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The Battle for Kosovo on the Internet

Cees van Dijk is a Dutch free-lance academic living in Kosovo, which declared its independence in February, 2008. He would like to share this commentary about the use of the internet to frame and counter-frame claims about Kosovo’s legitimacy by Serb and Kosovo activists. He finds the argument interesting in the context of the Kosovo that he experiences daily where “Albanians are insulted as Jihadists by Serbians despite the fact that just like in European or North American cities, hardly any women are veiled or wearing a hijab, women roam the streets freely, men, defamed as radical Islamists enjoy a drink once in a while (it has to be noted that Kosovo’s Peja beer brewery is one of the largest ones in the Balkans) and there are no road bombs or kidnappings.” Tony

The Battle for Kosovo on the Internet

by Cees van Dijk

Since the end of the war in Kosovo in 1999, Serbian scholars, politicians, and lay people started to use internet forums to spread hate speech against Kosovo Albanians by claiming that a Jihad is taking place in Kosovo. In order to gain a better understanding about these discourses, I started an internet search and got 735,000 matches for the combined terms ‘Jihad’ and ‘Kosovo’. The examples are startling for someone who lives in the village Krusha e Madhe where one of the biggest massacres was committed by Serbian forces during the war.

For example, the Resonate Media Radar declares in its headline: “Kosovo - Emerging as a Bastion for Radical Islam – Jihad” and posts provocative questions such as “The Taliban yesterday, Kosovo tomorrow? Does America really want a new rogue ‘state’ led by Jihad terrorists and criminals?” Similar articles can be found on numerous other websites like savekosovo, Byzantine Sacred Art blog, Jihad-Watch, Serbian Unity Congress, Serbianna, Political Mavens, Republican Riot, etc. Kosovo Albanian authors, on the other hand, give the impression that these accusations do not concern them. On websites like savekosova, Kosova, Alb-net, Kosovapress, Albania reality check, freekosova, and albiqete.blogspot, no entries may be found with regard to ‘Jihad in Kosovo’.

What are the reasons for claiming that a Jihad is taking place in Kosovo? In order to keep Kosovo under its control, Serbs started a propaganda campaign against Kosovo’s independence supported by Conservative-Republican congressmen and the Serbian Diaspora in the US. Serbian propagandistic discourses in the US are directed at three main groups: Conservative, Christian and Jewish communities. Julia Gorin who is a member of the (pro-Serbian) American Council for Kosovo, addresses the conservative groups by reframing the conflict in a pro-Serbian fashion: “We didn’t just sell the Serbians down the river; we sold ourselves. Hard-won American values (…) have been sold out”.

In order to win the Christian community, the Serbian propaganda machinery denies war crimes committed by Serbian forces by accusing Albanians: ”(…) since 1999 (…) Muslim Albanians have expelled over 200,000 Christian Serbs, destroyed over 150 Churches, [and] instigated a widespread pogrom”. However, the number of expelled Serbs is a crude exaggeration as 180,000 Serbians lived in Kosovo until 1998 and approximately 120,000 Serbs are still living in Kosovo today. Thus, 60,000 Serbs left Kosovo because they had been involved in atrocities during the war and/or out of fear of revenge-attacks by Albanians after the war. Furthermore, authors of such propaganda fail to mention that 5% of the Kosovo Albanians are Catholic and have been victims of atrocities committed by Serbians. For example, on June 21 last year, I visited the grave yard of Meja (a village in Western Kosovo) where over 300 Albanians were massacred on April 27, 1999. I saw that 40% of the tombstones were decorated with Catholic crosses.

In a similarly ethnocentric manner, Serb web-sites address the Jewish community. Although anti-Semitic sentiments are propagated in Serbia-proper (see the Helsinki Report for Human Rights in Serbia, February 2007), Serbs compare their so-called expulsion from Kosovo with the Holocaust experienced by the Jews during the Second World War. Such statements as well as arguments for their righteous claim to Kosovo are even transferred to Jewish websites such as “Israpundit”.. However, it is important to note that Israeli net users don’t tolerate such intrusions easily. On, the contrary one of them states that “If you Serbs (and why do I have the impression that here is the Serbian lobby exploiting place for their public relation) want the help of the Jewish people - just begin fighting against Orthodox idolatry and Russian anti-Semitism.”, and “the Serbian Orthodox Church is anti-Semitic and never supported Israel”.

The means by which the Serbian-lobby is able to propagate their stance are multiple. Firstly, Serbian propagandists use terms like “Islamic terrorists”, “Jihad”, and “al-Qaeda” as they are emotionally laden since 9/11, particularly for an audience in the USA. However, radical interpretations of Islam are hardly what Kosovo Albanians claim for themselves. Instead, the Muslims in Kosovo are prepared to defend their secular Islam. For instance, a university professor told me “Up to now we have only two or three female students wearing the hijab in our faculty of social science. Wahhabists from Saudi Arabia finance their study. If the economical situation worsens, the number of students following Wahhabism may increase. Yet, we keep an eye on them”.

Secondly, Serbian internet propagandists routinely minimize atrocities committed against Kosovo Albanians during the war. The Serbian lobby claims that only about 2,700 Albanians lost their lives during the war despite the fact that the Independent International Commission on Kosovo (2000) estimated the number of killings to be over 10,000 with the vast majority of the victims being Kosovo-Albanians. An additional 863,000 civilians sought or were forced into refuge outside Kosovo and 590,000 were internally displaced. Yet, the aforementioned Serbian lobbyist in the US, Julia Gorin, poses a dubious rhetorical claim that: in 2009 it will be shown that there were no attrocities at all”.

Instead of admitting responsibility, Serbs grant themselves the status of victims and portray their nation as innocent, invulnerable, and sacred. Anyone who raises his voice against Serbian politics is accused of being a “serbophobe” whose only motivation is to spread hatred against Serbian people. Ljubomir Tadic writes: “Now the Serbs are satanized; they are the victims of monstrous lies and accusations. The inflamed Serbophobia is a new, modern form of Nazi racism”. According to him, the declaration of an independent Kosovo is rooted in Serbophobia and, thus, illegitimate. The recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the US in February 2008, is, thus, a blow into the face of the Serbian lobby. Besides being another example for crude Serbophobia, Gorin points out that it may be viewed as uninformed support for radical Islamists: “(…) our government is creating Muslim states in Europe and is about to engage the United States military against European Orthodox Christians who don’t want to live under Muslim rule. When did it become the free world’s business to spread Shari’a law (…)?” These reactions clearly show that instead of trying to close the cleft between themselves and Albanians, Serbs drift further away from the possibility of living peacefully together with Kosovo Albanians. Currently, it seems to be questionable whether they will find arguments for a joint future.


Posted by Tony Waters on April 4th, 2008 | Permalink

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