20 years after 24 March 1999 – the NATO war crimes against Yugoslavia must not remain unpunished

by Karl Müller

If anyone googled the German phrase “20 Jahre, Nato, Jugoslawien” [20 years, Nato, Yugoslavia] on 17 March 2019, one week before the 20th anniversary of NATO’s attack on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, two entries appeared by KenFM, two entries appeared by RT Deutsch and one entry appeared by Wikipedia, by komintern.at, barth­-engelbarth.de, frankfurter-erklaerung.de and nachdenkseiten.de on the first page under the heading “All”. If the category “News” was clicked, eight entries appeared by RT Deutsch, one by Telepolis and one by Sputnik Deutschland on the first page.

The destroyed bridge of Varvarin has become the deadly symbol of the NATO attacks. Varvarin is a Serbian village with about 2,200 inhabitants. On 30 May 1999 it was bombed twice by NATO planes in broad daylight during a folk festival celebrating the occasion of the Orthodox Trinity Feast. The majority of the victims (10 dead and 17 injured) were killed in the second wave of attacks on the already destroyed bridge, while helpers tried to recover the dead and injured from the first wave of attacks. (picture ma)

No official interest in 24 March 1999

There were no entries from so-called mainstream media on the first pages. Those who searched the “Event Calendar” on the NATO website found references to 20 years of NATO enlargement on 18 March, references to a NATO manoeuvre together with Georgia on 18 March, references to a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on 3 April and on 20 May references to a NATO event in Norway “NATO and the High North”. There were no entries regarding the 24 March 1999.
It is honourable (and equally important) that 20 years after NATO’s attack on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, there are still people who remember the injustice of that time. Jürgen Elsässer, like many others who are not mentioned here, already presented many good analyses years ago. He has even published a special issue of his Compact magazine comprising more than 70 pages. Two major international conferences on the NATO war are taking place in Belgrade.
However, if carefully observed, there is little or no mention of the chain of decisions and events of 24 March 1999 in neither the NATO states nor Germany. A day that must be called a historical caesura – probably the most for Germany.

The attack was in breach of international law

For the first time since its foundation in 1949, the governments of all NATO states – i.e. not only the US government, which had previously been known to wage wars contrary to international law – had decided to attack a member state of the United Nations with air bombardments – without a NATO state itself having been attacked, without “a threat or a breach of peace or an act of aggression” according to Article 39 of the UN Charter and without a mandate of the UN Security Council.
The attack was contrary to international law – and also unconstitutional for Germany. According to estimates, the bombings cost the lives of around 3,500 people, most of them civilians, around 10,000 were injured, and the number of victims as a result of the radioactive contamination and other poisonings cannot yet be estimated. The direct costs of the war were estimated by a study of the German “Bundeswehr” about 23 billion euros, including some 13 billion euros for war destruction in Yugoslavia. Estimates for follow-up costs range from 30 to 300 billion euros.

Facts that can be proven today

The facts that can be proven today include

  • that NATO’s justification that its bombings were intended to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe caused by Serbia (“humanitarian intervention”) was a deliberate propaganda lie: the information that there was no humanitarian catastrophe caused by Serbia and that there was no threat of such a catastrophe was available to the relevant authorities;
  • that the negotiations preceding the war were no real negotiations, but resulted in an ultimatum to Serbia – thus NATO’s goal was war or the complete subjugation of Serbia;
  • that the Russian government, which had been involved in the negotiations preceding the war, was completely ignored by NATO after the final decision on the war;

Hardly any consideration for civilian victims

  • that during the war NATO hardly took civilian victims into consideration and even deliberately bombed civilians;
  • that NATO deliberately destroyed Serbian infrastructure and industry with the goal of long-term destruction;
  • that NATO – aware of the consequences – used uranium weapons, radioactively contaminating the attacked land and waters and that further devastating environmental damage was caused by the bombing of chemical industry and refineries in Serbia;
  • that during the war concerted NATO war propaganda was adopted almost uncritically by all mainstream media in all NATO states and that most people in the NATO states were given a completely distorted picture of reality;

And the goal?

  • that the actual goal of the war should be the domination of NATO and especially the USA over the whole of former Yugoslavia and over all of South eastern Europe, directed against a possible Russian influence there.


Also 20 years later, those responsible at the time do not want to be reminded of their crimes, and that the truth about this war should be hidden from the general public.

The consequence: an erosion of the rule of law and legal awareness

But the bitter consequence of this attitude is a fundamental, almost irreparable erosion of the rule of law and legal consciousness – not to mention the violation of human conscience. The current lack of an honest and equal public debate culture, especially in Germany, has its origin here. The title of a WDR documentary film about the war in Yugoslavia in 1999, broadcast in 2001, and the German role in it, “Es begann mit einer Lüge” (It began with a lie), in its formulation also became a prediction for further wars. The lies of the responsible politicians, military, media etc. around the war in 1999 were followed by many more war lies, and the lying has not stopped since. And where the lies have become all too obvious, attempts are made to hush up the truth. One does not talk about it … as if problems could be solved by repressing them.

The truth must be on the table

If a society, if a state, if German politics are to recover, the truth must be on the table, the whole truth, officially and for the general public. The decision-makers of the time must be made accountable, i.e. brought before a court. Serious war crimes are not time-barred. The victims of war must be compensated, as far as this is possible at all. The attacked state has a right to have the costs of the war and its consequences borne by the perpetrators of the war. The NATO states involved at that time must be liable for this, because the war criminals acted in their name. Make no mistake: peace without justice will not work.    •