by ALEX CALLINICOS
ONE MAIN excuse the liberal media use for their scandalously uncritical treatment of the war in the Balkans is the lie that the left supports it. Ben Pimlott wrote in last Sunday's Observer, "In a way Kosovo is Vietnam stood on its head... The far right, Alan Clark in Britain and Republican isolationists in the United States, has opposed while the left has rallied round the flag."
If Pimlott had taken the trouble to attend any of the numerous protests, debates, and teach-ins that have been going on around the country, he would discover that the anti-war speakers come from the serious left-Tony Benn, Bruce Kent, Tariq Ali, John Pilger and Mark Steel, among others. These meetings are going wholly unreported by the media. But it is here that the real debate about the war is going on. Two weeks ago, for example, I took part in a teach-in at Leeds University attended by 350 people.
The case for the war was put by Dennis MacShane MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Foreign Office. His arguments were so feeble that one supporter of the war attacked him from the floor for his apologetic attitude. Indeed, one interesting feature of these meetings is how hard it seems to be to get pro-war speakers. Organisers of another debate I took part in at York University last week tried more than 30 people in an effort to find someone to come to defend the war. All the Labour MPs and national newspaper columnists who are so happy to cheer on the carnage seem to get cold feet about having their arguments challenged face to face by opponents of the war.
In the end a postgraduate student volunteered to put the pro-war case at the York debate. He made a better job of it than the media pundits or bellicose clowns like George Robertson. Some 160 students came to sit through a long meeting in a crowded, overheated room. They wanted to hear the arguments, to put questions and to receive information.
The seriousness these students showed put to shame the supposedly upmarket broadsheet papers. The newspapers seem more interested in whether Julia Roberts shaves her armpits than in the fact that a NATO pilot murdered 60 people in a bus between Pristina and Nis on Friday last week. From my experience of these debates, I would say that the pro-war case has only one really powerful thing going for it. This is the suffering of the Kosovan Albanian refugees.
There's a character who seems to wander from one debate to another, who's given to shouting, "What are you going to do about the ethnic cleansing?" When someone asked him what he was going to do about it, he was lost for words. Naturally, everyone is concerned for the plight of the Kosovan Albanians. This includes left wing opponents of the war. None of us supports Milosevic's policy of ethnic cleansing. But we reject NATO's big lie. It is using the Kosovan Albanians' suffering, which has hugely increased as a result of the bombing, to justify yet more bombing.
Anyone who cares about the future of the Kosovan Albanians should oppose the war. Even if, through vast butchery, NATO were to crush Serbia militarily, the Kosovans would find themselves living under Western protection in a region shattered by war. It is unlikely that any of the different parties to the war would accept the outcome as a final resolution of the conflicts that gave rise to it in the first place. Both Serbian and Albanian nationalists would be busy arming for the next war.
Apart from exploiting our natural sympathy for the Kosovan Albanians, defenders of the war are trying to get us to hate the Serbs. The Guardian is playing a particularly contemptible role here. Last week Polly Toynbee dismissed Serbia as "that God-forsaken, dirt-poor, hate-ridden blot on the map of Europe." She was followed by Daniel Goldhagen who argued that Serbia should be placed into "receivership" and its people re-educated after NATO had crushed them militarily. Goldhagen is the author of a trashy history of the Holocaust which sought to hold all Germans responsible for the Nazis' crimes. Now he's applying the same logic to the Serbs. This kind of demonisation of an entire people has also been reflected in the debates.
The point of all this should be obvious. If we can be led to hate the Serbs, then we won't care if NATO bombs them to bits. It's up to the opponents of the war to challenge this vile reasoning, and to keep up a real debate on the war. We have to build a movement so strong that even the Guardian and the Observer will be forced to sit up and listen.
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