by Eric Margolis © 1998 Eric Margolis
Lake Trasimeno, Italy - 21 centuries ago, a Roman army was marching alongside this beautiful lake, seeking Hannibal's invading army. Without warning, the Carthaginian army burst upon the Romans from behind a low, barren ridge.
The Romans, strung out in line of march, were swept away by the avalanche of Punic infantry, Numidian cavalry, and war elephants. Rome's finest soldiers were slaughtered, or pushed into the lake. Though Hannibal went on to crush another Roman army at Cannae, he could not defeat Rome.
Rome's superior strategy finally won the Punic Wars. Today, NATO could use a stiff measure of Roman courage and strategic skill. A few hundred miles east of here, war in Kosova is rapidly intensifying. As in Bosnia, NATO's response has been too little, too late - and based on gravely mistaken strategic appreciation.
The 2 million ethnic Muslim and Catholic Albanians, 92% of the population of Kosova, are clearly determined to gain independence from brutal Serb rule. Some want to join with neighboring Albania, from which Kosova was detached by the Great Powers in 1912. Others, dismayed by Albania's chaos, squalor, and inept neo-communist government, want an independent state. Ethnic Albanians, comprising 40% of neighboring Macedonia, also want to join their brothers.
NATO and the US have been huffing and puffing at Serbia's bloody strongman, Slobodan Milosevic, warning him not to proceed with his threat to ethnically cleanse Kosova of Albanians. But he is doing exactly that.
Despite western threats of more sanctions and limited air strikes, in recent weeks Serbia's army and paramilitary police, acting with their usual ferocity, have killed hundreds of Kosovar Albanians. They have driven 40,000 south into Albania, using warplanes and heavy artillery to raze scores of villages and create a 'cordon sanitaire' along the wild, mountainous border with Albania. It's Bosnia 1992, all over again.
Lightly-armed guerrillas of the Kosova Liberation Army are fighting back. This rag-tag force began battling last year in response to intolerable Serb repression. The KLA, said to control 40% of Kosova, draws supplies and some volunteers from Albania. Serbia is now threatening to invade Albania, whose small army disintegrated two years ago.
NATO response to the growing war is to enforce the untenable status quo. Western leaders are calling for NATO troops, including Canadians, to be stationed on Kosova's borders in Albania and Macedonia. This foolish strategy has one aim: to deny Kosovars support from Albania and Macedonia, allowing Serbs to isolate and crush the KLA, forcing Kosovars to accept bogus 'autonomy' in Serbia.
In other words, Europe and the US are actually bent on helping Milosevic's neo-Nazi regime keep intact his little 'Yugoslav' empire: Serbia, plus Kosova, Montenegro, Sanjak, Vojvodina and Serb Bosnia. The unstated goal is to prevent unification of the 6 million Albanians, today split between Albania, Kosova and Macedonia.
NATO leaders claim independence for Kosova, a human right enshrined by the UN and European Parliament, will 'destabilize' the region, risking a wider war. Behind this argument lies the real, but unvoiced, prejudice against creating a unified Albanian state, most of whose citizens would be nominal Muslims. Remember that Britain, France and Greece secretly encouraged the Serbs to crush tiny, Muslim-dominated Bosnia.
The same policy is now in play towards Albanians. Europeans, whose fathers openly applauded, or secretly supported, Hitler's 'cleansing' Europe of Jews, today intrigue for a 'Muslimfrei' Balkans. Russia and Greece, worried over their own Muslim minorities, aid Serbia. Only ever-courageous Pope John Paul II and, ironically, Germany have so far demanded recognition of Albanian rights. If the west allowed Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia to be created, why not Greater Albania?
The Albanian genie is out of its bottle. Albanians, a warrior people, will no longer accept Serb colonial rule. Milosevic's empire is collapsing. Moderate Albanian Kosovars, led by 'president' Ibrahim Rugova, have lost all credibility in the face of ethnic cleansing. For Albanians, the only recourse is war for independence. NATO must face this fact. Prevarications about 'autonomy,' and empty peace talks, will only delay, and prolong, the final act of the Third Balkan War - just as they did in Bosnia, at a cost of 25O,OOO dead civilians and 3 million refugees.
Having loudly proclaimed 'never again' after Bosnia, the west is doing just that in deja vu Kosova. Once again, decent people scramble for any excuse for inaction in the face of rampant evil. Milosevic, who turned the once-proud Serb people into a nation of war criminals, again plays artfully on western divisions, cowardice and closet racism. The man who ignited the region's wars and genocide has become Washington's de facto Balkan ally.
Rather than aiding Kosova to gain the freedom 92% of its suffering people crave, NATO is actually planning to aid Serbia's war effort by sealing Kosova's borders. This madness is like helping Nazis to guard their concentration camps.
Calls by the west to send `peacekeepers' to Kosova are nonsense. Like Bosnia, what this would really mean is merely observing murderers slaughter their victims. You don't keep the peace between criminal and victim. As Milosevic so often showed in Bosnia, he will probably halt ethnic cleansing after NATO's massive air demonstration on his borders. But once western attention is distracted, he will resume.
NATO needs to send war-fighters to crush, once and for all, Europe's modern Nazis. It's high time for the west, and decent Serbs, to get rid of Milosevic and his gangs of ethnic cleansers. Do we learn nothing?
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]