by Barry Grey
The massacre of 14 Serb farmers in the Kosovan village of Gracko is the
most horrific attack to date on Serbs and Gypsies since the entry of
NATO troops into the province six weeks ago. The villagers, aged 15 to
60, were harvesting their crops on July 23 when they were cut down by
automatic weapons fired at close range from several directions. The
attackers—soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army, according to the
testimony of Gracko inhabitants—mutilated the bodies of their victims.
In the wake of the massacre, press reports have acknowledged that the
wave of killings, abductions and house burnings of Serbs has continued,
despite the presence of 36,500 NATO troops. The Gracko killings will
undoubtedly prompt more Serbs to flee the province, which has already
lost anywhere from 80,000 to 150,000 of the 200,000-strong Serb
population that existed prior to the NATO occupation of Kosovo.
US, NATO and United Nations officials have uniformly denounced the
killings in Gracko and declared their determination to find and punish
those responsible. Hashim Thaci, the KLA figure promoted by
Washington as the political head of the separatist guerrillas, condemned
the assault and declared his organization played no role—a claim that
stretches the limits of credulity.
No one in the American media has dared to suggest that those who
conducted the NATO war and now preside over the occupation of
Kosovo bear any responsibility for this latest eruption of communal
As horrifying as the scene in Gracko, it is all too commonplace in the
remnants and former republics of Yugoslavia. No one can reasonably
maintain that it, and worse atrocities to come, are wholly unanticipated
For nearly a decade the tortured land of the former Yugoslavia has
witnessed such communal atrocities committed by nationalist forces on all
sides. Even ordinary farmers and city-dwellers have participated in brutal
assaults on civilians of different ethnic backgrounds in the cycle of attacks
and reprisals unleashed by the breakup of Yugoslavia. There has been
more than enough suffering to go around—among Croatians, Bosnian
Muslims, Kosovan Albanians and Serbs.
This in a country which for decades was able to provide at least the
minimal political and social conditions for the various ethnic groups of
which it was composed to live in peace, and where it had become
common for people of different backgrounds to marry, socialize and
develop close personal relations.
The tragic legacy of imperialist intervention and communal politics is
too apparent in Gracko, a Serb village not far from Pristina surrounded
by Albanian villages under KLA control. Many of the inhabitants of
Gracko are refugees from Bosnia and the Krajina region of Croatia. With
good reason, they and their fellow Serbs put little stock in the assurances
of NATO and UN officials.
The people of Gracko say they appealed repeatedly, but in vain, for
NATO troops to provide protection during the harvest, when they had to
go into the fields to gather their grain and corn. Normally they would
venture out of their village only in convoys.
They know that the very forces to which they are appealing for
protection have embraced the KLA as a partner in the occupation of
Kosovo. As one Gracko resident said, pointing to British and Canadian
forces patrolling the area, “How can we be protected by the armies that
The response of US and NATO spokesmen to the Gracko massacre is
laced with cynicism. They may very well have been shaken by the
atrocity and consider it an unwelcome event. It clearly undercuts their
attempt to legitimize the KLA and portray the NATO occupation as a
neutral, democratic and civilizing mission.
But their attempt to wash their own hands of responsibility is hardly
credible. In the first place, the Americans, the British and the entire
political and military leadership of NATO are well aware of the character
of the KLA and those who run it. The New York Times article on the
Gracko massacre was written by Chris Hedges. Just a month ago (June
25) the Times published an article by Hedges entitled “Leaders of
Kosovo Rebels Tied to Deadly Power Play.” The piece described in
some detail the methods of terror and assassination employed by Thaci
and his lieutenants against rivals in the leadership of the KLA. (See
“KLA leader Thaci ordered rivals executed, rebel commanders say,”
posted June 29 by the WSWS).
On July 23, the same day as the Gracko massacre, Hedges published a
further article exposing the fraud of KLA “disarmament”. His Times
article reported, “NATO officials said that it was apparent the rebel
commanders had hidden large stockpiles” of heavy weapons, which were
due to be turned over to NATO forces that week. The article continued:
“But senior NATO officials said the equipment turned in so far by the
KLA to the 14 designated sites was broken, in poor repair or useless.
They said rebel commanders were arguing about what military hardware
had to be turned over, and in some areas had failed to cooperate with
The head of the NATO occupation force, Lieut. Gen. Sir Michael
Jackson, was quoted playing down the failure of the KLA to disarm and
praising KLA commander Agim Ceku. The latter is, like Thaci, a favorite
of the United States. Ceku came to prominence as an officer in the
Croatian army who oversaw the US-backed expulsion of some 200,000
Serbs from the Krajina region in 1995.
It is no accident that the US has allied itself with such ruthless chauvinists
as Thaci and Ceku. The political character of Washington's allies among
the Albanian Kosovars gives the lie to its ostensible support for a
“multi-ethnic” and “democratic” Kosovo.
This public face of US policy in the Balkans was restated Monday by
Clinton's National Security Adviser Samuel Berger. Speaking of the
Gracko killings, Berger began by endorsing Thaci's claim of KLA
non-involvement. He then said, “America did not fight in Kosovo for one
ethnic group and against another. We fought for a stable, peaceful
Europe and for the principle that no people can be singled out for
destruction because of their ethnicity or religion.”
Such noble words are contradicted by the entire thrust of US policy in
Yugoslavia, and the outcome that this policy has produced. American
policy, beginning with its support for the secession of Slovenia, Croatia
and Bosnia, and continuing with its embrace of Kosovan nationalism, has
encouraged the destruction of a multi-ethnic Yugoslav federation and the
carve-up of the country into ethnically pure mini-states and cantons.
Washington has underwritten the narrow and selfish nationalist aims of
elites within all of the various groupings of the former
Yugoslavia—Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian Muslim, Albanian
Kosovan—with the exception of the Serbs.
It cannot be credibly argued that the aspirations of nationalist elites
Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia or Kosovo have any greater legitimacy than
those of their counterparts in Serbia. Indeed, the regime in Belgrade and
the large Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia had well-founded fears
and legitimate grievances over the sudden transformation of these
republics, in which minorities were guaranteed certain rights under the
federal constitution, into independent states ruled by anti-Serb
But in the aftermath of the Cold War, US policy came to be driven by
the assessment that Serbia, politically the dominant republic in
Yugoslavia, represented the chief obstacle to its expansionist
geo-political and economic aims in the Balkans and the oil-rich regions
further to the east. It had to be weakened, if not destroyed.
The tragic and escalating cycle of ethnic bloodshed in the former
Yugoslavia is not an unfortunate anomaly of a policy driven by altruism,
but rather the inevitable and organic product of US imperialist