger over Albanian atrocities. Why the gratuitous zinger that he's the leader of the ultra-right Serbian Radical Party? These left-right labels don't translate very well from country to country anyway, and the writers haven't bothered to give us the context for this particular label: economic?, military?, some other? or their own? We'll never know.
Ethnic clashes were less fierce Thursday, but a spate of church fires dotted Kosovo as NATO troops -- firing rubber bullets and tear gas -- were unable to deter ethnic Albanian arsonists. There also was an unconfirmed report of grenades fired at an Orthodox Church in the town of Lipljan.

There are those rascally "ethnic clashes" again; it sounds like Fords and Chevys hitting each other on the freeway. A telling detail, though, is that NATO troops were firing rubber bullets and tear gas. That may explain why they're not having any effect on the Albanian arsonists. And it's an "unconfirmed report of grenades fired" on a church: Maybe that report is unconfirmed, but there are plenty of confirmed reports if the reporters are looking around.
The Oregonian piece ends with this paragraph:
"The escalating violence in Kosovo must end," U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. "It threatens the process of democratization and reconciliation."

The Oregonian leaves out this tiresome background information from the wire story:
The trouble began Wednesday when fighting broke out in several towns amid unsubstantiated rumors that Serbs in a village near Kosovska Mitrovica set a dog on three Albanian boys who fled into a river and drowned. A day earlier, a Serb man was killed in a drive-by shooting.

Most of Kosovo's Serbs -- whose population has fallen to about 100,000 from 200,000 before the war -- live sequestered in the north of the province.

The violence arrived a week before the fifth anniversary of the NATO war against then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Since then, the United Nations has helped build an autonomous democratic government in Kosovo.

But sporadic violence, organized crime and nationalist tendencies have prevented Serbs and ethnic Albanians from successfully integrating. The U.N. is blamed by ethnic Albanians for not granting Kosovo independence, and by Serbs for not protecting villagers from attacks.

Kostunica said the ethnic Albanian attacks were an organized attempt to chase Serbs from Kosovo.

"An attempted pogrom was carried out against the Serbian population," said the prime minister, alluding to policies used against European Jews in the early 20th century. "What has happened has a scope of attempted ethnic cleansing and hallmarks of something that several years ago was called humanitarian catastrophe."

The lax attitude of the United Nations "towards ethnic Albanian violence in the past several months is the core of the problem," said Dusan Janjic, director of the Belgrade-based Forum for Ethnic Relations.

"The violence now is only being directed against Serbs. But soon it will be turned towards the U.N., the real target of the Albanians. Their aim is to make the U.N. either leave or make huge concessions to the Albanian side."

I know that newspapers frequently can't run the entire text of a story, but when it's so loaded from the beginning, and then they cut the entire context, it's inexcusable.

Greg at Gregorian Rants reports a telling exchange:
Granted, I could have read more, but I think I'd read enough to be troubled by the simplistic attitudes I heard expressed towards the situation in the Balkans at that weird summit I attended in London a few years ago. Listening to George Robertson, Geoff Hoon, Wes Clark, Socrates Kokkalis, and especially CNN's Christian Amanpour I was horrified by their black-and-white statements about what had happened in Yugoslavia. Particularly offensive was Amanpour's offhand observation that in conflict situations there's always a bad guy, and the job of the journalist is to identify that villain; in the case of Yugoslavia the villain was clearly 'the Serbs'. That's insane. Journalists have a job to report on what's happening, not to impose a false order on the bloody reality by labelling people heroes and villains. That's turning it into a story; life is usually more complicated than that.

Is it any wonder that people are turning way from newsherd outlets and to the Internet, where they can easily find out what Pravda says and what Serbian News says, what a guy they never met saw at a journalists' summit in London, then compare and contrast CNN USA and CNN International, Associated Press and Reuters, and the story in the daily rag and the wire story it was based on.

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