Europeans, not Americans, Should Try to Solve Kosovo Issue!

Surprisingly, a lot of politicians and experts took time to publicly discuss the Kosovo issue. Nongovernmental organizations have been organizing round tables and events one after another. Did they do this because someone wanted to talk about Kosovo from first hand experience, or because that person wanted to swing the public debate on their side? I believe everyone has a right to an opinion, but publicly speaking about it is another thing. At these DC events, I have too many times encountered the speakers who wouldn’t be familiar with the Kosovo issue or the history of the Balkans. These self-proclaimed experts would still courageously read their prepared statements and pretend they are the ones we need to consult to have a full picture of the issue. The problem is that when someone speaks publicly the assumption is that this person knows more about an issue than most of the people in the crowd. Sadly, self-proclaimed experts are only misleading and misinforming those that blindly granted them credibility. David Cameron, the leader of the opposition in the United Kingdom, was one of them.

Opinions on when the tensions between ethnic Serbs and Albanians from Kosovo started vary. Thus, there is no dispute that in the last decade both sides undertook inhumane and internationally unacceptable atrocities.

In 1999, US foreign policy intervened in the dispute. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President William J. Clinton were more interested in bombing Serbia than encouraging a peaceful settlement in Kosovo. NATO acted under US instructions. Bombs were raining on Serbia for 78 days straight. Washington believed that material damage and innocent civilian lives were a collateral damage to the victory on the Balkans.

Before the bombing, Kosovo did not present a humanitarian crisis. Therefore, NATO had no reason or argument to get involved. Yet it still did, with grave consequences. NATO’s bombing led to the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo, which was orchestrated by the Milošević regime. It is estimated that around 7.500 to 10.000 ethnic Albanians were killed. Moreover, the refugee crisis was triggered and instability in the region exacerbated. Lives have been sacrificed, rather than saved.

While Americans were celebrating at home, around 250.000 people fled Kosovo in fear of Albanians and conflicts that erupted. Among those who ran for their lives were ethnic Serbs, Croats, Gypsies, Jews, and non-Albanian Muslims. Those who were not fast enough were imprisoned, beaten, kidnapped, robbed or shot. Even historic monuments, orthodox churches, monasteries, and other religious sites have been intentionally plundered and destroyed. The leaders of the Albanians in Kosovo denounced these actions but have also not done anything to stop them from happening. Americans didn’t only stop the Serbian military offensive over the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, they also controversially stepped in on the side of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Back in the United States, the rule of law was undermined when President Clinton waged war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without the sanction of a congressional declaration of war. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Condoleezza Rice argued that the United States should shun sending its peacekeeping and nation-building missions to the Balkans. George W. Bush, a presidential candidate at the time, believed that the United States should withdraw its troops from the Balkans. Even though both politicians changed their mind after only a year in power, they were right in the first place to oppose an American presence in the Balkans, as this local conflict did not present a threat to the United States, which is a constitutional requirement for the deployment of the US troops.

Clinton’s foreign policy, oblivious as it was about the political and historical context of events in Kosovo, did more harm than good in the region. On too many occasions foreign intervention has taught us that such actions are unsuccessful and leave behind an even greater mess and the procreation of new disputes and tensions. It is never too late for the Unites States to realize that their troops have no place in Kosovo. Withdrawal of all US troops from Kosovo and conveying responsibility to the Europeans is the only right step, which should have happened in the first place a long time ago.

Hence, there are two explanations as to why this has not yet happened: the State Department i) does not trust the European Union to be able to solve this issue or ii) has strategic reasons in the broader region of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Romania, etc. No matter what the State Department claims, the Pentagon is convinced that American soldiers have no reason to be stationed in Kosovo.

Also, the West needs to shake off the mistaken belief that federal nations with a protection for minority rights can be created artificially and with force. Those that believe that security and equal treatment can be guaranteed for the Serbian minority in Kosovo are living an illusion.

It seems logical that if a majority in Kosovo has a right to secede from Serbia, the Serbian minority will have the same
right to secede after Kosovo becomes independent. Another example could be Republika Srbska, that is just about 100 kilometers away and where citizens a couple of times already called their representatives to facilitate a peaceful independence from Bosnia and Herzegovina. These calls are not that big of a surprise, as no one wants to live in a country where international peace troops are indefinitely needed to avoid future conflict. At the same time, can these troops guarantee that new clashes will not arise? I am not an optimist in that regard.

There is little doubt that the current situation in Kosovo is not benefiting anyone, and that it is unsustainable. The
Serbian side is warning that one-sided decisions are dangerous. If Kosovo declares independence the Serbian government is planning to cut all diplomatic relations with the countries that will violate territorial unanimity and sovereignty of their country. The other side hopes that Kosovo will wait a little bit and declare its independence after the presidential elections in Serbia. Slovenia, which will preside over the European Union in the first half of 2008, should have a mission to discuss with all sides and prevent one-sided decisions. The fear of violence in the Balkans is too grave, and no one wants to re-experience it.

Even if Kosovo gets conditional independence, that will not be a fairy tale. The main problem will arise when they will try to enter the EU, as this will not be possible under the status they are currently seeking. Still, the ethnic Albanians do not want to acknowledge that.

In the last fifteen years, Europe has had the tendency of intertwining all areas, which has its pros and cons. The Balkans has decided to go the opposite way. I am not claiming that either of these two choices is a priori unproductive and a wrong step. Even still, it is interesting to observe how one part of Europe is striving to do everything on the same level and with lightening speed, while in the Balkans no one is willing to give up their uniqueness and personal visions. Time will show who will survive in the long run.

Tanja Stumberger – This article was published in the Tribunal (in Slovenian) on December 20, 2007, in Nova Srpska Politička Misao (in Serbian) on January 19, 2008, on website of the Serbian Government, Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija (in Serbian) on January 21, 2008, and in the Glas Kosovo i Metohija (in Serbian) on January 31, 2008.