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Humanitarian bombing

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Humanitarian bombing is a phrase referring to the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (24 March – 10 June 1999) during the Kosovo War used by its opponents as an ironic oxymoron in response to the stated goal of NATO to protect Kosovo Albanians, and later about other military interventions stressing human rights reasons. The closely related phrase humanitarian war appeared at the same time.

The phrase (tough appeared in a 4 April 1999 New York Times article about the Kosovo War and attributed to Ruth Wedgwood[1][clarification needed]) is often ascribed to Václav Havel,[2] then President of the Czech Republic, strong proponent of the intervention and critic of Slobodan Milošević's regime. However, Havel forcefully refuted his connection to the phrase as such in May 2004, going as far as to call MEP candidate Richard Falbr (who criticised him for coining it) a liar: "Of course not only I haven't invented the obscure term 'humanitarian bombing', but also never even used it and could not have used it, since I have – I dare say – good taste."[3] Later on Havel marked the phrase as „a hokum which I could never have said not even in insanity.“[4]

It is generally pointed (as Falbr did in response) to Havel's article for the French newspaper Le Monde published on 29 April 1999,[5] where he used the two parts of the phrase in looser connection:

  • French: "Dans l'intervention de l'OTAN au Kosovo, je pense qu'il y a un élément que nul ne peut contester: les raids, les bombes, ne sont pas provoqués par un intérêt matériel. Leur caractère est exclusivement humanitaire: ce qui est en jeu ici, ce sont les principes, les droits de l'homme auxquels est accordée une priorité qui passe même avant la souveraineté des Etats. Voilà ce qui rend légitime d'attaquer la Fédération yougoslave, même sans le mandat des Nations unies."
  • English: "I believe that during intervention of NATO in Kosovo there is an element nobody can question: the air attacks, the bombs, are not caused by a material interest. Their character is exclusively humanitarian: What is at stake here are the principles, human rights which are accorded priority that surpasses even state sovereignty. This makes attacking the Yugoslav Federation legitimate, even without the United Nations mandate."
  • Czech: "Domnívám se, že během zásahu NATO na Kosovu existuje jeden činitel, o kterém nikdo nemůže pochybovat: nálety, bomby, nejsou vyvolány hmotným zájmem. Jejich povaha je výlučně humanitární:[6] to, co je zde ve hře, jsou principy, lidská práva, jimž je dána taková priorita, která překračuje i státní suverenitu. A to poskytuje útoku na Jugoslávskou federaci legitimitu i bez mandátu Spojených národů."

The phrases "humanitarian bombing" and "humanitarian war" quickly found their way into media. Opponents of the war criticised them as a war propaganda[7][8] or employed them as an irony. They are also used in an ironic sense about later war campaigns.

See also[edit]

  • Legitimacy of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia


  1. "The Rationale: A Word Bolsters Case for Allied Intervention" by Neil Lewis, The New York Times, 4 April 1999
  2. "Nous sommes tous des Jimmy Carter, 2002" (in French). Archived from the original on 20 November 2006. Retrieved 9 October 2006.CS1 maint: Unrecognized language (link)
  3. Václav Havel, K Falbrově lži, Mladá fronta DNES 24 May 2004: Obskurní pojem "humanitární bombardování" jsem samozřejmě nejen nevymyslel, ale nikdy ani nepoužil a použít nemohl, neboť mám – troufám si tvrdit – vkus.
  4. Michal rudý (2014-03-04), VÁCLAV HAVEL o humanitárním bombardování, retrieved 2016-10-02
  5. "Moi aussi je me sens albanais" (paid archive, but the article's first three sentences are provided as free extract) (in French). Le Monde. Retrieved 2008-09-09.CS1 maint: Unrecognized language (link)
  6. This is the shortened Czech translation used by Falbr and often quoted online. Translations of excerpts in the Czech media at that time used also other versions like "výhradně" or "humanitní".
  7. "Kosovo and doublespeak, 1999". Archived from the original on 2002-09-16. Retrieved 2006-10-09.
  8. "CNN interview with Vojislav Koštunica, 2000". Archived from the original on 14 October 2007. Retrieved 2006-10-09.

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