What's in Store for Kosovo?
Analysis with The Help of The New York Times, March 6-12, 2000
by Gilles d'Aymery
March 12, 2000 - Note from the Editor: Spring is ringing the bell of Nature's yearly renewal. In Kosovo, snow is melting. Are we going to start another conflict in the Balkans?
Summarizing the articles published by The Times helps, over time, to elucidate or at least tentatively make sense of an issue as viewed in the corridors of power. Naturally, the powers-that-be only let the public know what they want the public to know and no more. But over time one can see trends as to what the policy-makers want the governed to know and accept. In the case of Kosovo, it increasingly appears that they are preparing the public for all possible actions, from another armed intervention to laying low for the next few months so as not to become an issue during the US presidential elections, and everything in between. In other words, like the stories published in this national publication strongly indicate, the situation is muddy and, as I'll suggest at the end of the summary, the forthcoming military actions, if any, are far from clear.
March 7 - A 50-word News Summary warns that Balkan Tension Worries U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, is "very concerned" and "urges the Yugoslav government not to interfere in the area, even though it is not within Kosovo" [read in Serbia proper, though Kosovo remains officially a province of Serbia. Go figure!].
Interestingly the full article - written by Steven Erlanger who's in Prague to cover Secretary Albright's visit to the Czech capital -- is not published in the paper but can be found on its Web site. Erlanger quotes the Secretary: "It is very important that extremists on both sides not be allowed to disrupt the situation further." [We are] "concerned about some activities of the Albanians, and I [Ms. Albright] spoke to their leadership, and we'll continue to do so, because we want to work with moderate forces in Kosovo." But, "The only government involved in disrupting activities is the one in Belgrade." Ms. Albright was possibly referring to Agim Cehu and Hashim Thaci when wanting to work with 'moderate forces". An oxymoron? Never mind. Erlanger also mentions "An offshoot of the KLA, the rebel military force..." But this is the last time this expression is used in The Times, at least this week.
Barbara Crossette reports from the United Nations, in New York, where Bernard Kouchner, the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) director, and KFOR Gen. Klaus Reinhardt briefed the Security Council. U.N. Council Urged to Debate Political Future of Kosovo. How can the International Community adequately define the meaning of "substantial autonomy"? In other words, how can the international community let the province proclaim its independence over the objections of a few European States (Greece, Italy, France), without further alienating China and Russia and triggering another conflict in Macedonia, Bulgaria and Serbia? To echo President Clinton's remark that China was attempting to control access to and content of the Internet, let's just say: Good luck!
In the same edition, the Times carries an Editorial about A Cash-Starve Peace in Kosovo. What peace? Predictably, the Editors advance the U.S. Administration thesis: The European Union is slow to disburse the monies pledged for operating the Kosovo administration (France is noticeably singled out), the clashes in Mitrovica are "deliberately exploited by Slobodan Milosevich," and actions of armed Albanians close to the KLA are also contributing to the Metrovica conflict." Here again, one could ask whether the KLA has indeed disbanded? According to the Editors, provocative training by Albanian fighters inside Serbia itself [read: part of Serbia that is not officially under the U.N. juridiction] is only supplying "Mr. Milosovic with a pretext for his own disruptive efforts." Not one word about the killing of Serbs by those trainees! What if it read: "Provocative training by unknown Mexican fighters in Laredo, Texas, which is largely Mexican-inhabited, is supplying Mr. Clinton with a pretext for his own disruptive efforts (inferred, in Laredo)?" This analogy does not seem to have crossed the mind of the Editors. Instead, they conclude, "The West can be proud of its role in ending terror and mass expulsions from Kosovo. But it cannot yet be satisfied with its efforts to help build a functional, law-abiding society there." As always, we are satisfied and we could do better…
March 8 - Violence Erupts Anew in Torn Kosovo City, reports Carlotta Gall. An argument breaks out between an Albanian and a Serb. The Serb is shot dead. Angry Serbs gather. French troops move in to break up the confrontation. Albanians lob grenades into the crowd. Result: One dead Serb, 17 wounded French soldiers, possibly up to 20 Serbs and 5 Albanians injured. Television pictures show Serbs "milling around" the soldiers, "taking shelter behind armored vehicles and essentially sharing the same front." "The more radical of the Albanians say they now consider the French troops to be on the same side as the Serbs." Ironically, the Albanians have a point. First they attack Serbs. The French contingent is forced to intervene, thus foiling the attack. Therefore, the French are defending the Serbs. Isn't it amazing what logic can do for you with a little help from a syllogist! Just kill a few more French soldiers, get rid of them, expel all the remaining living Serbs, and Carlotta Gall will be able to write about Peace Anew in Bucolic Kosovo City.
March 9 - Carlotta Gall ventures to Mitrovica in order to report that French Fortify Posts in Violent Kosovo City. 1,000 words to ponder once more the hatred, the intractable situation, and the suggestion that the French troops are one-sided. Is there a trend here?
March 10 - A story surfaced in Europe (England and Germany) on March 9 that during the first two weeks of the war, a NATO spy might have leaked bombing plans to the Serbs. There would even be a secret US Department of Defense report backing those suspicions. You can't keep a secret report secret anymore! A German paper reported that it might even have been a US Air Force officer. A Serbian mole, disguised as a USAF officer, in NATO's foggy bottom. Those Serbs are really capable of anything! The story prompted a friend to write: "It attempts to portray NATO as a hapless halfwit who just stumbled from one event to another and, gee whiz, our weapons didn't work and we're not to blame for bombing civilians. It was the weather, it was spies, it was gremlins, but it sure wasn't us!" But don't worry, The Times says, NATO Denies Bomb Plans Were Leaked To Belgrade. The article is vague and ambiguous. Since its publication, the Pentagon spokesman, USAF Lt. Col. Vic Warzinski, has made clear that "With regard to allegations that there was a spy in their midst, our friends down at the (U.S.) Joint Chiefs of Staff say they found no evidence or indications that there was a spy operating at NATO." One breathes better. As another correspondent wrote: It would "prove once again that the people Uncle Sam righteously selects for virtuous obliteration (Serbs, Vietnamese, etc.) prove their perfidy by CHEATING instead of standing still to be wiped out." You know what? If there were a spy it ought to have been a French!
The Times also publishes a couple of Letters to the Editor. The first one from the E.U. Commissioner for External Relations (a.k.a. spokesperson) who strongly objects to having the E.U. depicted as a deadbeat donor to the struggling Kosovo administration, in the March 7 editorial. The second letter comes from a reader who finds the violence disheartening. "It seems that peace has a price that can be paid only with the bloodshed of innocents," obviously confusing the meaning of peace, which for a long time now, and definitely in Kosovo, has been spelled WAR.
March 11 - "A nascent guerilla force is replacing the KLA," warns The Times in NATO Chief in Kosovo Fears a Cross-Border Insurgency. Carlotta Gall details a joint news conference by Gen. Klaus Reinhardt and Hashim Thaci. The appearance was promoted by NATO's Supreme Commander, Gen. Wesley Clark in "an effort to send a political message to the population of Kosovo and beyond into Serbia." Hashim Thaci is quoted as saying, "Now as the president of a political party in Kosovo, my concerns only cover the territory of Kosovo." That certainly looks like an important political message. However, things are never simple in the Balkans. Another leader, Emrush Xhemajli, "leader of the National Movement of Kosovo, which supported the KLA organizationally and financially from its early days," is also quoted in the article: "To date, we have announced that we support them politically and morally," he said of the guerilla force, leaving open whether he would finance it. "It would be totally inhuman to forget them." Is this another political message? The KLA has disbanded, long live the LAK (Liberation Army of Kosovo)!
March 12 - What about a front page article for the Sunday morning readers? Jane Perlez reports that, "One administration official said that the driving force behind the policy now is to keep it "off the front page." So, the front page article should reinforce the stanch independence of the paper. As I submitted two weeks ago there's a lot of mud flying around. Kosovo's Unquenched Violence Dividing U.S. and NATO Allies. We are told there are "frictions over troop delays and persistent strife." The Europeans are not doing as much as they should. Despite NATO's presence, the "evil" Slobo "has continued to meddle in Northern Kosovo." "UNMIK has failed to prevent de facto partitioning of Kosovo." There is "continued ethnic bloodshed." "Albanian secessionists are stirring new trouble on the border of eastern Kosovo." (Note the Albanian appellation, Eastern Kosovo…) Folks, keep in mind, this is an election year. Gov. Bush, the silver-spoonish junior, calls for finding "political solutions for an orderly withdrawal from places like Bosnia and Kosovo." "The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John W. Wagner, said he would seek to withhold half of the $2 billion appropriation troops in Kosovo unless European nations increase their contributions to the United Nations there." And you know that the real threat is not the withholding of funds. When have you seen funds withheld for our valiant soldiers defending freedom and liberty all the way to the four corners of the unruly world? No, the veiled threat is to purely and simply withdraw the boys, which is not going to happen in a hurry. So, what to do when you've painted yourself in a corner? Well, if you are really stuck in there, glued into what's rapidly becoming a huge and chaotic hole, you can always point fingers. It's the Democrats. No, it's the Republicans. It's Milosevich, the French, the Europeans, even the Albanians… Nobody likes us, we who only out of our noble, virtuous, worthy hearts, out of our decency and our concerns for humanity, want to do good; and if it serves our strategic interests, well, so much the better. But cross my heart, we're there out of our simple goodness. And see how we are being treated? Life's unfair. Let's go home.
Does this look like an exaggeration? Okay, then, look at it this way. Spring is coming, snow is melting. Albanians want the job finished; that is an ethnically pure independent Kosovo and, if possible, as a bonus, a bite of Serbian and Macedonian land. They got real close to achieving the first part by expelling over 80 pct of the non-Albanian population under the half-close (U.S., Britain), half-open (French, Italians, Germans) eyes of NATO's KFOR. It never made the nightly news, or was simply dismissed as an understandable reaction, a justified retribution. Until Mitrovica, which might well become the Serbs' modern symbol of the Alamo syndrome but probably without the Alamo outcome. Behind the human drama, in the fog of war, you can also perceive the shadow of the Trepca mining complex whose ownership both sides want. This only heightens the drama and is a curse for the Western Powers. The latter care little about the mining rights. Whichever side owns the mines will sell on the Western markets as they already do or will do once the region is secured and becomes an island of free-market liberal democracy. The only reason some countries within the NATO Alliance would rather see the mines in Albanian hands is to throw a further blow to the government of Slobodan Milosevich. The U.S.A. is the bearer of this policy. The Europeans could care less.
The conundrum faced by the Western Powers is as clear as Alpine water.
If you can keep in mind that the real objective since Yugoslav president Tito's death, and definitely once the Soviet Union had dismembered, has always been and remains the carving of the federation in statelets governed by free-market autocrats or democrats, within the Eastward historical expansion of the West, then, the conundrum is the divergence among the Allies on the means to reach that objective. Washington is ready to finish the job however unpalatable the situation on the ground. European chancelleries, perhaps being closer to the region, perhaps facing a bigger domestic opposition, or again, perhaps because Europeans are not as steeled in their determination as the U.S. Administration is, Europe has balked at "finishing the job." As though the notion of a multi-ethnic Kosovo meant more to the sensitivities of the Europeans than to the Americans. There is a definite split in the approach to the quagmire.
The conundrum is further complicated because of, as Jane Perlez writes in today's article, "an overriding priority to avoid American casualties and keep Kosovo out of the news during an election year." The U.S. administration was quite satisfied to let its proxy army, the who-knows-if-ever-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, do the dirty job. Britain, as ever practical, concurred. Others in Europe did buy into the notion that NATO had gone to war against Serbia to establish a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo and they've held to this notion. It may also be true that some European governments, while unable to change their official tune regarding the dehumanization of the Serbs for the past decade, are slowly awakening to the realization that after all, what the Serbs had been clamoring for so many years, was turning out to be closer to the facts than to the mediatic campaign of disinformation (a.k.a. propaganda). For, how long can you legitimately keep arguing that the ethnic-cleansing of Serbs from Croatia to Kosovo is justified on the basis of the subhuman quality of the Serbs? Until not one Serb is left, dead or alive, in Kosovo?
Because, dead or alive, the facts will keep surfacing. And the expansion eastward might end up harder to swallow than expected and not as friendly a digestive as one had thought in the beginning (1991).
Note: For those who are convinced that the Western Powers are readying themselves to launch another campaign against Serbia, I'll only say that it is quite obvious. The question is: Can a divided KFOR, with the help of the KLA, or LAK, or whatever name, force the Yugoslav government to have an energetic response? If they can, then one can expect another surgical strike against Serbia. Then The New York Times and all of Officialdom will turn the public around in a matter of days, whether before or after the fact. But, I think, if it happens, that it will be a bombing strike, not an infantry one. Body bags are not welcome during an election year.
Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath
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