Letter: Priorities in Kosovo

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The Independent Culture
Sir: "Genocide" is not just another word for brutality, making people homeless, or even murder. It means, according to the OED, "annihilation of a race". The word was first used in the 1940s to describe the Nazi campaign to wipe out European Jewry.

Similarly, for more than half a century, "concentration camp" has not meant a place where large numbers of people are concentrated, even if it is against their will. Everybody knows that it means a death camp, on the Nazi model, designed for the industrial implementation of a policy of genocide.

Can George Robertson and Robin Cook or the US State Department seriously justify the use of this language to describe the situation in Kosovo today? Of course it is a tragedy and people are suffering. Beyond that, nobody in Britain knows what is really happening in Kosovo. Experience should surely have taught us not to accept at face value every horror story coming out of a war zone.

Even if the worst accounts of Serb reprisals we have heard to date were true, it would still be dangerous to call this genocide. Anybody who tries to compare Hitler's Germany - the dominant and best armed European power of its age - with Milosevic's militarily weak and economically powerless Serbia is in danger of losing all sense of proportion.

Such comparisons risk seriously distorting the image we have of the Balkans today by branding the Serbs as the new Nazis. Even more importantly, they risk belittling the horror of the real Holocaust by putting the slaughter of 6 million Jews on a par with a local conflict, bloody though it may be.


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