Kosovo goes to hell
Tom Walker says that Tony
Blair is too busy doing global management to bother much about the
consequences of Nato’s humanitarian intervention in the Balkans
From the kitchen balcony of our old flat
in Pristina, we used to look out on a rubbish dump in the foreground,
then the precipitous and rutted Plevljanska Street, and across that
to the old Orthodox church of St Nikola. To the right of our flat
were some tumbledown one-storey buildings housing Serbs and gypsies.
The gypsies used to clean up the rubbish now and again, but never
to the point where it all disappeared. Sasa the Serb used to sell
us bootlegged petrol, which he nonchalantly glugged into our car
tanks while pulling on a cigarette. Thus it was that generally we
kept our distance from Sasa — as we did from the youths who lived
in the priest’s house by the church, who took a pot shot at our
balcony once and removed a large piece of masonry. But Pop Rade,
the priest, was an OK sort of guy, and I once sold him a Crooklock
for his stolen Audi. Life in the ’hood was a little uneasy at times,
but by and large we muddled along all right.
That was back in 1999. Sasa is long gone, as are the gypsies, their
impoverished little shacks demolished and built over. But until
a fortnight ago the church had survived, albeit thanks to regular
sentries being posted on its gates by Nato’s Kosovo force. Then
it too was burned to the ground, leaving only the rubbish dump as
a sort of immutable legacy of the UN/Nato recipe for multi-ethnic
This was the sort of thing that we were told wasn’t meant to happen
again: 3,600 Serbs pushed from their homes, which were then looted
and burned along with a good number of their churches and monasteries.
Britain sent 700 more troops, and in the Commons there were some
glib remarks about the problems of youthful nations. ‘We have known
all along, when we committed ourselves to resolving the terrible
ethnic conflict in the whole of the former republic of Yugoslavia,
that it was going to take some time,’ said Jack Straw. ‘I can’t
put a specific time on it.’
You bet, Jack. Let’s say a century or so, eh? The plain fact is
that Kosovo, or what we were told Kosovo was to become, isn’t working.
Where did it all go wrong, now that we cast our minds back to those
distant days when the Prime Minister was cutting his teeth in the
art of ethical warmongering? Five years is a long time in the vast
sweep of New Labour’s foreign peregrinations, and we’ve managed
to pack in quite a bit of bombing since we hit the old Yugoslavia.
But back then we were told that Slobodan Milosevic, our biggest
bogeyman since Hitler, had to stop his heinous clampdown on the
long-suffering Albanians. As Straw’s predecessor, Robin Cook, so
nobly put it: Nato ‘cannot permit a rebirth of fascism in Europe’.
Ignoring the fact that our great libertarian friends from the Kosovo
Liberation Army were as blind to ceasefires as the Serbs, and after
lots of ‘monitoring’ (insertion of spies/target identifiers) and
a few dubious massacres and then a very dubious one (Racak), we
moved into peace conference mode. At Rambouillet the Serb delegation
(minus Milosevic, who doesn’t travel well) was told that Nato must
have access to all its territory, and not just Kosovo. Oddly, they
didn’t sign up, and the Nato bombers warmed their engines.
Caught off guard by Milosevic’s intransigence, Mr Blair badly needed
a selling point for this little jolly and, with Milosevic’s ethnic
cleansing of the Albanians, he duly got it. With the pace of events,
he neatly skipped past lie number one: that the cleansing (operation
‘horseshoe’ — remember that one?) had started before the Nato campaign.
It hadn’t. Through the air strikes on Yugoslavia of the balmy spring
and summer of 1999, the momentum was kept up with the promise of
mass graves of Albanians to be found in the aftermath. There were
satellite pictures and eyewitness accounts to whet our appetites.
Any of this sound familiar? For Slobodan Milosevic, read Saddam
Hussein. For mass graves, read WMDs. In this age of instant reckoning,
of the television clip and the soundbite, war is cheaply sold in
the right package. What is not so easy is the aftermath.
Since 1999, the KLA have not proved to be the great defenders of
human rights they were once cracked up to be: some 350,000 Serbs
and other minorities have fled, and of the 100,000 left, many will
surely go. Empowered, the Albanians have fulfilled virtually none
of the conditions the UN has laid down as prerequisites for independence,
but nonetheless it is now universally agreed that that is the only
answer. The thugs have won the argument, and the last thing Nato
or the prototypical EU defence force wants is to have to take on
the inheritors of the KLA in their own backyard.
I am married to a Serb. My father-in-law was a Serb policeman (albeit
a traffic cop). I am sometimes accused of being ‘pro-Serb’ in the
way I look at Kosovo. I once reported seeing a tractor pulling a
trailerload of mujahedin in Kosovo, and was told that I was not
only pro-Serb, but fantasising.
Three Albanian children died before the latest violence, I am reminded,
and the Serbs started it. Well yes, maybe, but if an Albanian child
drowns in northern Mitrovica does that automatically justify dashing
out and burning down the nearest monastery? Or razing 350 houses,
and more than 20 churches?
There seems still to be an odd political correctness to reporting
the suffering of stateless Albanians, despite the fact that for
the four years in which they have held the province their leaders
have said nothing about the steady trickle of killings of Serbs.
I receive regular emails from Albanian agencies in Pristina arguing
that when a Serb village is wiped from the map, it is somehow Belgrade’s
fault. Or if not, then the UN’s. ‘Give us independence and all will
be well’ is the mantra.
Those Serbs who remain in Kosovo, and those not living in Mitrovica,
which adjoins Serbia itself, are sitting ducks. The nameless Albanians
who funded and invented the KLA from Geneva, New York and elsewhere
are pursuing their deadly plan.
‘There are elements out there who think that as long as there is
anything Serb left, there is a pretext for Belgrade,’ one of my
oldest diplomatic sources in the region told me last week. ‘There
is a minority of wild men who want to cleanse the land of everything
Still, Mr Blair doesn’t have to listen to my witterings. From his
own ranks, Alice Mahon just about hit the nail on the head when
she said, ‘Kosovo is a monoethnic state run by the Mafia, with ethnic
minorities living in guarded enclaves.’
But will he care? The New Labour Kosovo customer satisfaction helpline
has long since been pulled. Mr Blair has bigger fish to fry these
days, doing global management shoulder to shoulder with Dubya. Afghanistan,
Iraq, now probably Israel and Palestine; and all the time that golden
constant of the war on terror. The fact is that our Prime Minister
is probably just too damned important for little old Kosovo now.
If he had any humanity, he would fly to Pristina, and take Ibrahim
Rugova, the Kosovan leader, and all the other Albanian puppets with
him on a tour of their latest works. They could scuff their shoes
in the ashes of the Devic monastery in that birthplace of the Albanian
renaissance, the Drenica valley, and they could then travel on south
to Prizren and see for themselves the charred remains of the Church
of the Archangels. These were precious monuments — truly cradles
of a faith — and had little to do with the ugly concrete reminders
of retreating orthodoxy put up by Milosevic in haste in the 1980s
and 1990s. Blowing up the latter over the past few years was perhaps
understandable; burning down monuments from the 14th century — a
legacy that any Kosovan could have been proud of — was nihilistic
in the extreme. Apparently the Kosovan parliament has set up a fund
to rebuild them and all the houses; I’ll believe that when I see
We trundle on in this demented rollercoaster towards independence.
The Serbs in Mitrovica will no doubt stay, many as mad and thuggish
as their Albanian counterparts across the river Ibar in which the
three children perished. My Serb friends from Kosovo tell me that
communities will hang on in the middle, around the Gracanica monastery
and around Gniljane in the east. A few thousand more will cling
to the slopes of the ski resort of Brezovica and Strpce. Apart from
the Mitrovica lot, imagining any of them staying beyond the next
20 years is hard.
With whom will the new Kosovo trade? Currently 80 per cent of business
is with Serbia and all other possible partners seem less than promising.
The great mother country, that bastion of many an EU accession treaty,
Albania itself, is hardly the emerging economic tiger of the region,
and Macedonia and Montenegro, both with Slav majorities, are most
unlikely to embrace the new government of Pristina. Besides, there
are bloody great mountains in the way. All the decent roads lead
As with much of his foreign policy grandstanding, the final goal
of Tony Blair’s Kosovo adventure was not thought through. Thanks
to Rugova’s non-cooperation with Serbia throughout the 1990s, the
fledgling state has an uneducated, unemployed mass of disaffected
youth, easily whipped up by the sinister ringleaders to perform
whatever odious task is necessary in the Kosovo year-zero project.
Belgrade has long moaned about the drugs, but to little effect.
Saddest of all, perhaps, are the decent Albanians who have to sit
by in silence. I would too; Kosovo is the sort of place where dissenters
get sniffed out then snuffed out pretty quickly. Last month one
of them sent me an email to let me know that he and his family were
surviving. ‘The situation seems under control,’ he wrote. ‘KFOR
has finally appeared (after a few days), and the rest you can imagine
... Kristallnacht. Keep in touch.’
Tom Walker is the diplomatic correspondent for the Sunday Times.
© 2004 The Spectator.co.uk