The Long Defeat

There is no doubt that future analysts will regard 2006 as the year of setbacks for the American Empire. The most visible defeats have taken place in the Middle East: Iraq first and foremost, then the abortive Israeli war against the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the recent defeat of US-sponsored warlords in Somalia. But Empire’s influence is waning in the Balkans as well.

Earlier this year, Muslim and Croat nationalists in Bosnia defeated a package of US-drafted constitutional reforms. Bosnian Serbs, too, have refused any further submission to Imperial diktat, electing a government that has sworn to protect their constitutional rights. One of its first actions was to reject the plan to "reform" the country’s police, which the U.S. and EU have been trying to impose for the past year.

Despite its announcements throughout 2006, the Empire has also failed to achieve the illegal separation of the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo. Seized by NATO in 1999, after a 78-day bombing campaign, and administered by the UN and an Albanian-dominated Provisional Government, the province has been systematically ethnically cleansed of its non-Albanian population, with Serb property, monuments and heritage a particular target. Champions of an independent Albanian Kosovo have vocally trumpeted its inevitability by the end of 2006 – yet the year is almost out, and that has not been the case. The sham "negotiations," begun in February under the leadership of pro-Albanian envoy Martti Ahtisaari, have failed to force the Serbian government to cede one-seventh of its territory to Albanian separatists. Serbia’s new constitution, approved at a referendum in October, explicitly claims sovereignty over Kosovo.

The Hard Sell

Ahtisaari’s announcement in early November that his final recommendations would be postponed till after the Serbian elections – scheduled for January 21, 2007 – made perfect sense at the time. The Empire simply did not have enough leverage to force the issue. However, it appears that Washington’s leverage is actually diminishing with time, and that independence of Kosovo is less likely the longer it is delayed.

That, at least, is the belief of Albanian partisans such as the International Crisis Group, which this week urged absolutely no further delays in giving the province to the Albanians. The province’s current UN viceroy, Joachim Ruecker, appears to share both ICG’s sympathies and its agenda; he, too, opposes further delays.

Leader of the province’s Provisional Government, former Croatian general and leader of the terrorist KLA Agim Ceku chose a different tack last week, when he visited the U.S. to lobby for independence. His editorial in last Wednesday’s Washington Post paints a rosy picture of an entrepreneurial democracy, where Serbs and other non-Albanians enjoy rights and privileges unheard of in the civilized world, and only the evil shadow of Serb nationalism is preventing the freedom-minded Albanians and Serbians alike from embarking on a bright European future.

None of this has any relationship to the truth whatsoever.

Aware that international law is squarely against them, champions of independence are trying to appeal to "democracy," "human rights," and "will of the majority" – in this case, the Albanians.

Holding the Line

Unfortunately for the Albanians and their allies, the Empire lacks force to impose the secession of Kosovo. If it could have done so, it would have done it in the past seven years. This means Washington and Brussels need Belgrade to consent to Kosovo’s separation. But the Serbian leaders, usually willing to compromise their nation’s interests for the political equivalent of doggy biscuits from the Empire, are intransigently refusing to do so this time.

Serbia’s prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, is leading the resistance to Imperial pressure. His political rival, President Boris Tadic, is much less committed – but knows that it would be political suicide to break ranks now. Same with the foreign minister Draskovic – who, for all his servility to the Empire, seems to oppose the secession of Kosovo more genuinely than Tadic.

NATO’s surprise invitation to Serbia into the "Partnership for Peace" program, earlier this month, was aimed at boosting Tadic and Draskovic ahead of the January 21 elections. It is unclear how much of an effect it had with the general public in Serbia, however. Serbs care about getting into NATO far, far less than about getting into the European Union – and Brussels has decided to keep further accession talks on ice till after the elections.

Srdja Trifkovic, a commentator close to Kostunica, offers this prediction:

Kostunica will not be duped, Serbia will not cave in, Russia will not relent, and the Albanians will not give up on what they had been promised by those who had never had the right to make the promise in the first place. They threaten renewed violence, but the threat only serves to reinforce the argument that they should not be allowed to get away with it. As Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. told his Western colleagues last Wednesday, "you may be willing to give in to Albanian blackmail, but we are not."

A Simple Plan

This is the outcome that, understandably, drives those who have invested political and other sorts of capital into the cause of an independent Albanian Kosovo downright insane. With the resurgent Russophobia in Washington, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is finding that standing up for Serbia defends a principle important to Russia as well. It is increasingly clear that the only way the Washington-London-Brussels axis can work around international law and Russian and Chinese opposition is, again, obtaining Belgrade’s consent.

Imperial policymakers believe they have a way to do this. If the "democrats" such as Tadic and Draskovic win come January, they would be paid to surrender Kosovo. They’ve been bought before, the reasoning goes. And if the Radicals triumph, the propaganda machine can be shifted into gear and declare them the new Nazis or something equally disagreeable, in which case the Empire will assert that Serbia has forfeited all rights and its consent is no longer necessary. But what if the current Prime Minister manages to once again build a coalition government, sidelining Imperial mercenaries and belligerent populists alike? Empire’s greatest fear is a Kostunica victory, because then it won’t have any cards to play. He had called its bluff.

Therefore, the Empire will try to ensure Mr. Kostunica does not win. The most likely way to do this would be to offer ham-fisted support to the "democrats" like Tadic, Draskovic or even the Jacobin firebrand Ceda Jovanovic. If it works, they will get a pliable government. And if it does not, and the electorate angrily falls into Radical hands, so much the better.

Collision Course

Meanwhile, Albanian separatists are making their own contingency plans. Earlier this month, checkpoints appeared on roads in American-occupied west of the province, manned by black-clad militants of the "Albanian National Army" (UCK). NATO and the UN chose to ignore them, or dismiss their relevance – as they have done to all instances of Albanian violence in the province to date, whether it was aimed at Serbs, internationals, or other Albanians.

Another reason for Albanian discontent is Ahtisaari’s rumored "proposal," which will definitely involve a separation from Serbia, but also mean some sort of EU protectorate. It is clear that Albanians won’t get independence. They were used as a weapon against Serbia; having outlived their purpose, they are likely to join Croatia as another Balkans "junkyard dog" with illusions of special importance.

But with Imperial influence shrinking and getting weaker worldwide… will the Serbs and the Albanians accept such an outcome? That doesn’t look likely. The edifice of lies that is the Empire-ordered Balkans will not stand for long.

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.