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Kosovo Five Years Later
N o military campaign in history was so heralded as “the right thing to do” by Western political leaders before, during, and after its initiation, as NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999. The unprecedented moralistic rhetoric that accompanied Operation Allied Force suggested that NATO was forging a peaceful era for the inhabitants of Kosovo and the wider world. It was, according to Tony Blair, “A war fought for the values of civilization.” However, the recent riots in Mitrovica (and the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq) illustrate that not only has the immediate aim of the intervention failed utterly, but also that the template established in Kosovo facilitated the escalation of aggressive Western hegemony in the post-Cold War world.
In March 2004, amid the scenes of renewed violence, smouldering churches, and huddled refugees, bewildered UN officials witnessed the re-emergence of the Western theory that “ancient ethnic hatreds” ultimately determine events in the Balkans. In assessing the periodic violence in the Balkans, George Kennan stated, “Deeper traits of character inherited, presumably, from a distant tribal past” continue to plague the region and “seem to be decisive as a determinant of the troublesome, baffling and dangerous situation that marks that part of the world.” This ultimately racist outlook is echoed by chief UN officials currently “administering” Kosovo. While touring the province in the aftermath of the recent carnage that left 31 people dead and over 850 injured, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, solemnly declared, “The concept of multiethnic Kosovo that the international community has been persistently attempting to implement in recent years is no longer tenable.” In other words, the incompatible ethnic identities endemic in Kosovo have triumphed over the West’s “earnest” efforts to instill a culture of multi-ethnicity. This is simply untrue. The international community, in the guise of NATO, accentuated the ethnic fissure in Kosovo through its intervention in 1999 and the record of the UN since the cessation of Operation Allied Force has been marked by a tolerance of low level ethnic oppression more so than by any genuine attempts to reconcile the communities.
Western diplomatic efforts in the Balkans throughout the 1990s were consistently predicated on the flawed logic of ethnic hatreds. Violence in the region was portrayed as the consequence of embedded ethnic prejudices, rather than Western interference. Whenever Western diplomatic initiatives failed, as they invariably did, it was because the locals couldn’t extricate themselves from their primitive ethnic identities and genetic predilection for violence. If the region were to ever become civilized, the argument went, order would have to be forcibly imposed by the West.
This contemporary variant of the “white man’s burden” has engendered among Western actors in the Balkans a psychological detachment from the consequences of their actions and imbued the myriad “internationals” who wield enormous power throughout the region with a sense of cultural and political superiority. It is, therefore, not surprising that Holkeri could survey the wreckage of the March riots without seeing any correlation between the violence and Western actions. In reality, the violence did not occur despite Western involvement in Kosovo, but because of it.
W here, then, did it all go wrong? Throughout the 1990s the EU and the U.S., at the behest of then-ally Miloševic, declared Kosovo an “internal matter” and the issue was consciously ignored. The lack of any provision relating to Kosovo in the Dayton Accords enflamed the Kosovar Albanians and support gradually shifted from the pacifist LDK party to the Kosova Liberation Army. By 1998, the conflict had escalated dramatically and Western politicians became concerned that the conflict might spread to Macedonia where it could potentially engulf key NATO allies Greece and Turkey. After a number of initiatives failed, the Kosovar Albanians and the Yugoslavs were ordered to peace talks at Rambouillet, France in February 1999.
Despite the lofty rhetoric proffered at the time, it is now clear that Rambouillet was not a genuine attempt to achieve a settlement. In April 2000, Madeline Albright’s personal secretary James Rubin admitted, “Our internal goal was not to get a peace agreement at Rambouillet.” The real internal U.S. goal was “to get a war started with the Europeans locked in,” by orchestrating a situation whereby the Yugoslav delegation would be made to appear intransigent and beyond diplomatic reason. This was achieved through the dismissal of repeated compromises suggested by the Yugoslavs and the determined courting, by U.S. officials, of the Kosovar Albanian delegation and, in particular, KLA leader, Hashim Thaçi.
According to Pleurat Sejdiu, a Kosovar press spokesperson at Rambouillet, “It was an open secret that while sequestered with Hashim Thaçi, Albright was telling him that his delegation had to sign because otherwise NATO could not carry out its threat.” In a press statement on April 21, Rubin admitted, “All of the officials who have worked on this have made very clear that in order to move towards military action, it has to be clear that the Serbs were responsible.” On April 23, Albright declared, “It’s now up to the Kosovar Albanians to create this black or white situation.”
During the two-week break in negotiations, increased U.S. pressure was exerted on the Kosovar Albanians and the KLA in particular. Nightly broadcasts of “Agreement for Peace,” comprising interviews with senior U.S. officials urging the Kosovars to sign, produced by the United States Information Agency, were aired on Albanian television. No similar effort was made in Serbia. When the talks resumed Albright assured the Kosovar Albanians, “You’ll get NATO to protect your people. Don’t mind the small print because you will be running the show and many of the problems in the text will be irrelevant.” The U.S.-led propaganda campaign worked and as LeBor writes, “The Albanians signed in much the same spirit that the Bosnian government had agreed to various peace plans—knowing that as the Serbs would reject them, they might as well take the diplomatic credit.” The Yugoslavs refused, largely on the basis of the provisions of Annex B, which sanctioned the deployment of an implementation force comprised exclusively of NATO troops. In addition to immunity from prosecution, the annex stipulated, “NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including associated airspace and territorial waters.” This was tantamount to asking Yugoslavia to surrender its sovereignty as there was no logical reason why any implementation force deployed to oversee political transitions in Kosovo should have had the right to travel throughout Vojvodina and Montenegro.
In 2000, Lord Gilbert, minister of state in the British Ministry of Defense from 1997-1999, outlined the West’s motives at the negotiations when he stated to the Defense Select Committee of the House of Commons, “I think certain people were spoiling for a fight in NATO at that time.... If you ask my personal view, I think the terms put to Miloševic at Rambouillet were absolutely intolerable; how could he possibly accept them; it was quite deliberate. That does not excuse an awful lot of other things, but we were at a point when some people felt that something had to be done, so you just provoked a fight.” The Yugoslav delegation had consistently stated they were willing to “discuss the scope and character of the international presence in Kosovo,” but would not agree to an exclusively NATO force. The proposed security provisions afforded to NATO were more expansive than even the Kosovar Albanians had sought. The Independent International Commission on Kosovo concluded that compromising on this aspect of the deal was “an obvious negotiating opening that might have broken the impasse.” NATO, however, insisted the provisions were non-negotiable, thereby deliberately choosing war over diplomacy. Significantly, the deal brokered by the EU and Russia that ended the air strikes omitted the contentious provisions rejected at Rambouillet.
T he immediate consequence of NATO’s bombardment was to escalate the suffering endured by the Kosovar Albanians. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, warned his political superiors that without a ground contingent reprisals against the Kosovars were “inevitable.” However, fearing a backlash against U.S. casualties, President Clinton insisted that the intervention be limited to air strikes. NATO pilots were instructed to fly at 15,000 feet to avoid anti-aircraft fire, while a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions erupted on the ground. NATO’s priorities were obvious. The wholly inadequate provisions made for the “inevitable” exodus further exacerbated the plight of the Kosovars. Neither the UN High Commission for Refugees nor the governments of Albania or Macedonia were readied for the crisis, prompting Macedonian Prime Minister Ljupco Geogijevski to lament, “The people in Brussels started this war then left for the Easter holidays.”
The manner in which the military campaign was prosecuted belied its humanitarian motives. As detailed by Amnesty International and even the normally pro-U.S. Human Rights Watch, NATO dropped cluster bombs and depleted uranium, bombed television stations, hospitals, and water treatment facilities, purposely targeting civilians. Yet the bombing impacted negligibly on the Yugoslav security forces responsible for the expulsions. Robert Hayden, Director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, noted, “The casualties among Serb civilians in the first three weeks of the war were higher than all the casualties on both sides in the three months that led up to the war, and yet those three months were supposed to be a humanitarian catastrophe.” When asked if he was worried about an investigation into NATO war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea stated candidly that he was “certain” no investigation would take place because “NATO is a friend of the Tribunal…. NATO countries are those that have provided the finances to set up the Tribunal, we are among the major financiers.” In June 2000, the ICTY issued its report on NATO’s conduct of the war. The report notes that answers given by NATO to specific questions “were couched in general terms and failed to address the specific incidents.” However, in what was a damning indictment of its supposed impartiality, the Tribunal decided not to pursue the matter further having based its investigation on “statements made by NATO and NATO countries,” which the Tribunal “tended to assume were generally reliable…and honestly given.”
A ccording to a November 2003 report by the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, based on data from the Red Cross, the UN, and the ICTY, 1,192 Serbs and 593 other nationals had been murdered in Kosovo since the deployment of 21,000 NATO peacekeepers in June 1999. Up to 200,000 Serbs and 67,000 Slavic Muslims were estimated to have fled the region, while a further 790 people remained unaccounted for. The number of non-Albanian refugees who have returned to Kosovo is, according to the UN Security Council, “ a small fraction of the number of Kosovo Serbs internally displaced in Serbia and Montenegro.” A 2003 Amnesty International report outlined the appalling conditions endured by non-Albanians, noting, “Serbs and other ethnic minorities in Kosovo remain at serious risk of death or injury…beatings, stabbings, abductions, drive-by shootings and the use of hand grenades to intimidate and kill members of these minorities are common in the province.” The fortunes of the Albanian community have improved, yet, under the aegis of the UN and NATO, one form of ethnic oppression has replaced another. NATO and the UN’s inability and unwillingness to stop the violence against the minority population has stifled the development of a civil society essential to the functioning of any democracy. Institutional paralysis in Kosovo has been accompanied by an accentuation of the original societal fissure.
NATO’s bombing campaign further soured relations between Kosovars and Serbs and the wider Slavic community. In Vojvodina, where previously there was significant support for the Kosovars plight, the NATO bombardment provoked an upsurge in resentment towards the Kosovar Albanians among both the Serb and Hungarian population. Within Serbia and throughout the Balkans, the NATO intervention induced a degree of pan-Slavic solidarity that has negatively impacted on any support the Kosovar Albanians may have previously had.
Kosovo’s ombudsperson, Marek Antoni Nowicki, reported to the Council of Europe in February 2004 that human rights in Kosovo were “far from the minimum of international standards,” warning that it is the intent of certain sections of the Albanian community to “cleanse this land from the presence of all Serbs.” His words proved prophetic in mid-March when Kosovar Albanians went on the rampage in Northern Kosovo. The spark for the violence was the allegation that Serbs had chased three Albanian children to their deaths with wild dogs. This later proved untrue, with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, among others, stating that the violence was orchestrated well in advance by elements within the Albanian community.
The frustration felt by ethnic Albanians is understandable. Having initially welcomed NATO and the UN as emancipators, Kosovar Albanians soon realized that their faith in the West was misplaced. UN Security Council resolution 1244, drafted to consolidate the post-war situation, reaffirmed “The commitment of all member states to the sovereign and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.” This explicit recognition of Belgrade’s authority over Kosovo is an anathema to the Albanian community. As Michael Mandelbaum, director of American Foreign Policy at John Hopkins University, notes, “NATO intervened in a civil war and defeated one side, but embraced the position of the party it had defeated on the issue over which the war was fought.” The UN Mission In Kosovo (UNMIK) has been unable to overcome this inherent paradox in Kosovo’s status. With UNMIK now administering the province, the Kosovar Albanian’s lack of influence over political power in the region persists and, according to Aldo Blumi, executive director of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, “What has changed in Kosovo since June 1999 is the nature of rule not the discursive relationship between power and subjects.”
As new concerns have come to dominate the international agenda, the final status of Kosovo has stagnated without any diminution of the Serbs’ or Albanians’ mutually exclusive claims on the province. In December 2003, UNMIK stipulated that no examination of Kosovo’s final status would take place until certain political and humanitarian standards were reached, suggesting 2006 as the earliest date. UNMIK thus looks likely to emulate the UN administration in Bosnia that has now run eight years over its original remit with few signs of a resolution of the underlying problems. As David Chandler has noted, “The ethnic Albanians are discovering that removing Belgrade appointees from positions of power is not necessarily a step towards greater autonomy or self rule.” UNMIK’s lack of a clear exit strategy and the central paradox of refusing to endorse Kosovar independence while negating Serbia’s influence, has meant that since Operation Allied Force, UNMIK has become isolated from both communities. The ethnic Albanians’ calls for self-determination have become increasingly militant in the face of UN prevarication on Kosovo’s final status. The attacks in March against the UN and NATO, as well as the Serbs, illustrate the depth of Albanian frustrations.
As in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, the political solution imposed by external actors in Kosovo have been based on those imagined nationalist fissures that created the initial tension. UNMIK has institutionalized the ethnic divisions that emerged in the province and, while in the short term this is conducive to the reduction of tension, the underlying fissure between ethnic groups will eventually impact on the functioning of the political system. In Northern Ireland the division between Unionists and Nationalists persists and no cross-cultural political movement has achieved electoral success since the Belfast Agreement came into effect in 1998.
The imposition of ethnic homogenization in Bosnia, as defined by the terms of Dayton, has all but destroyed the inter-cultural climate that existed in the country prior to the conflagration that erupted in the 1990s. The international community has mistakenly perceived ethnic disharmony in these regions as a product of local prejudices and accepted them as a permanent fixture. This perspective fails to appreciate the divisive influence of external actors in provoking the disintegration of inter-community relations. The imposition, therefore, of political provisions based on these false fissures and contrived differences is inherently flawed. As Blumi states, “The world should be appalled at the UN’s adoption of ethnic categories to parcel out a number of operational domains for Kosovo’s population. Unless reversed, any future interaction between Kosovars will be permanently based on criteria beyond their control; giving self asserted nationalists veto over any policy inside Kosovo.
In tandem with the political reforms imposed on Kosovo, Western officials have undertaken an aggressive privatization policy. Despite the influx of EU and U.S. loans, unemployment stands at 57 percent. This has added to the disillusionment and discontent. According to UNMIK economist Iain King, what growth there has been in Kosovo since OAF has been almost wholly the result of external support, based largely on loans and aid packages. Imports outnumber exports by ten to one and, as King notes, “Much of the new wealth earned in Kosovo is being used to create jobs elsewhere. The combination of external management and monetary support has meant that Kosovo’s economy is arguably less independent today than when under Tito’s economic system of workers management.
The intervention in Kosovo illustrates that military victory is less important to future stability than a coherent post-conflict Administration, yet the crises in both Afghanistan and Iraq show that this lesson has not been learned. By siding with the Albanian community and intervening on their behalf, to the extent of cooperating with the KLA whose expressed aim is an ethnically pure Kosovo, the international community accentuated the divisions in Kosovo, hardening Serbian hearts to the Albanian’s cause, and imbuing the Albanians with a sense of righteous infallibility. The current efforts to institutionalize the existing impermanence will continue to prove futile unless the oppression of the minority population is stopped and a coherent plan for the final status of Kosovo is implemented.
Rather than heralding the intervention, the international community should decry the moral duplicity, violence, and political inertia that has characterized the record of the UN and NATO during the past five years in Kosovo. The combination of empty rhetoric, administrative impotence, and a UN-aided entrenchment of aggressive ethnic identification bodes ill for the future stability of “the powder keg of Europe” and illustrate the limits of the West’s “nation building” capabilities. The adverse consequences of the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have been more immediately obvious, but the effects of the U.S.-led campaign in Kosovo, and the subsequent mishandling of the post war situation, are becoming apparent. The violence in Mitrovica may be just the beginning. Of course, when further violent unrest does return to the region don’t expect any admissions of Western culpability—those endemic ancient ethnic hatreds will be to blame.
Aidan Hehir is currently lecturing on Comparative European Politics with the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Limerick and has spent the last four years researching NATO’s 1999 military intervention in Kosovo.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.