Sorry, Serbia

Me in front of the bombed defense ministry and chief of staff in Belgrade. Photo by Boško Karanović, Press.

My plan was to do a professional job as a journalist, but the past came too close in February 2011 when I met Serbian asylum seekers being returned by Norway in September 2010. The sisters Labuda, Ana and Marija Maslovarić and their families had to leave Kosovo in 1999, and it was our responsibility to protect them against revenge from the Albanians. But we failed, we failed miserably.

When I was alone in my apartment in Belgrade after returning from the refugee camp where the sisters Maslovarić reside, I started to feel a heavy personal responsibility and guilt. I started to cry and I got a reaction, a posttraumatic reaction. It wasn’t like my life was about to break down, but it was a starting signal for me to act. For a long time I have felt a sense of collective responsibility for not being able to protect Kosovo’s minorities but meeting the Maslovarić families made it more personal. This was something my government was directly responsible for.

The result is the book you are holding in your hand now. My hope is that Norwegian and Western politicians reflect more on the enormous moral responsibility of going to war.

My claim is that politicians often do not understand the consequences of going to war, and in this book I will take a closer look at the war rhetoric and the media dynamic before going to war. In the case of Yugoslavia, the media were very one-sided, and they did all they could to portray Slobodan Milošević in the worse possible light.

On March 24, 2011, 12 years after NATO went to war against Yugoslavia, I apologized to the Serbian people on national TV as a former NATO officer because we were not able to protect the minorities in Kosovo. Most Serbian newspapers wrote about this and also the TV station Pink.

In 1999, my country Norway and the NATO alliance went to war against Yugoslavia because they refused to sign the Rambouillet Agreement, and in January 2000 the Norwegian government sent me to Kosovo as an army major to represent the NATO-led KFOR peace keeping force as a press officer from January to July 2000.

Although I do not have any formal education as an officer, I got the rank of an army major because of my press background. The status of an officer is not important in this context, but the point is that Norway sent me to Kosovo to represent KFOR and NATO.

Of course there were reasons for the NATO bombing, but I do not know one single country that would accept the Rambouillet Agreement. According to this agreement, NATO would occupy the entire territory of Yugoslavia, air, sea and land and the free use of airports, harbors and roads without compensation or criminal responsibility. Later on in this book, I will take a closer look at the Rambouillet Agreement.

On June 12 1999, the international community took responsibility for Kosovo according to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Military Technical Agreement. Our job was to protect Serbs and non-Albanians from repercussions from the Albanians, but our mission failed.

Under our watch, 250,000 Serbs and non-Albanians were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo. Of course I do not defend the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Albanians during the NATO bombing, but the Yugoslav government, not NATO, was responsible for this. However, it is not clear to what extent Albanian leaders influenced their own people to seek refuge in Albania and Macedonia to make the bombing continue.

In my view, we made two main errors in KFOR:

  1. We should have enforced martial law from the first day we came to Kosovo on June 12 1999. Then there would be no question that we were in charge. Anyone out after dark would be arrested and put in a camp with barbed wire around for a week or two, regardless if it was a Serb, Albanian or something else. We were too concerned about playing the role as liberators for the Albanians.
  2. We were too cowardly when we allowed the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK) to transform into the Kosovo Protection Corps and later Kosovo Police Service in Аugust 1999. Thus, the criminal elements from UÇK were legitimized into the governing structures in Kosovo. The Serbian government has outlined this very well in the Whitepaper on organized crime and terrorism in Kosovo and Metohija. Among officers in KFOR, there were many who didn’t like this, but we made this choice to protect our own forces from attack from the Albanian extremists.

Before I went to Kosovo, I spent a lot of time at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs to study the conditions in Kosovo, and I was therefore prepared for an area where Albanian organized crime was rampant with trafficking of narcotics and people. Still, I was not prepared for the realities on the ground, and while I was working in KFOR, I was not aware that we did not do our job.

I hope to raise a debate in Norway and other NATO countries about the heavy moral responsibility of going to war. Can I change something? I don’t know, but I will try.

As a former NATO officer, I would like to offer my apology to the Serbian people for not being able to protect the minorities in Kosovo.

Preliminary table of contents.

  1. Historic overview of the events that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia and the ensuing wars.
  2. A closer look at the Rambouillet agreement, especially the last part, Appendix B: Status of Multi-National Military Implementation Force with very harsh conditions for the NATO operation where Yugoslavia would have to accept the unlimited use of airports, ports roads without criminal responsibility or compensation. We basically gave Yugoslavia the option of being occupied or bombed.
  3. The current Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was one of those most critical to the NATO bombing in 1999 as a senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. I have an interview with Barth Eide where he says that Rambouillet was not sufficient reason to go to war.
  4. Former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was responsible for starting Norway’s first war without authorization from the UN since Norway-Denmark went to war against Sweden in the Theater War in 1788. After he finished his term as a politician, Bondevik is now leading the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights. One should think that a professional peacemaker would be able to give good reflections after starting a war, but he still maintains that war was the only possible option. After my interview with Bondevik, he still maintains that there were ethnic cleansing before we went to war, but he was not willing or able to give me the references for this.
  5. The current Norwegian Ambassador to Kosovo Jan Braathu was representing the OSCE leadership in the Rambouillet talks. However, when I talked to Braathu, he gave Yugoslavia the sole responsibility for the breakdown of the talks, and he did not agree that the terms in Rambouillet were too harsh. He said that the use if Yugoslav infrastructure was just of technical nature and not an occupation, and he claimed that this was a similar deal accepted by Albania and Macedonia. The difference, however, is that Albania and Macedonia never had the threat of bombing before the deployment of NATO forces.
  6. Former Foreign Minister Knut Vollebæk was also the head of the OSCE when NATO went to war against Yugoslavia. He says this book raises very important issues, and he has agreed to an interview, although I am not sure if this is going to happen now. It would be interesting to get his perspectives on the Kosovo Verification Mission and how much intelligence agents were involved in the mission. However, I do have an interview with the coordinator for the translators in the KVM mission, Borka Milankov- She is first of all blaming Vollebæk for the war because he signed for the withdrawal of  the KVM observers opening up for the bombing.
  7. Interview with Beatrice Lacoste who was the spokeswoman for the KVM, and she was working directly under William Walker. Norwegian Major General Bjørn Nygård and  Kåre Eltervåg from the Norwegian foreign ministry were also parts of the KVM mission, and they were frustrated that a lot of technical equipment was handed over to the UÇK. We can read about this in the book Nato’s Gamble: Combining Diplomacy and Airpower in the Kosovo Crisis, 1998-1999
  8. In this video, you can see Živadin Jovanović was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 1998 and 2000, and as an insider to the events that started NATO’s first war and Norway’s first war since 1788, Jovanović is very critical of the talks. He claims that there were no negotiations, and we, i.e. NATO just needed an excuse to go to war against Yugoslavia.
    Jovanović does not have very high thoughts about his Norwegian counterpart, Knut Vollebæk who was the foreign minister when Norway went to war in 1999, for the first time since 1788 when Denmark-Norway went to war against Sweden. Jovanović says Vollebæk served the purposes of NATO, not the European civilization. The interview is maybe a bit long, but it is worth your time. The discussion about the Norwegian politicians comes after 40:20.
  9. Former Defense Minister Eldbjørg Løwer had only been the defense minister for one week when we started the war on March 24, 1999. It was a difficult decision for her to lead Norway into a war, and in her written reply, she also speaks about the need to prevent ethnic cleansing and genocide. However, our bombing escalated the ethnic cleansing, and there was never any genocide in Kosovo.
  10. An analysis of the one-sided media coverage of Kosovo based on a thesis by journalism professor Rune Ottosen at Oslo University College.
  11. The UN, NATO, and International Law After Kosovo. The renowned Rights Quarterly published a critical analysis of NATO’s decision to go to war without UN authorization.
  12. A closer look at A perfect failure, NATOs war against Yugoslavia published on JSTOR, a not–for–profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive of over one thousand academic journals and other scholarly content.
  13. The bombing of Serbia’s national TV station RTS on April 23, 1999 where 16 civilian workers were killed. Post doctor Terje Einarsen at the Faculty of Law at the Unicersity of Bergen thinks the NATO’s intervention was legitimate, but he is critical to the bombing of civilian targets and the treatment of the families of the victims in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Together with two colleagues, he wrote The NATO bombing case (Bankovic et al. v. Belgium et al.) and the limits of Western human rights protection giving interesting perspectives.
  14. Experiences and impressions from my time in KFOR from January to July 2000. Here I will write about the difference between being an information officer and a journalist. Unconsciously you change your statements because you represent an organization, not yourself. Reading what I wrote as an officer in 2000 has not been a pleasant experience at all, and I had a naïve belief that KFOR and the international community was able to create a well-functioning multinational community in Kosovo.
  15. The time as a journalist in a region full of conflicts after I was finished in KFOR. I will write about how I experienced Feb. 16, 2001. Then I was present and saw the results of an Albanian IED outside Podujevo, killing 11 Serbs, including a two year old boy in a bus headed for the Serbian enclaves. I got lots of stories from this time, and I gained operational experience receiving fire from mortars, artillery and snipers. There is a thin line between bravery and stupidity, and sometimes I’ve crossed over.
  16. Peć 2005. Visiting two apartments and a fire ruin. Since 2001, I’ve known Sandra Popović Nadaždin and her husband Siniša to whom I was the best man in 2007. Sandra and her family had to run away from Peć in 1999, and her grandfather is one of the missing Serbs from Kosovo. In Peć I was talking to the Albanians currently occupying their apartments.
  17. Reactions from former KFOR colleagues and reserve officer attacking me because I am not an officer. Here I am using quotes from Sveinung Larsen and Jørgen Fodstad ho has posted public statements on my Facebook profile.
  18. I cannot demand forgiveness. Anonymous reactions from nationalistic Serbs asking me to get back to Norway or to die a “glorious” death in Afghanistan. I have also been compared to the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik because we both like to kill innocent people.
  19. Interview with Norwegian soldiers with a task of protecting Serbs and non-Albanians. Here I have an interview with Morten Remen who was working as a soldier in Kosovo in 2000 and in 2004. In 2004, he was one of the soldiers protecting Serbs in the enclave Čaglavica south of Priština on March 17. and 18, 2004. I will also bring an interview with the Norwegian soldier who saved a lot of lives, among his colleagues and Serbian civilians when he used his pistol to shoot and kill the driver of an truck trying to force itself through the roadblock. When an Albanian came running against him, he shot him with two shots in the chest when he came only one meter from the soldiers in the road block. Norwegian soldiers experiences fierce fighting these days. The identity of this soldier, however, will remain anonymous because many Albanians would seek revenge.
  20. Interview with Serbs and non-Albanians who had to flee from the Norwegian area or responsibility.
  21. Oliver Ivanović, the Serbian state secretary for Kosovo is a good resource with a very good overview of the links between organized crime and the present Albanian leadership in Kosovo. A statement is available on YouTube (an interview I did in Serbian).
  22. Quotes and summary of the Serbian whitepaper on terrorism and organized crime in Kosovo & Metohija. One example from this whitepaper could be Barry Fletcher, an American police officer and spokesman for the UN police UNMIK Police. Fletcher was one of my colleagues when I was working in KFOR, and he said for instants the following: “Whenever we arrest a gang leader, he wraps himself up into an Albanian flag and the streets become flooded with demonstrations. This is not a society affected by organized crime, but a society founded on organized crime.” However, my aim is not that the book becomes a one-sided Serbian propaganda book.
  23. An analysis of the flourishing of crime in Kosovo as a result of the unclear legal status for Kosovo. Here I have good contact with professional Serbian criminals that could give an interesting perspective.
  24. Recognition of Kosovo in 2008. What was the reasoning for Norway to recognize Kosovo? Why was it in Norway’s interest to recognize Kosovo? What are the long term consequences of recognizing Kosovo as an independent state?
  25. Change of practice (document in Norwegian) for Serbian asylum seekers. After Norway recognized Kosovo, they changed their practice for Serbian asylum seekers from Kosovo. I have quotes from the press spokesman in the ministry of Justice and the Norwegian immigration authority. The Serbian asylum seekers were not returned to Kosovo but to Belgrade. I do not claim that Serbs from Kosovo should be granted political asylum, but Norway should be more flexible in creating a good future for these people in Serbia and Montenegro.
  26. Norwegian Peoples Aid and Amnesty International support the extradition of the Serbian asylum seekers at the same time as they are supporting Madina Salamova who lived illegally in Norway for many years under false identity. I have quotes from both organizations where I am asking them if they think Norway has a moral responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.
  27. Epilogue. Libya. We went to war against Libya with about 50,000 people killed in this war. There did not seem to be a clear objective in this war. Espen Barth Eide warned against Western involvement before warned against Western involvement before we decided to go to war in Libya, but now he has modified his statements somewhat.
  28. References with link to a web page with clickable references.
  29. Index
  • Maxov Max
  • simone77

    In Greece we have tourists from almost every country in the world. It’s not a coincidence that in my country Norwegians have the reputation of the most well behaved and kindest people. Norway has never harmed directly another nation in its entire modern history and in my opinion any wrongful decision you took regarding Serbia was a political decision taken by your government and it does NOT reflect who Norwegians are. Governments act under a huge international political pressure. But people have the power and if we all realize that then maybe one day the world will be more fair. I appreciate your work and I admire people like you. I will keep following your posts. Good luck!

    • Simone, thank you for your kind words about Norwegians as tourists, but you have to realize that most Norwegians wholeheartedly support NATO. Sure, more and more Norwegians are starting to see that NATO’s wars do not promote democracy, rather Sharia law in Libya and total chaos in Iraq, for instants, but it is a battle to inform the Norwegian people. That is why I will be a candidate for the next parliamentary elections in Norway.

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  • Bog je gore the oprašta, mi smo dole the ga zakačimo o jaje I the visi na Terazijama!

  • Once during visit to monastery Zica in Serbia I asked one of the monks there, what he thought was most important thing in life. He said: There are many important things, but for the soul, the most important is to live a life in a way that at the end, one has no regrets…

  • e moj prijatelju, kome sad the se zalimo svakog zlocinca pustise iz haga prvo hrvata koji je obrisao srbsku populaciju sa prostora hrvatske pa zatim albanskog nacionalistu nije problem sto je nacionalista nego sto je vrsio zlocine I nekaznjeno je prosao bravo za vas I evropu svaka cast.