Wishful Thinking

Empire, Kosovo, and “Natural Albania”

Between the relative calm of the summer vacation season and the turbulent events in Lebanon over the past month, the Balkans have been on the periphery of news lately. Just because something isn’t seen on CNN, however, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

After over seven years of UN/NATO occupation, the Serbian province of Kosovo is up for a status review. The UN and the self-appointed “Contact Group” (U.S., UK, Italy, Germany, France, and Russia) face the mutually exclusive positions of Belgrade – which insists Kosovo is an integral part of Serbian territory, and can have unprecedented autonomy but never independence – and the Albanian provisional government in the province, which calls anything short of independence unacceptable.

Aug. 15 saw the appointment of Joachim Ruecker, one of the current bureaucrats in the UNMIK occupation authority, as the successor to viceroy Soeren Jessen-Petersen. The outgoing viceroy was appreciated by the separatist Kosovo Albanians as a champion of their cause.

Meanwhile, Albanians rioted as the Empire’s top negotiator, Martti Ahtisaari, visited Pristina this week to meet with Ruecker and Albanian officials. The rioters belong to Vetevendosje, a militant “youth group” seeking unconditional independence from Serbia.

Not Whether, but When?

According to an Aug. 18 editorial in the New York Times, “the main question facing the international community is not whether Kosovo will become independent, but when and how.”

The Times, much as the Washington Post, is an echo chamber of “liberal” imperialist policymakers, who shaped U.S. Balkan policy under Clinton but are not currently in power. So it’s not at all surprising that the proposed “solution” is a distilled version of the International Crisis Group’s formula for “conditional independence”:

“The most promising way to encourage further progress is by moving ahead to a carefully conditioned form of limited autonomy.

“The most critical issue, now as ever, is guaranteeing the rights of the ethnic Serb minority. Any independence arrangement will have to assure minorities a substantial role in government.…

“An international authority will have to monitor the government’s fulfillment of internationally agreed conditions, paying special attention to issues like the rule of law and minority rights. A few thousand NATO-led troops should remain in Kosovo with the power to intervene when necessary to compel compliance.”

One thing that simply leaps off the page here is the Times‘ callous disregard of Serbs and Albanians. Why would the Serbs of Kosovo accept being relegated to minority status in the land seized from them by force, and see a handful of charity government jobs as adequate compensation? Why would the Albanians agree to special treatment of Serbs, after they’ve repeatedly demonstrated their hatred and intolerance over the past seven years? And why would they accept a continuing foreign presence, if they are truly independent? If anything, this arrangement would further fan the flames of hatred in Kosovo, as Albanians would blame the remaining Serbs for the presence of an Imperial garrison.

The only clear winner emerging here is the Empire: it gets to keep the bases Halliburton built in the occupied province, and boast of its “intervention done right.”

Wrench in the Works

Not four days after the Times editorial, a challenge came to Washington’s pet project in the Balkans. Not from Belgrade, as one would have assumed, but from Albania itself.

Epoka e Re, an Albanian paper published in Kosovo, printed an interview on Aug. 22 with Koco Danaj, described as a political adviser to Albania’s Prime Minister Sali Berisha, in which Danaj called for the creation of a “natural Albania” by 2013.

Already assuming the independence of Kosovo, Danaj invoked Montenegro’s separation from Serbia as an argument that Albanians in Montenegro and Macedonia should have the right to secede as well. “Instead of having Albanians participate in those countries’ governments, it would be more natural that they had one government in the Albanian capital, Tirana, Danaj said.” (AKI)

The Italian news service that reported Danaj’s comments didn’t note the significance of the date, but 2013 would be the 100th anniversary of the creation of Albania. It was in 1913 that the European “Great Powers” created the first Albanian state by the Treaty of London, which officially ended the Balkan Wars. For the rest of the 20th century, Albanian nationalists have attempted to adjust the borders laid out by that treaty to ones more closely approximating those claimed by the 1878 League of Prizren as “ethnic Albania.” This is the “natural Albania” Danaj was referring to, no mistake.

Danaj’s comments drew a sharp reaction from Serbia’s de facto Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, who condemned them as expansionist and sent a message to the Contact Group that amounted to “Did we not tell you so?”

Belgrade’s warnings that the campaign for Kosovo’s independence, the Macedonian rebellion, and the Albanian participation in Montenegrin secession were all parts of a wider strategy for the creation of a Greater Albania have been played down by Imperial officials and mocked by Albanian partisans such as the ICG. But as days go by, it’s become obvious that such a pattern does indeed exist.

Something in the Water

Meanwhile, in occupied Kosovo, the Albanian provisional government has inadvertently demonstrated its complete inability to provide even basic services to its population. According to medical staff at Pristina’s University Hospital, contaminated tap water and public pools have aided the spread of viral meningitis, with over 400 people infected so far.

Sanitation in Kosovo is not UNMIK’s responsibility, but squarely that of the authorities led by the “former” KLA thugs. Over the past eight years, they have demonstrated an unquestionable talent for atrocities, terrorism, propaganda, and lobbying, but a complete lack of ability to protect the lives or property of their fellow Albanians, let alone the Turks, Roma, Ashkali, or Serbs who lived in Kosovo.

Mind you, the competence – or lack thereof – of the Albanian authorities should not be a factor in deciding whether their separatist cause should be allowed to violate international law, precedent, and principle. But it would at least help the Albanian claims some if they actually appeared even marginally capable of running their own affairs.

Foregone Conclusions

Policymakers and lobbyists in Washington whose political capital is heavily invested in the “Bank of Collective Serbian Guilt” (Deliso) are pushing for the separation of Kosovo before the end of this year. One of their favorite phrases is that independence is a “foregone conclusion.” It’s an effort designed to further punish and weaken Serbia and bolster Albania as Washington’s preferred client-state in the region. This approach does not take into account either Serb or Albanian agendas, treating these people instead as mere pawns on Empire’s grand chessboard. As evidenced by the idea of “natural Albania,” the pawns have ideas of their own.

Empire’s failure is therefore the real foregone conclusion here, and it isn’t a matter of whether, but when.

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.