Notes on the Kosovo Problem
and the International Community
By Diana Johnstone
I - 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
- 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"
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
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 neighbors.
* 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" either.
* 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-
-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
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
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
"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
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
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 claims.
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 principles.
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
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
"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
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 Albania"?
* 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
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
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 communiqu, 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.
(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,
(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
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
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
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
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
(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) "Minorits albanaises et gopolitique de l'hrone",
La Dpche Internationale des Drogues, Paris, No 57, Juillet
(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,
(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 Yougoslavie.
(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".