April 2, 2000
To carry on with the wall of silence that suddenly fell last week, The New York Times keeps the lid on the news this week too.
Unintentionally, a piece by Steven Erlanger, The Times's bureau chief for Central Europe and the Balkans, published in today's New York Times Magazine, provides the reason for the silence. Erlanger writes about the rape and murder of a young 11-year old Albanian girl last January in the Kosovo town of Vitina, allegedly committed by a 12-year U.S. Army veteran. The Staff Sergeant is awaiting military trial in jail in Mannheim, Germany*.
Erlanger quotes the commanding officer of the Third Battalion and a West Point graduate, Lt. Col. Michael Ellerbe. Ellerbe: "The biggest surprise is the fact that there were so many victims here, Albanian, Serbian, Roma, Bosnian. The picture by the international media was of only Albanian victims."
Yes Sir! It is worth repeating: "The picture by the international media was of ONLY Albanian victims."
Now, Lt. Col. Ellerbe may get reassigned for his unguarded comment. His career may even suffer. But the comment is out for all (who read) to see. Steven Erlanger knows it, he who has become very quiet, almost subdued, in the last three weeks. And The New York Times knows it too, it which has put a chap of lead over anything about Kosovo for the past two weeks.
People started to ask questions. You can only ask questions when you are informed. Remove the information and the questions will disappear.
On Tuesday, March 28, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright brought the political troops back in line in an Op-Ed headlined Our Stake In Kosovo. The byline summarizes her rationale in a nutshell: Europe can lead in building peace, but it needs U.S. help.
Nothing in her piece is particularly imaginative. Serbs rejected a peace plan (Rambouillet), went on a rampage against the Albanians. The International Community, led by the U.S.A. responded forcefully. Peace is back, children are in school. The Europeans are providing the bulk of the money to reconstruct the region and the troops to keep the peace. Our involvement is minimal but necessary to the success of our humanitarian policy. If we leave now the world will grow rapidly more dangerous. We did the right thing, we are doing the right thing now. American knows it. Albright covers all the basics for squelching dissent and putting everybody back to sleep.
One small detail though. Albright: "A sense of inter-ethnic community may or may not develop; but pragmatic co-existence is clearly possible." So, multi-ethnic community is out the window of official parlance, inter-ethnic -- what does that mean, inter-ethnic? -- community is a maybe, and pragmatic co-existence is in.
Meantime, shut up!
The New York Times is a better soldier than Lt. Col. Michael Ellerbe. The paper has not one other story about Kosovo this week but for an Agence France-Presse report on a French Colonel accused of having allegedly "leaked sensitive classified documents from the Kosovo peacekeeping force to the news media," showing that Bernard Kouchner, the head of UNMIK, was biased against the Serbs.
And, for good measure, Carlotta Gall writes twice about the tensions developing in Montenegro between Milo Djukanovic, the president of Montenegro, the latest poster boy of our free-market democracy proponents, the good guy, the white horse, and Slobodan Milosevich, the man we used to be able "to work with" until we saw fit for our interests to brand him a criminal, the dark horse. So Gall remains prolific, managing to write on the periphery but has forgotten the very existence of Kosovo.
What does Lt. Col. Ellerbe feel about all this? Perhaps he would smile before such cunning. And perhaps, again, he would look at the destruction and suffering we've caused and the destruction and suffering we keep causing under "the picture by the international media [that it was a story] of ONLY Albanian victims," and politely question Albright's self-confident assertion that "we did the right thing."
* For those of you curious enough to want to know what Steven Erlanger wrote about in his piece, here is a short synopsis by Jan Baughman: "The Ugliest American tells the story of Albanian man, Hamdi Shabiu, who was allegedly beaten near death by Serbs, forced to leave his village of Vitina, returns with his family and now lives in "a Serbian house that isn't their own". Two weeks after returning, his 11 year-old daughter was raped and murdered by a good American soldier (who once sang for Bill and Chelsea Clinton) turned bad. It's not easy for American soldiers in Vitina, though the A Company, of which the offending soldier was part, has a reputation for being aggressive. In any event, this was the story of one single death in Kosovo, that of an Albanian girl, for which the murderer will be punished, and for which the U.S. military will compensate the family. Erlanger's advice to Shabiu: "If I were you I would get your (sic) own lawyer."
This Week's Other Articles
Another Tap-Dance If You Please, Mr. Rubin - by Drew Hamre
From Iraq to Serbia,
Burying the News and our Humanness with it - by Gilles d'Aymery
Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath
Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath