Very Difficult and
Troubling Times Ahead
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 Kosovothe
sustained bombing of Serbia in the spring of 1999did 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.
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 Rugovas 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 accordwhich settled the war in Bosnia
but ignored Kosovoand more militant views came to the forefront, leading
to the growth of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Principal negotiator
Richard Holbrookes 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.
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 dictators hold on power, contributing to his ouster in early October
2000. But the new administration in Yugoslaviawhich received lavish praise
and support from the international communityhas similar views on the
status of Kosovo: that it is part of Serbia, Banac said.
offered a pessimistic prognosis for Kosovo. While Rugovas 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
Hedges, who was
the Times Balkan Bureau chief in 1995-98 and has reported from
the Middle East and many of the worlds conflict zones, expanded on Banacs
analysis of the KLA and why were in this predicament.
Noting that he
had had very, very early contact with KLA membershe recalled one clandestine
meeting in early 1997Hedges 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 administrations 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.
two factions of the KLA, one with Marxist roots and the other growing
out of the Scanderbeg volunteer S.S. divisionraised by Germany in Kosovo
during World War IIwhich after the war fought against Titos 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 manipulatedand widely feared.
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.
LDKs defeat of Thacis 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
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 well see an expansion of
the conflict, a clear destabilization of the political situation inside
Kosovo, as Thaci uses the tactics that hes always usedintimidation,
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