Boston Herald - Jul 12, 1999

Atrocities vs Serbs get whitewashed
by Don Feder

BELGRADE - When is ethnic cleansing not ethnic cleansing? Apparently when the victims are Serbs.

As many as 60,000 of Kosovo's 200,000 Serbs have already fled. Each day brings news of calculated atrocities. Human Rights Watch reports "investigations in Orahovac, Prizen and Pec revealed KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] soldiers' involvement in five murders, four abductions, one rape and 12 . . . beatings."

Since the war in Bosnia, Serbs have been so demonized that not only will Western opinion believe almost anything of them, no one seems to care about the fate of the most vulnerable among them.

NATO propaganda has portrayed the Serbs as Slavic Aryans who hate all non-Serbs and are determined to create an ethnically pure state. And in the other corner, we have the Kosovo Liberation Army - presented as the Balkans equivalent of the Minutemen.

In Yugoslavia, reality collides with this warped mythology.

Ivan Sedlak, minister of minorities for the Republic of Serbia, notes there are 26 national minorities in the country. Besides Albanians, there are 300,000 Hungarians and lesser numbers of Croats, Slovenes, Turks, Romanians and Gypsies.

All are guaranteed education in their own language, support for their culture and political equality. Minorities have their own newspapers and radio stations subsidized by the Yugoslav government. Speeches in Vojvodina's regional assembly are simultaneously translated in five languages.

Except for Kosovo's Albanians, all seem satisfied with this multiethnic state, including the 100,000 Albanians in Belgrade.

Yes, but, I innocently ask Sedlak, didn't this mess in Kosovo start when Slobodan Milosevic ended the Albanians' autonomy?

Sedlak, a lawyer skilled at presenting his case, looks at me over the rims of his glasses. The so-called autonomy of the 1974 constitution, he explains, gave Kosovo a veto over legislation throughout Yugoslavia. Changes made in 1988 were ratified by the Kosovo and Vojvodina parliaments.

After the change, Albanians still could have controlled the courts, police and schools. Instead, they used the revision as an excuse to withdraw from the government and agitate for secession.

"Not only weren't they satisfied with the autonomy of 1989, they weren't even satisfied with the autonomy of 1974-1988," Sedlak relates. "There were pro-independence rallies in Pristina in 1981."

With the rise of the Kosovo Liberation Army, agitation evolved to terrorism. In 1998, 115 Serbian police were murdered. Yugoslavia responded with a military push, which was the excuse for NATO intervention.

Though considerably more vigorous since the KLA came into its own, Albanian ethnic cleansing isn't of recent vintage. Since the end of World War II, as the province's ethnic balance changed in the Albanians' favor, Serbs were pressured or terrorized to leave. In 1982, the mother superior of the Devic Monastery was beaten unconscious by Albanian youth.

Now, there's a new sheriff in town.

The New York Times' Chris Hedges has written that current and former KLA commanders charge at the outset of NATO's war that rebel leader Hashim Thaci (nicknamed "Snake") murdered a number of his potential rivals within KLA ranks. How many of those much-publicized mass graves did Thaci fill?

Remember Ibrahim Rugova, the moderate Kosovar leader, formerly canonized by the Western media? Now that Kosovo has been liberated by NATO bombs, why is Rugova living in Italy with his family? Because he understands what his fate would be in a Kosovo run by Thaci and his gang.

In Athens, a Greek-American businessman told me: "Albania has no government. It's run by crime syndicates. The country is a base for drug-running and arms-smuggling. NATO is duplicating that in Kosovo."

Despite NATO's pledge, KLA fighters still carry weapons. Atrocities - like the gang-rape of Serbian nuns at a Pristina monastery and the murder of a professor at the university there - are daily occurrences.

Thaci's boys say the culprits are freelancers wearing KLA insignia. After all, what self-respecting terrorist-drug dealer would do such things?

While NATO's forensic teams scour the province for evidence of Serb war crimes, its allies are on a rampage and yet more territory is in the process of being detached from what was once the Balkans' most successful multicultural experiment.