The Western powers and their media apologists
have generally affirmed the UN occupation of Kosovo as a great victory for humanitarian
peacekeeping, democracy-building, and the rule of law. However, the vertiginous
process they have overseen and guided in the belated Serbian province since
1999 has resulted in a situation on the ground far from these ideals.
The sorry travesty of the Kosovo occupation has increasingly meant the rewarding
of ethnic cleansing and criminal violence, the validation of fraudulent stories
as the truth, the violation of the basic workings of the international legal
system, the bald-faced contradiction of the universality of international justice,
and most recently, a wanton disregard for the procedure of multinational law
Kosovo's international minders may be many things, but one thing they are not
is brave. It is high time for them to come forward and say it – the independence
for Kosovo they are pushing so hard has nothing to do with Western values, democracy,
and the rule of law, but rather with cold, calculated realpolitik. The
longer they continue to hide behind these shoddy pretensions, the more damage
they do to any conception of international justice and, by implication, international
The "final status" of Kosovo will probably not prove powerful enough to bring
down the international system, but it will affect it. The aftershocks will be
destructive for not only neighboring Balkan states, but also for other frozen
conflicts in Eastern
Europe and the Caucasus where the stakes – and the risks – for international
confrontation are even higher. The Kosovo intervention was always a wildly reckless,
shortsighted one, but it now appears that it may have wider repercussions.
March: A Graveyard of Anniversaries
All things considered, this March was a pretty
rough month for the Serbs, and every year it seems to be getting worse. Among
the many infamous dates the month now includes are
the launch of NATO bombing in 1999 (March 24), the 2003 assassination
of Zoran Djindjic (March 12), the
pogrom of 2004 in Kosovo (March 17), and now the recent suspicious deaths
Babic (March 5) and Slobodan
Milosevic (March 11).
The latest addition to the list was the vicious
stabbing of a Serbian teenager on the Mitrovica bridge in Kosovo on March
28. Indeed, the only dark date that seems to have passed them by is the
ides of March – but hey, there's always next year.
In central Belgrade,
testaments to NATO's 1999 bombing campaign linger.
The Death and Remembrance of Slobodan Milosevic
While celebrating this litany of dark events has
become an annual ritual, the inaugural ceremony for this year's main addition
to the list – the death of Milosevic – proved very helpful for Kosovo's pro-independence
lobby. First of all, it meant the end of an embarrassing trial that, while The
Hague said it was winning, would have more likely ended without the genocide
convictions prosecutor Carla Del Ponte so craved. The Western media had essentially
stopped covering the trial once Milosevic
began his own defense, meaning that the many contradictions, sham testimonies,
and deceitful witnesses he uncovered never registered in the popular mind –
and thus barely made a dent in the "historical" record, which had decreed all
along that Milosevic was guilty before he had even been tried. With his death,
the case came to a dramatic halt, the prosecution claiming that the former Serbian
president "would have" been found guilty in the end.
Contrary to estimates
made beforehand by the BBC, the March 18 Belgrade rally in support of Milosevic
was far larger than the one against him, with over 80,000 people turning out.
This was enough for the media, which largely seconded The Hague's presumptive
verdict, usually substituting well-worn statistics of dubious accuracy and provenance
in place of hard evidence. As Canadian journalist Scott Taylor characterized
it shortly afterwards, the blanket condemnation of Milosevic in the Western
media had "the force of a tidal wave," in one moment rolling over and wiping
out all of the efforts that principled researchers have made over the last few
years to carefully sift fact from fiction and to assign blame in its proper
proportions to all of the culprits involved in the sad demise of Yugoslavia.
The Painful Case of Agim Ceku
Aside from the guilty-before-proven-anything dimension
of The Hague's reaction to Milosevic's death, another element in the growing
rule of lawlessness surrounding Kosovo has been the furious effort of the province's
UN minders to elevate Kosovo Albanian Agim Ceku, former KLA commander and before
that, a mercenary leader in the Croat army, to prime minister of Kosovo. Informed
sources in the UN administration aver that this was part of the plan all along;
the U.S. especially was adamant that a strong leader be in place for the final
status negotiations now underway, and whether or not Ceku was a war criminal
was beside the point. Scott Taylor makes
a convincing case that he was. Nevertheless, The Hague Tribunal will certainly
never indict him now.
Ceku is the replacement candidate for Ramush
Haradinaj, another former KLA man who was indicted by The Hague but who
has been out for good behavior for almost a year now. The two have control over
Kosovo's armed institutions and militias; in other words, they will decide whether
independence will be carried out the peaceful or the violent way. Kosovo's international
overseers would like to see (largely for their own safety) that it is done in
the former manner.
While the UNMIK top officials' fawning adulation of Ceku has been fairly sickening
in itself, their extracurricular intercessions
to remove his name from the Interpol list is of another order. Think about
it: a random grouping of bureaucrats appointed by the United Nations, on temporary
contracts in a country to which they owe no permanent obligations, gets to give
orders to the world's only legitimate international police organization, without
any discussion of the validity of their request. They did not debate any of
the reasons why Ceku deserved or did not deserve to be on that list; it was
purely a matter of expediency, meant to ensure that the new "prime minister"
would be able to travel freely throughout Europe. And why not? After all, everything
is now Milosevic's fault anyway, right?
The Plight of Kosovo's Forgotten Refugees
A nagging problem for those who would set Kosovo
free is what to do with the Serbs, the ones who have already become internal
refugees and those still in the enclaves who will soon be joining them. In one
"temporary" shelter north of Mitrovica, near the internal border with Serbia,
a couple dozen Serbs, mostly elderly, have been living for two or even seven
years. They live in rooms a little bigger than the average American's broom
closet and eat low-grade donated food, which they display in plastic buckets;
"food not fit for a pig!" said one angry refugee. These people either have nowhere
else to go, or are stubbornly refusing to leave Kosovo. They come from villages
like Lipljan and Kosovo Polje in central Kosovo; a few have even had the "double
refugee" experience, being uprooted from Serbian enclaves in Croatia in the
1990s, resettled in Kosovo, and expelled again. For these experiences, they
can thank people like Agim
Ceku, who now "genuinely expects" that the Serbs will be happy to live in
the new Kosovo.
Speaking with the refugees, the implausibility of this scenario becomes apparent.
"I don't want to leave Kosovo," says one woman, 39-year-old Planinka Aleksic,
"but if the Albanians win independence, this is the end for us here." Others
second her opinion. None have any hopes in the Belgrade government's resolve
in the negotiations, either. "After everything we have suffered, I don't even
know what I'd say to [Serbian President Boris] Tadic," adds another woman. A
calendar donated by the Kosovo Force UN military hangs in one shabby room; vicious
in its irony, it reads in Serbian, KFOR brine o vasoj buducnosti – "KFOR
cares for your future."
Living in cramped
collective centers, Serbian refugees like this woman in Leposavic, north of
Mitrovica, have little hope of a safe future in Kosovo.
The Future of Kosovo: Carrots, but No Sticks
The mood was the same in Gracanica, the main Serbian
enclave in central Kosovo, where (as most everywhere else) seven years after
the UN's arrival, waterlogged potholes still mark the sunken roads. Gracanica
is still a thriving, if besieged, Serbian area, which has been more protected
than others due to the presence of a
magnificent 14th century cathedral. It is a bizarre kind of half-life here,
where Serbian teens sip coffee in a bright café playing pop music under the
protection of foreign soldiers, with little else to do, needing escorts to travel
and fully aware that they are living on borrowed time.
At the two-year anniversary commemoration of the March 17 pogrom, held in front
of the church, Kosovo Serbs of all ages gathered to mark the day with a modest
religious ceremony. People young and old expressed the same opinion: the future
will be brief. "We will leave in one or two years [following independence],"
said 19-year-old Marina, a student from the village. "We have nothing to do,
no chance for jobs, and no security."
On March 17, Serbs
gathered at the cathedral in the Gracanica enclave to mark the two-year anniversary
of the March 2004 pogroms.
Internationals monitoring the situation agree. A senior official in a Kosovo
humanitarian agency who has participated in the UN mission since the beginning
believes that the Serbs do not realistically have any place in the future Kosovo.
The province will become independent, according to the official, though a strong
international presence will remain – partially because the mission has become
a cash cow for so many.
The tricky process of assigning Kosovo "conditional" independence will be executed
through a combination of "carrots and sticks," he says. However, it is hard
to see where the "sticks" are here: after all, it is not as if the Albanians
are going to be bombed for misbehavior, should they succeed in removing the
last of the Serbs, Turks, Macedonian Muslims, and Romas from Kosovo. There may
well be a big movement of people into Kosovo, but this influx of unwilling
returnees is likely to come from the ranks of thousands of former Albanian refugees
Western countries are eager to get rid of. But it's hard to see how anyone forced
to give up a new life in Western Europe for the dismal prospects offered in
Kosovo is going to arrive in a particularly good mood. This also bodes ill for
the future of whatever minorities are left.
The forecast of this official coincides with that of the Serbs themselves:
"The more vulnerable and isolated [Serb] enclaves will be emptied within one
to two years. … I give [North] Mitrovica and the other entirely Serbian-populated
areas to the north 10 years at the most. That's it."
Indeed, fears based on experience exist in the currently healthy enclave of
North Mitrovica, which recently came under renewed intimidation with the stabbing
of a Serbian teenager on the bridge that divides the ethnicities. Thirty-two-year-old
Goran Antic, a refugee from Svinjare, a village just south of the city that
was ethnically cleansed in the riots of March 2004, recounts how the KFOR troops
there – as elsewhere – actually abetted the goals of the "spontaneous" Albanian
rioters, surreptitiously controlled by the likes of Ceku and Haradinaj.
"Several thousand [Albanians] came at us from three sides," he says. "We had
only 205 people in the village, but we had a few rifles that were buried in
case of such an emergency, and were able to fight them off for a few hours."
Nevertheless, says Antic, "When the French [KFOR soldiers] came, they said,
'you're either staying here or coming with us – we can't protect you.' We had
to leave, and then the Albanians came and stole everything they could, and burnt
the rest. And now [UNMIK] is telling us to return to our village? How?"
Indeed, the UN has for the past year been continually restricting its activities
and movements within Kosovo, as fears for their own safety mount. When an Albanian
youth group went about flattening the tires of UN cars parked in front of Pristina's
main police station a few months ago, no action was taken; rather, the UN simply
told its police to find other places to park. Here, moving the problem somewhere
else, as with the human transport of Serbian refugees, substitutes for tackling
the root causes of it. "If the UN can't protect its own vehicles in the center
of town, how are we going to protect some remote Serbian enclave?" says one
American cop who was present during the incident. "The answer is, we're not."
Heading into the spring, when the ground thaws
and war season starts anew in the Balkans, Kosovo is no closer to a fair and
equitable solution for all of its citizens, though it is certainly closer to
independence. Yet the process which has led to this outcome has been utterly
at variance with all of the vaunted ideals championed by the UN and guaranteed
to be the bedrock for a newer, better Kosovo. The "rule of law" has been sacrificed
since the moment when NATO illegally, without UN approval, began bombing a sovereign
country that had not threatened it nor any of its member states.
A Final Solution
Every major decision made since then has been
motivated not by law but by political exigencies and geo-strategic intrigue;
some, such as Milosevic, are "proven" guilty of war crimes before their trials
have even concluded, while others, such as Ceku, are given a free pass because
of their political usefulness. The UN occupying regime, which claims legal control
of Kosovo, can neither enforce the barest semblance of law, nor grant the barest
minimum of human rights to the minority populations. Nor can it protect the
majority Albanian population from its own criminal elements, either, seeing
as it owes its continued well-being to their generous hospitality.
In consideration of the amount of creative improvisation that has characterized
NATO's logic of aggression and the operations of the UN in Kosovo since 1999,
we might suggest adding one stipulation for those foreign "advisers" now guiding
the negotiation process. It is a very simple one: let he who would grant independence
to Kosovo agree to move there for the rest of his life, safe in the full guarantee
that he will enjoy life under its budding democracy and rule of law.
After all, if life in an independent Kosovo will be good enough for the province's
Albanians, Serbs, Romas, Turks, and Macedonian Muslims, why shouldn't it be
good enough for those altruistic foreigners so eager to determine its future?