Several recent events in and around Kosovo indicate
the emergence of new complexities and the thickening of old plots, as the Albanian
leaders of the UN-occupied province prepare for final status negotiations next
month with Belgrade under the aegis of the United Nations – though the strongest
influence is likely to be exerted by the U.S. and EU.
As always, the possibility for accompanying violence is high, though whether
this means the continuance of low-level acts of intimidation or spectacular
attacks against the province's Serbian minority – or both – remains to be seen.
What is clear is that the practically simultaneous arrival and departure of
key figures and organizations indicates, partly through coincidence and partly
through plan, that Kosovo's independence is being sped up – whether the region
is ready for it or not.
The Consolidation of Militant Power?
of Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova from cancer had been expected for several
months, but was nevertheless treated as a shock with potentially terrible ramifications
by the media. Those friendly to the prospect of Kosovo independence fretted
that it would set back the process, or else worried that in the ensuing power
leaders might fail to unite against "a tough and united delegation
from Belgrade." However, since every Albanian leader is gunning for independence,
this is unlikely. Rather, Rugova's succession will determine which leader will
have personal control over the province after final status has been decided.
Although much has been made of Rugova as some sort of Balkan "Gandhi"
for his alleged pacifism and intellectual image, this
image was overblown – though it was convenient for Western interests, who
for years tried to present Rugova as the "legitimate face" of the
Kosovo independence movement, to cover up a
reality of UN-approved militant gangster rule. But now, with none of Kosovo's
major political figures having clear-cut majority support, who will become the
A clue here is provided by Daniel Serwer, as
relayed by IPS. This distinguished American interventionist believes that
"'there will be a significant fight for power, and the outcome is still
unknown.' … [Serwer] says leaders with a wartime background will have a better
chance, which will make negotiations with Belgrade more difficult."
If such leaders have "a better chance," it's because someone is giving
them that chance. Indeed, it's hard to see how Rugova's passing cannot help
but to increase the power of Hashim
Thaci, and thus the influence of the United States in the negotiation process.
But the disappearance of Rugova also makes it easier for the Serbs to discredit
their remaining negotiating partners as the thugs they are – and so perhaps
call into question the wisdom of creating an independent country run by leaders
who have proven themselves to be extremely violent, virulently nationalistic,
and hardly interested in safeguarding the rights of Kosovo's minorities, something
that is (at
least theoretically) one of the preconditions for the province to assume
full responsibility for its future.
In addition, let's not forget that while the Albanians' grief was real and
heartfelt, the West's alleged sadness over the death of Rugova is more than
a little cynical. Recall the testimony of the
TFF's Jan Oberg in 2003:
"TFF [Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research] published
its first analysis on the conflict, "Preventing
War in Kosovo," 11 years ago based on on-the-ground fact-finding. Our team
spent four years between 1992 and 1996 providing the only sustained (written)
dialogue between three successive governments in Belgrade (and Slobodan Milosevic)
on the one hand and the moderate Kosovo-Albanian leadership under Dr. Rugova
and his LDK party which, as the only political leadership in former Yugoslavia,
advocated pragmatic nonviolent means to achieve its long-term goals, an independent
"This Kosova would have open borders, no military forces and no military
alliance membership and it would never repress anyone but was destined to be
based on multi-ethnic, nonviolent coexistence. I personally served during these
years as unofficial, goodwill adviser in conflict-resolution to Dr. Rugova and
our team suggested a number of these features and strategies to him and his
fellow leaders. …
"So, warfare broke out in Kosovo in 1997. The German intelligence first,
then the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, and private mercenary companies,
had done their utmost to undercut Dr. Rugova – who Western governments never
gave anything but lip service – and made the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, a
forceful actor in the province from 1993 onwards."
Long before the invasion of Kosovo had ever been iterated publicly, today's
Great Powers were dead set on war – and thus, on empowering the warlords. Their
lamentations now for the late Rugova are in exceedingly bad faith, and disguise
the more brutal reality that from the very beginning, it was inevitable that
violence was going to be rewarded. If the past 15 years of foreign interference
in Kosovo are anything to go by, the candidate with the most violent record
will win out in the upcoming presidential race. After all, in a place like Kosovo,
where all respect derives from fear, there can be no other way. No one should
be surprised that America is happy to accommodate itself to this reality.
The ICG Bails From Belgrade
On a related note, it was recently announced that
the one and only International
Crisis Group is closing up shop in Belgrade. Apparently, Serbia has just
not been violent enough for them to justify sticking around. According
to B-92, outgoing Serbia chief James Lyon told Belgrade paper Blic
that "you should be happy that we are leaving. We are going somewhere where
shots are being fired, and our feeling is that there will be no more shot fired
But there are more important implications of the ICG's quick exit. It effectively
means that the
messenger boy of Western interests will no longer run the risk of becoming
a whipping boy in the local press. Further, it won't even have to suffer the
tedium of listening to the Serbian side of the story as the Kosovo negotiations
get underway. By simply disappearing from the scene, it can in fact shirk all
responsibility of even acknowledging that there is a Serbian side of
the story – which suits the agendas of its Western sponsors, already hell-bent
on dumping the Kosovo problem as quickly and painlessly as possible into the
black hole of independence.
A Disconnect Assured
One of the chronic problems of the UN mission
in Kosovo has always been an operational discontinuity owing to the frequent
replacement of foreign employees on six-month or one-year contracts. This ensured
the "there was no continuity of mission, or pass-on intel," as one
former UN security official put it.
In other words, despite their formidable technological and military assets,
the UN officials have always been at a disadvantage where it matters most, in
terms of human intelligence. In attempting to take control of a dangerous foreign
land where the tight-knit locals speak incomprehensible languages and have their
own sophisticated criminal operations and networks, the UN effectively put itself
in an unwinnable situation. Even if all of the same officials had remained in
place since the beginning, the learning curve was so steep that it would still
be years, if ever, before they could be on equal terms with the locals.
Yet the fact that such a large percentage of them have been replaced on a dependable
annual or biannual schedule effectively ensures that with each changing of the
guard, the UNMIK is effectively going back to square one. And now, one of the
very employees to have been there since the beginning, Ombudsman
Marek Antoni Nowicki, has been replaced too. With him goes the veritable
conscience of the mission, the only staffer who held the UN accountable for
its failings. Nowicki
has been replaced by a local Albanian – a decision that will surely
ensure that the rights of Serbs and other minorities are respected. With the
removal of Nowicki, a clear message has been sent to those bent on Kosovo independence
by any means possible: do not fear that anyone on the "inside" will
protest when you expel the minorities.
All things considered, it seems remarkable, even irresponsible, that the key
power in Kosovo (the U.S.) is changing
its top military commander and rotating its troops just as the negotiations
are about to begin. What will probably unfold as the most dangerous period in
Kosovo's post-Milosevic era for U.S. forces in Kosovo will thus be overseen
by a brigadier general who, while he is no doubt competent, is a complete newcomer
to the place, leading National Guardsmen who have no idea what they're in for.
A lamentable sidebar to the UN Mission in Kosovo, and one that will no doubt
be cited by future historians, is that just as its employees have learned enough
about the place to actually do their jobs, they leave. It's understandable and
forgivable that the UN was at an operational and intelligence disadvantage upon
arriving in Kosovo in 1999; but the fact that it has continued to ensure this
disadvantage by summarily replacing all its staff is not. The UN has ensured
that those tasked with carrying out their responsibilities can successfully
avoid accountability in the "afterlife" – that is, when they escape
Kosovo and return to the anonymity of affluent Western society.
Yet this phenomenon is by no means limited to Kosovo: in fact, it is symptomatic
of all international peacekeeping missions, and one of the prime reasons for
their uselessness and malignancy. Global peacekeeping and "crisis management"
today are just a business that thrives on conflict; as one Kosovo local who
has worked with the internationals there for years told me recently, "The
UN waited until the Darfur [Sudan] atrocities had already happened before stepping
in, to create the conditions for a humanitarian mission. So for the last few
months, the UNMIK guys are now telling me they'll get out of Kosovo and head
to Sudan – because the money's drying up here as the mission winds down, and
that's where the money is now."
The Significance of Recent Arrivals
As the negotiations begin, a combination of new
faces and old will be found gathered around the table. At the same time, other
actors behind the scenes may have a significant role in affecting the final
An injection of fresh blood into the process creates a façade of objectivity
and fairness in the negotiations. But since what needs to be upheld above all
is the legacy of the interested parties (i.e., that NATO's aggression was really
benevolent humanitarian intervention, the subsequent UN occupation was generally
overall righteous and good, etc.), the newcomers will be kept on a short leash.
Indeed, there is clear continuity of involvement between those present in the
illegal war of 1999 and those pushing, however subtly, for Kosovo's independence.
The main figure from the "old faces" camp is the UN's special envoy,
the former Finnish president who previously served as negotiator between NATO
and Belgrade in 1999. His good services were described with breathless adoration
by the former assistant to Strobe Talbott, John Norris, in his memoir Collision
Course. Ahtisaari is also chairman emeritus of the ICG, which has fervently
and consistently championed independence as the only solution for Kosovo.
Another old hand from the Kosovo bombing, former
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, will necessarily play a crucial role
in his current incarnation as the EU's foreign policy chief. He has dispatched
a senior adviser, Stefan
Lehne, as the Euro-envoy. And the Americans
are sending for their envoy one Frank
Wisner, a former Pentagon official, ambassador to India (among other countries),
and old Enron man with a
reputation for driving a hard bargain, but no apparent connections to the Balkans.
Last week this "seasoned diplomat," as Condoleezza Rice described
him, said that the U.S.
was "deeply committed to the negotiations that lie ahead and their
rapid conclusion." We all know that there is only one conclusion that can
be reached "rapidly": independence.
And there are, of course, external actors working to move the process in this
direction. The Financial Times on Dec. 2, 2005, carried a
detailed article on the lobbying efforts now furiously underway in Washington
and New York. While the Serbs as usual have yet to catch up, the Albanian "Alliance
for a New Kosovo" is in business:
"[F]ollowing a well-worn campaign trail, the Kosovo Albanians have
a put up a large pool of money, attracted big names among former U.S. officials,
brought in a big ticket think-tank and international lobbying company and marshaled
their supporters in Congress.
"'The only reasonable answer is independence,' declared Samuel Hoskinson,
president of the Alliance and former deputy head of the National Intelligence
"He was joined at the Metropolitan [Club] by Frank Carlucci, former
defense secretary and emeritus chairman of the Carlyle Group, the private investment
firm close to the Bush administration. …
"The conference was co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International
Studies, a prestigious think-tank whose analyst, Janusz Bugajski, advises the
"It has also hired Jefferson Waterman International, a lobbying company.
Unannounced behind the scenes, however, was the man who made it all happen –
Behgjet Pacolli, head of the Swiss-based Mabetex Group and possibly the world's
richest Albanian. A resident of Lugano, Mr. Pacolli is seeking to convert his
wealth into political influence in his native Kosovo, where he grew up in poverty.
Now he numbers the rich and famous among his friends, including former presidents
Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton."
The Alliance's board boasts
many other luminaries from the world of government. The inclusion of the good
old William Walker, of Racak
fame, is certainly fitting.
Regarding less tactful methods of enforcing change, an unconfirmed but intriguing
alleges that the return of former Albanian intelligence services (SHIK)
chief Bashkim Gazidede to Tirana on Dec. 10, 2005, was not accidental. Gazidede
had been employed from 1992 to 1997 during the government of Sali Berisha but
was exiled with the latter's defeat. Yet with Berisha himself having been returned
to power as prime minister, it seems that this former intelligence chief
once accused of crimes against humanity is also back. The report expands on
that Gazidede "retains close relations with extreme Islamists and with
members of the international terrorist organization al-Qaeda. He supports the
Islamists in the Balkans, and he is the main organizer for the transportation
of volunteer Islamist Albanians to join the Chechnya terrorists."
The report notes an unusual coincidence: that Gazidede left Turkey for Albania
on the very day that FBI Director Robert Mueller visited Ankara; two
days later, CIA chief Porter Goss arrived in Turkey, both with the apparent
primary task of warning the Turks about possible air strikes against Iran later
this year. It claims that "Bashkim Gazidede is the link between the Turkish
Intelligence Agency (MIT) and SHIK [intelligence agency] of Kosovo," and
has since his return been holding meetings with his Kosovo peers in order to
hammer out a strategy for forcing independence – by intimidating and expelling
the remaining Serbs from Kosovo.
The Arguments and the Ramifications
At bottom, the arguments at work in the negotiations
will be the Serbian right of state sovereignty, which was guaranteed in the
UN proposal that ended the 1999 war, versus the Albanians' alleged right of
self-determination. As has been widely noted, many ethnic groups will be watching
the result of this battle carefully; leaders in various states, disturbed by
their own unruly minorities, have warned that Kosovo cannot become a "precedent"
for secessionism at home. It seems that the example NATO wished to set of a
"humanitarian intervention" has had other applications as well.
Indeed, one of the accompanying Serbian arguments against independence has
been that while there are still scores of stateless peoples in the world, creating
an independent Kosovo would give the Albanians two states (three if we count
Macedonia, and there's no real reason not to). Where's the fairness in that,
Yet we all know that international politics is not about fairness. Especially
in Kosovo, where might makes right and possession is eleven-tenths of the law,
there is no reason to expect that Albanian political/militant leaders will not
eventually resort to violence to get what they want (after all, it's not as
if they ever stopped).
At the same time, the Serbian leadership must tread carefully. Those foreign
critics who impatiently call on them to just give in because the province is
obviously lost anyway are forgetting the fact that no Serbian president wants
to go down in history as being the one who signed away the historical cradle
of the Serb nation. Indeed, even worse than being assassinated immediately afterwards
would be living with the shame of it.
Whatever happens to Kosovo, the real danger is its knock-on effect on the region.
The West continues with its stupid plan of pushing for Montenegrin independence,
knowing full well that Albanian secessionists both there and in Macedonia will
be either emboldened or enraged by Kosovo's respective independence or lack
thereof, and the outcome is likely to be violent. Albanians in south Serbia
are already agitating to be included in the new Kosovo. The largely Muslim-populated
border area separating Serbia and Montenegro, the Sandjak, will start to express
its own grievances once the two republics are severed, while Hungarian machinations
in Vojvodina will also intensify. And then, lurking behind it all, there is
the specter of Bosnia, the forcibly centralizing ethnic federation whose future
is far from assured.
But it's too late now and the main actors too arrogant for the West to admit
that they made a big, big mistake by intervening in Kosovo. One had only to
look at history as well as contemporary regional realities to understand that
the province was a hornet's nest best left untouched.
Back in 1999, the U.S., NATO, and the EU were happy to stick their collective
hand into the nest – but now, it's everyone else in the immediate vicinity who
will get stung.