From Irish Political Review: May 2008

The Irish Times Record On Kosovo And The Men Of The West

It would be easy to begin this article with an ad hominem argument against Unionist polemicist Steven King. I could provide lengthy quotations from the vast body of his articles that I detest before proceeding to an exception. But that would be pure self-indulgence. So let me proceed straight away to his Irish Examiner column of February 20th, where he raised questions that the overwhelming majority of western media pundits have been afraid to articulate:

"It is too easily forgotten that no one, not Carson any more than de Valera, Collins or Connolly, wanted to see Ireland carved in two. Even the first Stormont prime minister, James Craig, thought it was probably just a temporary expedient. But as it became clear that the border was going to become a permanent fixture, anti-partitionism became a central tenet of Irish foreign policy. From India to Vietnam to Korea, dividing countries on ethnic lines was no answer to disputes. All changed, changed utterly this week. The three main Dáil parties have not just come to accept partition for the time being—they actively support it … I should point out that I'm not talking about the North. Rather, I refer to the declarations of support for the partition of Serbia, also known as the independence of Kosovo. On Monday, much of the west—led by the US, Britain and France—seized on Kosovo as an opportunity to parade before the world as democracy's champion and Muslims' protector. For the US to act without UN sanction might be par for the course; for Ireland to nod it through next week—as Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern has promised—should raise eyebrows. For once, you see, Russia and China, supported by Spain and Greece, have a point. Kosovo's status since 1999 has been governed by UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which envisages only self-government for Kosovo and acknowledges the 'sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia'. Inconvenient as it might be for Washington and Brussels, Kosovo's status can't be changed legally without a new UN resolution.

"The status quo might be unsustainable, but it is one entirely of NATO's making. Eager to demonstrate that it still had relevance, NATO pulverised Yugoslavia with cluster bombs, depleted uranium and cruise missiles for 11 weeks. As an adoring media told the story, the US and its allies were knights in shining armour, selflessly killing and destroying in order to rescue the oppressed Kosovo Albanians from the bloodthirsty Serbs. In reality, NATO-led forces marched into Kosovo, stood by passively as more than 250,000 Serbs fled or were driven out of the province, and then cowered in the safety of their barracks in 2004 as the Kosovo Albanians went on a vicious anti-Serb rampage. Eventually, talks did take place under the aegis of Martti Ahtisaari, of IRA decommissioning fame. The negotiations inevitably went nowhere, as they were meant to. Given that key NATO and EU officials had already declared independence was inevitable, the Kosovo Albanians knew they only had to sit tight, reject all other options and prepare to collect their reward. Ahtisaari claimed his proposals would provide 'the foundations for a future independent Kosovo that is viable, sustainable and stable and in which all communities and their members can live a peaceful and dignified existence'. Presumably we are meant to overlook the fact that for Kosovo's Serbs—the few that remain—living a 'peaceful and dignified existence' means cowering behind barbed wire and needing armed escorts whenever they step outside their enclaves.

"But what is this independence anyway? A flag, yes, but Kosovo will have no say on taxation, on foreign and security policy, on customs, on law enforcement. The only thing independent about Kosovo is its independence from Serbia. Kosovo has never been a state and its parliament isn't deemed worthy to do anything very much beyond collecting rubbish. If Kosovo has the right to secede, why not other nationalities or ethnic groups living as minorities within someone else's state?… The great powers claim the suggestion that Kosovo has any bearing on any other territorial dispute is spurious. Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, says Kosovo is unique. Why? Because, with Russian support, the UN was given authority to decide the future of Kosovo. But the UN resolution is clear: the authorisation was merely 'to provide an interim administration for Kosovo under which the people of Kosovo can enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia'. Yugoslavia is no more, but Serbia is acknowledged by all, including the US and the EU, as the successor state. Dermot Ahern argues that, never mind UN resolutions, Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic forfeited its right to rule. If bad treatment of the local population disqualified a state from exercising sovereignty over part of its territory, then an awful lot of countries would be eligible for enforced amputation, including some which receive vast chunks of American or EU aid.

"Serbia is a legal entity entitled to self-determination; Kosovo is not. If Muslims cannot be expected to live under non-Muslim rule, why does no-one recognise the Turkish Cypriots right to independence? The international community's message to other ethnic groups is clear. First, grab a piece of territory. Then permit unrestricted immigration by its co-nationals from a neighbouring state. Next, ethnically cleanse the territory of all other groups to create an artificial overwhelming local ethnic majority. Last, demand that these actions be rewarded by the bestowal of independent statehood. Anyone for a Free Derry? Independence for west Cork? More seriously, if the North ever voted for Irish unity, Kosovo would provide an excuse for Ulster loyalists to set up an independent homeland in counties Antrim and Down. The cabinet should think before it acts on Kosovo and not just follow the herd."

In stark contrast with the both sharp and serious questions raised by King, we had the following self-indulgent editorial from the Irish Times on February 18th, smugly entitled Kosovo Takes The Independent Route:

"Kosovo's declaration of independence yesterday comes at the end of a prolonged struggle against Serbian rule which was continually frustrated, repressed and rejected as Yugoslavia broke up. These successive crises made its independence politically inevitable. Following the vicious campaign mounted by Slobodan Milosevic against Kosovo in 1998-9, and the Nato bombing campaign in retaliation, there has been no let-up in the demands for full sovereignty. Most European Union member-states, including Ireland, have rightly concluded that this should finally be supported, despite the refusal of Serbia and Russia to accept that. Legally this is a regrettable and unsatisfactory state of affairs. It means the United Nations cannot formally endorse Kosovan independence, since Russia demands it be declared null and void. Although Serbia has pledged not to use military force in retaliation, it will be able to mount economic sanctions against the new state, which is highly dependent on it economically. If Serbian leaders systematically follow this course they will reopen all the issues which have delayed their association and accession negotiations with the EU…"

Smug and self-righteous editorialising was followed by cheap sneering. In its This Week They Said column on February 23rd the Irish Times expected its readers to unquestioningly agree that the following statement was deserving of nothing else but unrestrained ridicule: "Kosovo is ours! Kosovo is Serbia!—Serb protesters gathering at the US embassy in Belgrade to protest the independence of Kosovo". The Irish Times is indeed quite shameless in covering up its own history. Nothing could justify more the need for John Martin's superb history of the role played by that paper than also taking a look at the historical record of both the Irish Times and its British imperialist masters in respect of this very Kosovo question. For the slogan that "Kosovo is Serbia!" had been at the very heart of British propaganda during its Imperialist War of 1914–1918.

To further British objectives, its Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey had in fact told France's Clemenceau as far back as 1908 that it was his policy to reinforce Tsarist Russia as a "counterpoise to Germany on land". A strengthened Russia would in turn threaten Germany's ally Austria, and Grey sanctioned Russia's sponsorship of expansionist Serbian nationalism for that purpose, including its designs on both Kosovo and Albania itself. And damn the consequences.

James Joyce, who had lived under the Austrian Empire in Trieste, would, in a post-war letter to Mary Colum, dismiss Britain's anti-Austrian propaganda with the observation: "They called the Austrian Empire a ramshackle empire… I wish to God there were more such empires". The novelist and journalist Joseph Roth, whose book The Wandering Jews provides one of the most penetrating accounts of the horrifying predicament facing his fellow-Jews in inter-War Europe, also recalled: "My strongest experience was the War and the destruction of my fatherland, the only one I ever had, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary". But Britain wanted that Empire broken up, no matter what, and in fact expressed anger that Russia had not reacted more firmly in 1908 against Austria's formal incorporation of the Bosnia it had ruled since the collapse of Ottoman rule in that province in 1878.

Serbia, of course, wished to rule Bosnia as part of a Greater Serbia, irrespective of the fact that the majority of Bosnians were opposed to any such outcome. In 1914 Croats, Muslims, Slovenes, Croatian Serbs—and even a minority of Bosnian Serbs—would all fight in the Austrian Army against Serbia. And the spark that came from that conflict set alight the Inferno that engulfed Europe for the next four years. Following the conclusion of the World War in November 1918, when Serbia had finally conquered Bosnia, Britain's ally went on to celebrate its triumph in the New Year of 1919 with the massacre of 1,000 Muslim men, the burning to death of seventy-six Muslim women and the pillaging of 270 villages.

We are still living today with the consequences of the forces that Britain set out to unleash in Europe a century ago. When the Redmondite M.P. Tom Kettle launched his war propaganda on behalf of Britain with an article entitled Europe Against The Barbarians (Daily News, 10 August 1914), it was to give Serbia a free hand to do whatever she wanted to do in the Balkans, while Britain got to grips with the bigger picture:

"As for Serbia, it seems probable that nobody will have the time to go to war with her. Her function has been that of the electric button which discharges the great gun of a fortress. And now that the lightnings have been released, what is the stake for which we are playing? It is as simple as it is colossal. It is Europe against the barbarians."

On 23rd February 1916 the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was to declare:

"We shall not sheath the sword… until Belgium—and I will add Serbia—recovers in full measure all, and more than all she has sacrificed."

And in June 1916 that Government made sure that what it designated as "Kosovo Day" would be celebrated under that name throughout the length and breadth of Britain in explicit honour of total Serb control of that territory.

The British Government already knew perfectly well the character of the forces it was unconditionally supporting. The Balkan Wars had commenced in October 1912, following a revolt against Ottoman rule both in Albania itself and by the Albanian majority in Kosovo. Serbia then attacked in order to annex not only Kosovo but also Northern Albania as additional coastal territory. Austria forced Serbia to withdraw from Albania proper and concede its independence. But Serbia hung on to Kosovo, having massacred anything between 20,000 and 25,000 Albanian civilians by December 1912. These massacres had been recounted at the time in eye-witness reports by Edith Durham in the English-speaking press; by Leon Trotsky in the Russian-speaking press; and by a host of newspaper reports right across Europe. The massacres in Kosovo were also confirmed by a Carnegie Commission Report co-authored by the editor of The Economist, H.N. Brailsford. That 1913 Report spoke of—

"…houses and whole villages reduced to ashes, unarmed and innocent populations massacred en masse, incredible acts of violence, pillage and brutality of every kind—such were the means which were employed and are still being employed by the Serbo-Montenegrin soldiery, with a view to the entire transformation of the ethnic character of regions inhabited exclusively by Albanians."

And so it was that both Kettle and Asquith were made fully aware beforehand as to what was in store for the Balkans when they went on to unequivocally champion Serbia's War in 1914. And the Irish Times performed accordingly.

On 12th October 1912 the Irish Times carried the following report, headed Montenegro's Advance—From Our Special Correspondent:

"The King, I hear, has expressed great pleasure at the messages of sympathy and congratulation received from many lands. The nation hopes that the redemption of Kosovo is at hand. Kosovo is a large province of Turkey, lying to the South of Servia and was at one time part of the Servian Empire. At the battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Turks broke up the Servian Empire, and the province came under their sway. It was that battle which drove a large number of Servians out of the province. They formed the State of Montenegro. Ever since that date, more than 500 years ago, Montenegrins and Servians have never relinquished the hope of avenging that defeat, and of rescuing the province of Kosovo from the Turks."

On 29th October 1912, under the heading of The Victorious Allies, the Irish Times further exulted in Serbia's victories:

"Uskub, the ancient capital of the great Serb Empire, has fallen into the hands of the Servian Crown Prince, without the firing of a shot… The Turkish commander must have known that this avenging of the overthrow of the Serb Empire at Kosovo would be of inestimable moral value to the Servian cause."

Keeping up the same theme three years later, on 10th October 1915, the Irish Times once again emphasised:

"Pristina, to which the Serbians are removing from Nish their more important treasures, is the first capital of Old Serbia. It is a place associated with the memories of the battlefield which, in 1389, destroyed the Serbian Empire. Kosovo, 'the field of blackbirds', lies within sight of the towers of Pristina".

In that same issue of 10th October 1915 the Irish Times unashamedly went on to publish a report extolling Serbia's "Aryanisation" campaigns in Kosovo. Under the heading of Ideals Of The Southern Slavs, with a lead paragraph which pointed out that "the personal message of M. Mestrovic is a profoundly interesting document at a time when Great Britain is so vitally linked with Balkan aspirations", it quoted as follows an address on "the message of Serbia and of all her race" that had been delivered at the University of Leeds by the Serbian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic:

"I desire that Europe should dig out Yugoslavia from her ancient grave—Europe, whose religion and civilisation have been defended by the Serbians, Croats and Slovenes, more than by any other Balkan people, through all their history, whether from the barbarous Osmanlis or from the modern German aggression. I do esteem and love all Balkan peoples as our brothers in history and in the Peninsula; but I believe that chiefly the pure Slavdom of the Balkans, that means Great Serbia, is the moral and creative principle of our Peninsula … The spirit of Europe can fully conquer the Balkans and set free the latent vitality in them through my people. My life will be justified if my conception of the Temple of Kosovo, as well as my real artistic activity, is an expression of the United South Slavdom… It would be my eternal joy if the Temple should be built (in a not very distant future) on the soil of Jugoslavia…. May the Anglo-Saxon and Slav races (the two of the principal forces in the world) become faithful and lifelong friends after this war, as they are in it, for the sake of the unity of Europe and of human civilisation."

Under the sub-heading of The Temple Of Kosovo this Irish Times report continued:

"M. Mestrovic's message followed an illustrated lecture on Southern Slav art by M. Mitrinovic who said that if anything was to be the base of spiritual union between the Southern Slav and the British people, the sublime work of Mestrovic ought to be that base. Proceeding to deal with the idea of Mestrovic's gigantic creation, the Temple of Kosovo, the lecturer remarked that… the Temple of Mestrovic had both the human and the Divine beauty… It represented an eternal dawn of beauty and of New Aryandom."

One month later, the Irish Times of 27th November 1915 carried on editorial entitled Ireland's War, which rejoiced in the opportunities provided by the death of the anti-War founder of the British Labour Party, Keir Hardie, resulting in his parliamentary seat being lost to a pro-War candidate:

"The result of the Merthyr-Tydvil by-election will assist the process of German disillusionment … The seat was vacated by the death of Mr. Keir Hardie, an 'international' Socialist, who denounced the war, and was prepared to accept peace at any price. Before the war Merthyr-Tydvil was a stronghold of Socialism: Mr. Keir Hardie polled 11,507 votes it the General Election of December 1910. Mr. Winstone, the official Labour Candidate at Thursday's election, was supported by the notorious Union of Democratic Control, and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald [also anti-War—MO'R] pleaded for him with the electors. Mr. Stanton, the independent Labour candidate, contested the seat solely as a protest against the 'peace at any price' views with which some members of the Labour Party in Parliament have chosen to associate themselves. He advocated the vigorous prosecution of the war to a successful conclusion—no terms with Germany until she is beaten to her knees. He has defeated the Elisha of the 'international' Elijah by 4,206 votes …"

"Merthyr-Tydvil has a moral for the Irish people… There is a considerable number of Irishmen who are definitely hostile to the British cause in the present war… [maintaining] that, as the Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick said in his lamentable letter, this is 'not Ireland's war'… Let us point out to these people that, the attitude of a large body of the English working classes was hostile to the British Government… In fact the position of many English trade unionists in those days was the present position of the Irishmen who say: 'We shall never fight for England' and 'This is not Ireland's war'. But the most obstinate of these English and Welsh trade unionists have suffered themselves to be persuaded by the logic of facts. They have read the story of Belgium and Serbia… It is Ireland's war just as much as it is Belgium's war, because if Germany wins Ireland will share Belgium's fate. Irish nuns will share the fate of Belgian nuns …"

Why such a vehement Irish Times editorial attack on Bishop O'Dwyer of Limerick? In its issue of 13th November 1915, under the pooh-pooh toned heading of Emigrants And the War—A Remarkable Letter, it reported on a letter that Bishop O'Dwyer had sent to the Munster Express. It is worth quoting that letter in full:

"Sir, The treatment which the poor Irish emigrant lads have received at Liverpool is enough to make any Irishman's blood boil with anger and indignation. What wrong have they done to deserve insults and outrage at the hands of a brutal English mob? They do not want to be forced into the English Army and sent to fight battles in some part of the world. Is not that within their right? They are supposed to be freemen, but they are made to feel that they are prisoners, who may be compelled to lay down their lives for a cause that is not worth 'three rows of pins' to them. It is very probable that these poor Connaught peasants know little or nothing of the meaning of the war. Their blood is not stirred by the memories of Kosovo and they have no burning desire to die for Serbia [my emphasis—MO'R]. They would much prefer to be allowed to till their own potato gardens in peace in Connemara. Small nationalities, and the wrongs of Belgium and Rheims Cathedral, and all the other cosmopolitan considerations that rouse the enthusiasm of the Irish Party, but do not get enough of recruits in England, are far too high-flying for uneducated peasants, and it seems a cruel wrong to attack them because they cannot rise to the level of the disinterested Imperialism of Mr. T.P. O'Connor and the rest of the New Brigade.

"But in all the shame and humiliation of this disgraceful episode, what angers me most is that there is no one, not even one of their own countrymen, to stand up and defend them. Their crime is that they are not ready to die for England. Why should they? What have they or their forebears ever got from England that they should die for her? Mr. Redmond will say a Home Rule Act on the Statute Book. But any intelligent Irishman will say a simulacrum of Home Rule, with an express notice that it is never to come into operation. This war may be just or unjust, but any fair-minded man will admit that it is England's war, not Ireland's. When it is over, if England wins, she will hold a dominant power in this world, and her manufactures and her commerce will increase by leaps and bounds. Win or lose, Ireland will go on, in her old round of misgovernment, intensified by a grinding poverty which will make life intolerable. Yet the poor fellows who do not see the advantage of dying for such a cause are to be insulted as 'shirkers' and 'cowards', and the men whom they have raised to power and influence have not one word to say on their behalf. If there is to be conscription, let it be enforced all round; but it seems to be the very intensity of injustice to leave English shirkers go free, and coerce the small remnant of the Irish race into a war which they do not understand, and which, whether it is right or wrong, has but a secondary and indirect interest for them."

In November 1915 the Royal Inskilling Fusiliers—with the Co. Meath poet Francis Ledwidge in their ranks—was the British regiment that had been sent to Kosovo to fight against the more recently arrived claim-jumpers from Bulgaria, in order that Kosovo might be copper-fastened under the control of the Serbian hands that had grabbed it in 1912. It was at this point that the Irish Times lent itself to a racist agitation against West of Ireland Gaeltacht men who did not wish to lay down their lives for either Belgium or Serbia. Under the heading of Emigrants At The North Wall, its anti-Irish report of November 4th recounted:

"A large number of emigrants left the North Wall on Tuesday night for Liverpool, en route to the United States. The number, it is stated, reached two hundred. About 150 were booked at the station on the express steamer to Holyhead… The emigrants are young people of the agricultural and labouring class, and have come chiefly from the West of Ireland, one train on Thursday bringing over a hundred. Soldiers and others attracted by the number of emigrants at the London and North-Western Station, remarked that they were going away to avoid war services, but the emigrants made no reply."

But an English mob would be on hand to do the Irish Times's dirty work for it. On November 7th it reported:

"In Liverpool on Saturday afternoon a party of young Irishmen were outside the Cunard offices prior to sailing, when a crowd assembled and taunted the emigrants with unpatriotism. The police had to keep the crowd back. The party proceeded to the landing stage to embark, but at the last moment the Cunard Company decided not to allow the emigrants to sail. A statement has been issued to all agents of the company that until further notice men eligible for military service are not to be booked. Six hundred berths had been booked by the Saxonia, and of the intending emigrants many were young fellows said to come from the South and South-West of Ireland. When they appeared outside the Cunard Company's offices recruiting officers immediately busied themselves in talking to the men, while a great crowd collected and jeered at and tormented the Irishmen, who had to be protected by the police. The Irishmen, sullen and obstinate towards recruiters' appeals, remained silent with bowed heads under a fire of caustic invective from the crowd. When the Saxonia came alongside the landing stage at noon, and the emigrants took their passage vouchers to go on board, they had to run the gauntlet of most pointed criticisms, and there was a lot of boohing. A woman in the crowd could not control her indignation, and going up to one of the emigrants, shook her fist in his face and tore his collar and tie. The emigrants, looking very frightened, proceeded on their way amidst a chorus of execration. Recruiting officers tried hard to stop them… It was decided that the emigrants should not be allowed to sail."

On the following day, November 8th, in an editorial entitled The Fugitives, the Irish Times expressed its satisfaction at this outcome:

"For the moment it is the sudden rush of men from the South and West of Ireland to secure passage to America that has come most prominently under observation. Our Special Commissioner said on Saturday that during the past few weeks the emigration of young men from certain districts of Ireland has reached serious proportions. On Saturday this movement received a sharp check. The number of Irishmen who had arrived in Liverpool to take passage to America by the Cunard line Saxonia had attracted public notice, and when they went to embark a hostile demonstration took place. A crisis was precipitated by the threat of some of the Saxonia's crew to strike if the able-bodied male emigrants were embarked. Their threat was effective: passages were cancelled, and the Cunard Company announced that it would cease to accept bookings of British subjects who are fit and eligible for military service … Everybody will applaud the action of the Saxonia's crew. This is the first strike threat which will have won complete approval… It is indeed, somewhat surprising that the Government has not yet taken official cognisance of the extent of the exodus from the British Isles since the recruiting campaign entered upon its new and more vigorous stage. The whole accommodation of some of the steamers outward-bound this month was booked long in advance. In the case of Ireland, in addition to whatever may be done by the Government to deal with this movement, the influence of Irish members of Parliament ought to be exercised effectively..."

Such a record of "the paper of record", in respect of both Kosovo and Ireland itself, does indeed stink to high heaven.

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