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Diana Johnstone: Notes on the Kosovo Problem   and the International

Notes on the Kosovo Problem   and the International Community

Outside Intervention

At news of violence in Kosovo, the main question immediately raised in the
European Union (EU) and the United States by editorialists, commentators
and politicians has been, "what can, what should we do about it?"

Outside intervention in the Balkans is a very old story. However, its
recent revival in terms of a universal moral imperative owes much to two
recent developments:
- Television coverage focusing especially on violent manifestations of
problems, creating the impression, or illusion, that "everybody knows what
is happening".
- The existence of a single world superpower, the United States, with its
extensions in NATO, "the West", the "international community", and the
organizations it dominates (usually including the United Nations, not to
mention the OSCE, the World Bank, the IMF, etc.). Such concentration of
power creates the impression that "the international community" is
potentially able, through use of primarily American military power, to
achieve by force whatever it decides to do. The corollary of this
assumption is that people, or at least governments, which fail to interfere
are "guilty" of complicity in the "crimes" being committed.
This mixture of image and power has radically devalorized the role of
discreet diplomatic mediation, which is by nature neither visible nor
forceful, and is easily portrayed as craven and lacking in moral resolve.
The issue for the international community is presented in terms of wielding
"carrots" and especially "sticks", rather than in terms of understanding
and reconciling the fears, interests and possibilities of the populations
directly involved.
A third development, which follows naturally, is the deliberate political
exploitation of the first two - the media coverage and the potential of the
U.S. and its subsidiary allies to intervene militarily. It is now possible,
notably, for a secessionist or irredentist movement to hope to achieve its
aims primarily, if not solely, by mobilizing these two forces. This is a
lesson of the Yugoslav situation.
Regarding Kosovo, the basic political issue is the status of the province
of Kosovo-Metohija as a part of Serbia (in turn a part of rump Yugoslavia)
or as an independent State free to become part of a Greater Albania.
The two sides in this political conflict have opposing strategies which are
totally and intimately linked to the issue of international intervention. *
The entire strategy of the ethnic Albanian side in the past decade has been
based on mobilizing international support, first political and eventually
military, on behalf of Kosovo's secession from Serbia. This is an
elaborated, long-term strategy with clear aims and clear methods of
achieving them. It is vigorously supported by the Albanian diaspora,
notably in Germany, the United States and Turkey. The ethnic Albanian
demand for secession is not at all, as commonly portrayed, a reaction to
repression by Slobodan Milosevic. It was there first. It draws on a
century-old nationalist movement which from its inception has turned to
outside powers for decisive support in the realization of its objectives.
This aspiration, like all the other centrifugal forces let loose in former
Yugoslavia, received major encouragement from the international community's
recognition in the winter of 1991-92 of the right of Slovenia and Croatia
to unnegotiated secession as independent, essentially ethnically defined,
States (1). In 1988 and 1989, Yugoslavia and Serbia made constitutional
changes revoking the extremely extensive autonomy accorded the Autonomous
Province of Kosovo by the 1974 Constitution. The international community
has uncritically condemned these changes, accepting their characterization
as an instrument of Serbian oppression. Three factors have been commonly
ignored: however unwelcome to the ethnic Albanian leaders, these changes
were widely supported in Serbia as necessary to enable the realization of
the economic liberalization reforms; they were enacted legally; and they
left intact the political rights of ethnic Albanians as well as a
considerable degree of regional autonomy. One can only speculate to what
extent, without the prospect of decisive outside intervention on their
behalf, the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo might have tried to make use of the
existing legal framework. They could, for instance, have voted to fill 42
of the 250 seats in the Serbian parliament with their representatives.
Instead, boycotting participation in the institutions and political life of
the Serbian State has led the ethnic Albanian population into a sort of
internal secession, denounced to foreign sympathizers by those who have
instituted it as "apartheid". Meanwhile, the successful boycott of the
Serbian schools has produced a generation of ethnic Albanians whose
educated members speak English better than Serbian and are thus much better
prepared to win international support than to communicate with Serbian
* The Serbian government, in contrast, has had no visible strategy other
than to keep the international community at bay by insisting that the
Kosovo problem is an "internal affair". This is too static a policy to
deserve to be called a strategy, in fact. Milosevic has used the ethnic
Albanian boycott of Serbian elections to bolster his party's parliamentary
majority with the Kosovo seats, but this is no more than a short-range
political advantage. The fact that in all the other conflicts in
ex-Yugoslavia, the international community has taken the anti-Serb side,
and that even after Dayton the "outer wall of sanctions" was maintained
only against Serbia, ostensibly as pressure to "solve the Kosovo problem",
is enough to convince Serbs that however little they have to hope for from
Milosevic, they have nothing to hope for from the "international community"
* The nature of these conflicting strategies leads to a structural bias in
favor of the ethnic Albanians on the part of the international community,
that is, of its influential components: the United States government first
of all, which is virtually invited by ethnic Albanian leaders to come in
and take over; NATO, whose new mission can be practiced and enhanced; and
all the numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations which find
in the troubles of former Yugoslavia a perfect laboratory and justification
for the extension of their own operations.
What is actually being done by the international community in regard to
Kosovo resembles very much what was done in the first stages of the wars of
Slovenian and Croatian secession. At first, the United States took the
position that it opposed the breakup of the existing nation of Yugoslavia,
but rapidly added the proviso that it would oppose any use of force by that
nation's armed forces to prevent the breakup. These contradictory signals
both gave the green light to Belgrade to reject secession and encouraged
the secessionists to go ahead with their plans, while the resulting
confusion, and hesitancy, within the Yugoslav Armed Forces, hastened
desertion by both officers and soldiers and the formation of irregular
armed militia along ethnic lines.
The same pattern is being repeated in regard to Kosovo. The U.S.-led
international community is officially opposed to independence for Kosovo,
but is also opposed to use of force by Belgrade to disarm the increasingly
violent secessionists. While ostensibly accepting Belgrade's sovereignty,
this ambiguous position has encouraged secessionists to provoke armed
encounters which are promptly and vehemently blamed on the Serbs. Serbia
has for years been subjected to extremely severe sanctions - economic and
even cultural - continued to this day by an "outer wall" (unilaterally
imposed by the U.S. with European consent) that keeps it out of
international organizations. Serbia is an international pariah, its people
largely invisible except for the glimpses selected by unsympathetic
international news media. Since compromises are most easily made from
positions of strength, the continued pressure and threats weakening Serbia
are scarcely conducive to largesse.
The occasion statements by U.S. officials reproving "violence" on the part
of Albanian Kosovo separatists are toothless and in no way balance the
demands on Belgrade to solve the Kosovo problem "or else". It takes two
parties to reach a compromise. When pressure is put only on one side to
compromise, there is absolutely no incitement to the other party to do so.
At present, the Albanians can be reasonably sure that if the situation is
allowed to deteriorate, the inevitable Serbian repression will only
strengthen their position vis-Š-vis the international community.
At present, the ethnic Albanian nationalist leaders are demanding
international intervention sight unseen, convinced as they are - and with
good reason - that they have won the international community to their side.
Serbs reject it for essentially the same reason.
Certainly nothing could be more welcome than a truly fair and unbiased
international mediation. An even better solution would be the emergence in
Serbia of leaders from both the Serbian and ethnic Albanian communities
with the ability to reach out to each other in the manner of a Nelson
Mandela. Unfortunately, there is as yet no sign of the triumph of such
wisdom (2). If anything, the bullying pressure being applied on one side
only, combined with a deliberate impoverishment of the country which leaves
no margin for generosity, works against such a dynamic.

II - Who Belongs in Kosovo?

The presumed fact that 90% of the population of Kosovo is ethnic Albanian
(3) is increasingly cited as an implicit justification of their separatist
demands by people in Europe and America who would never draw such a
conclusion regarding the presence of large ethnic concentrations in other
countries, starting with their own.
The fact that Kosovo was the cradle of the medieval Serbian kingdom is
noted without sympathy as a quaint archaism by Western commentators who
seem more impressed by the claim of ethnic Albanians to be the successors
of the ancient Illyrians, the first inhabitants of the Western, and who
recently have even been adopting ethnic Albanian place names and
terminology (4). Albanian nationalists cherish identification with the
unknown Illyrians because they feel it gives them a stronger right to be
there than the Slavs who settled there as farmers in the 6th century.
Serbian historians regard the Albanian claim of descent from the Illyrians
as plausible but irrelevant, inasmuch as both Serbs and Albanians have
inhabited the area for many centuries (5). Historians readily acknowledge
that Albanian feudal lords, who at the time were Christians enjoying equal
rights within the Serbian medieval state, fought alongside Serbian knights
at the battle of Kosovo in 1389.
The conflict between Serbs and Albanians developed three centuries later,
following the mass exodus from Southern Serbia in 1690 of Christians
(including Albanians), who were resettled by the Habsburg monarchy in its
border lands, the Krajina, as a result of wars between the Ottoman and
Habsburg empires. The mountaineers who resettled the plains of Kosovo in
the 18th century were actively converted to Islam by the Turks, who
regarded their Christian subjects, not without reason, as potential
subversives in alliance with the Catholic Habsburgs (6). From that time on,
various outside powers have found it in their interest to accentuate
differences and conflicts between ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians. The
ethnic Albanians who had converted to Islam by the 19th century gained
privileges (to bear arms, serve in the administration and collect taxes)
denied the Christian population. Such privileges stood in the way of
development of an Albanian nationalism parallel to the 19th century
Serbian, Greek and Bulgarian national liberation movements. When Albanian
feudal lords did revolt, it was rather to try to retain these privileges
than to achieve an independent State of equal citizens. This historic
difference has had ideological consequences. Because they were deprived of
equal rights under Ottoman rule, the Serb leaders adopted an egalitarian
political philosophy borrowed from France as appropriate to their national
liberation struggle in the 19th century. This meant advocacy of a state of
equal citizens enjoying equal rights. The practice certainly did not always
live up to the principles. But there is a significant and practical
difference between a nation that proclaims principles of equal citizenship
and one that does not. The tradition is there to be encouraged - which is
not accomplished by dogmatically denying its existence.
The coexistence of Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo raises the question of the
terms of a multi-ethnic state. The Republic of Serbia defines itself, in
Article 1 of its Constitution, as "a democratic State of all the citizens
who live in it", without reference to ethnic identity, in contrast to
Croatia or Macedonia. Serbia is in fact the most multi-ethnic State in the
Balkans; one third of its citizens are non-Serbs, with rights equal to all
others. Serbs from other countries cannot automatically claim Serbian
citizenship, in contrast to Croats living in Bosnia, for example, who vote
in Croatian elections. Formally at least, the ethnic Albanian residents of
Kosovo have more citizenship rights in Serbia than the many ethnic Serb
refugees who have flooded into Serbia from Croatia and Bosnia since the
collapse of Yugoslavia. But they refuse to exercise them.
Rights that are spurned wither away. The fact that Serbia is suffering from
international sanctions is an incentive to leave it. Montenegro, a country
historically "more Serb than Serbia", has elected (admittedly with votes of
ethnic Albanians) a new President who is taking his distance from Belgrade,
to the applause of the "international community" which dangles the prospect
of lucrative investments before a government which might deprive Serbia of
its last access to the Mediterranean. The desire to escape from the
hardships visited on Serbia is even strengthening separatist impulses among
the Serbian ethnic majority in Voivodina. In short, the policy of punishing
Belgrade is leading to the further disintegration of the last truly
multi-ethnic country in the Balkans - all in the name of "multi-ethnicism".
This centrifugal movement can only produce endless conflict and flight from
the troubled region.

III - What is the Danger of "Ethnic Cleansing"?

Given recent precedents, international armed intervention is most likely to
be drawn into Kosovo by public perception that Serbs are engaging in
"ethnic cleansing" and must be stopped and punished.
Such a perception has been being anticipated and prepared for years. The
preface to a 1993 book (7) predicted that: "One can expect that ... the
Belgrade regime, frustrated but not thoroughly defeated in
Bosnia-Herzegovina, will be tempted to open up another theatre of war, most
obviously in Kosovo, which would become one more victim of military
aggression and 'ethnic cleansing'." Five years later, Madeleine Albright
was saying substantially the same thing. At the 9 March London meeting of
the "Contact Group", Ms Albright compared Serbian police actions in Kosovo
to "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia and declared: "We are not going to stand by
and watch the Serb authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get
away with doing in Bosnia".
The logic of such predictions is neither political nor strategic, but
psychological, of a Manichean type: the wicked "greater Serb" will take out
"frustration" suffered in Bosnia by inflicting "ethnic cleansing" on
Kosovo. This is the type of reasoning that flows naturally from ethnic
stereotypes, in which one ethnic group is demonized, that is, is portrayed
as enjoying evil action for its own sake. Given the widespread adoption of
that stereotype concerning the Serbs, there was always a great probability
that the inevitable clashes in Kosovo would be interpreted by international
media as yet another instance of Serbian "ethnic cleansing" of non-Serbs.
Still, it was surprising to see how quickly a police action - brutal but
limited - targeting armed rebels was characterized as "ethnic cleansing"
and even "genocide" by editorialists and politicians.

Ethnic cleansing and the "Memorandum" of the Serbian Academy

The various ethnic separatisms that have won their pieces of former
Yugoslavia have found it useful to blame the wars of secession in Slovenia,
Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina on a supposed deliberate project to create a
"Greater Serbia". Under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic, this
"aggression" is said to have followed a program for ethnic cleansing set
out in a 1986 Memorandum written by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and
Arts in Belgrade.
The notion that the "Memorandum" was a sort of "Mein Kampf" of "Greater
Serbia" has received such acceptance that it even shows up in a French
text-book for advanced high school students:
"Ethnic cleansing: theory elaborated [mise au point] by members of the
Belgrade Academy of Sciences and advocating ethnic homogenization of the
territories of former Yugoslavia inhabited by Serbs, by using terror to
drive out the other populations to allow definitive annexation of these
territories by Serbia." - Pierre Milza & Serge Berstein, Histoire
terminale, Hatier, 1993, p.330.
It is therefore relevant to look at the passages in that infamous but
largely unread "Memorandum" which deal with Kosovo and which include its
only references to "ethnic cleansing". They also are the passages which go
farthest in what could be considered "Serbian national pathos", the earlier
part of the document consisting of a more prosaic analysis of Yugoslavia's
economic problems.
In its most controversial section, the draft document (the Memorandum was
published in draft form by its political enemies in 1986, the better to
denounce it) took up recent complaints by the dwindling Serbian minority in
Kosovo that they were being driven out of the province by acts of hostility
from the ethnic Albanian majority, which at the time enjoyed political
control. The "Memorandum" denounced what it called "the physical,
political, legal and cultural genocide of the Serbian population of Kosovo
and Metohija". It described the Albanian nationalist demonstrations which
began in 1981, a year after Tito's death, as the declaration of "a very
special but total war" against the Serbian people.
"The Albanian nationalists, the political leaders of Kosovo, with
well-defined tactics and a clear objective, have begun to destroy
inter-ethnic relations founded on equal rights, for which Serbs had fought
hardest in Kosovo and Metohija. The autonomous region, at the favorable
moment, obtained the rank of autonomous province, then the status of
'constituent part of the Federation' and benefits from greater prerogatives
that the rest of the Republic to which it formally belongs. The next step
of the 'escalation', the Albanization of Kosovo and Metohija, has been
prepared in perfect legality. In the same way, the unification of the
literary language, of the name of the nation, of the flag and of the
schoolbooks with those of Albania following Tirana's instructions, was done
in a way quite as open as the border between the two countries. Plots which
ordinarily are carried out in secret were fomented in Kosovo not only
openly but ostentatiously."
The "Memorandum" predicted that unless a fundamental change was made
meanwhile, in ten years there would be no more Serbs in Kosovo, but rather
"an ethnically pure Kosovo". If, it warned, "genuine security and equality
under the law for all peoples living in Kosovo and Metohija are not
established, if objective and lasting conditions are not created favoring
the return of the people driven out, that part of the Republic of Serbia
will become a European problem with very grave consequences. Kosovo
represents a key point in the Balkans. Ethnic diversity in many territories
of the Balkans corresponds to the ethnic composition of the Balkan
peninsula and the demand for an ethnically pure Albanian Kosovo is not only
a heavy and direct threat to all the peoples who are in a minority there
but, if achieved, it will set off a wave of expansion threatening all the
peoples of Yugoslavia..."
However excessive this description of the situation may have been, it
clearly was not the elaboration of a "theory" advocating ethnic cleansing
of other peoples by Serbs, but rather the expression of a fear that Serbs
would be "ethnically cleansed" from Kosovo by the Albanian majority there.
The political conclusions that could be and in fact were drawn from the
arguments put forth in the "Memorandum" were quite simply the
constitutional changes enacted two years later to revoke the extreme
autonomy granted in 1974 (8). Whether they are described as "terrorists",
"freedom fighters" or, more neutrally, guerrillas, it is undeniable that
armed bands exist in Kosovo, have carried out armed attacks and have
declared their intention to carry out more. There is no government in the
world that could stand back and allow such groups to operate unhindered.
Sympathizers with the ethnic Albanian movement commonly present it as an
exemplary non-violent resistance to oppression, in the tradition of Gandhi,
and explain the recent turn to violence by impatience resulting from the
failure of the international community to reward the peaceful leadership of
Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK). This is of course an
idealized over-simplification of a more complex and ambiguous situation. It
is indeed true that Mr. Rugova has opted for non-violence, as a part of his
strategy of winning international support. However, it is not true that the
turn to violence is only a recent development. First of all, in a region
prone to violence, the Albanians have traditionally been even more
associated with recourse to arms than any of their neighbors, excepting
perhaps the Montenegrins. Non-violence is thus perhaps too recent an
innovation to be totally credible, especially since the contemporary
movement itself, before producing Rugova's LDK, had already begun in a more
militant mould. The guerrillas of the "Kosova Liberation Army", the UCK
(Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves), are a continuation of a decades-long
underground movement.
"The roots of the underground groups reach far back to the sixties and
seventies", according to an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
by Stephan Lipsius (9). "The oldest of the organizations currently active
both in Kosovo and abroad is the 'Kosova People's Movement' (LPK). It was
founded in German on 17 February 1982 as the 'People's Movement for a
Kosova Republic' (LPRK). This was not a new founding, but rather a merger
of the following four previously independent underground organizations: the
'National Liberation Movement of Kosova and of the Other Albanian Regions
of Yugoslavia' (LNCKVSHJ), the 'Marxist-Leninist Organization of Kosova'
(OMLK), the 'Communist Marxist-Leninist Party of the Albanians in
Yugoslavia' (PKMLSHJ) as well as the 'Red Popular Front' (FKB)."
"The political goals of the LPK include unification of all Albanians in
former Yugoslavia, that is in Kosovo, Macedonian, Montenegro and South
Serbia, in a common State. Contrary to the non-conspiratorially active
Kosovar parties headed by the LDK, the LPK does not basically reject
violence as a means of political conflict. The LPK calls for political and
financial support to the UCK, but so far does not take part in armed
ambushes or bomb attacks." UCK communiques and announcements are published
in the LPK paper Zeri i Kosoves, leading to speculation that the LPK is the
political arm of the UCK, according to Lipsius. Next to the LPK and the UCK
is a third underground organization in Kosovo. Least is known about this
one. It is the 'National Movement for the Liberation of Kosova' (LKCK). It
was founded on 25 May 1993 in Pristina. Some founding members of the LKCK
had left the LPK out of political differences or personal animosities with
the LPK party leadership. Officially the reason for the split was the
growing programmatic rapprochement between the LPK and the LDK. Contrary to
the strictly non-violent policy of the LDK, the LKCK demanded militant
action against the Serbian rulers. In addition the LCKC is for a State
unifying all Albanian-inhabited regions of former Yugoslavia with Albania,
that is for construction of a Greater Albania. The LKCK does not support
the existence of the self-designated 'Kosova Republic'.
The LKCK has a political and a military arm, the so-called 'LKCK
Guerrilla'. Contrary to the UCK, the LCKC Guerrilla has not yet undertaken
military actions or attacks. The reason is that for the LKCK, the time for
application of the entire Kosovar military potential has not yet come. The
second general assembly of the LCKC proposed a Four-Phase Model for the
'Liberation of the occupied areas'. The first phase is marked by political
education work in the population and structural preparation. In the second
phase begin armed individual actions, while the third phase will see the
unification of the LCKC, the LPK and the UCK as the 'National Front for the
Liberation of Kosova'. The joint military actions undertaken in the third
phase should lead in the fourth phase to popular uprising and total
mobilization of all forces. According to information from LCKC circles, we
are now in the second phase. And meanwhile, thanks in part to the collapse
of order in Albania last year, the Kosovar rebels are better armed than
ever. There are unconfirmed rumors that the guerrillas of the "Kosovo
Liberation Army" (UCK) in the Drenica region are threatening aircraft with
stinger missiles, and that this is why the police undertook to try to
recapture control of the region in the first days of March. If the UCK do
not yet have "stinger" missiles, put into general circulation by the US via
Afghan Muslim guerrillas in the 1980s, they soon will have. It is
well-known that the Albanian irredentist movement is financed not only by
taxing its own people but also by drug-smuggling through the Balkans,
notoriously in the hands of ethnic Albanian clans (10). Buying light arms
is no problem. While Rugova traveled freely between his Pristina
headquarters and Western capitals winning support for his non-violent
struggle, the violent phase of the struggle got underway. In 1996, there
were 31 political assassinations in Kosovo. The targets were Serb officials
but also ethnic Albanians condemned as "collaborators" - the better to
destroy the last bridges between the two communities. The pace quickened in
1997, with 55 assassinations. While Rugova was claiming that the UCK was a
figment of Serb propaganda, guerrillas raided eleven police stations in
coordinated attacks in September 1997 before making a first public
appearance, armed, uniformed and masked, before a crowd of 20,000 at a
funeral on 28 November 1997. In January 1998, a UCK statement issued in
Pristina announced that the battle for unification of Kosovo with Albania
had begun. The number of killings escalated, with 66 killed before the
massive Serbian police operation against guerrilla bases in the Drenica
region in early March 1998.
No government on earth could be expected to remain passive in the face of
armed bands that have claimed 152 lives in a little over two years - least
of all the government in Washington. It would be hard to find a precedent
for the United States' threat to impose heavy sanctions and freeze the
foreign assets of the legitimate government of a country faced with such an
armed insurgency unless it withdraws its police forces and leaves the
rebels unmolested.

What is "ethnic cleansing"? While everybody is against it, few seem
interested in understanding its real meaning and causes as the basis for
combatting it. The prevalent attitude, in the depoliticized public
consciousness of the 1990s, is to see it as a sort of
pure evil, an expression of racist or ethnic hatred which surges from "the
darkness of the human soul" (rhetoric of a speech by U.S. Vice President
Albert Gore) for no reason. The only remedy envisaged is punishment.
In the Balkans, "ethnic cleansing" is rarely a proclaimed policy. A notable
exception is the Croatian Ustasha movement's deliberate policy of
eliminating Serbs and other minorities from the lands of Croatian "historic
rights" which it controlled during World War II. Croatian extremists in the
Ustasha tradition have taken up both the theory and the practice in
Tudjman's Croatia. The Tudjman regime has not openly adopted the theory but
has tolerated the practice, with the result that Croatia has in fact been
"ethnically cleansed" of the vast majority of its Serbian population in the
most thorough and successful operation of the kind in the former
Yugoslavia. The international community has not punished Croatia. On the
contrary, the Zagreb government has been substantially rewarded by
membership in international organizations and foreign investment, both
denied Serbia. In general, ethnic cleansing, that is, the expulsion of
members of a different ethnic group from a disputed area, arises from fear
that their presence will serve to justify rival claims for political
control of that territory. Nothing is better designed to stimulate such
fears than the prospect that from now on, an ethnic group claiming a local
majority represents a threat of secession from the country in which it
finds itself.
Once the international community gave its assent to the unnegotiated
disintegration of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia into ethnically-defined States,
the struggle was on for control of territory along ethnic lines. In this
struggle, Serbs, Croats, Muslims, and Albanians have all accused their
territorial rivals of "genocide". These accusations reflect both genuine
fears and political calculation, and outsiders should be prudent in echoing
such inflammatory terms. In the West, emphasis on "genocide" by analogy
with totally different historic situations has obscured the primary
political cause of "ethnic cleansing": fear that the presence of members of
a politically organized ethnic group will be used to support territorial
The presence on the small territory of Kosovo of two armed camps indeed
threatens to lead to a bloody and terrible conflict. In the propaganda
skirmishes leading up to such a conflict, the Serbs have once again lost
the labelling battle. Their label for their armed adversaries, "terrorist",
has been reluctantly endorsed by US proconsul Robert Gelbard, before being
dropped as soon as Serbian authorities acted accordingly. On the other
hand, the ethnic Albanian label for Serbian actions, "ethnic cleansing",
has been taken up at the highest level of the international community, as
well as by a chorus of commentators and petition signers.
The notion that early denunciation of ethnic cleansing will help to prevent
massacres is probably dead wrong. On the contrary, such highly-charged
overstatement contributes to emotional polarization, to mutual fear and
suspicion, to suppositions about NATO intervention, and above all to the
sort of desperation on both sides that can lead people to commit desperate
and terrible acts. Leaders of both the Serbian state and the ethnic
Albanian nationalists have proclaimed their willingness to accept
cohabitation between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians. The wiser course is to
accept this declaration of principle on its face value and to consider any
acts contrary to this principle as deviations from mutually accepted

IV - Are the Serbs Willing to Compromise?

Dobrica Cosic, Serbia's leading novelist, often characterized as the
spiritual father of the national revival, proposed partition of
Kosovo-Metohija as a way of solving the conflict between Serbs and
Albanians (11). As President of Yugoslavia in 1992 and 1993, Cosic raised
the possibility on various occasions, such as when speaking to the foreign
affairs committee of the European Parliament in Brussels on March 30, 1993,
without arousing any interest.
Cosic described (12) Kosovo as "a European question of the first rank.
Nevertheless, up to now, neither the European Community nor the CSCE have
found the right way of helping to resolve the Albanian-Yugoslav and the
Albanian-Serb problem." He attributed this to "the fact that the problem of
Serbo-Albanian relations has been misrepresented and reduced to a problem
of human rights."
This meant that "the central factor" was being "studiously overlooked: the
aspiration of Yugoslav Albanians to unite with Albania and create a
'Greater Albania'." The secessionist ambition of the Albanian nationalist
movement is the very essence of their human rights demands. From that
ambition flows a behavior of obstruction in every sphere of social live:
politics, culture, public education, the economy, media. For the problem is
not that the Albanians are deprived of cultural, political or other rights;
the problem is that they have these rights but refuse to exercise them.
They boycott en bloc the society in which they live; they do not recognize
it. The issue is not about opening the schools: they are open. The issue is
that they insist that the curriculum in those schools be borrowed from the
Albanian State and that they issue diplomas in the name of the 'Republic of
Kosovo'. "I consider as a great misfortune the fact that the Albanians have
excluded themselves from political life and that they do not take advantage
of their autonomy. They have all the civil and political rights needed for
constituting themselves as an autonomous community. That is officially
"The whole world, all the human rights champions are saying that the
Albanians have been banned from the schools. That is a pure lie! They are
the ones who refuse to attend the schools governed by the program of the
Serbian state, which nevertheless guarantees them courses in Albanian
history and culture and the use of their language. They insist on schools
paid and maintained by the Republic of Serbia but where the curriculum and
schoolbooks come from Albania and the diplomas would bear the heading,
'Republic of Kosovo'!"
"The human rights argument is no longer anything but an ideological weapon
used by the secessionists and their foreign protectors in view of realizing
their national ambition: the union of all Albanians in a single State. And
so long as they will not have achieved that end, the question of human
rights in Kosovo-Metohija will continue to be heated up and Serbia will
remain indicted by the international community. It will not do us a bit of
good to point out that the Albanians benefit from national and human rights
such as no other national minority enjoys. [...]Kosovo will be Serbia's
malignant tumor which will exhaust her economically, block her development
and threaten her territorially by demographic expansion."
The military dangers were clear five years ago. Cosic was aware of "precise
information on the existence of 60 to 70,000 Albanians organized in
paramilitary units in Kosovo. This is an army ready to go to war the day
when Mr. Rugova, Mr. Berisha or some other Albanian is through with the
soothing rhetoric that they serve up to the CSCE." Yugoslavia was even then
being isolated and crushed by sanctions, and even threatened with military
intervention if they "commit aggression" in Kosovo - that is, on their own
territory. If the Serbian army should move to oppose secession, Cosic
wondered: "will they send missiles to raze our cities and airports?"
In such a dilemma, Cosic concluded it was necessary to satisfy the national
aspirations of both the Serbian and Albanian peoples by a "peaceful and
fair territorial division". This offer having found no takers on the
Albanian side, there is no present sign of its being actively pursued by
the Serbs either. In itself, it may well be a fair proposal. However, it
encounters two types of objections.
* The Western "international community", starting with the United States,
has vetoed it for reasons of analogy and precedent. Partitioning Kosovo
would go contrary to the policy adopted to justify recognition of Slovenia
and Croatia, considering ex-Yugoslavia's internal boundaries as inviolable.
This policy is the very basis for branding Serbia as the "aggressor" in
Croatia and in Bosnia and therefore cannot be easily abandoned. Moreover,
if Kosovo were partitioned, why not Macedonia, where Albanians are
concentrated in the Western areas and would also demand to join "Greater
* The danger of setting such a precedent also worries Serbs. Suppose ethnic
Albanians, thanks to their much higher birthrate, attained a majority in
some other part of Serbia. Would they demand secession there too? The
"Greater Albania" project includes more than Kosovo. Where if ever would it
all end? Privately, a number of Serbs would welcome some sort of
negotiation which would "save the monasteries" and cut losses. But how?
Various compromise proposals have been put forth by independent Serbian
intellectuals. One such proposal is published in this issue of DIALOGUE. In
another, Professor Predrag Simic of the Institute of International Politics
and Economics in Belgrade has suggested that the Autonomy Statute of
Trentino-South Tyrol in Northern Italy, long a scene of irredentist unrest
among the German-speaking, formerly Austrian inhabitants, could serve as a
European model for resolving the Kosovo crisis.
This and other independent proposals could be considered "trial balloons"
which could be taken up at the official level should they ever meet with
the slightest sign of interest on the Albanian side. So far, however, this
has not been the case. Encouraged by their image as victims of Serbian
oppression, enjoying strong support from Western governments and human
rights organizations, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian nationalists have no
incentive to settle for anything less than their ultimate goal: Greater

V - Human Rights

The attitude of the international community toward the Yugoslav disaster
has been characterized throughout by confusion between national rights and
human rights. It is unclear to what extent this confusion is accidental or
deliberate in Western countries, where the concept of "national rights" is
variously appreciated according to political tradition (with significant
differences between the United States and Germany, for instance). The
readiness in the United States, in particular, to consider denial of
separatist ethnic rights as violation of human rights represents a mutation
that may not be unrelated to the confusion in the American left, in
particular, resulting from the critique of universal values and the rise of
"identity politics".
Regarding the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, what sort of civil society is
being built in the context of the long militant nationalist struggle? Some
positive effects may be assumed. Literacy has certainly been vigorously
encouraged by a movement which, since its inception in the late 19th
century, has been led by literature professors looking for a country to go
with a language only recently transposed from the oral tradition. The rise
in general literacy must also be beneficial to the status of women. On the
other hand, this is a society closed in on itself, obsessed with its own
identity. Its human rights organizations are concerned with the human
rights of ethnic Albanians. All questions of democratization and political
direction are put off in expectation of the "independence" that is supposed
to solve them all.
The political modernization and democratization of the Albanian people in
the Balkans remains a legitimate and unfulfilled aspiration. Had they used
their political rights under the Serbian Constitution, they could have
elected an important number of representatives to the Serbian Parliament,
and altered the political balance of power in Belgrade. Instead, they have
missed out on contributing to the beginnings of multi-party democracy in
Serbia and seriously crippled its development. Massive ethnic Albanian
abstention has ensured Milosevic's party of a majority it might otherwise
have lost. It is highly doubtful that holding parallel elections for ethnic
Albanians only, resulting in unanimous election of an unchallenged leader,
Ibrahim Rugova, and of election of a "parliament" which has never
functioned, provides a better initiation into democratic political practice
than could have been gained by using the official elections to further the
interests of the Albanian people of Kosovo within the Serbian Republic (13).
The situation of ongoing ethnic hostility is bad for all sides. Each is
likely to care less and less about what happens to the "others". In early
March, the Serbian raid on the rebel base at Prekaz had not ended before
the Clinton administration announced measures to "punish" Belgrade for its
"violence" and began to pressure other governments to join in imposing new
economic and diplomatic penalties on Yugoslavia. Given the absence of
similar reaction to, for instance, Turkey's use of "disproportionate force"
in its raids against Kurdish rebels, such reprimands can carry little moral
weight with Serbs. How many innocents perished in Panama in the United
States extraterritorial raid to arrest a foreign head of state in his own
country? How many women and children died in Waco, Texas, in a police raid
on a group which was armed, but which had not - in contrast to the ethnic
Albanian guerrillas in Prekaz - claimed dozens of assassinations?
The double standard employed is so blatant, that the uniquely severe
reaction of the international community cannot appear to most Serbs as an
expression of genuine deep concern for human rights, but rather as part of
a longstanding political campaign to isolate and fragment their country.
Nevertheless, regardless of any and all hypocrisy and ulterior motives on
the part of outside accusers, it is more than likely that acts of police
brutality occurred in the course of that and related raids on guerrilla
bases, if only because acts of brutality are all too usual in such
circumstances. Unfortunately the chorus of indignation and calls for
punishment led by Madeleine Albright can only make it harder for Yugoslavs
who are concerned about high standards of respect for human rights to
demand an accounting from their government. Nevertheless, some have done so.
Following its own investigations in the Drenica region in early March, the
Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) reported that its findings
"contradict Serbian police reports on the number of dead and the locations
and circumstances in which they were killed" and urged the Serbian Ministry
of Internal Affairs to give reporters and representatives of humanitarian
and human rights organizations access to the area and thereby enable the
public to be provided with full, accurate and timely information. "The
indications that the persons killed, wounded or arrested were connected
with the attacks on police must be presented to the public", the HLC stated
in a communiqué, pointing out that it is "in Serbia's best interest to
immediately institute an inquiry" into the circumstances of the death of
Kosovo Albanians in police actions, including exhumation of the remains for
forensic examination.
It would be in keeping with traditional practices for human rights advocacy
groups in other countries to support such demands from local Serbian
organizations, as a means of strengthening democratic civil society and the
rule of law. This is in fact the sort of work done by Amnesty
International, whose own reports from Kosovo in early March 1998 were
reasonably precise, factual and balanced, relating charges made by both
sides and noting which had not been substantiated or confirmed.
The reactions to events in Yugoslavia display a major difference of
approach to human rights questions, of considerable political significance.
What can be considered the traditional Amnesty International approach
consists broadly in trying to encourage governments to enact and abide by
humanitarian legal standards. It does so by calling attention to particular
cases of injustice, excessive severity or violation of legal norms. It
thereby participates, through outside moral support, in various internal
struggles for the advancement of humanitarian legal standards, in alliance
with whatever local forces are engaged in such combat.
The approach of Human Rights Watch and above all of its affiliate, the
Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, is quite
different. Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the International Helsinki
Federation for Human Rights, displays none of the scrupulous concern for
facts which is the hallmark of Amnesty International. He deals in sweeping
generalities. In a column for the International Herald Tribune (14), he
wrote that Albanians in Kosovo "have lived for years under conditions
similar to those suffered by Jews in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe just
before World War II. They have been ghettoized. They are not free, but
politically disenfranchised and deprived of basic civil liberties". The
comparison could hardly be more incendiary, but the specific facts to back
it up are absent.
At least in the case of Yugoslavia, the Helsinki and Human Rights Watch
approach differs fundamentally from that of Amnesty International in that
it clearly aims not at calling attention to specific abuses that might be
corrected, not at reforming but at discrediting the targeted State. By the
excessive nature of its accusations, it does not ally with reformist forces
in the targeted country so much as it undermines them. Its lack of balance,
its rejection of any effort at remaining neutral between conflicting
parties, contributes to a disintegrative polarization rather than to
reconciliation and mutual understanding. It therefore contributes,
deliberately or inadvertently, to a deepening cycle of repression and chaos
that eventually may justify, or require, outside intervention.
This is an approach which, like its partner, economic globalization, breaks
down the defenses and authority of weaker States. Rather than helping to
enforce democratic institutions at the national level, it carries the
notion of democracy to the largely abstract level of the "international
community", whose sporadic and partial interest in the region is dictated
by Great Power interests, lobbies, media attention and the institutional
ambitions of "non-governmental organizations" - often linked to powerful
governments - whose competition with each other for donations provides
motivation for exaggeration of the abuses they specialize in denouncing.
The readiness of distant observers to accept the most extreme allegations
serves to discredit and ultimately disempower all State authority in former
Yugoslavia. This "international community" may indeed be serious when it
warns Ibrahim Rugova and his followers that it does not want an independent
Kosovo, much less a "Greater Albania". The logic of its actions is to
reduce the entire region to an ungovernable chaos, from which can emerge no
independent States, but rather a new type of joint colonial rule by the
international community.

Diana Johnstone


(1) "Ethnically defined" because, despite the argument accepted by the
international community that it was the Republics that could invoke the
right to secede, all the political argument surrounding recognition of
independent Slovenia and Croatia dwelt on the right of Slovenes and Croats
as such to self-determination. Claiming that it was impossible to stay in
Yugoslavia because the Serbs were so oppressive was the popular pretext for
the nationalist leaders in power in the Republics to set up their own
statelets. Recognition of the administrative borders was a de facto support
for the non-Serbian nationalisms - in the name of anti-nationalism. No
other single act has been more decisive in determining the subsequent fate
of the region. Countless books, articles and declarations blaming the wars
in Yugoslavia solely or primarily on one nationalism, Serbian nationalism,
and on one man, Slobodan Milosevic, have deflected attention from the
responsibilities of all the other internal and external actors, not to
mention crucial economic and constitutional factors. An outstanding
exception to this chorus is the careful account of these factors by Susan
Woodward in Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution After the Cold War,
Brookings, Washington, 1995.
(2) The separatist positions of Adem Demaqi are proof that it takes more
than years in prison to make a "Mandela".
(3) The fact is "presumed" because ethnic Albanians boycotted the most
recent census in 1991.
(4) The generally well-documented 1998 Spring Report of the influential
International Crisis Group (ICG) comments on its decision to refer
throughout to ethnic Albanians in Kosovo as "Kosovars" as follows: "Serbs
living in Kosovo are also sometimes called Kosovars. In this report,
however, 'Kosovar' always means ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. Serbs use for
ethnic Albanians, either 'Albanci' or the derogatory term 'Siptar'..."
First, by giving the ethnic Albanians, and not the Serbs, a name attached
to the region, the implication is established that the ethnic Albanians
really belong in Kosovo, whereas the Serbs are outsiders. The same was done
earlier by adopting the terms "Bosniak" and even "Bosnian" exclusively for
Muslim inhabitants of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Kosovo the appropriation of
the place name is even more questionable, in view of the circumstance that
a large but undetermined number of Albanian "Kosovars" have immigrated into
Kosovo quite recently, whether during the wartime fascist occupation or
afterwards, when the ethnic Albanian Party leaders tolerated illegal
immigration from Albania itself. There is no mention in the long ICG Report
of this clandestine immigration from Albania into Kosovo. The statement
that "Serbs use... the derogatory term Siptar" is equally biased. The
Albanian word for Albanian is precisely Shqiptar, written in Serbian as
Siptar. That is how the Albanians have alway called themselves; it means
"eagle men" and is scarcely derogatory. No mention is made of derogatory
terms used by the Albanians to designate the Serbs...
At the very start of the ICG report, mention is made of the importance of
Kosovo for Serbs and for "Kosovars". Speaking of the importance for Serbs,
the paragraph begins: "According to Serb mythology, Kosovo is the cradle of
their nation..." Speaking of the importance for Kosovars (i.e., Albanians),
it begins: "As descendants of the ancient Illyrians..." Thus the thoroughly
documented history of the Serbian kingdom is described as "mythology" while
the Albanian supposition is accepted as fact. With a board of directors
including George Soros and prestigious political figures including Shimon
Peres and the crown prince of Jordan, financed by both governments and
private sources, the ICG is the perfect "think tank" for the "International
community" at its highest levels.
(5) Radovan Samardzic et al, Le Kosovo-Metohija dans l'Histoire Serbe,
published by L'Age d'Homme in Lausanne in 1990; and Dimitrije Bogdanovic,
Knjiga o Kosovu, Serbian Academy of Sciences and the Arts, Belgrade, 1985.
Serbian historians point out that the two ethnic populations co-habited the
region in the Middle Ages, but were differentiated in their economic
activities. Place names, legal texts and tax documents indicate that in the
thirteen century, the Serbs were tillers of the soil, centered in the
plains, whereas Albanians (and Vlachs) were herdsmen who moved through the
mountains according to grazing seasons. Another interesting instance of
ethnic specialization is the immigration of Germans from Saxony to work the
important gold and silver mines at Novo Brdo near Pristina during the
height of the Serbian Kingdom. Such occupational distinctions have of
course been lost in modern times. See Samardzic, 1990, p.30. See also
Georges Castellan, Histoire des Balkans, Fayard, 1991, p.66.
(6) Castellan, pp 211-214.
(7) Branka Magas, in the introduction to The Destruction of Yugoslavia,
London, Verso, 1993.
(8) Susan Woodward points out that the same Serbian liberal leaders who
attempted to denounce the intellectuals' nationalism by leaking the
incomplete "Memorandum" wanted to reduce Kosovo's autonomy for purely
economic reasons but saw no way to do it. The ex-banker Slobodan Milosevic
found the political excuse to do so by defending the Kosovo Serbs: the
political trick that built his power base. Ibid, p. 78.
(9) "Bewaffneter Widerstand formiert sich", Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,
4 March 1998. It may be noted that the FAZ is the last newspaper in the
world that could be accused of being pro-Serb.
(10) "Minorités albanaises et géopolitique de l'héroïne", La Dépèche
Internationale des Drogues, Paris, No 57, Juillet 1996.
(11) "While he was president of Yugoslavia in 1992 and 1993, Dobrica Cosic
made discreet contact with Kosovo Albanian leaders. He wanted to discuss
the territorial division of the province, with the Albanian part, except
for a number of Serbian enclaves, leaving Serbia. This was rejected by
Albanian leaders." Tim Judah, The Serbs, Yale University Press, 1997, p.307.
(12) Cosic's analysis of the Kosovo situation, as expressed before and
during his term as President of Yugoslavia (cut short in mid-1993 by
Milosevic, who perhaps concluded that his domestic prestige was not
exportable and thus of no use), is to be found in a 1994 collection of his
writings published by L'Age d'Homme under the title L'Effondrement de la
(13) Ibrahim Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) are described
as follows by Tim Judah in The Serbs, Yale University Press, 1997: "The
party is led by Ibrahim Rugova whose father was executed by the communists
when they restored the region to Yugoslav control. His trademark is a scarf
worn at all times. The LDK brooks little dissent and those that challenge
it are howled down in LDK publications and can even be ostracised in the
tight-knit Albanian community. Kosovo is odd because, despite constant
police repression, Albanian politicians have held semi-underground polls,
have declared Kosovo 'independent', have set up a parallel education
system, and have hailed Rugova as president of the Republic of Kosova. Woe
betide any Albanian family or shop or businessman who will not pay his dues
to Kosova's tax collectors. In his capacity as president, Rugova sweeps out
of his headquarters, a ramshackle wooden building, hops into a limousine
surrounded by aides and bodyguards and drives about Pristina just like a
real Balkan president. A government-in-exile complete with ministers
commutes between Tirana, Germany and Skopje. Rugova travels abroad to lobby
for international recognition for his phantom state, but despite the odd
hassle over his passport he has not been arrested since challenging Serbian
power in such a blatant fashion."
(14) International Herald Tribune, 18 March 1998. Two months earlier, Mr.
Rhodes hastened to address a letter to the same newspaper vehemently
attacking Jonathan Clarke, who had had the temerity to write a balanced
columned entitled "Don't Encourage Separatist Aims of Kosovo Albanians".
Mr. Rhodes accused Mr. Clarke of echoing Belgrade propaganda and of seeming
to "favor appeasement in the face of murder, torture and the total denial
of the human rights of Kosovo Albanians".

"Macht entspricht der Fähigkeit, sich mit anderen zusammen zu schließen und
im Einvernehmen mit ihnen zu handeln."

                                   Hannah Ahrendt


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