Serbia’s Choices

Pressure to Surrender Kosovo Grows

The ongoing farcical "talks" between Serbia and the rebel Albanians from Kosovo reached the heights of absurdity last Monday, when the Serbian president and prime minister were brought to the same table as the "president" and "prime minister" of their occupied province. Making the "law and order" PM Vojislav Kostunica accept Agim Ceku, indicted for terrorism and war crimes, as his legitimate counterpart was a calculated slap in the face to Belgrade by the chief negotiator Martti Ahtisaari.

Editors at a pro-Imperial journal, Transitions Online, made a good observation in their commentary on the meeting: it "[violated] a basic tenet of diplomacy: talk only if there’s something to talk about." The Albanians have long since made clear that the only outcome acceptable to them is independence. The government in Belgrade has said it can accept just about everything except independence.

Belgrade is not insisting on capture and trial of Albanian terrorists charged with gruesome crimes against civilians – Albanian, as well as Serb, Roma, Turk, and other. Nor is it demanding the full and unqualified "reintegration" of Kosovo into the Serbian constitutional order, the way Franjo Tudjman’s Croatia did in Dayton, concerning the last Serb enclave his troops had not managed to ethnically cleanse. It is not even demanding the full implementation of UNSCR 1244, which provided for deployment of Serb police and military on Kosovo’s external borders – something the province’s occupiers never bothered to enforce, along with other burdensome duties explicitly required in that document, such as protecting the lives and property of non-Albanians. Kostunica and Tadic are merely demanding that the "international community" obey its own laws and desist from its efforts to carve out 15 percent of Serbia’s territory.


The day before the talks began, the Washington Post ran an editorial titled "Serbia’s Intransigence," accusing both Tadic and Kostunica of being "deaf" to a "firm Western consensus" on Kosovo, and the "forward-looking vision" of Balkans peace within the EU. According to this iditorial, Balkans peace is finally within reach, but it’s being jeopardized by the regressive Serbs and the Post‘s favorite villains, the Russians.

While Kostunica has long been a favorite target of Serbophobes at home and abroad for his alleged "continuation of Milosevic’s legacy" – though he’s at best a waffling quisling, as opposed to an enthusiastic one – this time the Post calls both him and Tadic leaders "addicted to… poisonous nationalism." All that sycophancy has earned young Boris nothing; the Post editors end their rant by hoping that, since Serbia is a democracy, "if its leaders cannot adjust, its people will eventually choose better leaders."

Or should they just save the Post some trouble and elect a new people, instead?

Submit or Perish!

Morton Abramowitz, founder of the interventionist International Crisis Group and onetime KLA adviser, wrote a commentary in similar tones with the ICG vice-president Mark Schneider; it appeared in the July 25 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

"Serbia can choose the past or the future. It can’t have both," Abramowitz and Schneider say. "Kostunica is carrying the late Slobodan Milosevic’s message that Kosovo must remain a subordinate province of Serbia. But Milosevic is dead, the clock will not be turned back to 1999, and Serbia will have to accept an international consensus on Kosovo’s final status."

So far, that’s pretty straightforward, ICG-ean drivel. But Abramowitz and Schneider for some unfathomable reason choose to "bolster" their "argument’ with claims so false and so outrageous, they rank on par with Iraqi WMD and Niger yellowcake. For example, they say the Kosovo Albanians ("Kosovars" in their partisan parlance) "met enough of the standards to get UN Security Council endorsement of final status negotiations." The UN envoy who green-lighted the talks last year did so only torturously disguising the complete failure of the Albanians to meet even a single UN standard by saying that "standard implementation has been uneven."

Abramowitz and Schneider then trot out the old ICG/Albanian canards about Belgrade sponsoring "parallel institutions" in the north of Kosovo, forcing Kosovo Serbs to boycott the Albanian government, and even setting up paramilitary forces and clandestine police, contrary to UNSCR 1244. This is all abject nonsense, but that’s never stopped the ICG before. On July 28, the Group published a report advocating "an army for Kosovo" – presumably the KLA.

Kingdom of Heaven

One Turkish analyst commented on the Kosovo talks by invoking a parallel with "Lazar’s choice." According to an old Serbian epic, the last medieval ruler of Serbia was given a choice by the Prophet Elijah; if he chose the kingdom of earth, the invading Turks would be defeated, but his kingdom would eventually perish, as all things earthly do. Were his choice the kingdom of heaven, the price would be the sacrifice of his own life, and his knights, but the reward would be a place in heaven for the Serbs.

No doubt the legend was construed in the long, dark centuries of Ottoman occupation, when the surviving Serbs struggled to preserve their identity and faith and attribute meaning to their suffering following the defeat in 1389. The legend explains why Serbs regard Kosovo as their spiritual heartland, their Jerusalem. And much as Saladin of in Ridley Scott’s cinematic epic said of Jerusalem, Kosovo is worth "nothing… everything."

Where the analyst went wrong, however, is in drawing an analogy between Lazar’s choice and the options offered to Serbia today. Empire’s "offer" of possible membership in NATO and the EU in exchange for giving up Kosovo is decisively earthly: accept our imposition and you may be allowed to serve, along with some more table scraps and perhaps fewer beatings. The alternative – rejecting force that presents itself as law, placing one’s faith in a higher morality than one formulated by bombs and CNN, insisting on one’s inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property against those who callously disrespect them – has much more in common with those who believe in the "communion of saints, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."

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.