Kosovo: Why it is serious and what not to do

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 34 – March 5, 1998

“The statements and threats by European Union commissioner van den Broek and foreign secretary Robin Cook are imprudent: they focus on the actors, not on the problems. When Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the US House International Relations Committee talks about sanctions, sending “NATO and UN troops” to the region and supports “independent Kosova,” there is even more reason for concern.

They speak the language of power and violence, not of understanding and dialogue. And it is likely to harm the Kosovo-Albanians.

“The tragic truth is that since 1990, neither the United States, the OSCE nor the EU and its members have developed any policies to help the Serbs and Albanians avoid the predictable showdown we now witness in Kosovo.

There is much talk about conflict prevention, early warning, preventive diplomacy and non-military security. The second tragic truth is that there has been very little intellectual innovation since the so-called end of the Cold War. No new organisations have been created, geared to handle the new conflicts. Governments still seem unaware that their diplomats must be trained in conflict understanding and management – as anyone dealing with legal issues must be trained in law. And global media still focus on violence, not on underlying conflicts or possible solutions,” says Dr. Oberg who, during the last six years, has been personally engaged with a TFF team of experts in conflict-mitigation between Serbs and Albanians at government as well as NGO level.

Regrettably recent events in the Kosovo province of Yugoslavia confirm the early warnings by many independent voices, including the TFF since 1992 and, latest, our PressInfo from August 1997:

“The Serbs and Albanians have proved that they themselves are unable to start and sustain a dialogue process towards conflict-resolution and reconciliation. International attempts, lacking analysis as well as strategy, have failed, too. The overall situation has deteriorated and violence is escalating, slowly but surely. It simply cannot go on like that in the future, and go well. New thinking should be applied sooner rather than later.”

Following is Dr. Oberg’s assessment of why the Kosovo situation is dangerous:

“The Kosovo-Albanian leadership which supports pragmatic rather than principled non-violence and wants international involvement is rapidly being undermined by a “Kosova Liberation Army” whose violence suits the Belgrade authorities’ repression well, and vice versa. The Albanians proclaimed their independent state “Kosova” in 1990. They hoped that the Dayton process would include them and that the international community would not recognise Yugoslavia with Kosovo inside it. Since both assumptions turned out to be wrong, the Kosovo-Albanian leadership has not been able to devise a new policy and strategy for stepwise achievement of their longterm goal.

The Serbian leaders refuse any international governmental involvement in what they consider an internal affair of Yugoslavia. But that is no longer a viable argument. The increasingly violent situation in the Kosovo region threatens inter-national stability. Yugoslavia is eager to become an integral part of the international community and seeks much needed investments and loans; it can hardly have it both ways.

Thus, the Serbian and Albanian leaders share three things:

1) a policy with mutually exclusive positions
2) an inability to get an sustained, orderly dialogue going
3) an increasing, perceived need to use violence.

Thus, over time the Albanian side has gotten stuck with symbol policies of their independent state. The Serb side is equally stuck with nothing to offer but repressive policies within Yugoslavia. In short, a vicious circle.

In this situation it is counterproductive to issue warnings, threats or judgments – as has been done the last few days by Western diplomats in general and Hans van den Broek, Robin Cook and Benjamin Gilman in particular. Since the Yugoslav tragedy began in 1991, the US and the EU have proven remarkably incapable at analysing the conflicts and the complexities of the Balkans. Their policies are better characterised by nationalism and double standards than by “common” policies or statesmanship.

Do these diplomats seriously want us to believe that new economic sanctions against the 10 million people in Yugoslavia (of which 2 million Kosovo-Albanians) will make ordinary Serbs reconciliate with the Kosovo-Albanians or that they will make the Yugoslav leadership including President Milosevic initiate negotiations? Will Milosevic believe the West is really angry with him when it has made itself quite dependent upon his co-operation in the – fragile – implementation of the Dayton Agreement?

How many billions of dollars are the sanction-advocates willing to set off to compensate the trade partners who will be barred from trading with Yugoslavia – has, for instance, not Macedonia suffered enough under the former sanctions? How do sanction advocates think secession-prone Montenegro will react to being victimised once again?

Statesmen wanting to prevent violence would address the problem and ask: how can we help solve it? They would need facts, analyses, and some basic knowledge about conflicts as well as history and psychology – in short understanding – before making proposals.

Not so Gilman, Cook and van den Broek. Conscious about past conflict management blunders, they skip listening, knowledge and analysis, play it tough, apportion guilt, talk down, point fingers, and offer lectures on civilised behaviour. They pretend to know the ideal solution and threaten punishment in a tone you would use only to people you fundamentally don’t respect. By attacking the actors, they help solidify their locked positions and harden the attitudes.

And so they continue the history of European and American arrogance in the Balkans. If violence increases, they may turn the blind eye to the tragedy. Alternatively, they may exert a – self-appointed – moral obligation to intervene militarily arguing that this is the only way to make these people understand noble Western motives as well as intellectually and morally superior conflict-management…

But this is not the only way; it’s the worst way. In the PressInfo 35 we suggest other options. But a scenario along these lines can no longer be excluded,” ends Dr. Oberg.

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