Humanitarian intervention in Kosovo and Tajikistan. The role of the media

Essay 2011 18 Pages

Communications - Media and Politics, Politic Communications


Table of Contents

1. Kosovo
1.1 Negative Consequences of Intervention
1.2 Role of the Media
1.3 Analysis

2. Tajikistan
2.1 UN Intervention
2.2 Role of the Media
2.3 Analysis

3. Kosovo and Tajikistan: Comparison of Media Influence

4. References

Humanitarian Intervention and the Media in Kosovo and Tajikistan

In looking at the reasons behind detrimental effects of humanitarian aid, I attempt to explore the following question: how does the media affect the success of humanitarian aid intervention efforts in large scale political violence? I hypothesize that high levels of media coverage of such situations will lead to decreased effectiveness of humanitarian intervention. Much important information is lost and extraneous information is added throughout the life and travels of a news story. This, in turn, leads to faulty public opinion and thus unsound demands and views on humanitarian action. Depending on the influence of actors’ self-interest(s), this negative relationship may be magnified; however my hypothetical relationship does not depend on such political interests.

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The cases I have chosen to test this hypothesis are Kosovo and Tajikistan. I chose these cases for multiple reasons. First, they are both internal, violent conflicts. Since both of these conflicts occurred in areas close to developed countries in Western Europe, these cases should be relatively equal in terms of opportunities for foreign interest in intervention. Both instances of violence in Kosovo and Tajikistan involve political conflict in which foreign humanitarian intervention was implemented. All cases illustrated high levels of civil violence between different political and ethnic groups (with at least 15,000 deaths) (Marshall 2010). Interventions all took place during the 1990s, so media communications can be evaluated from a similar technological standpoint: the first interventions in Kosovo took place in 1999, and Tajikistan in 1992.

However, the variable on which these four cases vary most significantly is level of Western media attention. Although they all received foreign coverage, Kosovo received much higher levels than Tajikistan. I will look at contextual situations and the role the media played in relaying these contexts to publics of intervening foreign countries. In looking at the difference between humanitarian intervention effectiveness in these countries, I will compare outcomes in relation to high versus low levels of media coverage.

1. Kosovo

The Kosovo region in Serbia is made up of a population of Muslim Albanians that generally regard themselves as separate from the Serbian majority. Although Albanians were granted a significant amount of political authority under the auspices of the Serbian state starting in the middle of the 20th century, Albanian nationalist demands for their own republic increased tensions between the two populations. In 1985, small groups of Serbian intellectuals started spreading the idea that Kosovar Albanians were inflicting genocidal violence against Serbians in the province. This led to increased polarization of the two ethnic groups, especially as demands for Kosovar independence increased after the fall of Yugoslavia in 1992 along with more political constraints on Kosovars by the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic (Ker-Lindsay 2009). Serbia thus started a new policy of political domination, and Kosovo’s troubles were hardly recognized by the international community in the midst of post-Yugoslavian state creation. In response, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) started insurgent attacks against Serbians in the region, namely police but also Serbian civilians and their Albanian supporters. In part due to negative opinions of the KLA expressed by the international community, Serbian forces initiated violence against these mostly guerilla forces, killing civilians in the process. The KLA did not have the supplies nor the organization to continue fighting, and they retreated, appearing to be defeated. However, the increased role of the international community allowed for shifts in this balance of power.

By 1998, although the international community did not generally support independence for a Kosovar state, the UN Security Council as well as NATO organized and expressed their disapproval of violence from both the KLA and Serbian authorities. The KLA now had a renewed chance to return to society and continue training insurgents (Judah 2001); thus, violence by both the KLA and Serb forces continued to escalate. Thousands of civilians had already died, and hundreds of thousands had been forced from their homes. As the situation worsened, NATO stepped to the foreground in threatening to intervene in order to implement peace. However, conscious of the fact that the international community was now watching, the KLA continued its attacks in hopes of strong violence by Serbs. “The KLA did not merely hope for intervention, but actively pursued a strategy to attract such aid by provoking Serb retaliation against Albanian citizens” (Kuperman 2008, 69). Retaliation on Kosovar Albanian citizens would increase sympathy for this population and thus their independence, so the hints of future support by the international community encouraged the KLA to provoke violence, even against Kosovar Albanians, in order to approach the goal of a homogeneous Albanian Kosovo (Kuperman 2008). Milosevic did as the KLA had predicted, and despite several attempts to end conflict through diplomacy by the international community and a lack of an authorization from the UN Security Council for armed intervention, NATO began to carry out its threats against the counterinsurgent violence. The military move's mandate for support was sparked by the publicizing of the “Racak Massacre” which occurred in January 1999.

The intervention consisted of strategic bombing that targeted Serbian military centers, in an effort to quickly persuade Milosevic and his forces to back down. However, the bombing only led to increased military efforts against the Kosovar Albanians. The G8 soon came together in June 1999 to push a non-negotiable diplomatic agreement on Milosevic, this time with the support of Russia. Left with no choice, Serbian forces were ousted by UN peacekeeping forces under NATO control. However, UN staff in the region continued to work towards establishing stability and eventually returning to regional autonomy of Kosovo under Serbian control (Ker-Lindsay 2009). As Albanian refugees returned to Kosovo, violence increased, especially in revenge attacks against the Kosovar Serb population. UN forces did little to prevent the augmentation of ethnic conflict. Throughout the rest of the year and continuing into 2000, tensions in the region simmered, especially when political leadership in Serbia changed and put Kosovo on the back burner. The UN had finally created a plan for provisional self-government of Kosovo, but there were no specifications regarding their level of sovereignty in the future. This lack of sincere support for the Kosovars was further revealed when UN banned Kosovo Albanian officials from a number of meetings because of controversial border disputes. The failure to properly deal with the remaining tensions existing between Serbians and Albanians in Kosovo both by Yugoslav governments and international organizations led to another round of fighting in 2004 and continued political tenuousness and ethnic tensions today.

Although international efforts to bring about stability were framed as sincere, well informed, and thorough, many occurrences suggest otherwise. First, although NATO suggested only humanitarian intentions, the context shows us that intervention may have been more strategic than moral. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO no longer served a significant purpose in global interactions and thus could be viewed as a weakened footing of member countries in relation to non-members. Thus, there were many possible self-interested reasons for NATO to get involved in the Kosovo conflict. Intervention would facilitate the infringement of strong, Western governments on weaker countries' sovereignty, showing the military might of the West and particularly the United States. It would also reinforce a renewed purpose and pertinence for NATO after the Cold War, as well as provide competition against Russia's stronghold in Eastern Europe (Johnstone 2000).

Most foreign humanitarian efforts in Kosovo, even if intended to be helpful, had limited effectiveness. Although military intervention was U.S. dominated, NATO represents many Western countries and the intervention reflected efforts by the international community in general (Thornberry 2001). Thus, there were inevitably many unclear distinctions between self-interest and sincere humanitarianism. The limited ability of international intervention to be effective was “partly because of their very short contracts which did not allow time for the attainment of appropriate knowledge on how to deal with the rapidly changing circumstances of the emergency” (Bozo 2001, 39).

1.1 Negative Consequences of Intervention

Although there may have been important and positive impacts of foreign humanitarian work in Kosovo, the multiple harmful effects of intervention suggest that the situation could have been remedied in a much more attentive and unhypocritical fashion. First, although NATO bombing undermined Serbian forces in Kosovo, it also led to the killing or displacement of thousands of Albanian and Serbian civilians from Kosovo. Despite NATO's claims that they were avoiding civilians and only strategically hitting Serbian military forces, 75 percent of the bombs were free-fall, and cluster bombs were used (Sloboda 2001). The estimated number of civilians killed by NATO bombing ranges from 500 to 2,000 (Bovard 2001). Bombing also destroyed infrastructure that was important to the entire region around Kosovo, not just Serbs; thus conditions of poverty in these regions were deepened as a result of the economic impacts of NATO's destruction (Fear 2001).

Second, the forceful and biased intervention further destabilized relations between Serbs and Albanians and led to more extremism and stronger political clampdowns by Milosevic. Thus, after the NATO bombings, opponents of violent policy by the Serb government were no longer tolerated (Fear 2001). The bombings also legitimized the actions of the KLA; despite their extremist stance and violence against Serbians, the international community viewed them as defenseless victims. This deepened polarization of Kosovar society seemed to leave no room for moderates and thus future cooperation (Sloboda 2001). Although the immediate and short-term objective of limiting Serb forces was achieved, tensions and violence continued, as the roots of the conflict had only been intensified.

This led to not only increased deaths, but more abstractly, inflamed hatred, suspicion and trauma within Kosovo. Although these consequences cannot be quantified and are less recognized, they are certainly damaging to civilians' lives because of their psychological effects and durability. Furthermore, these subjective repercussions can serve as latent components of polarized violence in the future.

1.2 Role of the Media

The foreign media played a decisive role in humanitarian intervention in Kosovo and in the dynamics of conflict. The first significant step taken by the media was coverage of the Racak Massacre on January 16, 1999. When journalists had been brought to the city of Racak by KLA forces this same day, they saw a bloody scene in which mutilated corpses wearing civilian clothes were strewn about in a gully; the apparent situation was immediately described as the journalists perceived it. The media connected with international public opinion when televisions illustrated graphic images and emotional descriptions of an alleged civilian massacre of dozens of Kosovar Albanians by Serb forces. By the next day, four American news organizations had labeled it a “civilian massacre,” citing the head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) Kosovo Verification Mission William Walker in calling it a “horrendous event” (Vanderbilt 2011). However, little attention was paid to the fact that the KLA had invited the journalists to the site, that the mutilation of the bodies had largely been due to wild dogs, and that the corpses had gunpowder residue on their hands, suggesting that they were rebel fighters rather than civilians (Herman and Peterson 2000). The New York Times offered a less polarized view of the conflict than many other leading American newspapers: although they accepted the utilization of the term “rebel” for the Albanians, their views generally leaned against Serbian authorities. For example, a report from January 17th held that “all the victims were dressed in civilian clothing, despite the insistence of the Serbian police that most of the 'terrorists' wore uniforms of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army” (New York Times 1999). Even in recognizing the possibility of an alternative view, this journalist accepted the views that had already been put in place by the mainstream media about the situation in Racak. These views portrayed by the media increased previously low levels of public interest in intervention in Kosovo (Lehrer 1999).

Despite ulterior motives by NATO members (specifically the U.S.), the military intervention was framed as a purely moral, humanitarian act: “It was the conspicuous performance of the media as moralising chorus that enabled Nato governments to claim that Kosovo was the scene of history's first purely unselfish war” (Johnstone 2000, 7). The very nature of the conflict as a humanitarian crisis made it an easy candidate for an exciting story. Rather than portraying the conflict as a prolonged and interactive struggle between the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbians, the media presented it as a one-sided “genocide,” inflating Albanian death tolls and using the words “victims” and “civilian” instead of “rebel” and “insurgent” (Hume 2000; Ackerman and Naureckas 2000). Balanced coverage was limited by the fact that representation of Serb forces and civilians were heavily underrepresented in relation to NATO representatives in news articles about the conflict (Herman and Peterson 2000). This led to a self-perpetuating process in which the Serbian minority in Kosovo became more and more marginalized by the international community. This is reflected in their lack of protection by NATO forces after the withdrawal of Serbian forces.

Based on journalists' impressions, the Serbs were framed as evil and the Albanians as the victims; this was in part because the morality of NATO's intentions had become a mainstream idea in the communications sphere (Hume 2000). From the Racak incident until the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo in June, media coverage was very high. Among CBS, CNN, ABC and NBC television stations, the Kosovo conflict was covered on average between five to ten times daily. However, once trends started to reverse after Serbian military withdrawal and violence started to be inflicted upon Serbians, coverage dropped significantly. In July, reports among all four television stations averaged from two to three reports per day. By August this average decreased to one, and continued to decrease as time passed (Vanderbilt 2011). These patterns and the institutionalization of this single point of view may be due to the close connection between mainstream news agencies such as CNN and the American government. However, it is important to consider that multiple other countries in the Western world, such as Norway, had little to do with the military action in Kosovo, and still covered similar points of view (Røn 2000).



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Title: Humanitarian intervention in Kosovo and Tajikistan. The role of the media