The Balkan revolt 20 years later

The year 1999 had been an important watershed for Russia’s domestic policies, as depicted in a movie


The cultural year in Russia has started with an instantly acclaimed movie, called the “Balkan Watershed”.

The watershed was almost 20 years ago, when the Third World War might have started, beginning with a clash between NATO and Russian troops in Kosovo, ex-Yugoslavia.

The clash looked inevitable after a sudden march by 200 Russian elite troops from Serbia to an airport in Slatina, Kosovo.

That act, depicted in the movie, had blocked a massive land invasion of Yugoslavia by thousands of NATO soldiers, since Slatina had the only airport around that was capable of accepting transport planes.

Why should anyone in Malaysia be interested in that movie? Maybe it’s because Russia and Malaysia were more or less on different sides of that war in 1999, but people may learn and see things differently with the passage of years.

We are naturally talking about a fiction, a state-of-the-art war thriller. And still, the facts were all-important for the producer.

The man who commanded the 200 soldiers, Yunus-bek Yevkurov (picture), is now the president of a Muslim republic of Ingushetia, a small autonomy inside the Russian Federation.

Yevkurov was literally living on the set, telling the movie people how it all really was. Other veterans of the march were also there to help him.

They were meticulous, up to the exact variety of flowers the villagers showered on them during their march.

The year was 1999, the date June 11, and NATO had been bombarding Serbia since March, killing about 2,000 civilians.

The ostensible reason for that was Bosnia and Kosovo, the Muslim parts of Yugoslavia, where the Serbs were accused by the West of brutal ethnic cleansing.

We know today that a lot of hard evidence of the “Serb massacres” had been faked, while the mass murders executed by the other side had been strangely omitted from reports from the very start.

Both sides had not been gentle, most probably, since there are no kind wars.

The march to Slatina was almost an inner Russian military revolt. The chief of the general staff was against the move and tried to stop it, but was disobeyed, the foreign minister had reportedly been blocked from participation. The nation came into a political disarray.

“Destroy the Russian soldiers and take the airport”, American NATO commander Wesley Clark allegedly ordered.

“No way I’m starting the Third World War,” British General Sir Mike Jackson reportedly answered.

The Russians have been surrounded, but no side made any additional move. And that’s how the war in the Balkans ended with a truce.

The Russian soldiers, becoming peacekeepers, vacated the airport in 2003 with honours and national rewards.

The Kosovo story is a valuable lesson. The natural reaction of many people in 1999 was to back the Kosovo Albanians, since they were Muslim.

But those who destroyed the New York “twin towers” in 2001 were not exactly Christians either — which doesn’t mean they were right in what they did.

On the other hand, Russia and Serbia both saw back in 1999 that decades of well-organised land-grabbing in Kosovo by Albanians from neighbouring Albania was not a good idea, especially when supplemented by the creation of a secret guerilla army.

The Serb civilians murdered at the time or deprived of their churches might have been heard out, we thought.

We live in an age of well-organised flows of migrants these days, with big and small Kosovos everywhere.

In the meantime, you may read about Kosovo becoming a drug entrepôt for all of Europe, with its statehood recognised by 111 nations, de-recognised by 10 and with the rest keeping away — which means it still cannot join the United Nations.

Another lesson from that Russian march: The military are not robots, hence in extreme cases they may digest realities and act according to their own ideas of what’s right.

Russia’s military in Yugoslavia saw the cruelty from both sides, but only one of these sides, the Serbs, have been portrayed by the “mainstream global media” as monsters, with the Serbian civilian population bombed by NATO.

It was the same with the Russian media which was relatively pro-Western at the time. What our journalists saw on the ground was the exact reverse from what their Western colleagues were reporting from the same areas.

Our reporters, my friends among them, were shocked. Today we know all the technologies of total lies, but the year 1999 was when these technologies had only been launched.

So, the Russian military brass were ready to help the Serbs, even by insubordination, and NATO’s attempts to present a fake reality played a crucial part in that.

The year 1999 had been an important watershed for Russia’s domestic policies, hence the name of the movie.

From that year onwards, no pro-Western party ever gained any substantial vote for Parliament. The inner, moral divorce with the West had started.

  • Dmitry Kosyrev is an author of 8 novels and a book of short stories, as well as a columnist for 2 Moscow publications. Orientalist by education (Moscow University), he has a special love for Malaysia. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board