Monday, 19 November 2007

My opinion on Kosovo

Hello everybody.

It's time I discussed a very serious and controversial subject. For all of you who don't know what Kosovo is, look here on Wikipedia!

To cut this looooooooong story short, if I can (!), the people of Kosovo, who are overwhelmingly Albanian in composition want to split away from Serbia. Nothing new for our world full of smaller states and bigger states, but nevertheless a situation with its own many particular issues, of course. In fact, there has recently been an election in the province, in which Hashim Thaçi, a former rebel fighter, seems to have won, promising independence to come soon. From what I've read, the Kosovo Serbs have boycotted the election as a protest against giving legitimacy to a parliament that could declare independence for what is still a province of Serbia. Notwithstanding, more than half of the electorate didn't participate in the election.

In the 1980s, following Marshal Tito's death, there were famous, or infamous if you feel that way, mass demonstrations in Kosovo lead by Albanians calling for a Republic of Kosovo to replace the then current autonomy they had within the federation, which was bestowed to the province by the 1974 constitution, which likewise recognised Vojvodina, Serbia's northern province, as an autonomous province. This happened during a period of economic crisis and rising nationalism within the federation.

Then in the late 80s, Slobodan Milošević came along and revoked both Kosovo's and Vojvodina's autonomy, which caused a crisis throughout Yugoslavia, precipitating its break-up. Following the wars in Croatia and Bosnia (the war in Slovenia wasn't as destructive as these two), unrest came to Kosovo between the Kosovo Liberation Army (Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës or "UÇK") and the mainly-Serbian Army of Yugoslavia in 1998. The state army reacted heavy-handedly, causing the displacement of approximately 300,000 Albanians in that year.

Then in 1999 occured the Račak incident, in which 45 Albanians were killed by Serbian state forces, which was condemned by Western countries as a massacre. A month later came the Rambouillet conference, which eventually led to the failed Rambouillet Accords in March that the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia refused to sign. This was followed by the 78-day bombing of Serbia by NATO. This in turn was followed by the expulsion of over 800,000 Albanians from Kosovo, fleeing to neighbouring Albania and Macedonia.

At the end, Milošević signed the Kumanovo Agreement which brought about the end to the bombing campaign. The vast majority of Albanian refugees returned to Kosovo, however this was followed by a second wave of ethnic cleansing, in which around 260,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians fled or were expelled from the province, becoming internally displaced persons within Serbia, along with widespread destruction of Serbian orthodox church property largely dating back to the medieval period, to the time of Serbia's great kings and its short-lived empire.

From all of the above, it is obvious to any impartial reader that the Serbian authorities under Milošević botched up Kosovo terribly, firstly for Albanians, and then in turn for Serbs (not to mention for other groups). He ensured with his reckless policies that tensions between Serbs and Albanians would stay at fever pitch, not to mention how the ruthlessness that many Serbian troops have wrought upon Albanian civilians (who, whether the Albanians liked it themselves or not, were their (Serbian troops') fellow citizens, whom as an obligation they were meant to protect) has ensured that they would continue to harbour strong feelings of hatred for their Serbian neighbours for as long as their hearts can make them feel so. And of course, it was Milošević and his régime that are greatly responsible for the fact that since NATO took control of Kosovo, Serbs have for many years lived in abject fear of their Albanian neighbours, only feeling some sense of security when they receive personal protection from KFOR troops. It wasn't the least rare to see an old Serbian lady being escorted by a KFOR soldier just to buy some mundane things such as grocery from the local market not far from where she lives in the same town! Even churches and monasteries have been guarded by KFOR troops for fear that they would also be vandalised and ransacked like so many others.

That's not to say that Albanians haven't contributed to this situation in any way themselves. Indeed, Albanian separatists have also contributed to heightening ethnic tensions either by simply harbouring general ill will and contempt for their Serbian neighbours, or through their actions, be it random acts of violence and arsonism, murder and kidnap, or even more heinous acts such as desecrating Serbian Orthodox graves.

And of course, the NATO bombing also caused a lot of unnecessary harm to civilians, both Serbian and Albanian, not to mention Chinese in the case of the attack on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. In the Western media, the numbers of fatalities, namely Albanian ones, were at times grossly exaggerated by politicians in the face of the unfolding humanitarian disaster. And let's not forget how NATO/KFOR has not always proven to be reliable in protecting Serbian communities from Albanian mobs seeking to expel them from their homes in acts of ethnic cleansing that have given the Balkans such a bad name during the nineties.

All of the above points are true. However, it is Milošević who bears the ultimate responsibility for so much damage in the province, even if a good deal of the damage wasn't caused by his own forces. And it was his reckless policies that have created such a melancholic situation in Kosovo for all its people, as I have related above. Indeed, it is what he has done that could actually lose Serbia a good chunk of its territory, a piece of land with so much historical significance for us Serbs.

So what kind of position is Kosovo, still part of Serbia at this moment in time, in today?

It is for all practical purposes de facto separate from Serbia, with only the majority Serbian north of the province, with its "capital" being the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica, having a good deal of connection with Belgrade (the road leading from the city to the border with Central Serbia and beyond provides and ensures an easy connection with the rest of Serbia for the Serbs 'north of the Ibar river').

The same was the case with Montenegro before it proclaimed independence following a successful referendum last year (2006). Montenegro had its own institutions and didn't rely on any federal institution it could share with Serbia, save the state union goverment that was dissolved last year and the army, which as far as I remember has been peacefully divided between the two then newly-separate countries with Montenegro retaining the navy. This separation, of course, left Serbia landlocked with no access to the sea.

What I mean to say by comparing Montenegro with Kosovo is how the independence of Montenegro was just a confirmation of the already de facto state of affairs that the country was in before the referendum (that only passed with 55.5% of the vote in support) gave legitimacy for the country's formal separation from the state union with Serbia. And should Kosovo receive independence, that too would just be a confirmation of the de facto political situation in Kosovo.

But what is my opinion of all of this, I hear you ask?

Well, I don't think you will be surprised to hear that as a Serb I do NOT support Kosovo independence. But then again, I'm not just a Serb, and a loyal one at that; I'm also an Anarchist, a light Anarchist maybe, but one who does not believe in states and borders.

The former Yugoslavia has received a reputation as a region in Europe prone to fragmentation and new smaller states. Perhaps understandably given the recent history (some of which I mention above). But consider how nationalists strove for the creation of states for their respective peoples. Serbian nationalists advocating an enlarged Serbian state for all Serbs to live in ("Greater Serbia"); Croatian ones advocating a separate state from Yugoslavia (a "Croatia for Croats"); Montenegrin separatists arguing for an independent republic of Montenegro (even promoting a non-Serbian Montenegrin identity for the traditionally Serbian Montenegrins); and Kosovo Albanians resisting Serbian authority in the hope for an independent state for their people, while others among them wanting Kosovo along with other Albanian-populated territories bordering Albania in the Balkans to become a part of Albania (a "Greater Albania").

All this blatant and unashamed statism, based on my Anarchist beliefs, is utterly bogus; I fundamentally reject it. And yet, this statism continues to manifest itself in reality without restriction: in the colourful flags that fly on so many poles, in the "Welcome to blah, blah, blah" signs you see on the designated borders, and the border patrol people who man such imaginary lines of division! And should I mention the soldiers dressed in green camouflage uniforms with different coloured badges, praising the state and promising to the citizens thereof that they will defend them (perhaps by harming citizens of another country, or in the case of Kosovo above, perceived disloyal minorities in their country)?

Yet worst of all, so many ordinary people consciously believe and in their minds uphold the state. They think their safety is guaranteed by it; they believe their very lives depend on the state they inhabit being protected. And it's when this idea of defending the state gets mixed with the kind of tribalistic ethnocentricity seen in the Balkans, that grave injustices can occur.

In Kosovo, hundreds of thousands of Albanians were ethnically cleansed by soldiers who believed that they were a threat to their country and people. Yet what happened afterwards? Over two hundred thousand Serbs and non-Albanians suffered the same, as I pointed out above. In Croatia, my people were led to believe that their safety, their very lives, depended on the "Republika Srpska Krajina". Crimes were committed against Croats by the leaders of this short-lived state, believing that by doing so the Serbian people will be safer. How cynical and how false it turned out to be. Thanks to their crimes, my people are denigrated throughout Croatia, treated by many like the worst thing to have ever set foot on "their" land. And many people who believe in such abominable things are inclined to commit crimes against my people, commit injustices in the name of some so-called "justice" (!), to protect their beautiful Croatia and their people. As you can see, this is also a case of "perceived disloyal minorities" being persecuted in the name of protecting the people/state.

Back to Kosovo, I do understand why Kosovo Albanians want their land, Kosovo, to be a separate country, even though the Kosovo Serbs don't want the same for what is their land as well. However, I think what would be far more beneficial for the province than declaring independence from Serbia would be, above other things, to improve infrastructure in the province, strengthen local forms of government (come on, we still live in a world of states and governments). At the same time, something should be done to increase economic activity, employ people in a wide variety of work so they can improve their standard of living. And for the long run, and this will be very hard for a region like Kosovo with its long bitter history, creating some kind of inter-communal cohesion. Something like that would take years, even decades to develop.

I repeat that I do not support independence. However, I do believe that Serbian politicians in Belgrade should in some way officially prepare their citizens for the possibility of Kosovo splitting from Serbia, the vast majority of whose own lives are not just detached from the province, but so unconnected to what is happening there, that it would not make a difference to them one way or the other should the province split or not. The province's own Serbian politicians are opposed to independence to the bitter end, so God only know what it will be like for them, and most importantly for the people they represent, should we soon hear from the province's capital, Priština (or Prishtina), a formal declaration of independence by its Albanian leaders. Notwithstanding, there is also the possibility that Kosovo will remain for many years to come an unresolved conflict, like Cyprus or Palestine, even though America is keen on seeing the Kosovo issue resolved as soon as possible.

A lot of Serbs, of course, believe strongly that Kosovo is their land, their people's land, even though many of them have never even visited the place, let alone lived there. While on the other side, a lot of Albanians believe that that land belongs only to them, because they form the majority population there.

In the interest of being respectful to both sides in this issue, how about, instead of claiming how Kosovo is just Serbian or only Albanian, we say Kosovo is both Serbian and Albanian! Why not? Not to mention how it's also Romany land because Roma people live there as well, Gorani land to the Southwest, Turkish land 'cause there is a Turkish minority there, Muslim/Bosniak land, Ashkali and Egyptian land, and believe it or not, Janjevo Croatian land! (There used to be an Adyghe community there until 1998.) Why don't we all just say that Kosovo belongs to all the people who live there?

Let's start there.

(Better still, I prefer what the American Indians believe. That is, how land belongs to no man, save to the Great Spirit, or God. And how land is only for man to look after, but not to own. But that's the problem with us Europeans, unfortunately. And that is the root of Statism.)

5 comments:

zke00 said...

Interesting read. You mention briefly that America is interested in seeing the Kosovo issue resolved quickly. I'd go so far to say that America was also interested in starting it in the first place. For the sake of disclosure, I'm an American, but also a libertarian socialist (effectively, an anarchist).

Our media presented the Serbia bombing campaign as support for the Kosovo Liberation movement, which was purportedly resisting a totalitarian regime (Milosevic). The human rights violations (which came mostly after the bombing started) were presented as corroborating evidence, and we weren't supposed to ask questions about the order of events.

A couple interesting facts that shine light on the issue: The KLA was openly recognized by the US as a terrorist organization until about a year before the NATO campaign (accd. to WP). Also, the ex-Communist Czech Republic were accepted into NATO in March 1999, just before NATO campaign got started. Vaclac Havel describes in his autobiography that, shortly after the NATO expansion, Bill Clinton held a "highly confidential luncheon" wherein he candidly set forth his reasons for invading Serbia. I haven't been able to find any information about the exact content of this meeting, but I think it would be really interesting to know.

It's conceivable that intra-Balkan relationships could have been normalized more peacefully had the US not thrown gasoline on a small fire. On the other hand, I'm no historian, so I could be totally wrong...

Alan Jakšić said...

Hello zke00.

Nice to meet a "libertarian socialist"!

A lot of the things you wrote above are things I would have agreed with two or three years ago. But not any more.

In all fairness to your country, the US did not "throw gasoline on a small fire", as you wrote above. Of course, it was Milošević who sprayed litres of petrol and a lot of firewood over a simmering flame! Indeed, I don't blame America or the West for any of the recent conflicts in the Balkans.

And as for the KLA being "recognised by the US as a terrorist organization until about a year before the NATO campaign", well, it actually got removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organisations before 1999 and the bombing campaign! Nevertheless, I have no sympathy for the KLA.

Also, it's actually inconceivable that "intra-Balkan relationships" would have improved, let alone normalised, had Milošević stayed in power.

If you would like to learn how it was like to live in Serbia during Milošević and how it is after him, go to Zamisli Srbiju ("Imagine Serbia", you'll find the "English" button at the top of the homepage) and the site of the famous B92 radio and TV channel (you'll find that site with an English version as well!).

All the best and do visit this blog whenever you can!

Alan.

Anonymous said...

the powder box of europe is at hand again, the declaration of indipenece of kosovo is the start of WWIII not offically off course. i belive that the usa needs this new conflict so they can remain the sole super power of the world but it is going to back fire on them and there tag of the sole super power as well.no one knows the problems there in kosovo, all people know is what the goverment lets them know. i dont think the problem is kosovo i belive it's a strugale to see if the usa still is in power. over the world...and i belive that after WWIII that tag will not belong to the usa, kosovo or serbia. but a nation that has been waitting for this motion from the usa. a mistake that the usa is making more often then then the use to.if people disagree with this coment just look up the first sentence (the power box of europe) on the net and see for them selfs what happen last time. the goldenpriest, ps good luck to all...

Anonymous said...

agree or not,what happened in Kosovo is the result of power politics.the Serbian people have become victims of both the reckless policy of Milosevic and the forced seperation of a sovereign state by outside powers.i fear that usa and nato have gone too far by opening a pandora's box

Anonymous said...

Ummm u pll r really stuped if u dont think Kosovo shouldnt get independnce couse this is y i think Kosovo deserve it they have tried to let the Serbian people live in Ks for many many years and the Serbian people did nothing but treat them like slaves they got their school got their jobs Kosovo people wherent even aloud to listen to albanian music of even have a Albanian flag on their house couse of them Kosovo tired for everyone to live in peace and let the Serbain move in but the Serbian people wanted to rule Kosovo and want em to have to right and no educationg that is why they decided that enough is enough and thats y the whole reason why the war started couse im sure that every country would've done the same if they had some other people living in their country and did the same thing that Serbians did to Albania so people make sure u get ur fact right then go talk bad about Kosovo