Slouching Toward Secession

Kosovo’s Continuing Tragedy

An old saying in Washington urges one to "believe nothing until it has been officially denied." Washington, Brussels, and the UN have been denying for years that their policies in the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo have in effect established a quasi-independent state, which would eventually officially separate from Serbia. Their deeds, however, betray the falsehood of their words. Kosovo is inching toward independence every day, as pressure grows on Serbia to accept it as fait accompli and "move on" into the hungry maw of the EU.

A Visa by Any Other Name

Last Thursday, Kosovo’s UN administration (UNMIK) called a special press conference, at which deputy viceroy Larry Rossin bludgeoned the media for calling UNMIK’s new regulations a "visa regime." The "visibly angry" Rossin repeated three times during the conference, "This is not a visa regime!" (Reuters)

Reuters explains that after six years of blissfully allowing people to come and go to Kosovo as they pleased, UNMIK finally decided that controlling access to the occupied territories might be a good idea. Starting in July, visitors to Kosovo – excluding the occupiers and, interestingly enough, anyone from Serbia – would need a special stamp in their passports authorizing their presence.

Albanians protested that this would present an obstacle to their ethnic kin in Albania proper and Macedonia, who have been roaming freely (with guns, no less) through the region since 1999. This may yet be the case. However, UNMIK could have implemented this kind of border control at any point, especially during the KLA "insurrections" in inner Serbia and Macedonia, yet it chose not to do so. In fact, it had an obligation to do so in June 1999, when unknown thousands of Albanian citizens "returned" to claim Serb property in "liberated" Kosovo. By Rossin’s own admission, the regulation was "first discussed" after Sept. 11, 2001. Surely there is a reason for introducing it at this particular time, other than bureaucratic inefficiency?

It could, for example, be a backdoor way to give Kosovo more attributes of statehood. These visas – or authorization stamps, whatever – do not apply to "citizens of Kosovo," as Reuters (and presumably Rossin) put it. Only states have citizenship. Occupied provinces, as a general rule, do not.

Freedom of Debt

On Tuesday, UNMIK signed an agreement with the European Investment Bank (EIB), allowing the institution to lend money to the "provisional government" of Kosovo. UN viceroy Soren Jessen-Petersen hailed the agreement as an "important precedent that will help attract other international financial institutions extending loans for Kosovo." (BBC)

It is a precedent, indeed. Only states get foreign loans; occupied provinces, as a rule, do not. Kosovo, therefore, could not quality for loans from the World Bank or the IMF. However, rather than funding progress, foreign loans most often lead to penury. Yugoslavia was heavily indebted to the IMF and others in order to maintain a welfare state. Some have argued that the debt crisis, not nationalism, was at the root of its demise. Much of the IMF/WB funding was incurred for massive investments in Kosovo – and right now, that debt is being serviced by Serbia.

One of the salient features of the occupation has been its trampling of property rights. UNMIK has been "privatizing" land and enterprises it had simply seized and declared "property of Kosovo," even though many rightly belonged to the Serbian government, or in the case of land, to the Serbian Orthodox Church. The province itself is stolen property, seized by force from Belgrade in 1999.

Of course, all of this would impede economic development; widespread theft does that. All of UNMIK’s efforts so far have been toward declaring the theft legitimate and moving on from there. This loan initiative is no different.

Burying the Cave

Remains discovered in a Kosovo cave three weeks ago were those of Serbs captured or abducted by the KLA, UNMIK investigators confirmed. Most wire services that reported the original discovery called the bodies "non-Albanians," and few followed up with the official result. Only Christian Jennings of The Scotsman wrote about it in any detail, though he appeared far more fascinated with "fish-burgers with tartar sauce from a mobile canteen" the German security detail was having for lunch than with the relatives mourning the dead, which had been "dumped under a camouflaging layer of old cars, animal bones, earth, and rubbish."

The pro-Albanian Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) used the discovery to argue it could help resolve the issue of missing Albanians, and to highlight Albanian tolerance. According to Jeta Bejtullahu, human rights activist from Pristina, the unbiased reporting of the find in the Kosovo media "shows Kosovo Albanian society is ready to accept that Serbs, although on a much smaller scale, were also victims in the Kosovo war."

One could argue that the Serbs were the absolute victims in the Kosovo war – robbed of their homes, slandered as "genocidal aggressors," subjected to pogroms, beatings, burnings and bombings, exiled and not allowed to return. But Bejtullahu’s Serbian counterpart, who heads an organization by the same name ("Humanitarian Law Center") in Belgrade, is not only not making such a case, but busily fabricating stories of Serb atrocities against Albanians – which the IWPR duly publishes.

Land of Confusion

As usual, Belgrade’s reaction to the events in Kosovo has been late, insufficient, or nonexistent. In fact, if anyone has commented at all on the "visa regime," the UNMIK loan precedent, or the cave discovery, he has yet to be quoted by the wires.

A Serbian government plan for Kosovo, posted on the Web, illustrates the problem with Belgrade’s approach to the province. It accepts at face value all the claptrap about multi-ethnicity and "human rights" embedded in UNMIK’s rhetoric, effectively conceding the legitimacy of the occupation. Belgrade also declares it would only accept a "compromise" solution for Kosovo. But a compromise with what? The Albanian desire for independence, which they believe is a "done deal"? To compromise, one has to have a specific position, from which it is then possible to split the difference. Even assuming the Albanians would agree, what is Belgrade’s position? What does "more than autonomy, less than independence" actually mean?

If there is any one lesson of the 1990s Balkans wars – well, besides "Make sure the Empire is on your side" – it would be that those with coherent demands, however extreme, triumph over those who waffle and appease. Look at Croatia sans Serbs, or centralizing Bosnia, or eviscerated Macedonia.

About the closest anyone in Serbia has come to a straightforward position is the recent interview of Belgrade’s ambassador to Athens, Dusan Batakovic, who said:

"There is no separate ‘Kosovar’ nation with a separate identity; there are only Albanians and Serbs…. The independence of Kosovo would mean the partition of Serbia. Whenever it is said there can be no partition of Kosovo, I always agree, because there can be no partition of Serbia, either."

Forcing Consent

The Empire needs to get Serbian consent for the separation of Kosovo, to maintain at least a veneer of legitimacy over that naked land grab. This is why Richard Holbrooke is talking about "choosing Kosovo or the EU," and why pathetic quislings like former FM Svilanovic have been enlisted to support independence.

Propaganda notwithstanding, what happened in 1999 was rape; the only way the rapists can get off the hook is by bullying the victim to say it was consensual. It really is up to Belgrade to make a choice on Kosovo: acknowledge the criminal Imperial "reality," or defend its rights? It is impossible to do both.

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.