Getting Kosovo Wrong

When tens of thousands of Albanians rampaged through Kosovo in mid-March, it was the most obvious sign so far that the entire five-year NATO/UN occupation was crumbling. The southern Serbian province was finally recognized as Empire’s failed Potemkin village – or so it seemed. But after a trickle of honesty prompted by the initial shock, things reverted back to form. There were numerous face-saving ways to admit wrongdoing, but none were taken; those who masterminded the occupation refused to deal with its truths, preferring their comforting lies instead.

There are definite cracks in the foundations of the UN occupation regime. Viceroy Holkeri has just resigned, ostensibly for health reasons. On the military end, there is tension between different contingents of KFOR, based on the actions – or lack thereof – they took during the pogrom, as well as between KFOR and the Albanians. And more trouble might be in the works. But there is no sign the policies of Washington and Brussels toward this corner of Europe are about to change in any way.

Threats and Denials

Lack of an appropriate response to the pogrom seems to have emboldened members of the terrorist “Albanian National Army.” Several of its members staged an appearance at a funeral in Drenica, an old stronghold of the KLA, orchestrated to resemble the first public appearance of the KLA – also once deemed terrorist – in 1997. The stunt brought on complaints by KLA veterans, jealous of their “legacy” and “essence.” But though most Albanians casually dismiss the ANA, none have repudiated its stated goals, officially or otherwise.

Meanwhile, Jakup Krasniqi, “Minister of Public Services in the Government of Kosovo” and former KLA mouthpiece, claimed in a recently published analysis that “Albanians were the main victims” of the March pogrom, and blamed it all squarely on Serbs and their inherent vileness, citing as proof that “three Albanian children were killed in a macabre way by Serb criminals.”

The claim that three boys who drowned in the river Ibar in March were chased to their deaths by Serbs – a libel trumpeted by Albanian media and parroted by their Western counterparts unapologetically – is still widely believed by Kosovo Albanians. The UN prosecutor’s report that Serbs had nothing to do with it was emphatically rejected by one commentator as “contentious and without the slightest doubt tilted toward the Serbian opinion.”

Paralyzed Impotence

Faced with such sentiments, UNMIK appears afraid of anything that might provoke Albanians’ anger. When its police arrested two KLA members Tuesday on charges of murder, they made a point of noting their victims were Albanians. Supposedly, that makes it OK to arrest them, more so than if the victims had been Serbs or Roma. Unfortunately, the explanation isn’t likely to satisfy the KLA; murdering ethnic Albanians suspected of “collaboration” as a means of extorting support has been a major KLA tactic, and they don’t consider it any more inappropriate than ethnically cleansing Serbs, or falsifying atrocity stories.

With Holkeri now gone, to Serbs’ approval and Albanians’ polite indifference, whoever the hurried replacement ends up being is unlikely to start the job by antagonizing Albanians in any way. As for KFOR, its troops are still conflicted over their differing reactions to the March pogrom. While Germans ran and hid, Swedes and others who resisted are itching for “payback.”

The current state of the UN/NATO mission is best described by recently published photos: Belgians had established a makeshift café named “Purgatory” next to the torched church in Mitrovica; another unit posted signs on the ruins of a church near Djakovica, warning that the rubble is “under UN protection.”

Appalling Ignorance

During the pogrom, NATO’s regional commander Admiral Gregory Johnson was noted for describing it clearly as “ethnic cleansing.” On a recent visit to Kosovo, however, he was quoted by both Serbian and Albanian media as having said that he could see Kosovo joining NATO “in the not so distant future.”

Surely, Admiral Johnson knew better than to suggest that Kosovo, an illegally occupied province, could join NATO, a military alliance of (supposedly still) sovereign states? The quote was reported by half a dozen sources last week, and no one at NATO has denied it so far.

Absurdity doesn’t stop there. One U.S. religious rights activist bemoaned the destruction of Christian churches in Kosovo by Albanians, yet in the same breath claimed that the “…Clinton administration war on Serbia brought Milosevic’s atrocities to an end, and a NATO occupation of Kosovo brought the goal of building a multiethnic democracy…”– a naïve belief if ever there was one.

Speaking of naïve beliefs, they could be found in abundance in a hometown-paper article written by a wife of a Minnesota judge, who is busily adjudicating drug-, weapon- and human-trafficking cases in “liberated” Kosovo. According to the lady in question, the U.S. saved the Albanians from the “extremely brutal, oppressive Serbian (i.e. Christian) Milosevic regime.” She also calls it “evil” and notes that Albanians “suffered immensely for years” under its rule. Her description of Kosovo – a “Muslim country” – is shockingly devoid of depth and understanding. It is almost unsurprising that she repeats the allegation that Serbs drowned the three Albanian boys, and that the “recrimination” that followed began because “self rule for Albanian Kosovars is not coming fast enough.”

Delusions created by this kind of propaganda on the ground, as well as in the Western press, have the potential of becoming lethal – and not just for the locals. Consider the example of a Mennonite missionary family from Kansas, who in late April announced their intent to go to Kosovo. Taking along two small children, the couple intends to learn basic Albanian and settle in Decani, where they “hope to plant a church.” No one seems to have told them that Albanians are Muslims, and thus unlikely to convert to Christianity; that Albanians have engaged in a systematic campaign of destruction of Christian churches; and that there has been a Christian church – actually a monastery – in Decani since at least 1327.

Pretty Words and Powerful Friends

Following the March pogrom, Albanians have modified their public message somewhat. One of the most outspoken Albanian groups in the United States, the Albanian-American Civic League, used to feature a map of Greater Albania on its website. No more; it was recently replaced by a different design.

Another website,, has been around since 2003, but recently became increasingly featured on Google News. Unlike or, both run by the Serbian Orthodox Church, it seems owned and operated by Albanians: maps, featured articles and site information support that observation.

In addition to this web presence, Albanians enjoy sympathetic coverage in the mainstream media, and certainly don’t lack attentive ears in the U.S. Congress. According to one Belgrade daily, the U.S. Democratic Party is also pushing the Albanian agenda. Richard Holbrooke, wannabe Secretary of State and long a supporter of the KLA, is reported to have promised Albanian lobbyists an independent Kosovo if Kerry wins in November.

Inadequate Response

There is plenty of blame to go around for the present state of affairs in Kosovo, and Belgrade deserves a fair share. What has it done to address the March pogrom, except suggest a ghettoization proposal? Just about nothing. True, the recently-appointed foreign minister Vuk Draskovic declared Kosovo independence “impossible,” but did not offer an alternative to it, or the status quo, beyond some vague words on “decentralization” and “greater security for minorities.” He then proceeded to attend international junkets and spout nonsense about joining NATO and the EU.

Meanwhile, “human rights” activists in Serbia pointedly ignore the suffering of their countrymen. Indeed, if Kosovo Albanian media are to be believed, one Belgrade NGO actually condemned Serbian media coverage of Kosovo as “hate speech.” This is why Albanian accusations of Serb perfidy are such nonsense: Serbia seems incapable of mounting even verbal resistance to their land grab, let alone engage in sinister conspiracies endangering the Albanians’ very existence or some such.

A Real Tragedy

Even a casual reader of wire reports from Kosovo must have noticed long ago that all reports have been tagged with a propaganda paragraph, usually describing Kosovo as a UN protectorate and mentioning NATO’s 1999 intervention, and implying both are perfectly legitimate. Here is the newest version, remarkably vague and bearing only the faintest resemblance to actual truth, tagged onto a BBC report on four Jordanians suspected in last month’s prison shoot-out:

“The UN authorised an international peacekeeping and police force for Kosovo in 1999, after Nato [sic] air-strikes pushed back Serb forces that were accused of war crimes against ethnic Albanians in the province.”

With all this in mind, is it really surprising a wife of a Minnesota judge, a missionary family from Kansas, or even a religious-rights activist in Washington, D.C., are so completely misinformed about Kosovo? As years pass, occupation becomes an accepted fact, crimes against peace and humanity fade from memory, and so do NATO’s pretexts for the invasion. Rambouillet? What was that?

NATO’s aggression was rewarded that June day almost five years ago, when Belgrade tried to appease the wrath of the war gods by ceding Kosovo – ostensibly to the UN, but really to the KLA. Quarter of a million refugees, 200 murders, and some 160 demolished churches later, no relief is in sight. The pompously self-dubbed “international community” claimed legitimacy for its illegal war as a way to stop an alleged tragedy. Instead, predictably, it created a real one.

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.