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European History


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences




KOSOVO: Background to a War (USA)

KOSOVO: Background to a War (UK) by Stephen Schwartz provides a concise yet detailed account of the main historical and cultural political currents that created the necessity for the NATO intervention and occupation. Schwartz is an especially astute observer of telling historical parallels and refined ethnic sensibilities, probably because he speaks the languages and makes himself available to discuss the political and religious implications with soldiers, politicians, scholars and common people. The study represents a political analysis of the central issues between the Serbs and Albanians that continues to exasperate the area.

Unlike many political commentaries this work provides glimpses of the history, culture, literature, poetry and passion of the people making this account rich read with the narrative flow of a novel.

Stephen Schwartz's KOSOVO: Background to a War is a unique contribution to the continuing debate over one of the most important international conflicts to emerge as the century turned. Neither academically dry nor journalistically superficial, it offers a readable, profound and multifaceted - cultural and religious as well as political -- overview of the long Albanian-Serbian controversy over the troubled province, drawing on sources previously ignored by non-Balkan authors. In addition, it presents an original and detailed analysis of the collapse of Yugoslavia, a penetrating critique of Western inaction in the face of the long-festering Kosovo crisis, and a rare, unblinkered diagnosis of the weakness of Western and international policies in the Balkans following armed intervention.

This book will reward any reader interested in the Kosovo war, but especially those who are approaching it in depth for the first time, and who seek an immediate but thorough understanding of it.


Once the war began in earnest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the majority of Bosnian print, radio, and television journalists served heroically on the front lines of the defense of their country. The whole world learned that the Sarajevo daily Oslobodenje (Liberations), kept publishing throughout the siege of Sarajevo, even after its famous skyscraper was destroyed. But many other such stories also deserve the attention of historians: above all, the role of the independent television and radio Studio 99, continuing work throughout the conflict, even after its broadcasting tower was blown up, and the activity of the weekly Ljiljan which gave heart to Bosnian Muslim exiles and friends of Bosnia-Herzegovina abroad.

Thus, it was a despicable lie to treat the majority of Bosnian journalists as anything other than models for their colleagues everywhere, in their activities during the war there. Nevertheless, one heard many times, in Washington, Brussels, and elsewhere, that Bosnian media workers needed to be educated or indoctrinated in professional methods, standards, and ethics. Many discussions dealt with funding of such presumptuous, arrogant projects. However, no such instruction was needed by Bosnian media workers, least of all by people from the United States and Britain. Bosnian media workers had little to learn from foreign journalists, who rather, needed to learn from Bosnian media workers.

What does the term journalistic professionalism mean? It means self-respect. It means that reporters and editors refuse to lie, to serve the ends of propaganda, to incite violence, to accept bribes in reporting news. It also means understanding the risks of the profession, and not flinching or holding back when required to report from war zones or the scenes of riots or crimes, fires or natural disasters. It means being unafraid to face critics. And for reporters as working writers, it means always striving for accuracy and clarity, avoiding self-importance and excessive self-indulgence.

But as others have said, the professional objectivity of journalists does not mean neutrality. Media workers cannot refuse to defend their city, nation, country, religious community, and the human rights of victims. No journalist can be expected to grant some special consideration or understanding to a criminal like Slobodan Milosevic, on the pretext of neutrality. Objectivity means reporting the truth about criminal politics, about war crimes, about fascism and Stalinism, about terror, about genocide. It does not mean asking a Muslim reporter to treat cetniks sympathetically, any more than one would ask a Jewish reporter in New York to treat Nazis sympathetically.

By these standards we can not only praise most journalists in the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina; such journalists have demonstrated the highest level of professionalism anywhere in the world.

American journalists believe in a concept of free expression that we call 'the seamless garment'. This means extending to all the right to speak and write as he or she sees fit, without censorship or prior restraint. Of course, as a great American jurist once said, there cannot be a right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. If the spoken or written opinions of an individual constitute fighting words that lead to physical conflict, that individual should be held responsible before the law. That is why there was no contradiction between support for the NATO bombing of Radio Television Serbia during the hostilities and a demand for complete press freedom. RTS, aside from its history as a propaganda agency that forfeited the right to consideration as a journalistic institution, was tire voice of NATO's enemy in wartime; it was fair game. On the other hand, while, according to real journalists, it was acceptable from the viewpoint of press freedom for NATO to bomb RTS, it was unacceptable to force Serbian media in the Bosnian 'Serb Republic' to broadcast pro-NATO news bulletins. To bomb a wartime enemy is one thing; to compel pro-enemy media in a third country to follow a particular line is another. In the absence of real conflict, spoken or written statements alone should not be censored or otherwise restricted.

While this principle might have been objectionable to some Bosnians who suffered at the hands of terrorists during the war there, as well as Albanians in Kosovo, it was far more difficult to accept on the part of foreign functionaries in Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosovo. Put simply, most of these bureaucrats, who were charged with responsibility for developing local media, did not understand or accept the American concept of free expression. They were mainly Western and Northern Europeans whose own governments regulate media, and they could not comprehend the idea of unregulated media. Some of them, however, were also Americans who, having gone to the Balkans, forgot their constitutional heritage and came to see themselves more as members of the international community than as Americans.

Among these folk, who were granted the immense responsibility of guiding local media, there was also another problem: few, if any, were journalists. One who regularly offered opinions on the state of Bosnian media to the Bosnian public, was a former British military medical officer. Another, with the impressive title of 'senior media adviser' to the OSCE, and whose duties involved the structuring of the media in Bosnia, had a doctorate in psychology. Many Bosnians were at a complete loss to understand what professional qualification made such individuals fit to lay down rules for journalists. Neither of them would, certainly, have trusted a journalist to treat their medical or psychological complaints. Why, then, should Bosnian media workers trust either of them to administer media? If such was necessary, it should have been done by journalists, not by nurses.

But it was not necessary. Even the least reputable media in Bosnia-Herzegovina were no worse than anywhere else in the former socialist countries, and some were considerably better; nor were they inferior to media in the U.S. and Britain, to cite the examples usually held up by foreign functionaries for local imitation. And no Bosnian media workers of any tendency, including Serbs in Banja Luka and Croats in West Mostar, were either capable of 'or interested in' starting a new war. Thus, foreigners had no business interfering in Bosnian media. They should have found other places to practice surgery and psychology; they needed to cease experimenting with Bosnia-Hercegovina as if they were so many Dr. Frankensteins. Perhaps the true heart of all these problems was that those charged with such heavy responsibilities were incompetent to carry them out, lacked imagination, and therefore improvised. But it was unacceptable to allow foreigners to improvise and experiment with the lives of Bosnians and Herzegovinans.

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