On the Brink

There is one constant in the proclamations of those championing the independence of the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo: the more they claim it is "inevitable" and just around the corner, the less likely it becomes. The drive to officially sever the province – occupied in 1999 by NATO, following an illegal war, and administered by a corrupt UN bureaucracy in league with the terrorist KLA – from Serbia began almost immediately following the 2004 pogrom against the remaining ethnic Serbs. It continued in 2005 with the Bush administration adopting their predecessor’s Balkans agenda, and in 2006 with the appointment of a pro-Albanian envoy to chair the "negotiations" between Belgrade and the separatists. Then, in June this year, it ran into the brick wall of rejection – mostly from Serbia and Russia, but also some dissenters within the EU, Africa and Asia.

Thus came about "December 10" – an arbitrary date set by the U.S. and the EU for the end of the new "negotiations" on Kosovo, chaired by a troika of envoys from Washington, Brussels and Moscow. The talks were a sham from the very beginning; as the U.S. envoy told the Albanians, backed by the Great Decider, after the failure of talks, the U.S. would support the "inevitable" independence. All the provisional government in Pristina had to do was run out the clock, while the Western media would declare the Serbs and Russians as "obstinate" and "defiant."

The Clock Runs Out

What happened between June and now has been entirely predictable. The troika would meet with the Serbs and the Albanians; Belgrade would offer a plan for autonomy, the Albanians would answer "No, independence." Next time, Belgrade would offer another mode of autonomy, and the Albanians would answer "Independence!" And so on, down to this past weekend in Baden, Austria, when the clock finally ran out and the EU envoy Ischinger, presiding over the troika, declared the talks were over. The Albanians echoed his statement, while Serbia and Russia have called for more negotiations.

The issue is now back before the UN, it appears, where it will be debated in the Security Council on December 19.

Exit Agim, Enter Snake

It is still unclear what elections in the occupied province, organized by UNMIK on Nov. 18, were supposed to accomplish. But with less than half the Albanian electorate bothering to vote, and Serbs boycotting the election, the office of "Prime Minister" passed from one KLA leader to another.

Agim Ceku, the darling of the West, was appointed Prime Minister after the sudden resignation of his predecessor in March 2006. Ceku fought in the Croatian Army during the 1991-95 war, taking part in atrocities against civilians. He later became the "military commander" of the KLA, and its postwar, UN-sponsored successor, the TMK. One of his last actions as Prime Minister was writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing for independence.

The likely new PM is now his former boss, KLA supreme leader Hashim "Snake" Thaci, whose party won 34% of the votes cast. Although both Ceku and Thaci have been indicted in Serbia for terrorism, murder, extortion and a host of other crimes, they’ve always enjoyed protection of UNMIK and NATO – meaning, ultimately, Washington.

Thaci wasted no time in talking to the press, announcing the inevitability of independence, and soon, but also making sure he said this: "There will be no more war, no more killing, no more crisis in the region. That’s our commitment." (Reuters) It was quoted by every news agency reporting on the talks, usually in contrast with Serbian PM Vojislav Kostunica’s warning that Belgrade "would not yield one inch of territory."

What is missing from Thaci’s "commitment" is a qualification: "If we get what we want." After the occupation of Kosovo in 1999, Albanian separatist movements flared up in southern Serbia and western Macedonia, almost exactly along the lines of a map depicting a mythical "ethnic Albania." So much for war and crisis. Murders of Serbs in Kosovo, once almost a daily occurrence, dried up only after the entire remaining Serb population was reduced to ghettos, huddling behind barbed wire and guarded by NATO troops. What "rights" would an independent, Albanian Kosovo guarantee them, when Albanians are unable to guarantee them life, let alone property?

Demands And Dissent

Richard Holbrooke, renegade diplomat who once famously argued to "give bombs a chance" to achieve peace in Bosnia, has a monthly column for the staunchly pro-Imperialist Washington Post. This past weekend, he once again wrote that a Balkans crisis, engineered by Belgrade and Moscow, threatens the West, and that more American power in the region would be the answer. Specifically, Holbrooke calls for additional troop deployments, so as to intimidate Russia and Serbia while the U.S. and Europe oversee the independence of Kosovo and centralization of Bosnia.

But much as Napoleon at Waterloo, Emperor Bush has no more troops to send.

However hard the Imperial establishment has tried to project confidence, there is no escaping the fact that it has failed to impose its will on the region. A major surprise in the barrage of op-eds and editorials endorsing the independence of Kosovo was the Boston Globe, which in a Nov. 20 editorial supported further talks and argued against an imposed solution.

In the UK, Simon Jenkins of the Guardian described the situation in Kosovo as "another fine mess" and described the issue as a clash of "irresistible force" and "immovable object." Even as he defends Blair’s intervention on behalf of the Albanian separatists, Jenkins points out that the KLA has ethnically cleansed Kosovo during the eight-year UNMIK mandate, that Kosovo has received billions in aid, and that Thaci wants "not independence but the luxuriant post-intervention dependency enjoyed by Bosnia, Sierra Leone and the embattled regimes in Baghdad and Kabul."

What might easily happen, warns Jenkins, is another nasty conflict in which NATO would intervene on behalf of the KLA and the Russians would back the Serbs. "It’s hard to imagine a worse outcome," he says.

Worse Than a Crime

Why such a rush? Why are both the Albanians and the Empire so eager to force the "final solution" for the province, when they have almost precisely what they want right now? Efforts to impose a centralized state in Bosnia and an independent status for Kosovo then appear driven by fear that without these impositions, gains made by Bosnian Muslim nationalists and Kosovo Albanians could some day be overturned, once the U.S. power backing them is sufficiently weakened.

But why does the Empire desire a centralized, Muslim-dominated Bosnia, and an Albanian Kosovo? Is it to placate Islamic militants around the world? Balkans interventions have done the exact opposite! By claiming the Muslims of Bosnia and Albanians of Kosovo were victims of Serb "genocide," the West has fueled jihadist propaganda, nothing more. The expected Islamic gratitude never materialized.

Not only did the criminal dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the illegal attack on Serbia fail to score Washington and London points in the Muslim world, the Empire’s stubborn commitment to its absurd and irrational Balkans project has also reignited a "cold war" with Moscow.

Not just criminal, the Clinton-Blair Balkans policy embraced by Bush has also been a mistake.

Bismarck’s Warning

One thing is certain: an attempt to create an independent "Kosova" is illegal. There are more around the world besides Belgrade and Moscow that oppose it. Washington has violated international law on many occasions; indeed, the assault on then-Yugoslavia in 1999 was perhaps the most flagrant. But this is not 1999; and even that war stopped short of an outright land grab.

If the Albanian separatists declare their "independence," on December 10 or any time thereafter, recognition of that would be just the "damn fool thing in the Balkans" Bismarck had warned about. The first time it unleashed the cataclysm of 1914. What will it do now?

If you answer "nothing," that’s precisely what the kings and emperors had said back then.

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.