Blood Feuds continued

Kosovo: “Very Difficult and
Troubling Times” Ahead

    Moderator Ben Nathans, the M. Mark and Esther K. Watkins Assistant Professor in the Humanities, noted that the crisis in the Balkans was the only one discussed at the conference to have elicited a direct military response by the international community. But while the NATO intervention in Kosovo—the sustained bombing of Serbia in the spring of 1999—did succeed in ending the oppression of the Kosovar Albanians at the hand of the Serbs, it also sowed the seeds of a new round of conflict, according to historian Ivo Banac and New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges.
    Banac, the Bradford Durfee Professor of History at Yale, emphasized that the conflict in Kosovo cannot be looked at in isolation but rather as “part of the end of the second Yugoslav state.” While the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo had many sources, they were both attempts to create ethnically homogeneous states, he said.
    Banac traced the increasing oppression of the Albanian Kosovars through the 1980s, and especially in the latter part of the decade as the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic consolidated his power. By 1989, said Banac, Kosovo had gone from relative autonomy under the Tito regime in Yugoslavia to an essentially “apartheid society.” Through much of the 1990s, the response of the ethnic Albanians to this oppression was “infinitely patient and pacific.” Under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo, the Kosovars practiced passive resistance, creating a parallel society of schools, hospitals and associations. This approach was discredited in the wake of the 1997 Dayton peace accord—which settled the war in Bosnia but ignored Kosovo—and more militant views came to the forefront, leading to the growth of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Principal negotiator Richard Holbrooke’s “coddling” of Milosevic during the Dayton negotiations was seen as a “betrayal of the nonviolent movement in Kosovo,” said Banac. Kosovars realized that they had to “raise the cost of benign neglect” of the area. In the chaos following the collapse of the Albanian state in 1997, “arms became readily available to the would-be Kosovar insurgents,” and by the spring of 1998, “they were on the march using guerrilla tactics.” The Serb response was “a series of massacres,” completely discrediting passivist tactics in Kosovo, he said.
    In negotiations beginning in February 1999 at the French chateau in Rambouillet, the Western allies extracted a signature to a proposed settlement from the Albanians, “only because there was no expectation of Serbian acceptance.” Meanwhile, based on his past experience, Milosevic did not believe that the threatened intervention in Kosovo by the United States and the international community would actually take place. When the intervention did come, Banac added, it was “done in the worst possible way.”
    If NATO had unseated Milosevic and “de-Nazified” Serbia on the model of the occupation of Germany after World War II, it could have done Kosovo good, he said, “but that would have required ground troops.” The bombing may have ultimately loosened the dictator’s hold on power, contributing to his ouster in early October 2000. But the new administration in Yugoslavia—which received lavish praise and support from the international community—has similar views on the status of Kosovo: that it is part of Serbia, Banac said.
    Overall, Banac offered a “pessimistic prognosis” for Kosovo. While Rugova’s party won in municipal elections held in late October 2000, the KLA, itself riven by factional battles, “will be present on the scene as a destabilizing element.”
    Hedges, who was the Times’ Balkan Bureau chief in 1995-98 and has reported from the Middle East and many of the world’s conflict zones, expanded on Banac’s analysis of the KLA and “why we’re in this predicament.”
    Noting that he had had “very, very early contact” with KLA members—he recalled one clandestine meeting in early 1997—Hedges added that for a long time Rugova denied their existence, calling them “agents of Serbia.” The intelligence community also failed to recognize the potential for armed conflict in Kosovo early on, preoccupied with possible attacks on U.S. forces in Bosnia by the mujahadeen, militant Islamic fighters, many trained in Afghanistan. “The Clinton administration’s policy in Bosnia was not to send home any body bags. Whether they were effectual or not was irrelevant,” Hedges said. “So they completely missed Kosovo.”
    He described two factions of the KLA, one with Marxist roots and the other growing out of the Scanderbeg volunteer S.S. division—raised by Germany in Kosovo during World War II—which after the war fought against Tito’s partisans. The latter faction, aided by the Albanian secret police and led by Thaci Hashim, gained ascendancy “as the conflict evolved” through intimidation and, at times, assassination. Hedges called Thaci “essentially a local thug, not very bright, easily manipulated”—and widely feared.
    Believing that Rugova and his party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was “finished,” the U.S. “latched onto the KLA in the na‘ve belief that they could somehow control the movement.” Instead, the “U.S. got controlled.” Hedges told how, after the NATO bombing ended, KLA fighters first commandeered Serb apartments and then, when there were none left to take, started “coming in and throwing out Kosovar Albanians from their homes.”
    Following the LDK’s defeat of Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo in the October elections came “the murder and intimidation of Rugova supporters and pretty clear evidence that Thaci and his followers, while maybe not taking the formal reins of power, have no intention of giving up their very real grip on power.”
    Another looming danger, Hedges noted, was the desire on the part of the KLA to “regionalize the conflict” to other areas with large populations of ethnic Albanians such as southern Serbia, Macedonia and Albania itself. The fact that the LDK has won in the elections while the KLA “has sort of satiated itself in Kosovo,” he added, makes him believe that “we’ll see an expansion of the conflict, a clear destabilization of the political situation inside Kosovo, as Thaci uses the tactics that he’s always used—intimidation, threats and murder to thwart his rivals.” The next year or two, he concluded, “are going to bring us some very difficult and troubling times inside Kosovo.”

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