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Shiptare Boys: Kosovo

Tuesday, 24. March 2009, 1839h Leave a comment Go to comments

10 Years ago, on 24 March 1999, Operation Allied Force had been started, commonly known as the Kosovo War. The satirical version of a Beach Boys song from the USA was used in 2002 by some Norwegian peacekeepers to make a music video, leading to diplomatic disturbance some years later. The result is still amusing – not the least because of the timeless and transferable text.

10 Years ago, on 24 March 1999, Operation Allied Force had been started, commonly known as the Kosovo War. But officially, NATO did not wage a war, but an “air campaign”. Without UN mandate, NATO took action against what was left of Yugoslavia that refused to sign the Rambouillet Agreement and to stop the ongoing human right abuses in Kosovo. Thus, this war was highly disputed on terms of international law, and it continues to be. Many people, however, are oversimplifying matters by awarding the UN the only justice, as this institution is often solemnly looking on or just uttering noble words.

But this article is not intended to explaining this war as such, nor to discuss its aftermath. It may be permissible, as the only comment, to remember that this was the Bundeswehr’s (German Armed Forces) first combat mission (taking aside the exchange of fire during Operation Libelle (dragonfly) in Albania in 1997): amongst others, 14 ECR-Tornados and naval formations took part in reconnaissance and SEAD missions;1 244 HARM missiles2 had been launched against targets and some UAVs had been lost.3 For Germany, this was a paradigm shift on using its military: before, its abroad missions were reduced to humanitarian operations. It was fatal, however, that the then-government (Federal Chancellor Schröder, Defence Minister Scharping4 and Foreign Minister Fischer) based their reasoning for the campaign not German security-political interests, but on humanitarian issues only: “Operation Horse Shoe” presented to verify the intention for genocide proved to be wrong.

UN Security Council Resolution 1,244 and the still ongoing peacekeeping operation KFOR5 resulted from the war that was quite a limited success (not only in terms of communication policy).

In 1999, Seattle-based radio talkshow host Bob Rivers wrote a satirical cover version of the harmless Beach Boys song “Kokomo” (“Bodies in the sand, tropical drink melting in your hand”). The new text (see below) was not harmless at all, but very biting (“We screwed ya Rwanda, wish we coulda helped ya”) and mainly criticised the US’s self-conception as a world policeman:

Ooo so now we’re helping out in Kosovo
We’ll kick some ass
And then we’ll see how it goes
And then we really don’t know

Rivers stated that “the intent of the song was to mock my own country for its bullying ways around the world. The idea was to point out how casually the US plays World Police.” 6

Like many of his other satirical songs on the radio station KZOK, it became forgotten – until in 2002 some Norwegian KFOR soldiers during their mission in Kosovo made a music video clip with the song for their own amusement.7 The amusing result sports the soldiers as “Shiptare Boys” dancing and splashing each other, in short doing everything to ridicule their martial image. The end (cut in many online versions) is quite drastic, though.

Still, nobody was bothered by the video, until it appeared in the Internet in 2005. The Serbian TV station BK TV reported about it, and one took offence, especially on these lines:

Protecting human rights
Air strikes and fire fights
And we’ll be dropping our bombs
Wherever Serbian bad guys hide

Well, not only small children can make any use of satire. It was very helpful for the resulting outrage that the Serbian subtitles transformed Milosevic (who was addressed quite mildly with “you sorry son of a bitch”) into Miloš Obilić: a Serbian hero from 14th century Kosovo, or to be more precise, from the Battle of Kosovo (or Amselfeld, perceived as quite a big thing throughout the whole Kosovo issue) where he died on 28 June 1389.

Slobodan Samardžić,8 since 2001 Professor for European Science and then-counsellor of Serbian Prime Minister Koštunica, stated according to AFP that the clip suggested the NATO mission – being allegedly impartial – was biased: “Such things only help the Serbian side to prove that there is no security in Kosovo, no respect for human rights and no multiethnicity.”9 His assessment of the situation in Kosovo may be easily agreed with, albeit for completely other reasons.

Nevertheless, the Norwegian ambassador Hans Ola Urstad apologised instantly: he called the video “highly regrettable” and promised an investigation; the latter did not took place, as all the “perpetrators” had already left the armed forces.10 The New York Times published an article on the issue with the statement that his was “not the only case of cultural insensitivity by NATO troops in Kosovo”. Well, that’s also a point of view, especially if you want to find out a culprit.

Bob rivers himself was not very amused: “The song has been stolen, video put to it, and I wish there were a way to stop it.”11

His song is delightful, indeed – and due to the soldiers’ video clip it received the worldwide publicity it deserved. The text seems to be still up to date, even if one should surely not only regard it with the USA in mind. Good look to Kosovo!

 

Kosovo
(© 1999 Bob Rivers)

Croatia, Albania,
Somewhere near Romania
It’s Euro and NATO
Why the hell do we go
Priština blew up, huh?
Head for Macedonia
I’ll race ya

Somewhere far overseas
There’s a place called Kosovo
That’s where you don’t wanna go
if you’re Albanian at all

Protecting Human Rights
Air strikes and fire fights
And we’ll be dropping our bombs
Wherever Serbian bad guys hide
Just up from Kosovo

Somalia, Grenada,
Or rescuing Kuwait yeah
We screwed ya Rwanda,
Wish we coulda helped ya
Iraqi embargo,
That’s where got hustled

Ooo so now we’re helping out in Kosovo
We’ll kick some ass
And then we’ll see how it goes
And then we really don’t know
Good luck to Kosovo

Milosevic, you sorry son of a bitch

Every time we go
To little places like Kosovo
We never really know
what happens after we go
Tough luck for Kosovo

Croatia, Albania,
Somewhere near Romania
It’s Euro and NATO,
Why the hell do we go
Priština blew up, huh?
Head for Macedonia

Well we’re heading down to Kosovo
We’ll kick some ass
And then we’ll see how it goes
And then we really don’t know
That sucks for Kosovo

Somalia, Grenada,
Or rescuing Kuwait yeah
We screwed ya Rwanda,
Wish we coulda helped ya
Iraqi embargo,
How it ends we don’t know

  1. ECR = Electronic Combat Reconnaissance; SEAD = Suppression of Enemy Air Defence
  2. AGM-88B HARM (High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile), used against land-based radar-units
  3. UAV = Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
  4. Scharping later received his nickname “Bin Baden” (German for “(I) am taking a bath”), a pun with the name of some other figure in international security and the reason why Scharping had to leave the Schröder cabinet: he had himself and his then-girlfriend photographed for a cover story of a German people magazine, happily splashing in a pool.
  5. KFOR: Kosovo Force of NATO and other, more or less befriended nations
  6. Bob Rivers replying to the Serb journalist Zoran Stanojevic, http://www.bobrivers.com/c6i3395
  7. I still could not get hold of a high-quality version, but as an old hunter-gatherer, I am very interested in getting one.
  8. In 2007-8, Samardžić was Serbian Minister for Kosovo and Metochia
  9. NY Times: “Video of D.J.’s Satirical Song Provokes Offense in Kosovo”, 21 August 2005
  10. Ibid.
  11. http://www.bobrivers.com/c6i3395
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