On August 8, a typically ignorant article concerning Russia/Caucasus/Balkans appeared, by Eli Lake in the Washington Times. Despite emailing three different editors there — all of whom know me — I wasn’t able to get this letter any attention and so presumably it went into the letter editor’s slush pile. But since Lake — and the apparently non-existent copy-desk — need to be embarrassed, I’m printing it here:
I’m compelled to call attention to some jaw-dropping inaccuracies in “Georgia deals with ‘occupation’” by Eli Lake (Aug. 8th). Mr. Lake wrote, “Russia historically supported Serbia and Milosevic, who died while awaiting trial for war crimes at The Hague.”
I’m not sure how that one made it past the copy desk, as we all know that Milosevic died more than three years into his trial, not “awaiting” it.
In addition to the factual inaccuracy of the sentence, it is implicit that the writer has read not one page of testimony from the said trial. Not a good thing to reveal. No doubt Mr. Lake’s disinterest in the Milosevic trial — a disinterest shared by 99% of the public and the media that billed it so momentously as “Nuremberg II” — partly accounts for his other glaring error in the article. That one came in the sentence calling Kosovo “a majority Albanian province of Serbia that [Milosevic] attempted to cleanse of Albanians.”
Think about this for a moment. Even if one knows nothing at all about the conflict, the charge is preposterous on its face. Does Mr. Lake really believe that Belgrade undertook to empty a province of 90% of its population? How would that be possible, or even desirable? The writer is attempting to revive a long-debunked myth. Between the trial and a decade of investigation and documentation — including material that was made public as early as 1999 — the wild allegations of Albanian civilians being targeted for ethnic cleansing have been disproved, and discredited.
Even mainstream press reports for several years now have adjusted their background summaries at the bottoms of articles — which used to make reference to “ethnic cleansing of civilians” — to something along the lines of: “Slobodan Milosevic waged a crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatist insurgents…”
Such “errors” — made more insidious by an underlying, pandemic anti-Serb bias that is impervious to evidence — warrant not letters, but published corrections. If only to distance a reputable newspaper from such ignorance.
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