Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 5, 26 July 1999

A   B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
The Dark Clouds of NATO

Dr Sam Vaknin

Appendix 7.3 to the Assessment of Environmental Impact of Military Activities During the Yugoslavia Conflict - Preliminary Findings, June 1999 contains a list of 105 "Industrial Targets in Yugoslavia before June 5, 1999". Item 28 reads: "Agricultural and food processing plant and a cow breeding farm with 220 milk cows 'Pester' in Sjenica have been destroyed". According to the report, less than 60% of the targets had anything remotely to do with the military. Shoe factories, cigarette factories, a factory for the production and assembly of computer printers, many food processing and meat processing plants - all were hit.

This is the first shock: realising that NATO lied through the well oiled propaganda machine of CNN and other "objective" Western media. The second shock is the sudden realisation that if NATO was lying, Serbia was telling the truth about these matters all along. And then the nagging addendum: what else did NATO lie about?

The Assessment was prepared by the Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe, a reputable NGO, and it was commissioned by the European Commission DG-XI (Environment, Nuclear Safety and Civil Protection). The report, with contract number B7-8110/99/61783/MAR/XI.1, covered Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania. I am going to such lengths in providing these details because the Assessment is nothing less than unbelievable.

It is forty pages of horror.

It is difficult to know where to start. The Danube River was heavily polluted by PCBs, oil products, ammonia, ethylene dichloride, natrium hydroxide, hydrogen chloride - a thousand tonnes of each of the latter three alone. Oil was discovered in the Danube as far as Romania, and heavy metals (copper, cadmium, chromium and lead) registered at double the permissible maximum levels. Sewage (generated by the refugees) seeped into subsoil and aquifers in both Albania and Macedonia.

Despite NATO's claims to the contrary, "radioactive pollution from depleted uranium weapons" has been registered. The Assessment explains dryly: "The depleted uranium is radioactive, and upon impact the material may turn into a mobile aerosol. Aside from emitting alpha radiation, uranium is chemically toxic." (p.16)

Polluted clouds of vinyl chloride monomers (VCMs) at 10,600 times the permitted level drifted across Yugoslavia, as did "products from incomplete hydrocarbon combustion" - a sanitised term for poisonous gases. "Following the Pancevo incidents, a cloud of smoke some 15 kilometres in length lasted for 10 days. Concentrations of soot, SO2 and chlorocarbons increased by four to eight times the allowable limits."

The list continues in frightening, monotonous chemistry jargon:

Nitrogen oxides (from jet engines), hydrofluoric acid and heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, chromium, copper and zinc) were released into the atmosphere. One of the results of this was the torrential acid rains which spread into Romania.

An example (p. 4): "In Timis County, Romania (north east of Belgrade), from April 18-26, 1999, the maximum allowed concentration for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and ammonia was exceeded between 5-10 times." The assessment adds (p.5): "Much of the air and water pollution will eventually settle into the soil. This will be through rainfall or leaching." The agricultural land in both Albania and Macedonia has been "degraded... from the siting of refugee camps."

Plant and animal populations, as well as entire habitats were eradicated due to the air attacks. Chemical contaminants are degrading the rest.

NATO committed itself not to bomb "protected areas," but these "have been directly affected by the conflict" according to the Assessment. In Albania, the pressure of refugees was so incredible that refugee camps were built inside protected areas.

Negative health impacts are expected from damaged infrastructure (water and sewage systems) in Yugoslavia and from the poor conditions that prevail in some refugee camps. The report cites probable "transboundary" damages from "leakage and burning of the industrial complexes at Novi Sad, Prahovo and Pancevo, which produced acid rain and Danube River pollution, notably in the Iron Gates Reservoirs; the destruction of transformers (Kragujevac and near Belgrade); and the possible release of radioactive aerosols from depleted uranium weapons."

The Assessment does not forget to mention (p.5): "The unique nature of such military activity also produces unique waste and pollution. These require specialised treatment and procedures for their removal. Unexploded munitions and land mines in their own way pollute the environment."

And then there is that other endangered species, Homo kosovansis. They migrated to Macedonia throughout the conflict, contributed mightily to the depletion of all its resources, watched its habitat reduced to rubble by foreign do-gooders and migrated back to their own depleted land in long, sad, columns.

Dr Sam Vaknin, 11 July 1999

Useful links: BBC report on UN investigation of environmental damage of the Nato bombing campaign.

The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He has recently been appointed Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.

Dr Vaknin's website is here.




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