Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 25
26 June 2000
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Sharing the Kosovo Blame The Buck Stops Everywhere
Slavko Živanov

At first glance, and with no small dose of sarcasm, we could say that little has changed in Kosovo, that NATO's bombing offensive was nothing new and merely reversed the roles of victims and oppressors. Now, a year later, the same problems as before largely persist. Some are hybrids, others remain frozen in place, while others still are completely new - yet all are of the same character.

Looking back at Kosovo a year after NATO's KFOR entered the province, I do not wish to dwell on the successes or failures of the international community, as it would be hypocritical to talk about failures whose aftermaths are also horrible human tragedies. Rather, I would like to talk about the international community's real intentions in their desire to solve -or not solve- the problems of Kosovo.

Strategy dictated by daily events

The international community has not, as yet, been able to produce a solid, realistic plan to resolve ongoing problems in Kosovo. Indeed, amidst all the present confusion, one can question whether or not there exists a sincere willingness and intention to solve it. The question is, I think, simple: why?

The fact is that the international community either did not wish to understand the problem of Kosovo in its entirety, or they irresponsibly passed over it with a superficial glance, seeing that which they wished to see. Either way, as they set about "solving" the problem through NATO bombing and, later, KFOR, they did not do so decisively, through consensus, or with a strategic plan that took tactical realities into consideration.

In fact, daily events very frequently dictated not only tactical lines but also strategy. This is, of course, a long-term problem in the international approach to the Balkans, stemming from 1990, when the international community insisted on the sovereignty of the SFRY, and then, almost overnight, shifted its stance and recognized the states that came about as a result of its breakup.

Whether or not the province of Kosovo is a vital international interest or a high-risk area in Europe are questions that must be answered by experts who understand the situation clearly - experts upon whom the international community clearly chose not to rely.

Paranoid arguments and gross errors

I am not persuaded by paranoid arguments which assert the existence of a plot or conspiracy against the Serbs or any other smaller nations, but I am equally unconvinced that the gross errors committed by the international community in Kosovo are the result of a lack of policy or that they have arisen as a result of a humanitarian policy. Rather, I am fully convinced that what has happened in Kosovo in the past two years has been the result of calculated national interests - both local and international.

The conflict between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo began the moment the Turks abandoned the territory in 1912. These continued through to the end of the Second World War, when Tito had to impose extraordinary measures to restore order, and have lingered to this very day.

It would thus be incorrect and ignorant to assume that Milošević invented the Serbo-Albanian problem in Kosovo. True, he did radicalize the situation, particularly with his political "iron fist," but the Albanians are not themselves without fault.

In the Balkans, no one is innocent.

Reversing the hierarchy

What we have seen in the past year is a reversal of the previously established victim-oppressor hierarchy. In the past, Serbs committed many dishonorable and unjust acts because they were the majority nation in the former Yugoslavia. But had, per chance, the majority nation been the Croats, Bosniacs, Albanians or any other people, they would surely have committed similar offenses.

Perhaps this will sound provocative and unfounded, but I assume that even the Bosnian Muslims would have shelled Sarajevo, just as the Serbs did, had the situation there been reversed.

These assertions are neither stereotypes nor prejudices against some uniform Balkan consciousness or unconsciousness, but rather are reflective of the fact that, in war, numbers play a decisive role - although we might perhaps add now, after NATO intervention, that technology and engineering must certainly play their parts.

Looking back at Croatia and Bosnia, the Serbs may have lacked fantastic military hardware, but they were better-armed and outnumbered their opponents and were possessed of a leader who wanted to fight. I believe the Croats had the same "privilege," and the conflict's other parties were thus dragged unwilling into the conflict.

All logic or reason in local politics ended with that.

In today's Kosovo, one cannot say that the Albanians are being threatened, as they were one year ago. Rather, it is the Serb and non-Albanian populations that are being attacked on a daily basis - yet the international community responds only with inaction, as the number and problem are smaller. Again, we come back to numbers.

Humanitarian disasters all around

We are told, outside of Serbia, that NATO's intervention prevented a humanitarian catastrophe. Let us assume that this is true, even if it is very difficult to explain how, through bombardment, one can prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. More specifically, we should perhaps question how it is that NATO can apply inhumane measures in the name of humanitarianism, with their rationale being that even if the means seemed inhumane, they were less inhumane than the tactics used by Serbs in Kosovo.

Still, regardless of NATO's rationale, a humanitarian catastrophe in Serbia was the result. First, during the bombing campaign, millions of people were displaced amidst the bombs and psychosis, while after the campaign, a humanitarian catastrophe disrupted the lives of the non-Albanians - Serbs, Roma and others - who left Kosovo on a massive scale either because of their distrust of KFOR's ability to defend them, or because of the aggressive actions of some Albanian groups.

Admittedly, we cannot claim that millions of refugee Serbs are dying of hunger and cold in the mountains of Kosovo, since there never were that many of them. However, if our motives are humanitarian, then the number is irrelevant - or at least it should be.

The dream of a multiethnic Kosovo

A multiethnic Kosovo does not exist and probably cannot exist. Every claim that the international community will implement, in practice, a multiethnic community is nonsense. If any region is composed of 90 per cent or more of any single ethnic group, the multiethnicity of that community is a fantasy. So much for principles.

If it was the intention of the international community to solve the Kosovo problem, then it is decumbent on the same international community to explain why the problem has not, by any definition, been resolved.

If the intention was to strip Serbia, a anti-democratic and authoritarian state, of a part of its territory in which the government was imposed more intensive mechanisms of torture than in other areas, then NATO intervention was a success. The international community and some of the world's greatest powers demonstrated their intentions and partiality in breaking up problems in any way they see fit, often without procedure, and frequently through the use of force and sanctions.

No amnesty for Milošević

None of this is to suggest that Milošević should be granted an amnesty for his part because, on a grand scale, he produced the scenario and his own alibi at the same time. I have little doubt that his responsibility for this -in the eyes of many Serbs, at least- will pass unnoticed, as before.

A separate but equally indicative problem is the so-called disarmament of the Kosova Liberation Army (UÇK). The Yugoslav Army proved that, in ten years, it was either unable or unwilling to disarm this paramilitary group. What is astonishing, however, is that not even NATO forces were unable to meet that goal.

True, a symbolic number of arms were relinquished, but these were largely outdated models, and terrorist attacks and armed retribution continue. Furthermore, while the UÇK has, on the surface, been disarmed and transformed into a protection corps, its leaders continue to long for its reconstitution as an armed force for Kosovo - an element that carries an attribute of statehood and is inherently prejudicial to the determination of the province's future status.

The future of Kosovo?

Here, then, we reach the key problems associated with present and future arrangements for Kosovo. Some international organization, whether it be NATO, the OSCE or the UN, must clearly present a scenario to secure Kosovo's international future. This arrangement must be subjected to criticism and open debate and should, as much as possible, be in the interest of all interested parties. It is only in this manner that a long-lasting peace will be assured.

Some influential Western media outlets talk about the growing problems in Kosovo, even asserting that
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the present situation of the non-Albanian population there is worse than the situation of the Albanians prior to the bombing. Unfortunately, it is true that the situation of the Albanians was very difficult prior to the arrival of the international forces, just as it is true that the position of the non-Albanian minorities is difficult today.

However, as we have noted, it is rather as if the international community allowed the protagonists and victims of the violence to change roles. This has come despite the fact that competent American governmental agencies identified Albanian nationalism as one of he most primitive and aggressive forces in the region.

Two antagonists of Balkan peace

Peace in the Balkans not only has the authoritarian Milošević regime as its opponent, but is also threatened by aggressive Albanian nationalism, which has holds the pretence of spreading to Macedonia, Montenegro and, realistically, Albania. Its ultimate aim is simple: the formation of one great Albanian state, or a confederation of states in which the population would be mainly of Albanian ethnicity.

This goal would surely not be easily achieved.

The fact remains that Kosovar Albanians and Albanians from Albania proper do not have as much in common as is generally held. There exists between them a particular intolerance and, for this very reason, it is possible that both would approach the notion of a union of Albanian states from very different perspectives.

It would be pretentious to open debate on whether American politics are entangled in this game. However, events up until now have demonstrated that the leaders and followers of Albanian nationalism are very unstable actors, both obstinate and cunning, and that they would cooperate with anyone, using all means possible, in order to achieve their aims. At the same time, they do not embrace the principles of either democracy or humanism. Rather, Serbs are more inclined to view their interests as both egotistical and exclusive.

Ten years of Milošević's aggression

On the one hand, we have thus seen the results of ten years of Milošević's aggression against the Albanian population, which NATO stopped. One the other hand, we are now faced with Albanian extremism, and it is not evident where NATO will come down in the end.

Perhaps it is correct to assert that, in pushing out the Serb government and enabling the creation of a separate state, the US completed the Albanian extremists' most difficult task. Although no one in his or her right mind can justify Milošević's policies in Kosovo, his military and police apparatus was an unsolvable problem for the UÇK.

All the grandiose claims by UÇK officers boasting that they could come out victorious in their clash with the Serbian military and police have been revealed for what they were - grandstanding for the benefit of international media. Milošević's apparatus was quite possibly on the road to physically eliminating the UÇK.

From one angle, he was seen as protecting state sovereignty and order. However, his acts were political miscalculations, for there is no instrument that can successfully force 1.5 million people to live under oppression. Thus, NATO became involved, indirectly supported the UÇK and pushed Milošević out of Kosovo.

Albanians against NATO?

We recall that, in the beginning, NATO troops were greeted by the local population as liberators. Today, when there is no single Serb soldier or police official in the region, these same NATO troops are no longer seen as liberators. In fact, it is not inconceivable that the Albanian population that once greeted NATO troops as conquering heroes could organize a "national front" against the American occupation. As the American army is much stronger than Milošević's forces, it would, in this conflict, also be the loser.

It is thus worth ensuring that the Albanians remain uncertain as to whether or not it is possible for Milošević to return to Kosovo. In that way, they will be obligated to decide between the lesser of two evils. The international community is presently doing this, not knowing the future forms that Albanian nationalism and Milošević's passion for terror will take.

If the Americans did have good intentions to begin with, they will certainly remain entangled in this Balkan conflagration and will find no easy exit strategy - wars in the Balkans tend to last for centuries, with sporadic and varying intensities.

In the foreseeable future, Serbs and Albanians stand no chance of living together normally in one state. Maybe they would fare well if they were neighbors, however, NATO's intervention and the events both prior to and after that affair have been too great an inhibitor for both the Serbs and Albanians.

Competing claims

The Serbs view Kosovo as their own territory - the same territory Albanians claim as their own. Serbs base their claims on the principle of state sovereignty, and Albanians theirs on population figures. In this vein, it is worth noting that the international community never granted Serbs the right to self-determination. Serbs were not able to hold onto either Bosnia or Krajina in Croatia, even though they were the predominant population in those regions.

The borders of the republics of the former Yugoslavia were always recognized, but in the case of Kosovo, the demographic picture was the guiding factor. That fact is understood by all Serbs. But what should also be understood by all Serbs is that the international community has good intentions in solving the Balkan conflicts.

The solution?

The best solution for all involved would be the democratization of all the Balkan states and, upon that, a mutually peaceful solution - through discussion and consensus. Even the idea of partitioning Kosovo is not that far-fetched, but it must be done through discussions by democratic governments - both Serb and Albanian.

Regardless, the international community must avoid the preconceptions and stereotypes locals so readily embrace. In the tavern that is the Balkans, there are more than enough local drunkards - there is no need for more from far away.

Slavko Živanov, 26 June 2000

Moving on:



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A First Encounter

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Czech Style

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The Arts:
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