Published on: Oct 10, 2018 @ 23:31 – The insensitive (to say the least!) remarks of Jens Stoltenberg, quoted extensively in the international press this month were first made in Belgrade in 2015. They made the international press when he made essentially the same remarks this week, and were mocked in Espresso.rs, and picked up from there. Stoltenberg’s actual words in Belgrade in 2015 are still on the NATO website.
After bowing in the direction of Serbia’s sovereignty, he said, in 2015:
I know that NATO is controversial in Serbia and that there are different uses and different positions when it comes to NATO in Serbia. And of course that’s related to many different issues and causes but one is of course related to what happened back in 1999.
And the air campaign which NATO launched back in 1999 was never against the people of Serbia. It was about stopping unacceptable actions by the Milosevic government which were condemned by the international community and NATO’s intervention actually ended years of violence and conflict in the Baltics. During the air campaign we made every possible effort to avoid and prevent the loss of innocent lives. And any loss of innocent lives in 1999 was a tragedy and I deeply regret it. I offer my condolences to the families on both sides of the conflict and to all those who lost their loved ones.
Back in 1999, NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea “insisted Nato planes had bombed only “legitimate designated military targets” and if more civilians had died it was because Nato had been forced into military action. The lead paragraph of that BBC report ran: “Nato says civilian casualties in Yugoslavia are the price of defeating evil, after three separate attacks in which at least 32 people are reported to have died.”
Here is how the Belgrade press memorialized Stoltenberg’s remarks this week:
This is close enough to Russian to come through. In the red box: IT WAS FOR OUR OWN GOOD
And the bold type: STOLTENBERG: WE BOMBED YOU TO PROTECT CIVILIANS AND TO STOP THE MILOSEVIC REGIME. Similarly, the RT headline ran “We bombed you to save you”
Here, again on the actual NATO website, Stoltenberg does it again, apparently dusting off the speech he gave three years before:
I realise that NATO remains controversial in Serbia. The memories of the air campaign in 1999 are still painful for many. Especially for those who lost their loved ones. The campaign was never against the Serbian people. It was to protect civilians in the wider region. Each innocent life lost was a tragedy which I deeply regret. I offer my condolences to the families and to all those who lost loved ones on both sides of the conflict.
No mention, of course, of the finding of The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but we have read this: “The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague has determined that the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was not responsible for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
President Vucić, for his part in the joint press conference with Stoltenberg, was conciliatory, and, publicly at least, took the condolences well
“Serbs are not very fond of everything that was… the Serbs hated what was happening in 1999 and not very fond of everything that was happening in Kosovo, but… in the recent years, but I think that if we’ll have Jens more present here in Serbia, maybe that would be a good path for both of us, not only to improve our rational cooperation, but to do something on this emotional and psychological level as well. Thank you.