Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist

REMEMBERING A MASSACRE: Ethnic Cleansing Then and Now

An excellent archival project by SENSE-Tribunal of the Kosova War and the war crimes prosecutions that followed * added to my anxiety over the current racism and xenophobia in the U.S., led and fostered by President Donald Trump.

In 1999, ten thousand (10,000) people, mostly Kosovar Albanians, were killed and 800,000 forced to flee across borders solely because of their ethnicity and Slobodan Milosevic’s desire for an ethnically pure Serb republic. More than hatred of Bosnian Muslims, Serbs had been taught to hate Albanians who lived in Kosovo, which they consider the heartland of Serb civilization. Milosevic used historical animosity to gain power. Only after fomenting war in Croatia and Bosnia and failing to achieve a Greater Serbia did he return to Kosova to maintain his shaky hold on power. Some people in Serbia objected, but not enough. Most were raised to see Kosovar Albanians as “other.” Segregation assured prejudices remained firmly in place. Though Serbs were tired of war, few objected to the discrimination and brutality against Kosovars leading up to another one.

I was living in the Balkans during the Kosova War, evacuated from Montenegro to Macedonia, where I headed a War Crimes Documentation Project among refugees that would provide evidence to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where I would spend three years monitoring Milosevic’s war crimes trial. I was in Serbia as brutality against Kosovar Albanians increased daily aided by xenophobic rhetoric. Watching the SENSE videos brought back the gut-wrenching fear for this population, some of whom were my friends. And the terrible anguish over the beatings, torture, murders, and destruction of their homes and livelihoods. I was reminded of Shyrete Berisha and her children, who Serbian forces herded into a pizzeria with 40 or 50 others after killing their men in front of them. For 20 or 30 minutes, police and paramilitaries shot automatic weapons into the café, then tossed in grenades to finish the killing. Shyrete Berisha testified at Milosevic’s trial about losing her entire family:

“I cannot remember any explosion but I turned to look at my children. I saw my son Redon was sitting there with blood all over him and he was still holding his bottle of milk. I saw Majlinda and half her head was missing. I saw Sebahate and half her head was missing as well. I only remember hearing Majlinda and Sebahate once say, “Oof.” I slowly touched my youngest son Redon with my feet but he was dead.”

Mrs. Berisha’s was only one of the stories I heard and which the SENSE project unearthed from the deep place in my psyche where they reside, enabling my day-to-day life of grocery shopping, writing, and enjoying coffee with friends. And now, I hear someone close to me repeat Trump’s and Jeff Sessions’ lies about the criminality of immigrants and the threat they present to “our” (read “white”) children. A waking nightmare. Will we ever wake up? Will we wake up in time to prevent a Kosovo in America? If the spread of xenophobia is any indication, it has already begun. *(http://sense-agency.com/icty/interactive-narrative-%E2%80%9Cicty-the-kosovo-case-presented-to-the-public.29.html?news_id=17229&cat_id=1)


I’m freaked out. Fires are consuming my state. My air purifier is running bright red, toxic, don’t breathe. Ash covers my desk, the windowsills, clothing, plants, the floors, my lungs. A major highway is closed. Cities evacuated. Hikers rescued from our once green forests. The sky glows an eerie dirty gray and copper. The sun, a red orange ball, is about as spectacular as the eclipse. I breathe ash into my already compromised lungs. I need to wear a mask, but I’m suffocating from the heat. And the South is underwater as category 5 Hurricane Irma assaults the Caribbean and heads toward Florida, with Jose not far behind.

Armed white nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKKers, and other hate groups march in the streets with torches, unmasked, unafraid. A Korean demigod threatens conflagration and his American counterpart wreaks destruction on Obama’s world, my world. Encouraging hatred, division, and violence. Expelling young dreamers to alien lands. Gifting our water, air, and land to those who would profit from their pollution. Promoting violence by and militarization of police, who bully, beat up, terrorize, and kill. Aligning himself with dictators and strong men, disparaging allies. Contemptuous of the constitution and rule of law. Distorting reality for everyone as he lives in the land of lies. Taking from the poor and giving to the rich with smoke and mirrors showing down is up, distorting reality, murdering truth. Encouraging our demons who hate women, immigrants, Muslims, Black people, Latinos, those with disabilities. Granting permission to our dark side.

In his air-conditioned WHITE House, he does not choke on smoke, collapse from heat, wade through chest high water. He lives in a bubble drifting from golf course to golf course. Maralago is not yet underwater, though Hurricane Irma is on the horizon. I am reminded of a movie popular in my growing up years: On the Beach, where only two people remain alive after nuclear war. A gem of a planet and all its vibrant life destroyed. How close are we, I wonder?