The Long Shadow of Kosovo

This week, news from the Balkans has focused on the arrival of Bosnia’s new viceroy and the Serbian parliamentary purges. The fact that “Paddy” Ashdown, an accomplished belligerent statist, was to become Bosnia’s new overlord was already mentioned here. And while purges in Serbia might sound like exciting reading, they are but empty political posturing about issues that were decided a long time ago.

Clash of the Quislings

So what if Vojislav Kostunica’s Democrats lost half their seats to Zoran Djindjic’s Democrats? They never had any power to begin with, and wasted every single opportunity to seize it over the past 18 months with empty proclamations and contrite statements of submission. That has left Serbia at the mercy of Djindjic, who dutifully does the bidding of his sinister masters even as he aims to dominate Serbia himself. Given that the “context” here is merely who gets to serve the Empire, one can be forgiven for not giving a damn and wishing a plague on both their houses.

Three Years Later

Few in Serbia are likely to remember the upcoming anniversary of the Kumanovo agreement, which surrendered Kosovo to UN/NATO occupation three years ago next week.

Given the torrent of press coverage over the past three years, dedicated to “humanitarian disaster,” NATO’s “cause of justice” and “Serb war crimes” that failed to materialize (but that was hardly mentioned, of course), the upcoming anniversary is shrouded in deafening silence. Yet just this past weekend, the puppet government of this UN-ruled territory had to be restrained by the Imperial viceroy for claiming the territory of a neighboring country. Macedonians, whose land was in question, were incensed. Serbs who take part in the puppet parliament walked out in disgust. Kosovo’s viceroy justified the veto by claiming the resolution was “bad for Kosovo’s reputation,” though it pales in comparison with other trademarks of occupied Kosovo, such as murder, pillaging, ethnic cleansing, drug- and gun-running, sex slavery and terrorism. But no one seems to care.

Return to the Suspended Castle

Few fundamentals have changed since June 1999. There are far less Serbs and other non-Albanians in the province, true, and the occupying authorities are still trying to shut down even the few remaining pockets of resistance. There are many more Western corporations, mostly banks, telecom industry concerns and mining interests. And the viceroy is now a German, after a Frenchman and a Dane had their turn. But the fundamental status of Kosovo remains as vague now as it was then.

Technically, Kosovo is still a part of Serbia, but only in the vaguest, most theoretical sense. In practice, it is both independent (i.e. separate from Serbia) and not (i.e. occupied by NATO/UN). This is a cause of perpetual frustration. If NATO was willing to violate all laws and international norms of behavior in order to “save” the Albanians and help the KLA fight for independence, logic would indicate that such independence would have NATO support. Yet even as Albanians get more and more from the occupation each day, full independence is always just out of their reach.

NATO occupation has made independence possible, but it is also the only thing holding it back. Albanians are now wondering what they need to do to make “Republic of Kosova” reality, while the Serbs and others in Kosovo fervently hope NATO sticks around to protect them (forgetting that NATO was responsible for their suffering to begin with). Belgrade authorities see NATO as the only way to regain control of the occupied province.

The truth points to itself, really.

All parties have an incentive to “cooperate with” (serve) NATO, in hope that things will eventually turn their way. Which is why the Empire just loves the status quo, no matter what its paladins say.

Method in the Madness?

This desire to be served could help explain the Empire’s approach to Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Montenegro as well. Only in Croatia was the imposed solution anywhere near clear-cut, and even that left the specter of Croats’ mass expulsion of Serbs hanging over Zagreb’s head like a dark cloud. Bosnia is held together by force and trickery, Macedonia is eaten alive by the Albanian question, and the aspirations of Imperial quislings in Montenegro have been just put on ice for three years.

A pattern emerges. Lies, fear and brute force first create a dependency, which then secures obedience.

Squaring the Circle

One way to cut the way out of this deliberate tangle is to start defining issues clearly. But definitions have a way of choosing the direction the discussion is taking, and many of those directions could be uncomfortable for Washington.

For example, if Kosovo was merely an instance of gross human rights violations by an unpopular regime, now that the regime is gone there is little reason to keep it separate from Serbia. As Albanians find this unacceptable, the “human rights” angle is obviously inadequate to explain what happened.

If it were a genocide perpetrated by the Serbian state, with full support of the Serbian people (as the “joint criminal enterprise” thesis of the Hague Inquisition clearly implies, even as it carefully avoids to include Kosovo), then an independent Albanian Kosovo should spring up tomorrow. Clearly, the Albanians would love nothing more, but there is a glitch. There is no evidence whatsoever that genocide happened.

Ultimately, it boils down to a question of property. Considering that NATO’s possession of territory is illegal, taking the occupation into account would clearly prejudice the solution in Serb favor. Putting that aside, then, does Serbia have the right to Kosovo if so many Albanians live there?

Well, that’s tricky. What is “there”? If “majority” of an ethnic group is considered only within internal administrative subdivisions, that would be a clarion call to all provincial governments in the world, triggering mass secession and unprecedented warfare. The numbers game would also encourage “demographic conquest,” warfare through a population explosion that cannot be countered by means of conventional war or politics, but only ethnic cleansing and genocide – both universally condemned, though practiced whenever they can be implemented successfully.

How does a state lay claim to a territory, though, if resident population (however it came into being) has no bearing on the territory’s ownership? Again, difficult questions abound, and there are few good precedents to look to for guidance.

Pandora’s Box

In Empire’s book, that hardly matters. Precedents and laws are only as good as they can be used, as excuses or pretexts for the next conquest. This utilitarian approach may backfire eventually, once someone else uses conflicting principles enshrined in the enacted precedents. If Albanians in Kosovo can demand independence, why can’t “Aztlan“? Or Kurdistan? Or…

Perhaps that is another reason why Kosovo is kept in limbo. Its overlords might simply not know what to do next. But they were certainly much more decisive when it came to bombing things to bits.

Many things depend on how the issue of Kosovo is resolved. Losing it – and their medieval kingdom – to the Turks in the 14th century was a defining moment in Serb history, one that has shaped the Serb national identity ever since. Losing or regaining it in the 21st century might be equally pivotal.

The Albanian national program hinges upon acquiring Kosovo. It is the fulcrum of the desired all-Albanian state, without which further claims to territory in Macedonia, inner Serbia, northwestern Greece and even Montenegro would be rendered meaningless.

For the United States, Kosovo represents a milestone on the road from Republic to Empire that could well be a point of no return. If it indeed serves as a precedent for separatists and ethnic militants inside America itself, the fate of Kosovo might even determine the future of the US as a surviving political entity.

Last, but not least, all over the world nations with internal administrative divisions, and restive minorities within them, are eagerly awaiting the resolution of Kosovo.

Weight of the World

It did not have to be this way. Local disputes like this are common, and though often bloody can be resolved between the contesting parties if there is sufficient political will. But the 1999 intervention and the subsequent occupation made Kosovo an Imperial issue, which if solved in a wrong way could have lasting and disastrous global consequences. And that is something we would all have to live with.

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 debuted in November 2000.