February 22, 2008

The unique case of U.S. Embassy on fire

21:25 | 22/ 02/ 2008



Dmitry Gornostayev, head of RIA Novosti office in New York - When television showed the burning American Embassy in Belgrade and crawling APCs (carrying Serbian policemen who had no desire to disperse Serbs with Molotov's cocktails), I wondered how soon will the Americans recall international law and the Vienna Convention, which safeguards the immunity of diplomats and embassies? They were very quick.

But an appeal by Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns to the Serbs to respect international law sounded somewhat ridiculous. What is he talking about? He and his colleagues violated it themselves last Monday by recognizing Kosovo's independence.

It is strange to hear words of indignation when the situation developed exactly the way he wanted it to. OK, let's agree that Kosovo is a unique case. The burning of the embassy is a unique reply to Kosovo's unique independence. There is no need to draw any parallels or get worried. This exception will not spread to other parts of the world - other embassies cannot be burned, and this case is truly unique.

Let's repeat this idea once again. Having taken part in the annexation of part of a sovereign state, the United States is angry that someone wanted to occupy or even burn down part of its own territory - the embassy. The Department of State has justifiably appealed to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. But what about the UN Charter, which guarantees territorial integrity of sovereign states? Having recognized Kosovo's independence, Washington has openly violated Serbia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. So, why is it angry at a Serbian student who did a similar thing to the U.S. Embassy? Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

It was unpleasant and humiliating for the Americans to watch on TV how Serbs were setting fire to their stars and stripes, and raising a red, blue and white tricolor instead. But few of them saw how Orthodox churches were burning in Kosovo, cupolas with crosses detonated, and clergymen exposed to derision. CNN does not often remind its audience of Albanian atrocities.

It was interesting to watch journalists changing the tune in their coverage of events in Belgrade. First, they mentioned a thousands-strong crowd that somehow turned into a few nationalists, although it was the same crowd. The Americans hate to admit that they were wrong - nobody does, for that matter. But few have taken so many undemocratic and illegal actions in world policy as they have. In the United States, those guilty of such actions may face life imprisonment, if not a lethal injection, electrocution or gas chamber (how can democracy be preached by a country where 35 states allow capital punishment by such revolting methods?). Erosion of international law started with Serbia - the bombing of Belgrade in 1999. Iraq followed.

In terms of criminal law, these global actions qualify as robbery and murder. In Arkansas and Texas, these crimes are punishable by death penalty. These are home states of the last two presidents that started wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq in violation of international law. But at home, U.S. presidents do not behave like this - they are decent gentlemen playing the sax and riding a bike. But once they go outside, everyone had better scatter.

The last two presidents liked to talk about the U.S. mission before the start of a war: "The United States is called upon to guarantee...". Depending on the situation, they would continue with such phrases as "Kosovo's freedom," "peace and prosperity," or "democracy all over the world." None of them has specified who imbued the United States with this mission and what rights they had for that.

But these are details that ordinary Americans should not go into until someone in their family is killed in action. For the time being, Americans are not dying in Kosovo like they do in Iraq; and for this reason they don't ask who has urged America to help the Kosovars and whether the Kosovars had the right to do so.

Have the Kosovars appealed to the Americans? What if the Basques, Catalans, or Corsicans appeal to them? Quebec has a hard life as part of Canada, and is closer to the United States. Does the United States want to help the Turkish Kurds? Probably not, separatism is a bad word in Turkey.

Receiving reports from Belgrade, U.S. diplomat Burns appealed for help to the Serbian authorities but they could do nothing. They failed to protect the territorial integrity of both their country and the U.S. Embassy.

But the Serbian government is not guilty of unrest in Belgrade. It has lost legitimacy, having failed to preserve its territory. In this situation, it is disgraceful to scatter indignant compatriots, but they had to for fear of being brought to The Hague. This is not a good prospect for President Boris Tadic, who talked about European prospects for Serbia, or for Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, a graduate of Cambridge and Harvard. They are not ready for any responsibility.

Responsibility for the humiliated stars and stripes rests with American diplomats and officials - Burns, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Holbrooke, Zalmay Khalilzad, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Madeleine Albright - all those who have created this unique case and have not yet realized how unique it really is.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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