Recklessness over Kosovo

Didn’t the “western” nations learn anything from the years of bloody slaughter that followed Germany’s reckless decision to recognize the independence from Federal Yugoslavia that Slovenia and Croatia declared in June 1991? Now, 16 years later, the US and many — but notably not all— the EU countries look set to recognize the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) that Kosovo made, from Serbia today.
The boundaries between the world’s 200 or so independent states that emerged after the end of World War II were, certainly, highly imperfect in terms of following clear lines of demarcation between one national group and another. (This was particularly the case in Africa, where these boundaries were drawn up much more for the convenience of the various colonial powers than because of any rationality in terms of the social and identity groupings of the various potential citizens involved.) These boundaries were also highly unfair, allotting independent states to several tiny “nations” and none at all to many nations that were much, much bigger.
There were several different kinds of evolution in the nation-state system in the decades that followed 1945– usually, in the context of the withering of the European-based colonial empires. But basically, the post-1945 world order has remained the foundation of the world’s international order until today.
The Western-supported breakup of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that occurred in 1991-92 was a serious, new kind of change in the system. And look what ensued from that. And now, we have the western-supported breakup of the Republic of Serbia itself. No wonder numerous states around the world that have substantial and relatively compact groups of ethnic minorities among their citizenries are concerned about this precedent. These states include western states like Spain as well as Russia and several of its allies.
Back in 1999, I was one of the few voices in the western human rights movement who argued clearly against the US-UK plan to bomb Serbia, supposedly as a way to “prevent” Serbia’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Remember: Prior to the beginning of the March bombing, Belgrade was doing only low levels of ethnic cleansing. But once the western nations had decided to bomb, they pulled out the OSCE monitoring mechanism that had been reducing the level of the Serb (and Kosovar) violence over preceding months. At that point all bets were off. That was when Serbia’s ethnic cleansing campaign got underway on a massive scale.
OSCE’s (unarmed) monitoring mission had been working. The bombing was gratuitous and extremely damaging. The suffering that occurred during the mass uprooting of Kosovars was horrendous. All that violence then then set in train further waves of violence and counter-violence within Kosovo. The Kosovars, who had previously had a very broad nonviolent national movement turned overwhelmingly to violence, with NATO’s support. NATO marched into Kosovo to run it as a western protectorate, but without solving the deep problems of its internal politics, inter-group relations, or governance. NATO did win a veneer of support from the Security Council for its role there– sort of like the ex-post-facto political cover the SC gave the US presence in Iraq in late 2003.
I think the Security Council is discussing Kosovo as I write this. Not surprisingly. The Russians are understandably upset about the abruptness with which the western countries terminated the negotiations and threw their weight behind the Kosovars’ UDI instead.
This Reuters piece gives some essential background about the EU’s new role in Kosovo. But it starts off with this piece of completely unwarranted optimism:

    Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, ending a long chapter in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.

Well, maybe one bloody chapter has ended. But the chapters that follow it certainly don’t look set to be peaceful– either in Kosovo/Serbia or in the many other places around the world where over-eager national minorities may now judge that their turn for violent uprising is next. (Kurdistan, anyone?)
It’s important to remember that there are many ways in which the cultural, economic, and political claims of ethnic minorities can be assured within the boundaries of a multi-ethnic state, and that these assurances can be won, and given strong political backing, within the context of serious inter-group negotiations that are backed where necessary by the international community. So many different countries around the world can provide examples of this! Think of India, or South Africa, or many, many others… A mono-ethnic state is a very Germanic ideal.
If Kosovo had emerged as an identifiable political/cultural entity in the same peaceful and successful way that, for example, Catalunya has within democratic Spain, then I’d feel far happier about sharing the joy that so many Kosovars seem to be feeling today. But for that to happen, the west Europeans would have needed to make a commitment to bringing a democratizing Serbia into the EU of the same order as the commitment they made to the still-democratizing Spain in the early 1980s. It is tragic for everyone concerned that this has not happened.

19 thoughts on “Recklessness over Kosovo”

  1. As to the nature of Kosovo’s government, we will have to wait: the constitution has still not been translated from the German in which it was drafted, according to The Independent.

  2. I don’t see much comparison between Kosovo and Kurdistan. Nominally independent Kosovo is a western dependency. Kurdistan, like Taiwan, has consolidated its de facto independence.
    It is not clear that the Arab Iraqis could re-conquer Kurdistan even if they overcame their internal divisions.

  3. Freedom fighter or terrorist. Thats what it comes down to.
    George Washington was considered a terrorist by the British. The cowardly tactic of shooting soldiers while hiding behind a tree and not facing off to shoot your enemy. Imagine.
    When you occupy a country or region and the people do not desire your presence, or when you take sides in a civil war, you become a target.
    Don’t cry about it when someone fights back. It is your choice to be a target.
    Examples of atrocities are dropping bombs on a civilian population to kill an enemy living among civilians, dropping nuclear weapons or fire bombing cities, spreading depleted uranium and cluster bombs, collective punishment of populations in areas you occupy, pre-emptive war, assasinations, etc.
    But Israel and the US know this. They seek perpetual conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the cycle of violence is to their liking. And so it will continue.

  4. Oops. Sorry about the post, wrong article.
    As for Kosovo, this is just setting the stage for a future conflict with Russia if they do not submit.

  5. I don’t see how you can reconcile these two statements:
    (1) “Remember: Prior to the beginning of the March bombing, Belgrade was doing only low levels of ethnic cleansing.”
    (2) “OSCE’s (unarmed) monitoring mission had been working.”
    If the Serbian government was doing “low levels” of ethnic cleansing (and no doubt other human rights abuses) then to my mind the monitoring wasn’t working.
    “It’s important to remember that there are many ways in which the cultural, economic, and political claims of ethnic minorities can be assured within the boundaries of a multi-ethnic state”
    That’s true. However, given the recent past, Kosovars are never going to be reconciled to remaining in Serbia. And if a province wants independence, then they should have a right to it, at the end of the day. (If everyone knows that a province can eventually get independence, ythen that will in many cases prevent the central government from acting oppressively towards it.)

  6. The OSCE monitoring was working in the sense that it had succeeded in considerably reducing the levels of inter-communal violence in Kosovo, even though it had not ended it completely. Therefore, one constructive path could well have been to (a) continue the monitoring while (b) expanding both the size and perhaps also the mandate of the monitoring team.
    Instead of which, at US insistence, OSCE pulled out the monitors completely preparatory to the bombing campaign.
    But the fact that the monitoring team had previously been having a very worthwhile effect has been well documented.

  7. I’m puzzled over why continuation of the status quo is considered so unacceptable. Taiwan has maintained its ambiguous status for decades.

  8. This looks like a Muslim “Israel” in Europe, plus an enormous US base (with a ridiculous name – “Bondsteel”) in the middle of it. This is big trouble.

  9. Hmmm…. a “Muslim Israel” in the heart of Europe. Had never thought of it that way, quite intriguing, if scary. Certainly the parallels are obvious, now that you mention it: a small, ethnically ‘pure’ and highly militarised client state whose creation went ahead despite the misgivings of much of the world, and the outright rejection of most of the countries directly affected. But we can be sure that “Kosova” will never be allowed anything like the leeway and indulgence Israel granted to Israel. Then again, Israel was never supposed to be quite so troublesome, was it?

  10. The Serbs were not very bright about Kosovo. The Greeks dealt with their Albanians much better. I read a regional study of Boeotia a couple of years ago; it was an archaeological study, the area of Thebes in central Greece, not all that far from Athens. Not the Albanian border in Epirus. According to that study, in the 18th century (that is, before the Greek liberation in 1829) 70-80% of the village names were Albanian. It would not be going too far to suggest that a high proportion of the population was Albanian, as in Kosovo. Look there now, and there’s not a single Albanian place-name, nor, I think, a single person with an Albanian name. It is not ethnic cleansing, as far as I know; simply all the names were changed. Et voilà, they’re all Greeks. If the Serbs had been a bit more on the ball – around the time of the First World, say – they should have done the same

  11. “It is not ethnic cleansing, as far as I know; simply all the names were changed. Et voilà, they’re all Greeks.”
    Sounds a bit like what the Bulgarians did with ethnic Turks in their country some time back. Not sure that it solved the ‘problem’ there, however.

  12. A Muslim Israel. It’s the Serbs that are basing their argument on claims that date to aincient history, about sites of a historic battle that defined their identity. OTOH, it’s the Albanians that are basing their claim on being the majority that are living there right now. So Kosovo seems like the opposite of Israel to me.

  13. “It’s the Serbs that are basing their argument on claims that date to aincient history, about sites of a historic battle that defined their identity.”
    Well, that…. plus the rather important fact that Kosovo just so happens to be an integral part of the sovereign state of Serbia, and has been for quite some time now. It’s not like ethnic Serbs from another continent got it into their heads to settle Kosovo and claim that, since their ancestors supposedly lived there 2000 years ago, they were going to declare an ethnocracy there and the natives could go to hell.
    “it’s the Albanians that are basing their claim on being the majority that are living there right now.”
    Quite how the Albanians came to be the majority in Kosovo is rather a contentious issue. In any case, it’s scarcely the point: Latinos are the majority in parts of the US, Basques in parts of Spain, Chechyans in part of Russia, Kurds in parts of several nations, Palestinians in parts of Israel (not to mention the OT), to name but a few of many cases where parts of sovereign states are populated by ethnic minorities. Are you proposing that these areas, too, have a right to nationhood?

  14. I agree that the bombing of Serbia was overdoing it – and I’d add that it was cowardly – but I also feel that the Serbs brought much of this upon themselves. Their ethnic definition of their state, and their claim that their country was and always had been a bulwark against the Islamic hordes that threatened Europe from the East, was not exactly conducive to cohabitation with the Albanians.
    At the same time I understand how painful it must be to see the historical heart ripped out of your country.
    This will come back to haunt us, perhaps for centuries.

  15. The Kosova Konnection
    14 Safar 1429 (formerly 22.II.2008)
    “Given that we’re creating a mafia-run jihadist haven in Kosovo, whose U.S.-spawned statehood exposes our government’s disregard ultimately for its own citizens’ safety, not to speak of non-Muslims in Europe, how can we ever expect any other world power — never mind the jihadists — to care about American lives, and think twice before striking?
    “And still, the situation is not unfixable, as Jihad Watch‘s Hugh Fitzgerald advises:
    “‘There is no reason not to take Serbia’s side now. There is every reason — of principle and of Infidel self-interest–to take it. And then there is the larger scheme of things. Does it make sense, at this moment in history, to give Muslims the sense that they are on the march, that they are establishing beachhead after beachhead in Europe itself–even if, for all we know, that sense of triumphalism is based on a misunderstanding of the devotion to Islam of the Albanians (now “Kosovars”) in question? Assuming that the Chechens have a point (and they did have a point, considering the history of Stalin’s treatment of them), was that reason enough to support the Chechens against Russia, or should one have refrained from so doing, because of the larger context, in which any Muslim victory feeds the assurance that other victories are sure to come, that Islam is unstoppable?
    “‘Perhaps the rule should be, all over the Western and larger Infidel world, this: whatever makes the Umma happy, or the O.I.C. [Organisation of the Islamic Conference] happy, is to be opposed for that very reason. That’s a rule of thumb…’ ”
    “Words fail me, my lords.”

  16. Kosova Konnection II
    Kosovo’s US-backed declaration of independence is deeply troubling. By setting a precedent of legitimizing the secession of disaffected minorities, it weakens the long-term viability of multi-ethnic states. In so doing, it destabilizes the already stressed state-based international system.
    States as diverse as Canada, Morocco, Spain, Georgia, Russia and China currently suffer problems with politicized minorities. They are deeply concerned by the Kosovo precedent. Even the US has latent sovereignty issues with its increasingly politicized Hispanic minority along its border with Mexico. It may one day experience a domestic backlash from its support for Kosovar independence from Serbia.
    For Israel, Kosovo’s US-backed declaration of independence should be a source of alarm great enough to require a rethinking of foreign policy. Unfortunately, rather than understand and implement the lessons of Kosovo, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government is working actively to ensure that they are reenacted in the international community’s treatment of Israel and the Palestinians. Today, Israel is enabling the Palestinians to set the political and legal conditions for the establishment of an internationally recognized state of Palestine that will be at war with Israel.
    By accepting the “Road Map Plan to a Two-State Solution” in 2004, Israel empowered the US, the EU, Russia and the UN, who comprise the international Quartet, to serve as judges of Palestinian and Israeli actions toward one another. In November 2007, at the Annapolis conference, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government explicitly empowered the US to “monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitment of both sides of the road map.”
    That these moves have made Israel dependent on the kindness of strangers was made clear this week when Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni instructed Israel’s ambassadors to launch a campaign to convince the international community that Israel and the Palestinians are making great strides in their negotiations toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. Livni’s move was precipitated by growing European and US dissatisfaction with the pace of those negotiations and by reports from the meeting of Quartet members in Berlin on February 11. There all members voiced anger at the slow pace of negotiations and opposition to Israel’s military actions in Gaza, which are aimed at protecting the western Negev from rocket and mortar attacks.
    (There’s quite a lot more from Mme. Glick in that vein.)

  17. Murphy, define “integral”. There’s a lot of arbitrariness in what part of a country constitutes “integral”. The definition of integral could be construed by demagogues to rally people to any political goals they have. I think Kosovo should’ve permitted the Serb-majority northern districts to remain in Serbia. Isn’t that were the historic battleground is located as well? That way, Serbia could’ve held on to its historic claims.
    Murphy, except for your first example, yes I do propose that those regions you list have a right to nationhood. I’m assuming those areas have large majorities that support independence. I thought about those majority opinions over, and I couldn’t find any justification to defy their democratic will and say no to them. Aren’t these majorities the current natives of those lands? Why are you saying to them, “You can go to Hell, you can’t secede like you want.”? I said elsewhere that I support Abkhazia’s, Kurdistan’s (ALL of Kurdistan) and Somaliland’s bids for indepedence, as well as South Ossetia’s and TransDniester’s desires to join the Russian federation, as I’ve seen big majorities confirm these desires in votes. I would also support indepedence bids in Chechnya, Tibet, Southern Sudan, and Xinjiang/Uyghurstan IF majority wishes for independence still exist in those places; I don’t believe such majorities exist in the Basque region, Puerto Rico, or even Scotland and Wales. Drawbacks to these independence bids are all practical ones; weak economies. I think then these independent states should then remain in economic unions like how the EU started, to strengthen economies.
    Honestly, what’s so “troubling” about this precedent?

  18. “Murphy, define “integral”. There’s a lot of arbitrariness in what part of a country constitutes “integral”
    Not true at all. Kosovo is as much a part of Serbia as Belgrade is, or alternatively as much a part of Serbia as California is of the US.
    “Why are you saying to them, “You can go to Hell, you can’t secede like you want.”?
    Why? Because to do so would be the cause of huge instability the world over. YOU might think Ossetia or Kurdistan should break away, but there would be very many in their respective countries who would violently disagree with you. Plus, it’s not the case that populations in one particular area of a sovereign state get to decide their status without consulting the entire population: If, say, the population of Spain as a whole decided that the Basque country should secede, that would be fine. However, the inhabitants of the Basque region do not have the right to decide Spain’s borders just by themselves.

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