"Balkan Catastrophe Also Suffers from Misinformation and Reckless Sensationalism"

A response to an editorial printed in the Michigan Daily newspaper on 4/19/99.

Submitted to the Michigan Daily on 5/12/99.

The Daily and contributing writers have been reporting on the catastrophe in the Balkans in mainly the same manner as our larger media sources. An editorial printed on April 19th 1999, titled "Genocide in Kosovo resembles Holocaust", has demanded a specific response, for it demonstrates much of the misinformation and sensationalistic portrayal this complex human catastrophe has suffered from. It lacks academic responsibility in a presentation of historical events, demonizes a peoples based on an ignorance or disrespect of culture, and shows a lack of commitment the authors have to their fields of promoting long lasting community health, healing and well being (as public health students). Such methods have garnered support for the current violent military operations on the peoples of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and have minimized its catastrophic consequences on the entire Balkan region and our global community.

The advocates of the current violent military intervention have, either unsuspectingly or quite intentionally, reverted to the very own methods of propaganda that they accuse the regime of Slobodan Milosevic of practicing. This includes a distorting simplification of the situation as a "genocide resembling the holocaust", which would naturally evoke a great degree of sympathy from the good public. The editorial begins with such a black and white portrayal of the situation, quickly identifying those who express dissatisfaction with the type of intervention being used in the crisis as supporters of "the genocidal maniac, Slobodan Milosevic". Continuing to feed off of the fear and horror which would stir inside us by associating Nazism with what is Serbian, the authors irresponsibly pronounce that "the three-finger Serbian salute resembles the Nazi salute". Why this is labeled "irresponsible" is that the authors have made a powerful accusation on a people, enforcing a demonizing label upon them when indeed many national salutes or hand salutes symbolizing opposition resemble one another. It is also irresponsible to make such an accusation without exploring the practice’s cultural roots. In this case that requires mentioning that a display of three fingers (the thumb, index and middle finger) signifies a declaration of the principle that underlies Orthodox faith: The Holy Trinity (the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit). If one were to follow the "logic" set forth in such an editorial, any ethnic or religious group that used a symbol of "God being with us, no matter what" would also have to be equated to Nazism.

Also tragic in how this catastrophe is being presented, is the distorting romanticizing of the "origins" of the ethnic Albanian population in the Kosovo area and nature of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Presenting the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo as an "indigenous" community of descendents of the ancient Illyrians (and thus rightful heirs to the land), demonstrates one perspective on the issue without addressing the more historically substantiated arguments of they being descendents of not only the Illyrians, but a multitude of ethnic groups, languages and religions, also inhabitants to the area. Interestingly, such sources advocating Albanian ancestry as being purely Illyrian tend to attribute any ethnic mixing in the ancestry as an infestation of shorter, darker peoples into a taller, blonder and fairer skin race. In this area of the Balkans, such assurance in the homogeneity of ethnic roots is likely to be far fetched. If the authors are prepared to support "arm[ing] the Kosovars so they can defend themselves from Serbian aggression" they should also be prepared to endorse an arming of a whole lot of other ethnic groups, such as the Kurds, the numerous indigenous peoples of Latin America, and even the Native Americans who live in reservation camps in the US.

What also cannot be tolerated is disrespect for our leaders of global peace and civil rights, by using their messages of social equality and human justice to advocate violent means of problem solving and opposition to evil. Although Dr. Martin Luther King (which the editorial had quoted) reminded us that "the tragedy is not the brutality of evil, but also the silence of good people", the foundation of his teachings and advocacy was based on nonviolent resistance. When the Reverend Jesse Jackson visited the University this spring, he reminded us of the power of the mind in resisting injustice and not the power of the sword. We have the leaders, international institutions and diplomatic means to deal with such conflicts. Ironically, the authors ask us, "What has happened to our sense of humanity?". Indeed what has happened to our sense of humanity, when people have accepted violence as the only means to deal with our problems, and still have not recognized its cyclic nature in intensifying hatred and polarization among ethnic groups? Finally, the authors also asked for a response from those victimized by Hitler's holocaust in regards to the parallels they made between the ethnic conflicts and human rights atrocities in the Balkans to the Holocaust. They just got one.