A Glimpse Behind The Curtain Of Silence

by Gregory Elich

April 22, 2002


[Ed. Note: This essay is accompanied by five photographs taken by the author. Accordingly, it will take some time to come up in your browser (depending on the speed of your connection to the Internet). Thank you for your patience.]
War. It has come to be regarded as an ordinary event, scarcely meriting a thought. There is always some new enemy that the West must battle; always a simple contest of good versus evil. Advanced military technology is shown blowing up empty buildings, reminiscent of a videogame. Western technology, we are told, has made war into a bloodless affair. Few, if any American or British soldiers are killed. Non-Western people don't count in this equation. In the Western world, such one-sided contests may be referred to as "humanitarian," "peacekeeping," "justice," or any of dozens of other euphemisms. To the less-enlightened non-Western segment of humanity, a conflict in which thousands of defenseless people are killed is simply slaughter. Rarely is the reality of war presented to the Western public. Rarely are the victims portrayed. To do so would spoil the celebratory mood evoked by exploding US munitions. As long as those killed are not American it is not newsworthy. But what about the victims? What is it like to be the target of rampaging Western power? Four cases are examined below, taken from NATO's war against Yugoslavia. The photographs were taken in August 1999, shortly after the war. About half of the testimony was recorded at the same time by the delegation I was a member of, while the remainder of the testimony originates from a variety of documentary sources. In a sense, these are mere glimpses of the war, for every town and city in Serbia without exception was bombed. The devastation of Aleksinac, Novi Pazar, suburbs of Novi Sad, or any of a thousand other stories could just as easily have been selected, for the destruction of Yugoslavia was thorough and deliberate. These are the stories of a few, but they exemplify the experiences of hundreds of thousands of victims. The criminal destruction of Yugoslavia was a signpost on the road to the present. Western power is running amok. Casting aside all restraints, the US spreads its military bases across the face of Central Asia, sowing death among thousands of Afghan civilians. It plans the deaths of thousands more in its anticipated attack on Iraq and supports Israel's rampage through the West Bank. It pours money into the war in Colombia and threatens North Korea and Iran. Only time will reveal the full extent of Western efforts to overthrow legally elected governments in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Sanctions continue to strangle Cuba, Libya, Iraq and others. All must bend to the Western will for domination. Wherever Western bombs may fall, there will be victims, but we will neither see nor hear them. Their cries of pain will be silent for us, for their stories will not be told. For all of them, their silent stories will resemble those below.



Sanatorium in Surdulica, Serbia 1999 - © Gregory Elich 2002
Interior of Special Lung Hospital and refugee center at sanatorium in Surdulica.

It was a clear day on April 27, 1999 when air raid sirens sounded shortly after 12:00 noon in Surdulica, a small town enfolded by verdant hills in southern Serbia. On Jovan Jovanovich Zmaj Street, children were happily playing outside. Hearing the wail of the air raid siren, the children ran into the home of Aleksandar Milich, where they took refuge in the strongest basement in the neighborhood. NATO planes flying overheard released several bombs over the town, two of which sailed into that very house. The blast sent bricks and debris flying everywhere. "I did not hear approaching planes," reported Andrija Cvetanovich. "Only an explosion. Splinters were flying all over the place. The sky was completely dark." Jelena Andjelkovich was hiding in the cellar of another home when she heard the blast. "The next thing I knew was all that dust was choking us." In another neighborhood, the house of Borica Novkovich's son was obliterated in the attack. "The noise was indescribable. The sound was like a huge blow on my head. Everything turned over and rolled down the hill." Her neighbor, Radica Rastich "was screaming, screaming, when we came to help her. She was taken from the house all twisted and bent over. She was shaking and shaking, her hands were pressed tight over her ears." Perica Jovanovich would never forget the sound. "When the plane is flying and drops the bomb the noise changes. It's awful. It's like the static on the radio but so loud, and then there is this awful crash and pressure and everything moves and boils up."

Nothing remained of the three-story brick home of Aleksandar Milich. Neighbor Momir Andjelkovich, who described Milich as "my finest friend," survived the attack. "I couldn't understand what was going on. There was dust everywhere, and the houses existing two minutes before -- right in front of my house -- were just gone. I heard people screaming, and one of the people down there was my uncle. We tried to dig with our hands, I made him a small hole to breathe until first aid could come." At the sound of the first blast, his uncle, Stojanche Petkovich, had rushed into the Milich home. He was in the upper cellar and about to descend into the lower cellar when two bombs hit the house, thrusting him against the wall. "I covered my mouth with my hand to prevent the dust to enter, because there was a cloud of smoke and dust in there. When I recovered a bit after the second explosion I called out to those from the second basement, but no one answered me. I could see that the ceiling in that part of the basement had collapsed." Soon Petkovich heard blocks falling and "saw the ceiling above my head coming down on me. The concrete ceiling was now down, pinning down my right lower leg. I was watching the other end of the ceiling also coming down on me and I saw the iron bars in it stretching. Then everything stopped." It took two hours to pull Petkovich out, the only survivor from the Milich home. Blood was spattered all around where the cellar once was, and the smell of burning human flesh filled the air. Every victim was decapitated and mutilated. Emergency crews piled bodies and mounds of still-smoking shapeless human flesh in the back of the ambulances, all that remained of the eleven people who sheltered in the lower cellar, the youngest of whom was only four years old. "Bits of them were all over the road," said one man. "We found the head of a child in a garden and many limbs in the mud." Four hours later, a British military spokesman proudly announced at a NATO news conference that it was another "good day" for the alliance.

It was not long after midnight on May 31 when NATO planes again struck Surdulica, firing several missiles at a sanatorium complex located atop a hill overlooking the town. Two missiles directly hit the Special Lung Hospital, which also served as a refugee center, while a third missile struck the nursing home. The sky was clear that night, and the prominent red cross painted on the roof of the hospital would have been visible not only to the attacking planes, but also to the NATO planes that had flown over Surdulica on prior occasions. Milica Bozich was a refugee staying at the sanatorium when she heard a NATO plane flying above. "Since I was dressed, when I heard the first plane fly over, I put on my winter boots as I intended to get out of the building and go to the woods, because I was afraid and suspected that this hospital might be bombed. When I went out, I saw nobody else outside. I proceeded outside the hospital complex towards the woods. When I was about 100 meters away from the building, I heard the second plane fly over." Bozich then heard a "loud hissing sound" followed by "a very strong detonation and I saw that the building where we were staying as refugees was hit in the wing that runs north from the part of the building where my room on the second floor was." Within two minutes, Bozich heard another explosion, this time hitting the nursing home. "After the second detonation I saw a large cloud of dust rising up, while fragments of building struck by the bomb were hurled around. I was hiding behind a pine tree." The blasts were so powerful that body parts were sent flying as far as one kilometer away. Body parts and clothing hung in the trees and blood dripped from the branches.

An on-site investigation conducted later that morning noted that the space outside of the Special Lung Hospital "was covered with parts of human bodies, torn heads, arms and hands as well as bodies partly covered with rubble material, dust, broken bricks" and debris from the building. "A torn-off head of a man, approximately 70 years old, was found outdoors," the report continues. "North from this head there was another body covered with debris, and a torn arm." Nearby was a body with a partially damaged head, as well as two other bodies. "Brain tissue...could be seen on some parts of the building ruins." In all, 19 bodies were found, as well as numerous body parts that could not be matched to these bodies. Thirty-eight people were wounded. Inside the refugee center were scorched mattresses and jumbled personal belongings. In one room, teenage magazines and a child's school textbook lay strewn among the wreckage.

Nineteen-year old Milena Malobabich, her mother and two brothers were refugees from Croatia. All died in the attack. The examiner of Milena's body reported, "The brain tissue is completely missing and there is only dust and sand in the cranial cavity," while blood had flowed from behind the right ear. Her ribs were crushed and abdomen and left leg lacerated. Near her body was found a notebook in which she had written poems. On the first page, she had written, "If you only knew how much I suffer now. Maybe it's wrong, but I want to go back to you. Your Milena still loves you, but I feel my wounds so much. I don't know if I can still kiss you." On another page, she had written in large letters, "I love you Dejane!"



Paint Plant at Zastava Factory in Kragujevac, Serbia 1999 - © Gregory Elich 2002
Paint Plant at Zastava Factory in Kragujevac.

Zastava was the largest factory complex in the Balkans, producing over 95 percent of the automobiles operating in Yugoslavia. Workers at Zastava recognized that it was far too tempting a target for NATO planners to ignore. Determined to save their factory, they decided to form a human shield by occupying the factory complex around the clock. Three days after the war began, workers and management issued an open letter to the world, which they sent to trade unions abroad, as well as to President Clinton, Tony Blair, Madeleine Albright and other NATO leaders. "We, the employees of Zastava and freedom-loving Kragujevac, made a live shield," the statement announced. "Even at the shift end, even at the alarm sound, the Zastava workers did not leave their workshops, but remained to protect with their bodies what provides for their and their families' living, that in which they have built in years-long honest work in order to provide for their better future." The letter warned NATO leaders, "We want you to know that the attack on our factory shall mean a direct death to thousands of men and an enormous spiritual and material loss to their families." Letters of support poured in from trade unions around the world, but Western and NATO leaders remained silent. As the days passed, it became increasingly evident that NATO was systematically destroying factories and work sites in an effort to ruin the economy. NATO had also demonstrated its contempt for human life by bombing a bridge on which ordinary civilians stood with linked arms, forming a protective human chain. Wisely, workers at Zastava chose to modify their human shield by moving outdoors and forming a ring around the factory plants, rather than occupying them. Work in the plants, however, continued.

Shortly after 1:00 AM on the night of April 9, NATO finally responded to the open letter by sending a volley of missiles flying into Kragujevac. Dragan Stankovich, Export Director for Zastava, was in his apartment when he felt the first detonations, like a strong earthquake. The sky turned red, and his first thought was that he hoped the factory wasn't hit. His apartment was close to Zastava, so he hurriedly walked to the factory. Ten minutes later the next wave of missiles struck. One exploded 20 to 30 meters above the power plant, ripping the roof away and smashing transformers, turbo-compressors and the control room. "I was very close," Stankovich said, "but I couldn't see the bombs. Only a series of mushroom clouds. You could see the explosion and big fires only. You couldn't hear anything. Strong light and fire. Like an atomic bomb. Like mushrooms." The power plant supplied energy not only for Zastava but also for a large section of the city. Missiles also demolished the Assembly Line Plant, Paint Plant and Forging Plant. A total of 124 workers were wounded, ten of them seriously. Ambulances and fire trucks arrived quickly at the scene and retrieved the injured. At the local hospital, one woman, her head bandaged, told a reporter, "I can only tell Clinton -- we will build a new factory. He cannot destroy everything."

The pride of Zastava was its Paint Plant, equipped with modern robotics technology. "They hit this directly, as you would hit a man in the heart," pointed out Milosav Djordjevich, Director of Zastava. Fifty-four of the plant's workers were wounded by pressure from the blast and the falling roof. At the old Forge factory, workers were injured when the blast hurled concrete and iron. NATO "had drawings, coordinates, everything," Djordjevich remarked, "as if they played us with joysticks. We weren't able to make war against them. We didn't have the means."

Three nights later, on April 12, fourteen more missiles struck Zastava at 2:45 a.m. and again 10 minutes later. Sixteen more workers were wounded as several plants were pulverized. Two of the missiles hit the computer center, and the blasts were so powerful that the entire building rose into the air before collapsing like an accordion. Because the computer center was not operating at night, only two people were inside, where they had hidden in the shelter at the sound of the air raid siren. When rescue workers finally freed them, they emerged frightened and stunned. In all, about $1 billion damage was inflicted on the Zastava complex. Djordjevich summed up the tragedy. "For the workers, the factory is life. On the nights of the 9th and 12th of April, all of our dreams were destroyed in a mere 15 minutes of bombing."



Parking lot at Clinical Center in Nish, Serbia 1999 - © Gregory Elich 2002
Parking lot at Clinical Center in Nish, target of incendiary cluster bombs.

May 7, 1999 was a busy day for the marketplace at the end of Anete Andrejevich Street in Nish. It was just past 11:30 a.m. and shoppers were strolling down the street carrying home their groceries when a NATO plane flew overhead. A cluster bomb descended from the plane, opening at a preset altitude and scattering 202 smaller bombs over a wide area of the neighborhood. Moments later a furious repeating series of explosions sounded as the smaller bombs sprayed razor-sharp shrapnel by the thousands. Seventy-three year old Smilja Djurich, who was inside her home at the time, recalled, "It went blat-blat-blat. I didn't know where I was. I was completely stunned. If I had been in the street, I would have been dead. When it began we rushed to the cellar. People were screaming afterwards." Sobbing, she added, "I survived World War II, but I haven't seen anything like this." A young man was killed at her doorstep, sliced to pieces and lying in a pool of blood. Nearby an elderly woman, her forehead pierced by shrapnel, was stretched out in the street, her bag of carrots beside her. Zhivorad Ilich had been selling onions and eggs on a cardboard box serving as a makeshift stall when shrapnel killed him. Slavica Dinich explained how she survived. "We ducked for cover under the bed. One bomb fell through the roof of the upper floor of our house, but my family is unharmed." Pordani Seklich was a cook at a local restaurant and was busily working at the stove when whizzing shrapnel shot through the roof of the restaurant, killing her where she stood. Throughout the neighborhood, houses were pockmarked by dozens of holes. Everywhere windows were broken. Parked automobiles were peppered with punctures, their tires flat. In all nine people were killed and several dozen wounded.

A block away, on Shumatovachka Street, 26-year old Ljiljana Spasich was walking home from the market. Seven months pregnant, she was only one month away from completing her fifth and final year at medical school. She had planned her life well, expecting to give birth shortly after graduation. NATO had other plans for her, though, and an exploding cluster bomb canister killed both her and her unborn child.

Ten minutes earlier, in another district of Nish, a NATO plane dropped an incendiary cluster bomb over the parking lot of the Clinical Center. A ball of fire engulfed the parking lot, as cars were ignited and thick black smoke billowed into the sky. Hundreds of pieces of shrapnel shot through the hospital, causing the roof over the hospital's classroom to collapse. Every day the staff had met in that room at noon to discuss the war. Had the attack come forty minutes later, all would have perished. Every window was smashed. In one room alone, there were over 90 holes from cluster bomb fragments, and one unexploded canister fell to the floor. Five people were killed instantly. Many more were wounded, nine of whom later died from their injuries. Twenty nearby houses suffered damage and unexploded canisters were sprinkled throughout the area, posing a danger to rescue workers and residents.

Cluster bombs are anti-personnel weapons. While causing relatively minor damage to structures, they inflict frightful damage on human beings. "Cluster bombs cause enormous pain," pointed out Dr. Miodrag Lazich, head of the surgical department at Nish University Hospital. "A person standing a meter or two away from the cluster bomb gets the so-called 'air-blast' injuries, coming from a powerful air wave. The body remains mostly intact while internal organs like liver, brain or lungs are imploded inside. Parts of the exploding bombs cause severe injuries to people standing 15 or 20 meters away, ripping apart their limbs or hitting them in the stomach or head." The starting speed of the explosive charges within cluster bombs is over three times faster than a bullet fired from an automatic rifle. As a result, when shrapnel strikes its victim, the combined kinetic energy and explosive power causes a wound 30 times the size of the fragment. Cluster bombs can spray an area as large as the size of three football fields with their deadly rain, and their sharp fragments inflict unimaginable mutilation. Yugoslav surgeon Rade Grbich, who operated on victims of NATO cluster bombs dropped in Kosovo noted, "I have been an orthopedist for 15 years now, working in a crisis region where we often have injuries, but neither I nor my colleagues have ever seen such horrific wounds as those caused by cluster bombs. They are wounds that lead to disabilities to a great extent. The limbs are so crushed that the only remaining option is amputation. It's awful, awful."



Roma refugees from Kosovo, Serbia 1999 - © Gregory Elich 2002
Roma refugees from Kosovo. The man speaking is Elas Rakmani.

As Yugoslav troops departed Kosovo following the end of the NATO war, troops of the secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) poured across the border, bent on implementing their dream of an independent Kosovo purged of all other nationalities. The KLA had earlier demonstrated its hatred of other ethnic groups before the war by murdering hundreds and intimidating and threatening thousands; numbers constrained only by the Yugoslav army and Republic of Serbia security forces. Once the war was over, the KLA was the first to enter the province as NATO dawdled at the border, and its troops set about creating the racist society of their dreams. Thousands of Serbs, Montenegrins, Turks, Roma (Gypsies), Egyptians, Gorans, Croats and pro-Yugoslav Albanians were driven from their homes, as the KLA murdered, tortured, threatened, burned and plundered its way across the province. When NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) finally entered the province, it did nothing to deter the violence. Within two months, over 80 percent of Kosovo's 150,000 Roma had been forced from the province, a pogrom that continues to this day. The immense scale of violence can only be suggested by a few incidents.

A man identified as C.J. reported, "The KLA came to our house at midnight on June 27. They were trying to break the door down, so we opened it. Outside were 14 uniformed KLA. They were armed with automatic weapons. One said to me in Albanian, 'Give me gold' and he hit me in the stomach with a blackjack. For four hours they threatened, hit and taunted members of my family, trying to get gold or foreign currency from us. At one point they splashed gasoline over the floor of some rooms and threatened to set the house on fire together with my family. KLA officers took my two daughters-in-law away somewhere and returned them two hours later. I think they raped them. We took the possessions we could fit into a couple of bags and went on foot to the nearby village of Obilich."

Bajrosha Akmeti burned with anger as she declared, "My daughter, Enisa Akmeti, was raped by KLA soldiers. At night we were sleeping in our house, and KLA soldiers broke in and dragged my daughter out and raped her. She is very ill. She has a sick heart. This happened after our army left Kosovo. My family is here. All five are here and we have no clothes. These are the only clothes I have. I have no food, nowhere to sleep. Should I sleep on the street? The children awake at night, calling 'Mama, Mama,' and I have nothing to give them."

Ajsha Shatili lived in Prishtina when KLA soldiers entered her home on June 19. "KLA soldiers dragged my children and me from my home, and started removing all my furniture. I called three British KFOR soldiers for help. They came but did nothing. They only told me, 'Good, good. Don't cry. It will be good. We brought the three of them inside my home to show them what had happened. It was utter chaos inside. I collapsed three times, and they just told me, 'Good, good,' and I started to cry." Wiping away her tears, Ajsha explained that a KLA soldier had plunged a knife into her son's back. "My son, Senad was wounded because he tried to stop the KLA from looting our home." Ajsha and her family fled from Kosovo. Had they stayed, she said, "Everyone would be killed. Everyone!"

Adan Berisha's 12-year old son, Idis, was murdered by the KLA. Showing a photograph of his son, Adan softly said in a tone of infinite sadness, "Sorrow. A world of sorrow." KLA soldiers "threw us out of our house, and removed all of our belongings," he said, and then added that he and his wife were tortured. It appeared as if acid had been poured on his wife's face and arm. Adan and his wife immediately fled Kosovo with their grandson. "This little baby who is only three months old, went four days without eating. I can't go back to Kosovo because the militias will kill me. We dare not return to Kosovo." One month after the end of the war, KLA soldiers murdered Adan Berisha's father and his two uncles.

B.K. was home with his family. "Four uniformed KLA officers broke into my house. They were heavily armed with knives, guns and grenades. They forced open the door. They took my wife and sister into one room and my mother into another. They made me stay in the front room with one KLA soldier and my children. The others were in the other rooms for half an hour. I heard my sister screaming. They slapped my mother and sister and they raped all three women. They threatened to shoot my sister if she did not do what they wanted. We fled the next morning to Prizren."

Abdullah Shefik would not wait for the KLA. He packed all of his belongings in his van and he and his family left their home in Uroshevac. Along the way, he ran into a KLA detachment which forced him to pull over. "KLA soldiers stopped me and ordered me to leave my van with them. KFOR soldiers stood nearby when my van was hijacked but they did nothing. They were Americans. They saw everything that happened, but they didn't do anything. They viewed the whole thing and said nothing. I've lost my home. All the furniture from my home was looted. All of my belongings were in that van."

"Throughout the NATO bombing we stayed at our home in Kachanik," reported M.P. "The Serbian Army was in Kachanik, but they never caused us any problems. When the bombing stopped and the Serbian Army left, the Albanian Army appeared and started maltreating us, the Roma. My wife was killed by an Albanian sniper. Nevertheless, I stayed at our home with my children. The Albanians came to our house three times, beat me and maltreated the children. Once an Albanian put a knife to my son's neck and requested money. I had nothing to give him and I was terrified that he would kill my son. Luckily he let my son go." M.P. had seen enough, and escaped with his family.

"One day six armed Albanians came to our home," said L.M. "As soon as they came, they pointed their guns towards us saying: 'Give us money, Gypsies, or else we'll kill you.' I told them we had no money. One of them pulled out a knife and placed it at my son's neck. My wife P.M. and I started to cry, and I begged them to leave my son alone. We told them to take anything they wanted from the house, but to spare my son's life. Then they brought a truck and a van with no registration plates. They loaded in everything we had in our home: beds, cupboards, carpets, TV set, video, and an electric range. It all happened before the eyes of NATO soldiers who watched, but they did not react. On another occasion, Albanians came into our house, pointed the guns to us and said: 'Gypsies, get out of here, go to India, this is Albanians' land.' We went to the bus station immediately after that."

T.L. was sitting in the garden of his father's house when a van pulled up. Forced into the van at knifepoint, he was driven to a house flying an Albanian flag. A KLA soldier led him into a room where he saw another Roma man who "was beaten to a bloody pulp." The other man "lifted up his shirt and showed me his ribs. His chest was all black. It was disgusting." KLA soldiers then put both men on the floor. "They took out a metal bar and started beating both of us on the legs." Soon, "they started to kick me and beat me with both fists on my chest." Then the soldiers left the room. "They came back in the room a few minutes later. There were five or six of them now. They kicked me all over my body, including my genitals. They beat me on my face and my face started to bleed. I stood up. They hit me on the torso with their fists. One of them told me he hated Gypsies. Then they made me put my head between my legs and they took a long iron bar and beat me on the back. I wiped my face with my shirt and it was all bloody." When they were through beating him, KLA soldiers dressed him in a Yugoslav Army uniform, drove him away and dumped him at the bottom of a hill, "hoping someone would see me in a Yugoslav Army uniform and kill me."

When Roma activists visited a German KFOR officer in Prizren to inquire about a Romani house that was burned down, the officer told them that KFOR had extinguished the fire and had initiated an investigation. Returning to the neighborhood, residents told them that they themselves had put out the fire and that no KFOR soldiers had come to investigate. During the discussion, KFOR officers arrived and residents of the neighborhood started to tell them about the burned house. Activists witnessed one KFOR officer snap, "I do not want to hear the life stories of all Gypsies." The activists found that during their time in Kosovo each attempt to report abductions to KFOR officials was met with indifference. While in Prishtina, they had also "repeatedly witnessed KFOR officers failing to react to the looting and burning of Romani houses occurring in their proximity."

B.H. was dismayed at what he witnessed. "When NATO bombs stopped falling in Yugoslavia, my family returned to Kosovo. We were watching the KLA and KFOR soldiers hugging each other and celebrating their arrival in Kosovo. At that moment I thought, this can't be happening! Why is that KLA terrorist soldier going to hug a KFOR soldier? I realized it is going to be like hell here. Within three days, all non-ethnic Albanians had to leave Kosovo. My house was burned by ethnic Albanians in front of KFOR forces. I went to report to the so-called foreign peacekeepers that my house was burning -- and one of the soldiers was telling me it's okay. My friend's sister was raped by ethnic Albanians and she went to report to the KFOR officer; he was telling her it's okay. My neighbor was kidnapped by KLA and his wife went to report that he's gone and the officer was telling her it's okay. KLA was taking our brothers, relatives, friends and taking them to the KLA torture rooms and wives went to report to the KFOR officers; they were telling them it's okay. KLA and ethnic Albanians were killing Romani people and they were telling us it's okay. Is that really okay? We were kicked out from my home in five minutes. KLA terrorists came to my house and told me that in five minutes we must leave our home and then they're going to burn it."

Four armed KLA soldiers walked into the home of Elas Rakmani and told the family to leave. Rakmani spoke with a vigorous and expressive style. "They burned my house. They took all the furniture, everything they wanted, and then they burned down the house. My stove was taken out. The washing machine, refrigerator and freezer were taken out. We were watching, but I was so sick of the sight I couldn't bear to watch the Albanians taking my things right out the front. I'm not against the American people, but this decision they made strikes me as loony. The rights of every people -- the Serb, the Montenegrin, and the Gypsy -- have been annulled." Slapping a table, Rakmani exclaimed, "People are going out to kill, but [KFOR] just sits there. Did [Americans] come here to help or to watch this circus going on? Events now are making history. It is not acceptable what the American people are doing to us. If they came here to help, let me see them help. But if they did not come here to help -- everyone -- Serbs and Gypsies, will be stamped out! They are allowing that to be done!"

The situation for the Roma is dire. They've lost homes, jobs and loved ones. Existence is precarious. The president of the Association of Romani Organizations in the Republic of Serbia, Jovan Damjanovich, issued one fruitless appeal after another to international organizations to provide aid to starving and desperate Roma refugees from Kosovo. Virtually no help was forthcoming. The only international organization to send aid was the International Red Cross. "How many refugees are in the streets," he exclaimed, "the bus stations, in the railroad stations, in the parks! The international organizations cannot remain blind and deaf when people are dying at their feet. It is a humanitarian catastrophe. Not only is the KLA burning houses. Not only are they expelling people. Not only are they killing people. They want to create an ethnically clean Kosovo. People are dying at their feet. We think the international community, on the basis of the United Nations Charter, has to do something, because if there exists humanity, if there exists civilization, we cannot watch the death of a nation." Summing up the situation in a statement issued on September 17, 1999, Damjanovich wrote, "This state of affairs calls into question the justification for the foreign presence. The exodus of Serbs, Montenegrins and the Romanies continues on the lines of the Nazi scenario of fifty years ago, while the world looks on." Western governments responded to Damjanovich's plea for help by slapping him with sanctions, adding him to the list of Yugoslav citizens that they forbade from travelling abroad and seizing accounts held in foreign banks.



Bridge over the Nishava River in Nish, Serbia 1999 - © Gregory Elich 2002
Bridge over the Nishava River in Nish, close to the cluster-bombed marketplace

The experience of Roma people is not unique. All were sacrificed on the altar of NATO occupation and the KLA's dream of a racist state in Kosovo. When I interviewed Serbian refugees from Suva Reka, they told me that as they were fleeing Kosovo, KLA soldiers fired on their column. NATO soldiers watching the attack laughed loudly at the refugees while the KLA blasted away at them. Later that same column found the roads so jammed with thousands of vehicles and carts of refugees fleeing for their lives that they couldn't move. They decided to camp in a nearby village for two days until the roads cleared up. One night, NATO troops arrived at the camp and disarmed them. In front of their eyes, NATO handed over the rifles the refugees had brought for self-protection over to KLA soldiers. Pro-Yugoslav Albanian refugees also spoke of KLA threats, intimidation and murder. One of these refugees, Chorin Ismali, was later compelled by homesickness to return to live in Kosovo. Not long afterwards, he paid for the move with his life. KLA soldiers murdered him one day in front of his family, pouring automatic rifle fire into Ismali and his friend. As usual, NATO neither conducted an investigation nor made arrests.

Ever since 1990, through massive arms shipments and diplomatic and military intervention, Western nations managed to divide a progressive and multiethnic Yugoslavia into several regressive and monoethnic states. For the West, such small and weak states have the advantage of being easily controlled. Western officials essentially direct their economies while US military bases have sprouted up throughout the region like mushrooms after a rain. For the people of the Balkans it has been a catastrophe: tens of thousands of dead, as many as 2 million refugees, military occupation, and a precipitous impoverishment of the population. All this matters not. As a result of Western pressure, state-owned firms are sold off at bargain prices to Western investors at advantageous terms. A once prosperous people now provide the low cost labor craved by Western capital.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait, US leaders loudly proclaimed that this violation of international law must be met by a bombing campaign that ultimately killed 250,000 and the imposition of sanctions that killed untold thousands more. In contrast, the far more serious breach of peace posed by Iraq's earlier invasion of Iran, in which 1.7 million people died, met with the approval of US officials, who eagerly supplied Iraq with weapons and satellite intelligence photos. If Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was an international crime, as US leaders averred, then how should one view the US invasion of Grenada and Panama? How should one view the unprovoked bombing of Libya or Yugoslavia or Bosnian Serbs? Should one forget the earlier carpet-bombing and complete levelling of every city in North Korea during the Korean War, massacres of Korean civilians, the carpet-bombing of Cambodia, or the war against Vietnam, which cost the lives of over 2 million Vietnamese? What about the mining of Nicaraguan harbors? Imagine the reaction were a foreign power to mine the harbors of New York and San Francisco. One doesn't have to imagine the reaction to bombs falling on the U.S. The murder of over 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and Pentagon raised a firestorm of justifiable outrage. But where is that outrage over the more than 4,000 innocent Afghan civilians killed by Western bombs? Are their lives less precious than American lives? The US and Great Britain all but ignored Al Qaeda and waged war instead against the Taliban -- replacing one set of thugs with another -- in their eagerness to install military bases throughout Central Asia, completing the encirclement of Russia and China. Planning is underway for a massive bombing campaign against Iraq, perhaps including invasion. US leaders know they are given carte blanche to kill and maim without restraint by an acquiescent public, trained well by media indoctrination. The new Bush administration has requested an increase of $45 billion in defense spending for fiscal year 2003, and intends to spend an astonishing $2.1 trillion on the military over the next five years. Plans are laid for interventions without end. Iran and North Korea are accused, along with Iraq, of being part of an "Axis of Evil," thereby preparing an acquiescent Western public for potential military action. Plans are drawn up for the possible utilization of tactical nuclear weapons against this "Axis" and Libya, Syria, China and Russia. Anger is evident over imaginary "weapons of mass destruction" said to be held by Iraq and mythical nuclear weapons claimed to be under development in North Korea. Where is the anger over the all too real weapons dropped routinely throughout the globe by Western powers? Where is the anger at the contemplated use of tactical nuclear weapons? Where is the anger over US invasions and unprovoked wars of aggression? Where is the anger at the thousands upon thousands of innocent victims of Western military power?

For many people, this is not ethnocentric blindness but ignorance. We cannot expect many people to care if they don't know the extent of suffering, death and destruction inflicted by US leaders. Nor should we expect corporate media to reveal the nature of US interventions, for it is not in their interests to do so. Many people, unless they have been thoroughly lobotomized by incessant media deception, are capable of responding with empathy to the suffering of others. The more images and personal stories of victims one encounters, the more difficult it is to cling to comfortable media-bred concepts of technologically advanced bloodless crusades. It is an obligation for those of us who have gathered such stories to present them as widely as possible. Such work could begin among those who should know better. Too many peace and justice organizations applauded and celebrated NATO's war. Too many still regard bombs dropped by a Democratic president as more acceptable than those dropped by a Republican president. To the victims, it matters not who sends death calling. Western imperialism is not about bringing democracy, freedom and enlightenment to unruly foreigners, a concept built on ethnocentric arrogance. All too often, it is the Western powers that create conflicts and instigate turmoil, and advocating Western intervention to "solve" conflicts is analogous to demanding that an arsonist pour gasoline on the fire he started. All victims of Western bombs deserve our empathy, and we should do all within our power to expose the nature of American interventions and make our voices of opposition heard.

Nikola Cheko was among the Serbian refugees I interviewed in 1999. After describing the desperate situation for those caught in NATO-occupied Kosovo, he concluded with a passionate appeal. "It's a shame for KFOR, for the United States, for Great Britain, for France, for Germany, for NATO, and all the big powers of the world. We are all human beings. We have the right to live. The nationality and the religion are not important at all. A human being should first be a human being. A true human being is the one who is ready to help the victim in need. There are many, many villages where people are absolutely in great need and dying. It's high time that we become human beings and behave like human beings in the first place."



Gregory Elich has published dozens of articles on the Balkans and East Asia in the US, Canada and Europe, in such publications as Covert Action Quarterly, Politika, Der Junge Welt, Dagbladet Arbejderen, Swans, and other publications. His research findings on CIA intervention in Yugoslavia was the subject of articles in newspapers in Germany, Norway and Italy, including Il Manifesto. He has been involved in peace activities since the Vietnam War, and was coordinator of the Committee for Peace in Yugoslavia. He was a member of a US delegation visiting Yugoslavia after the NATO war, and a member of the Margarita Papendreou delegation, the first to fly on a Western national airline to Baghdad in challenge to the sanctions. He spoke at the International Action Center's opening session of their Commission of Inquiry into NATO War Crimes on July 31, 1999 and again as a witness at the final session of the Commission on June 10, 2000. He has a chapter in the International Action Center's anthology 'NATO in the Balkans.' His slide presentation on the NATO war has been shown in several cities throughout the Midwest [cf. Geoff Berne's War Against Women and Other Civilians in Yugoslavia: Terror Keyed Triumph of the New Colonialism (January 2001) as well as America in Yugoslavia: Peephole into a Hidden Empire (May 2001)]. This is Elich's third contribution to Swans, after his Bringing Democracy to Bosnia-Herzegovina (August 2000) and A Flight Against The Iraqi Blockade (March 2001). Finally, Elich is a member of the collective that wrote the recently published book "Hidden Agenda, U.S./NATO Takeover Of Yugoslavia" which can be purchased on line at leftbooks.com.


Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, text and photographs, © Gregory Elich 2002. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.


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Published April 22, 2002
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