Nato's "Humanitarian" War

By Parenti, Michael | The Humanist, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Nato's "Humanitarian" War


Parenti, Michael, The Humanist


Notes on the Aftermath

Anyone in the United States seeking to hop a plane to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, discovers that it cannot be done. The international sanctions imposed against Yugoslavia ended all air travel to what remains of that beleaguered country. This past August, I joined a group of other North Americans endeavoring to bring medicines to the Yugoslav Red Cross and glean a firsthand impression of the country. We had to fly to Budapest, Hungary, then endure a seven-hour bus ride (counting the long delay at the border) to reach Belgrade.

Belgrade is a city with a beauty all its own--its cobblestone malls, elaborate monuments, parks, and elegantly aging edifices sporting a distinctly Old World patina. Despite the severity of the sanctions and the massive inflow of refugees from the other republics of the former Yugoslavia, there are no beggars or derelicts to be seen, no one in tatters, no one asleep in doorways or rummaging through garbage cans, no cadres of prostitutes plying their trade. The free market has not yet taken complete hold. A welfare state of some sort still exists, which, in the eyes of some neoliberal Western leaders, may be Yugoslavia's biggest crime. The state-supported economy has prevented the kind of mass social misery witnessed in some other eastern European countries.

To the organizer of our delegation--Barry Lituchy, a historian who teaches at the City University of New York's Kings-borough Community College--Belgrade appeared noticeably poorer and more worn than it had on his visit four years earlier. One new sign of hard times is the overabundance of street vendors with their paltry offerings of recycled knickknacks, clothing, compact discs, tapes, books, magazines, cosmetics, and bootlegged cigarettes and liquor.

All over the city one still sees graffiti denouncing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the United States, and Bill Clinton in the most bitter terms. NATO is repeatedly represented with the N in the form of a swastika. More than once I saw "Free Texas" sprayed across walls. As one citizen explained, Texas is heavily populated by Mexicans or persons of Mexican descent, many of whom suffer more serious cultural discrimination and economic adversity than did Kosovo Albanians; shouldn't Yugoslavia and other nations do whatever they can to make Texas into a separate polity for oppressed Mexicans? The same logic applied to the "Free Corsica" graffiti sprayed across the French cultural center, which had been gutted, along with the U.S. and British cultural centers, by outraged Yugoslavs during the NATO bombings.

We visited the Chinese embassy, an architecturally distinct edifice standing on a broad lot with only some housing projects in the background, much of its interior pulverized by three missiles. The CIA's claim that the attack was a case of mistaken identity seemed less credible than ever to us. Even a cursory inspection makes one wonder how the CIA could have mistaken the embassy for the Federal Directorate of Supply, an office building two blocks away. The U.S. ambassador had dined at the Chinese embassy and many U.S. journalists had visited it in its better days. If NATO attackers really did rely on "old maps" (why in this instance and not in any other?), such maps would have shown an empty lot.

More plausible is the view that the embassy was deliberately targeted because the Chinese were giving such strong support to Belgrade, and possibly because the embassy was being used to gather electronic intelligence on NATO aerial flights over Yugoslavia. On the embassy gate, under the pictures of the three employees who perished in the bombing, Yugoslav citizens had left candies, flowers, and condolence cards.

Our Serbian hosts tried to describe the NATO war--the deafening noise, flames, and smoke that made the bombings a terrifying experience. The aerial attacks came every evening and frequently went on all night (rarely during the day in Belgrade).

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