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Post What I Saw in Yugoslavia
Created by John Eipper on 04/29/16 8:48 AM

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What I Saw in Yugoslavia (Robert Gibbs, USA, 04/29/16 8:48 am)

I truly appreciate Gary Moore's support (17 April) regarding my description of events and my experience in the Former Yugoslavian Republic.

It is a situation and time that is so hard to believe, even if one witnessed it. For me it was truly like living in one of Dante's lower rings of Hell. The huge challenge was trying to convince my troops that what we were doing was worthwhile--this regardless of ridiculous Rules of Engagement and being almost defenseless. Everyone there knew what they could do to my troops, up to and including stealing our weapons (basic NATO rifles--M16 and A9, etc.).

However, I was not "in country" when the Racka Massacres occurred. But I can say that the Serb claims sound almost insane. (OK, what is new here?) That the Albanians crossed over and into Serb-controlled Racka, at night, stripped the corpses of their Bosnian/KLA uniforms and dressed them in civilian clothes and departed unnoticed? I can believe Walker's reports because they were not new. These things were going on just about everywhere in the Former Yugoslav Republic. We would risk a lot to get food and/or medicine and treatment to people who only wanted to kill (murder) their neighbors and family (including children I might add--if they were mixed).

The whole place was crazy. There were no--repeat--no good guys. I remember some of people whom I/we dealt with were "good," but the overwhelming numbers of cold-blooded murderers (with the UN just standing by and forcing us to ignore all of it). Eugenio Battaglia described in a recent post how there are currently Serb priests and monks and monasteries who need the protection of Italian troops (IFOR- KFOR), and how there ancient monasteries were destroyed by the KLA or someone. These were undoubtedly the same priests and monks who led and/or encouraged attacks on Muslim villages and blowing up their ancient mosques and Catholic churches, and directed massacres of Muslims, Croats, and anyone who wasn't a Serb. So that you will not think I am so biased here, Catholic priests and imams and mullahs--all of them did the same sorts of things.  As I said, it was insane and so easy to initially prevent.

Further, many of these so-called holy men smuggled drugs, arms, information, and orders for their respective people. They were quite adept at smuggling cannabis, pistols and hand grenades, as well as communications, in their robes. Greeks, Iranian, Italian, Albanian (and others) official and criminal--drug people and gun runners would smuggle their goods and money using the mosques, monasteries and churches as conduits and safe havens (both Eastern and Western rite). Plus, they would offer shelter and support to their favorite fighters and trafficked in human beings.

I regret I cannot add more than this to the conversation, but I can add that I believe that this massacre was one of the main reasons Camp Bondsell was built for the IFOR/NATO protection of the Kosovars. But I have no direct knowledge of this as fact.

I will add this that Gary Moore's time and work in Yugoslavia deserves some recognition for the incredible difficulty of his job. I could escape some of the insanity by just going off and smoking a cigar at night with real soldiers. Gary had to work with the UN.

JE comments: First of all, my apologies to Robert Gibbs for the delay in posting this. I sometimes get swamped by the "incomings," and a post or two can get misplaced.  This one was worth the wait.

Bob gives us a clear idea of why "Balkanization" has become a generic term for fratricidal chaos.

Bob: you really must write a book about your experience in Yugoslavia. I'll suggest this working title: No Heroes.

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  • What I Saw in Yugoslavia; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/30/16 3:02 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    Bob Gibbs (April 29) is gracious to speak of the difficulty of my UN job
    in post-war Kosovo, though we can see from his descriptions that he was
    on the real firing line; I was only in clean-up. But also, as he says too,
    it was a fascinatingly bizarre cleanup.

    Example One: I arrived at the United Nations Mission in Kosovo expecting
    an emphasis on rapport and local language learning, sort of like the Peace Corps--and instead found UN employees were actually forbidden to speak the local language,
    and had to travel with interpreters like British raj prefects in an elephant howdah.
    The atmosphere was not only one of ruins and chaos but such deep
    bureaucratic secrecy that it took me months to slowly tease out the reason
    behind the language prohibition.

    It was a Bulgarian guy from Queens.
    He had arrived as a UN employee just as the war was ending and the
    Albanian majority was still enraged by massacres committed by the former
    Serb rulers. Crowds on Mother Teresa Street (she was Albanian) would
    listen intently for any hint of Serb conversation, as they sought targets to mob.
    The Bulgarian guy ignored all this as he went with two female companions into the
    chandeliered restaurant of the Grand Hotel, showing off his facility in Bulgarian,
    which sounds a lot like Serbian, apparently. Somebody overheard. As they
    were leaving, a crowd gathered and somebody gave him a test. A passerby innocently
    said to him, "What time do you have?" in Serbian. The linguistic closeness was
    such that he answered unthinkingly by looking at his watch--which flunked the test.
    And they killed him. (This was as much as I could learn, with the usual grapevine
    caveats on strict accuracy--though I did see the victim's photo.)

    The UN, applying its wonderfully classic bureaucratic leveling to the manic peaks,
    responded by forbidding the speaking of any local language, not only Serbian but Albanian,
    the language of some 95 percent of the people left in Kosovo. It took me months more
    to squeeze past this deer-in-the-headlights blanket prohibition as I wrote the area manual
    --and simply included language lessons without asking for permission (Bureaucratic Rule One:
    If you don't ask they can't say no, and you can always finesse it toward a gray area afterward).
    One of my favorite language-learning phrases in the manual:
    "My vehicle is stuck in the mud. Do you have a mule?"

    Example Two is more panoramic, involving war crimes.
    But maybe it's time to ask Bob for some more detail on his time in the maze.

    JE comments:  What a sad story.  I always tell my students that speaking the local language will win you friends and influence.  But in the Balkans, you can be certain you'll find enemies no matter what language you speak.

    Could you ask for a mule in Albanian?  Gary Moore can.  We should combine the collective language base of WAISdom and assemble a list.

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    • More on Yugoslavia (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/01/16 1:20 PM)

      I read with great interest the latest posts from Robert Gibbs and Gary Moore about the mess in the former Yugoslavia.

      Also the post, with attachments, from Robert Whealey about Nixon/Vietnam should be reflected upon with great care.

      What can I say? These are examples of the awful failure of the Empire's government with its poorly conceived meddling in other nations.

      One of Robert Gibbs's observations is emblematic. "As I said, [Yugoslavia] was insane and [would have been so] easy to initially prevent."

      But does "initially" refer to 1919, 1941, 1982, 1991 or 1999?

      In 1919, the Western Powers created that monstrosity that was the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, with many persecuted ethnic minorities such as Italians, Germans, Albanians, Hungarians, Roma, etc. In Italy this geopolitical construct was perceived as a creation made for enmity and a violation of the 1915 Treaty of London, by which Italy entered WWI on the side of the Allies.

      In 1941 South Kosovo (Albanian) was united to Albania, while the North Kosovo (Serbian) remained within Serbia. But that division was made by the Axis and therefore was wrong.

      In 1945, it was evident to see that in Tito's army, "there were no--repeat no--good guys" as Robert Gibbs phrased it, but, at that time, and practically until his death in 1980, Tito was the darling of the Western Powers, in spite of the fact that he carried out terrible massacres, his concentration camps were considered worse than those of Auschwitz (see Borovnica, Isola Calva/Goli Otok, etc.), and horrible ethnic cleansing. He was nonetheless considered a useful "nice guy."

      In 1975 Italy was pushed by its Allies to sign the shameful Osimo Treaty, renouncing to the B Zone of the former Territorio Libero di Trieste in order to make Tito happy and not join the Warsaw Pact.

      In 1981, the fighting began for the independence of Kosovo, with the usual freedom fighters/terrorists mess.

      1990 saw the unilateral declaration of a Republic of Kosovo, with NATO intervention in 1999 that included criminal bombing using depleted uranium. The intervention gave satisfaction to the Albanians, but involved a "democratic" ethnic cleansing of the Serbs.

      Finally, the long attack on Nixon. Every word may be correct strictly speaking, but the Vietnam mess started much earlier that the Nixon Presidency.  It was a problem poorly handled by practically all US Presidents from the end of WWII.

      At that time I was with a group of youths contesting the Reds and their pro-Vietcong shows. In the end, however, I felt if the defeat was my own but also I had a faint feeling of betrayal, as the Allies ran away when things went rough.

      JE comments: Might it be instructive to take another look at Tito? History has been fairly generous with him, perhaps unfairly generous, because of the horrors that came after.

      Also, Eugenio, I'd like to learn more of your youthful anti-Red protests.

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      • With the MSI in the 1960s (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/03/16 4:48 AM)
        In response to John E's questions about my participation in the Movimento Sociale Italiano, I could not do too much to counter the Reds in their pro-Vietcong shows, because most of the time I was at sea. The MSI party was founded by former members of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana.

        At that time the MSI was still anti-capitalist but considered that the Reds were more dangerous and therefore the pre-eminent enemy to fight. The Americans were the enemies of our enemies. We liked, however, the South Vietnamese and the killing of Diem was a shock for us. About the position of the MSI there is a debate: some think that the MSI should have been both anti-communist and anti-capitalist at the same time and in the same manner, but probably if it had acted like that it would have been immediately dissolved by the Authorities as the Reds were demanding.

        In my home town, the MSI was a small force and we could not do much save the usual political propaganda. When possible we gave spirited debates and also got some beatings because we were always outnumbered 100 to 1, but in other towns there were real fights and we lost many young fellows in the struggle against the Reds and their friends.

        Just to see the movie The Green Berets, it was necessary to force the Red blockade.

        JE comments:  The Green Berets came out in 1968, probably as an attempt to boost US morale about Vietnam.  Despite the efforts of John Wayne, it failed.

        My thanks to Eugenio Battaglia for this tale of youthful militancy.  At the same time (or shortly thereafter), Eugenio's friend Luciano Dondero was active in the Trotskyist ranks.  I hope Luciano will tell us his memories from those days.

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