How to make sense of the Kosovo/Kosova independence issue?
Kosovo is diplomacy’s elephant’s graveyard, a bleak place where our best hopes and strategies and principles forlornly creep away to die.
There is nothing uniquely special or principled or even self-evidently fair about the Kosovo Albanian majority’s demand that a new independent state dominated by them be set up in
The ethnic mix of the Kosovo population has ebbed and flowed down the centuries with different empires and wars and consequent rounds of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Nor has there been a consistent delineation of the territory defining Kosovo. But at least for most of the past 100 years most of Kosovo has been recognised by the rest of the planet as part of
I came on the case in February 1981 a few months after the death of Marshall Tito himself when I walked into HM Embassy Belgrade as the squeaky clean new Second Secretary Political/Information, to be told that there had been ‘disturbances’ in Kosovo – a startling development in the harmonious communist world. Kosovo at that stage was (like Vojvodina) an ‘Autonomous Province’ within Serbia but with most of the attributes of a full Republic within communist Yugoslavia, including eg a Kosovo representative in the convoluted eight-person collective SFRY Presidency.
These student-led disturbances were mobilised under the slogan ‘Kosovo – Republic’. Not a claim to independence as such, but an obviously handy step in that general direction. If ever
Some months after the disturbances I was one of the first foreign diplomats allowed back in Kosovo. I picked up a genial local Albanian hitch-hiker, who explained it all succinctly. “There are far more Albanians than Montenegrins. They have their republic. Why can’t we have ours too? Our policy is simple. We are going to have lots more babies than the Serbs until they have to give us a republic!”
The local demographic trends did of course strongly favour the Albanians. A fact not lost on
The official Serbian default position alas was not to think. Instead crass oppression, partly in the form of an extended series of communist show-trials: after farcical hearings lasting only a couple of days sizeable groups of Albanians young and old would be sent to long terms of imprisonment for their part in the disturbances. Such blatant injustice in this human rights black hole in Europe not far from
Not that anyone other than the inordinately freedom-loving Great Leader of Albania Enver Hohxa and the Kosovo Albanians objected. Everyone from Western conservatives through European social democrats and Marxist pseuds to Chinese/Soviet communist hardliners and on to ‘non-aligned’ Third World dictators (albeit for quite different reasons) wanted ‘stability in the Balkans’, featuring above all the ‘territorial integrity of post-Tito
But the Cold War ended.
Now the Kosovo Albanians could point to the unrelieved ghastliness of Slobodan Milosevic and start to turn parts of world opinion in their favour. However, let’s remember that through their successive electoral boycotts they helped both create and sustain Milosevic’s power, deliberately following a hard-core painful policy of ‘the worse, the better’.
This explains why the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniacs) have little if any sympathy for the Kosovo independence cause – they suffered horrible losses from the Kosovo Albanians’ studious passivity in the early 1990s, which allowed Milosevic and his villainous allies to hammer away at Bosnia without fearing a ‘second flank’ against him in the south.
When Albanian insurgents/rebels/militants/terrorists (pick your epithet) did open that front in 1998, they knew they could count on a violent and excessive reaction from Milosevic. It happened.
And lo!, thanks to Milosevic it came about that for the first time in a thousand years the prospect of Albanians Winning and Serbs Losing in Kosovo started to gain some international approval. NATO intervened militarily against
These claims rely on a strikingly ruthless and un-European single-mindedness. Serbia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in 2000 told me how an elderly Albanian in southern Serbia had put it to him straight: “Mr Covic, you have two children. I have six. I am prepared to sacrifice two of my children to the cause. How many of yours are you prepared to sacrifice?”
This sort of thing is not what today’s European leaders supported by the foppish naifs who inhabit EU Working Groups are able to understand, let alone confront. So instead they park on the argument that because Kosovo’s Albanians doff their caps and sign every human rights commitment we serve up to them, Kosovo’s independence will be another beautiful expression of European modern multi-culturalism.
If Kosovo does declare independence in the coming days or weeks, let’s at least be honest.
This development will give some two million people a fair chance to run their own affairs after many decades of wretchedly incompetent and violent rule or attempted rule from
But it also will be an act of substantive ethnic partition of a democratic country in modern Europe, plus a formidable triumph for the most hard-line Kosovo Albanians and their relatives’ extended organised crime networks. Above all, after we rightly plonked a Monty Python foot on Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia this will be a victory for ‘Greater Albania’. And maybe not the last one.
So appropriate congratulations to Albanian Will, ably exemplified by steely self-sacrifice, wily use of force and bravura political marketing and manipulation.
This development also will represent a deeper radical change in
Kosovo’s independence by contrast probably will be achieved without clear EU unity (in itself a sign that something is not quite right) and in the face of strenuous if cynical opposition from
It did not have to be this way.
Why is our former
This is more a psychological than political question.
It would have been reasonable to play this one very long - to tell the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians that there would be no discussion of status until both had lifted their game and moderated their behaviour towards significant European standards as part of a shared trajectory towards full EU membership.
Or we could have accepted Reality with a small dash of Fairness (sometimes a wise approach) and said that neither side wins all of Kosovo, so the territory has to be shared somehow, eg through formalised EU-supervised power-sharing. Or negotiated border changes. Or the creation of ‘Entities’ as underpinned the Dayton outcome in Bosnia. Or maybe something based on Swiss-style cantonisation.
The Serbs have put all these ideas and more forward, drawing on
More importantly, the Albanians/Kosovars have made clear that they would not respect any such nuanced approaches and indeed would simply brush them (ie us) aside. Neither Europeans nor Americans have been prepared to stand up to this blackmail. Nor have we been ready to allow
Thus it is that another notable building-block from the Versailles Treaty following WW1 finally falls away. Will independence settle the Kosovo Question? Yes. Exactly like the
While we all wrestle with the fearsomely complex policy issues surrounding Kosovo, one overwhelming fact has to be faced.
It is that successive Serbian leaders unerringly backed by stupidly populist Serbian media have gone out of their way to offer the Kosovo Albanians, their fellow citizens, nothing but contempt.
Back in 2001-03 I tried to explain to then President Kostunica and his entourage that it made no sense to insist that Kosovo was part of
When, for example, a truck containing the bodies of Albanians massacred by Milosevic’s forces was found in the
Back came the appalling answer. “There are many mass graves in and around
Sometimes it happens that others get things they don’t fully deserve. But when that happens you can’t credibly complain much if you do get exactly what you deserve.
As far as Kosovo is concerned, having accepted and applauded this sort of leadership for a very long time