The Battle for Kosovo

[Adapted from remarks given before the Njegos Endowment for Serbian Studies, Columbia University, New York, Nov. 3.]

Not Decided Yet

If one were to be informed strictly by the mainstream media in the English-speaking world, it would be very hard to harbor any doubts about the future status of Kosovo. The occupied Serbian province – though, of course, never referred to as such, but always as a region with a 90 percent Albanian majority – is expected to declare independence within months, if not weeks, with the full support of Washington, London, and Brussels.

Could it be, however, that these tireless tirades about the "inevitability" of Kosovo’s separation are an effort to counter the fact that it is by no means inevitable, perhaps not even as likely as it would have been several years ago?

Albanian arguments for secession are well known: majority of the population, a claim to self-determination, allegations of Serb repression, atrocities, "ethnic cleansing," etc. Most of this is fiction, the rest quite irrelevant. There is only one real argument, that of force. NATO’s 1999 intervention and the subsequent occupation of Kosovo have created a "reality on the ground." But since the civilized world still hesitates to endorse naked aggression, the case for "Kosova" is dressed in humanitarian clothing and the rhetoric of "liberation."

Logic favors the Serb arguments, though. If the borders of the Yugoslav republics were declared sacrosanct in an effort to deny the Serbs west of the Drina their right of self-determination in the 1990s, then Serbia’s borders ought to be sacrosanct, too, no matter how loudly the KLA complains or how violent it gets. ICG founder Morton Abramowitz dismisses this as "Serbs seeking perfect reasoning," but there’s nothing perfect about it. It is simple logic, unlike the completely irrational "logic" of the Empire, which proclaims one rule today and a completely different one tomorrow to suit its own caprices. As Doug Bandow once remarked, the only rule in the Balkans seems to be "the Serbs always lose."

For what it’s worth, then, the law is firmly on Belgrade’s side as well; no other country in the world has been forced to give up a part of its territory to a separatist minority, especially not through illegal occupation as a result of illegal aggression. It took the post-Milosevic leadership in Belgrade five years to understand this basic concept, but they appear to have lined up behind it to the best of their ability.

This is why the Contact Group – an abomination resurrected from the ashes of Europe’s dark past – has organized the "negotiations" on Kosovo’s status as a way to pressure Serbia to voluntarily surrender its occupied territory. In the words of one commentator, it is an offer to declare rape consensual.

Power and Control

What happened in 1998 and 1999 was not a result of Albanian lobbying. It came about as a result of joint policy by imperialists in America and Europe who saw Serbia as an obstacle to their control of "Southeastern Europe." Albanians were used as a weapon against Serbia. This is why Kosovo did not become independent in 1999, and has not become independent yet.

The 1999 war was more than just a distraction from Clinton’s sexcapades; other people were involved as well. Many principals of NATO’s endeavor are still around, or have been promoted. Take for example Javier Solana, then secretary-general of NATO, now the de facto foreign minister of the EU. More to the point, the worldview imposed by NATO in 1999 – the asserted "right" of those with military power to attack anyone, anywhere, on a fabricated pretext, in direct violation of international law, conventions, and treaties – is dominant today.

The destruction of Yugoslavia was partly engineered – certainly encouraged – by imperialist politicians in Europe and America, as a way to claim more power, escape the confines of international law, and flex their newfound imperial muscle. In 1990, a German who dared envision the Bundeswehr occupying a portion of Serbia following the Luftwaffe bombing of Belgrade would have been arrested on charges of glorifying the Nazi past. Yet both of those things came to pass and were praised as "progress." Today, the German military is girding for more foreign intervention, without a word of protest.

In 1991, Americans wanted a "peace dividend" from four decades of gearing up for war with the Soviet Union. What they got was a "benevolent global hegemony" that seeks to insert American money, troops, and bombs into every corner of the globe that a handful of policymakers in Washington believes crucial to ongoing American world supremacy.

If rumors about Ahtisaari’s proposal are true, the Empire is trying to establish a Bosnia-style arrangement in Kosovo, which would give Albanians independence on paper but make them a dependency of the EU in fact. As said here before, this sort of "solution" is the worst of all worlds; the Albanians would continue to blame everyone else for the barbaric state of their society and economy (for which they have only themselves to blame), taking that anger out on the few remaining Serbs – who will be cut off from Serbia and trapped in "diversity reservations" much as they are now – and the transient imperial bureaucrats, who will cower in their compounds much as they do now and issue statements about how democracy and human rights in "multi-ethnic" Kosovo are doing just fine, thank you very much. This isn’t about Serbs or Albanians; it’s about power and control.

Soul of a Nation

Kosovo is much more than 15 percent of modern Serbia’s territory, or a depository of mineral wealth, as some materialistic analysts dub it. It is the birthplace of Serb ethnic identity. Every nation has its own "creation myth." Americans celebrate their own every 4th of July: the Declaration of Independence, George Washington and the Continental Army, the Boston Tea Party… For Serbs, it is a hot summer day in 1389 when their quarrelsome nobles rallied to offer battle to the invading Turks. Perhaps the actions of Prince Lazar and his nobles were not so pure as the oral tradition made them out to be – but they nonetheless inspired such a tradition, and ensured that a spirit of liberty and honor persevered for the next 400 years under the cruel Ottoman yoke. This tradition infuriates the modern "liberals" and "democrats," who – true to their Communist roots – fear and despise religion, deny objective morality, and wallow in relativist drivel. It is not a coincidence that the loudest and most obnoxious Serb-haters in Serbia itself are formerly privileged members of the Old Regime and their young protégés.

The Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, Imperial or Nazi Germany, the Comintern, or the American Hegemony: every force that saw Serbia as a threat throughout its modern history has sought to deprive the Serbs of Kosovo in some way, recognizing its value to the Serb identity – sometimes more than the Serbs themselves.

A Matter of Values

On Oct. 29, Serbian voters narrowly approved a new constitution, which asserts in the preamble that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbian territory. The constitution is far from ideal; it is too long, too cumbersome, too vague, and suffers from political correctness and welfare-statist nonsense. And it alone will not preserve Kosovo, nor make Serbia a better country. The American Constitution was written over two centuries ago, and is still one of the best in the world – yet the U.S government has bent it out of shape for decades. Had any of the Founding Fathers imagined the modern federal bureaucracy and the taxation it requires to stay afloat, they would have surely chosen to remain English. If it does not embody the values and beliefs of the population that created it, a constitution is nothing more than a scrap of paper. It is the values and beliefs – or lack thereof – that matter.

If Serbs truly value Kosovo, they have to assert not just sovereignty over the territory, but also a desire to live there. Otherwise, what is the point of keeping it in the first place? The biggest advantage the Albanians have in claiming Kosovo is that they want it. They also want other parts of Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Greece, but they can’t even dream about any of that without Kosovo.

Liberty is a big part of Serb tradition. And property rights are inseparable from liberty. According to land registers, vast portions of the province are the outright property of the Orthodox Church (the name Metohija means "church land," after all). Yet how can Serbia claim Kosovo on that basis, while refusing to restore the property rights of the Church at home, or those of people whose possessions were seized by the Communists in 1945?

Not Theirs to Give

Struggling to rediscover their identity, culture, and tradition after decades of Communism, the Serbs need to decide whether to rebuild it on the already existing foundation of Kosovo, or choose something else altogether. One alternative being offered is "Euro-Atlantic integrations," democracy, and human rights – a worldview appealing greatly to the residues of Communist thinking.

A Serb poet commented last year: "If Kosovo is not ours, why are they asking us to give it up? If it is theirs, why are they taking it by force? And if they can take it by force, why they are so circumspect about it?"

The Empire is pushing hard for the ruling circles in Belgrade to give up Kosovo, declare the rape of 1999 consensual, and abandon claims to law and principle in favor of temporary expedience. It is not a trade; the Empire is not offering anything. To take Kosovo, the Empire needs Serbia’s consent. Much as some people in Belgrade would be happy to oblige, that consent is not theirs to give.

The battle for Kosovo is not over yet.

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Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.