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Religion and Propaganda in Kosova

On December 17, Cliff Kincaid and Sherrie Gossett of Accuracy in Media (AIM) cited in “Remember Kosovo?”, “the resurgence of anti-Serb, anti-Christian violence in Kosovo” as one of the “most underreported or buried stories” in 2004. In reality, this was one of the most inaccurately reported stories of the past year. Although it is the mission of AIM to “set the record straight on important issues,” it was clear that, like so many other American NGOs and government officials, it had succumbed to the propaganda emanating from the Serbian government, which has been misusing religion to gain political advantage in the West.

Meanwhile, most Americans also do not realize that there is no separation between church and state in Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox Church works intensively with the Serbian Unity Congress, Belgrade’s lobby on Capitol Hill. Since the rise of Serbian dictator (now indicted war criminal) Slobodan Milosevic in 1989, and more energetically since NATO ended Milosevic’s genocidal march across the Balkans in 1999, the Serbian Orthodox church has been working actively with Belgrade to misrepresent Albanians as a potentially threatening Muslim force in the heart of Europe.

The purpose of their portrayal of Albanians as Muslim “terrorists” is to thwart the legitimate struggle for Kosovar Albanian human rights and self-determination and to achieve a land grab either by putting Kosova back under Serbian domination or by annexing the mineral-rich northern part of this now UN protectorate. This was the aim of Milosevic in 1989, when he rose to power by fueling anti-Albanian racism and illegally occupying Kosova for a decade. This was the aim of Milosevic and his henchmen, when they raped, pillaged, and murdered their way across Kosova in 1998-1999, killing more than 10,000, expelling close to one million, and, incidentally, burning to the ground hundreds of mosques and Islamic religious sites. And this is the aim of Belgrade now, which has yet to dismantle the Milosevic system in the postwar era. In “Remember Kosovo?”, Kincaid and Gosset deemed the war in Kosova “a civil war that cost a couple of thousand lives.” But, on the contrary, the Kosova war was part of a decade-long effort by Milosevic’s military and paramilitary forces to exterminate and expel non-Slavs from the Balkans (including both Albanian Christians and Muslims) in the quest for a “Greater Serbia.”

Because of active lobbying by Belgrade, many officials in Washington and Brussels,

along with a Western press taking its cue from official sources, have been miscasting the Serbian-Albanian conflict as a religious one, when in fact it is a political and economic conflict. Most of the 535 members of the U.S. Congress are Christians, making them particularly susceptible to Serbia’s promotion of religion as the source of Kosova’s problems. When 30 churches and monasteries were destroyed or damaged during riots that broke out in March 2004, the Serbian lobby found a potent vehicle to advance its political agenda.

The riots actually had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with UN-imposed policies that have produced obscene levels of poverty and hopelessness. While there is no justification for the March violence, which left 11 Albanians and 8 Serbs dead (not “dozens of people,” as Kincaid and Gossett and most of the Western media have reported), an understanding of the broader picture is essential. Contrary to the assertions of the international community, the explosion of violence was not orchestrated (although it was exploited by a small group of criminals and political extremists from both Albanian and Serb communities). It was a spontaneous eruption of pent-up anger by Kosovar Albanians—70 percent of whom are unemployed in a population in which 70 percent are under the age of thirty. They have lost hope in the future and faith in the intentions of the United Nations, which has retarded the political, economic, and social progress of Kosova by keeping it in a legal limbo.

Had Kincaid and Gossett consulted other sources (they did not cite any Albanian sources), they would have learned that Albanians are the most pro-American, pro-Western, pro-democratic ethnic group in the Balkans. Albanians revere Americans because President Woodrow Wilson made it possible, in opposition to Western European political machinations, for Albania to become a state (albeit truncated) in 1918, and because the U.S. government saved Kosovars from genocide at the hands of Milosevic in 1999. On 9/11, while Serbs, Greeks, Macedonians, and Russians danced with joy in the streets over our tragedy, Albanians held candlelight vigils in front of the U.S. mission and put up billboards throughout Kosova with the words “We are with you.”

Above all, had Kincaid and Gossett consulted other sources, they would have learned that the Serbian Orthodox Church actively supported the Milosevic regime’s efforts to exterminate Albanians and to destroy Islamic religious sites in 1998-1999. To this end, during the war in Kosova, the Serbian church and government tried to portray the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) as a “terrorist” organization connected to Islamic fundamentalist forces in the Middle East. After the war, they tried to connect the KLA to Al Qaeda. In reality, the U.S. government has never designated the KLA as a terrorist organization, a fact that was clarified publicly at a House International Relations Committee hearing on March 12, 1998, and confirmed by the CIA in 1999. And the effort to link Kosovars to Osama bin Laden has collapsed because it is preposterous. (The burden of proof is on Kincaid and Gossett to explain a link between the KLA and Al Qaeda and how they came up with a Kosovar named Muhammed al-Zawahiri who purportedly is linked to bin Laden!)

Playing the religious card has enabled Belgrade to encourage historical amnesia about its effort to exterminate Bosnian Muslims and Kosovars in the 1990s. It has enabled Belgrade to create a false parity between the perpetrators and the victims of Milosevic’s wars in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosova. And it has also enabled Belgrade to divert international attention away from the stark realities of postwar Serbia, in which members of the ruling elite, war criminals, and organized crime commingle. In the postwar period, Belgrade has been caught selling weapons to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in violation of the embargo. It has also been exposed for having transported Albanian bodies in refrigerated trucks to Serbia at war’s end to conceal the extent of the carnage in Kosova.

At the end of “Remember Kosovo?”, Kincaid and Gosset switch to the subject of Kosova’s newly elected prime minister. Never mentioning his name, they say that he has been accused by Serbia of “child rape, torture, multiple murders, abduction, and terrorism” and is facing a “possible indictment from the UN itself.” In reality, Belgrade has operated a campaign of vilification against Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and other former KLA figures. In Haradinaj’s case, International War Crimes Tribunal investigators have concluded that there is no justification for charging Haradinaj for war crimes. Most important, the real reason for Belgrade’s attack on Haradinaj is not because he was a general in the KLA, but because he is probably the only Kosovar Albanian politician who has the respect and trust of the Kosovar Serbs and the disparate Albanian political factors. He is therefore a threat to Belgrade’s continued ability to manipulate the Kosovar Serbs and to destabilize the region for Serbia’s political advantage. Ramush Haradinaj’s election to prime minister of Kosova is perhaps themostinaccuratelyreported story of the year—a story that hopefully the analysts at AIM will be willing to revisit.

Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League.

Ossining, New York January 1, 2005

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