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May 9, 2002 NATA aggravated situation in the Balkans, says speaker



Gary Kallos, Julie Klotz, Peter Regimbald

(click to enlarge)

Seen at the lecture sponsored by Concordia’s Hellenic Studies unit are, left to right, the consul-general of Greece in Montreal, Ioannis Papadopoulos; invited speaker Dr. Thanos Verenis; the ambassador of Greece to Canada, the Hon. Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos; and Professor Nikos Metallinos.

by Sylvain Comeau

NATO blunders in the Balkans during the 1990s aggravated an already nasty situation, Tufts University Professor Thanos Veremis said in a recent Concordia lecture.

Veremis, who is the Constantine Karamanlis Professor in Hellenic and Southeast European Studies at Tufts, said that NATO mishandled its dealings with Serbia and the Milosevic regime. Specifically, he argued that the 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia, in response to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, was a mistake.

“I was against the bombings — not because the Serbian army weren’t committing atrocities; they were, and [deposed Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic is a leader I wouldn’t wish on my enemies — but the bombings only aggravated the humanitarian emergency for the Albanians in Kosovo.”

The bombing campaign was meant to convince Serbia to back down from Kosovo. Instead, it hardened the resolve of an already hard-line regime. “After March 1999, when the bombings began, there was a full-scale eviction of the Albanians from Kosovo, and atrocities were commited en masse, so we could say that the bombings exacerbated, not alleviated their situation. It really was not well thought out.”

Another mistake was failing to provide some wiggle room for Milosevic, so that defiance of Western demands was his only option in order to save face.

“NATO, the U.S., and the rest of Europe insisted that NATO forces should be able to have access to all of Yugoslavia. That gave Milosevic a wonderful opportunity to claim he was a hero fighting for his nation’s independence, and from then on, war in Kosovo was almost inevitable.”

In June of 1999, NATO withdrew the demand for access to all of Yugoslavia, which the opportunistic Milosevic again used for political advantage. “This gave Milosevic a chance to claim that he had reaped a victory after so many days of bombardment, because he forstalled the occupation of his country by NATO forces.”

Veremis added that this claim by the Serbian dictator “was nonsense; his country was devastated. It became, and still is, a black hole in the middle of the Balkans. But it did give him the opportunity to make these claims, and prolong his life in politics. (Without NATO’s mistakes) he might have collapsed long before he did, and would have saved everyone, including his own state, much grief.”

In much of the Balkans today, gangs have filled the power vacuum left by the protracted wars in the region.

“One outcome of this misguided operation is the collapse of the elite which formerly governed Kosovo. Now there is a network of criminal groups, partly based on the Kosovo Liberation Army, as another undesirable by-product of the war.”

He feels that NATO can and should help remedy the mess it helped create.

“NATO could change its vocation from addressing ‘hard’ issues of security to soft security. It should police the region, from criminality back to a kind of normality, to allow democratic forces to take over from the warlords of criminal trade.”

That may be one of the best ways of helping the region emerge economically from the devastation of war. “If we do not address this problem, this criminal pestilence could become the modus vivendi in the economies of the Balkans.”