The Kosovo War: No failure, all had an interest in it

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 42 – August 17, 1998

Originally published here

“Look at what happens in Kosovo and you would like to believe that all good powers worked for PREVENTION of this tragedy but that, unfortunately, tragedies happen. Governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations are already overloaded with ongoing conflicts and catastrophes; budgets are tight etc. Admittedly these are very complex problems; and just as all diseases cannot be prevented, we can’t expect all wars to be prevented.

According to this theory, if things go wrong it is the parties’ fault and if they go well it is thanks to the international community and a few shuttling envoys or diplomats. World media naively corroborate this theory: We watch how diplomats, envoys, and delegations fly around, hold press conferences, meet their kin in palaces or make solemn declarations if they don’t issue threats. In short, do all they can to stop wars and force people to negotiation tables, don’t they?

Well, no outbreak of violence on earth was more predictable than the one in Kosovo. There have been more early warnings about this conflict than about any other, but there was no early listening and no early action. There was neither the required conflict-management competence nor political will to prevent it.

We live in an increasingly interdependent world; we are told that hardly anything belongs to the internal affairs of states. The other side of that coin is that Kosovo was and is our problem. If we believe in this theory we must ask: when will honest people, including politicians, begin to openly and self-critically discuss why they fail again and again to avert even the most predictable wars? Is it human folly, institutional immaturity, are diplomats just not appropriately trained in violence prevention and conflict-resolution, or what?

I am afraid there is another more accurate but less pleasant explanation,” says TFF director Jan Oberg after his recent mission to Belgrade, Prishtina and Skopje where he had more than 50 conversations with heads of states, party leaders, intellectuals, media people and NGOs.

“This other explanation is less apologetic, more cynical. It simply assumes that things like Kosovo happen because it is in the interest of powerful actors that it happens. Preventive measures are merely a cover-up for such less noble interests. I can’t avoid the feeling that in the case of Kosovo many central actors had an interest in this war.

The Yugoslav government has insisted for years that Kosovo-Albanians are not only separatists but also terrorists, that Dr. Rugova’s leadership based on pragmatic non-violence was just a facade. It reminds us of periods in the 1970s, 1980s and now 1990s to prove its point. And now there is an Albanian Army and its spokesman repeatedly talks about total independence and unification towards a Greater Albania. “There you see,” Yugoslav president Milosevic can argue, “we were right and you people in the international community were fooled by the Albanians. We now just preserve the integrity and sovereignty of Yugoslavia like you would if you had a similar movement in your territory.”

The Yugoslav/Serbian opposition which – like the government – has absolutely no idea about what to do with Kosovo, can blame Milosevic: “There you see, Milosevic took no initiatives to start negotiations, he just won time. Now he has proved that he could not solve it as an internal affair, so now we have more foreign diplomats running around here than ever! He will be even more powerful by winning the war in Kosovo and no one dare start reforms or demonstrate in the streets of Belgrade while this happens. Our economy will be even worse but that’s what everybody expects anyhow; the people are in apathy from all these years of economic deprivation and isolation from the international community. In the shadow of Kosovo, the regime now also tramples on the freedom and independence of the judiciary, the universities and media. Milosevic knows the international community won’t tolerate secession through violence, and he needs crisis to keep himself in power. And the international community needs him for Dayton and to keep separatism elsewhere at bay.”

President Rugova of the self-proclaimed independent state of Kosova who favours nonviolence, might tell you this: “There you see, since 1989 we have warned the international community that we could not keep the population behind the nonviolent line if we did not get some help to achieve some results, either by NATO presence or bombings or by forcing Belgrade to negotiate with us. But no one really did anything to help us to achieve our human rights nor to get out of this police state.”

The Albanian opposition may see it this way: “There you see, Rugova never listened to us. He didn’t allow the assembly of our elected parliament, he increasingly marginalised all other leaders and controlled the press. Presumably he has always been in collusion with Milosevic. He is not a dictator but his strategy yielded nothing; he promised an independent Kosova but where is it? We in the opposition knew that it had to end in violence, the only thing Belgrade understands.”

The leaders of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA/UCK), we may imagine, will reason somewhat along the same lines but add: “Many of us were political prisoners and when we came out nobody listened to us. We are now risking our lives for the liberation of our Kosovan Motherland and we simply don’t listen to politicians anymore, least of all Rugova. Power grows out of our guns so you better see UCK as the real present and future political power here in Kosova.”

Well, but did the international community not do a lot to prevent war in Kosovo? I don’t think so,” continues Jan Oberg.

“The Kosovo issue was never high on the agendas in Hague, in London or in Geneva; it was not included in Dayton and no other initiatives were taken. Yugoslavia was recognised as a sovereign state with the Kosovo province inside but with no modalities. No systematic negotiation effort was ever tried and is not being tried even now. The best time to have found a tolerable solution was in 1992-93 when Milan Panic was prime minister; he had honest, energetic ministers for justice, human rights and education who did more than any other government before or after to solve this problem – but they got no support from the West. The Kosovars said ‘no thanks’ to dialogue with Panic because their strategy of mobilisation of international support and intervention stood a better chance with a “bad guy” like Milosevic in Belgrade than with a “nice guy” there like Panic.

Didn’t the international community know that war was brewing in Kosovo? Of course it did! Look – in and around Kosovo, in Albania, Belgrade and Macedonia the international community has, for years, had NATO, US troops, the UN and OSCE missions in Macedonia, a US government office in the centre of Prishtina, EU monitors, embassies, shuttle diplomats, it has had intelligence officers from numerous countries and satellites in space which can monitor movements and see number plates on cars. Are we really to believe that the build-up of the Kosova Liberation Army, the training of soldiers and civilians, the acquisition of hundreds of thousands of arms and tons of ammunition that has gone on – according to Albanian sources – since 1992-93 was unknown and that the outbreak of war in the region came as a surprise? None of the diplomats I met who have served in the region for quite some time denied that all this was well-known. But their governments back home turned the blind eye to the lead-up to the war and prevented none of it.

The international community has decided that its interventions and missions in Macedonia and Albania are successful, albeit not perfect. Period! That the one-time friend of the West, Sali Berisha, now runs the uncontrollable Northern Albania which is the de facto base for KLA/UCK proves it may not have been such a success. Macedonia is stable and democratic, we’ve been told for years, irrespective of the fact that all the old problems remain basically unresolved. UNPREDEP is a marvellous mission but it was stationed in Macedonia for the wrong reasons – to prevent a completely unlikely aggression by Serbia into Macedonia.

The international community did not get a mission into Kosovo where it would have been relevant. Instead, in 1991 it foolishly suspended Rest-Yugslavia’s perfectly legitimate membership of the OSCE after which Rest-Yugoslavia discontinued OSCE’s three missions in Kosovo, Voivodina and Sandzak. Had they been around until today, the war would hardly have happened. So, whatever the international community would have done recently to “prevent” the Kosovo war, it would implicitly have recognised that earlier actions were not such big successes. Or outright failures.

At least some powerful actors saw it to be in their interest NOT to prevent the present war in Kosovo.

I see quite a few such interests,” says TFF’s director who has worked with the Kosovo conflict on both sides since 1992.

First, you make contradictory commitments that satisfy conflicting governments in the EU/ Contact group and the US. Thus, for years you support the idea of sovereignty and integrity and remind everyone that borders cannot be changed by force. But while you do that you also want to punish Serbia for its behaviour in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, so you receive Dr. Rugova in all possible capitals and parliaments and listen to his maximalist policy of independence for Kosova and support his minimalist strategy of nonviolence. Since 1991 you do three things that encourage all Albanians: a) you never dissociate your government from the Kosovo-Albanian press claims that they have the international community’s support for an independent state (while what you told them was that you supported their struggle for human rights); b) you never invite a Yugoslav diplomat or minister to your office to listen to that side of the story, and c) you let American presidents make various hints that the West will come to rescue Kosova should Serbia misbehave.”

Second, wars like this are in the interest of those who profiteer from the trade in arms, drugs, prostitutes, looted war property, cigarettes, oil etc., the smugglers, the mafia, the security services, mercenary companies, private consultancy firms and paramilitary formations – which do the dirty job for democratic governments. They are promoted and protected by politicians who have come to power through a) Western-endorsed free and fair, democratic elections, b) privatisation of the social(ist) property created up till 1989 by employees everywhere, and c) simple war-profiteering. Thus the Eastern European as well as the Caucasian environment now breeds one politico-economic-military-bureaucratic-criminal – PEMBC – complex after the other. They have the real power while many with formal titles are either powerless or incompetent as politicians.

Third, you deliberately wait to intervene until violence and chaos reign. Then you can present Mr. Holbrooke, Christopher Hill – or some other presumed miracle-maker – the EU, the Contact Group or NATO as saviours and peacemakers and argue: “There you see, you proved you could not manage your own problems, we have to manage them for you.” When that role is established, you can much more easily dictate the terms of a negotiation as well as an outcome that fits your longterm strategic, political and economic interests in the region. All, of course, is done in the name of peace, democratisation, privatisation, marketisation and human rights. So, the more the international community “fails” to prevent violence in non-vital countries, the more it can control and gain in them later.

Four, you use the opportunity to present NATO as the eminent new ‘peacekeeper’ – and keep the UN in the shadow. There are threats of NATO bombings or intervention, there are exercises and statements about who could be taught a lesson, if…So, it looks like “we do something, we won’t accept a new Bosnia” – and similar nonsense. This serves to hide earlier conflict-management fiascoes from citizens in Europe and the US. These threats, in clear support for the Albanians and UCK/KLA come three years after the same countries helped Croatia to ethnically cleanse its territory of 250 000 perfectly legitimate Serb citizens of that republic. Not very credible or moral, but who remembers?

True, it costs a little more with all these troops, missions, military aid, exercises, training programs, humanitarian aid and economic aid for reconstruction, but it establishes the international community – the US in particular – as masters for long enough to bring these “failed states” under the control that is essential to transforming them into submissive allies in the larger process of globalisation and world order transformation. And they are expected to be grateful to the West.

Concretely in Kosovo: this way of handling the conflict serves to strengthen Milosevic in the short run and weaken him in the long run. Iraq seems increasingly to be the State Department’s model in Serbia, and the EU has no ideas and no common policy for the region. Some kind of partition of Kosovo will create even more internal conflicts among Albanians in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia – thus easier to control by the West in decades to come. Germany will advance diplomatically, economically and little by little also militarily; the whole region is already a DM zone and Germany has replaced Serbia as Macedonia’s largest trading partner. The US will provide the overall framework a la Dayton and then the strategic, NATO-oriented impetus, the training of police, security and military of these “failed” but resurrected states as it has done from Croatia down through half of Bosnia to Albania and Macedonia. No wonder that US diplomats head almost all international missions in the region now.

In short, Kosovo or rather Serbia/Yugoslavia is now the centre of the globalisation and world order restructuring. The modes of operation differ but it is part of the same transformation that we have seen in Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia, Somalia, the Great Lakes, Croatia, Bosnia and Iraq. It implies a power struggle between the US/NATO and a Balkanized, loud-shouting but paralysed EU.

Who pays the price? Innocent citizens-turned-refugees and 90% of the other ordinary citizens in these lands, many of whom lack the education or political consciousness to see through the games played over and above their heads. Next, civil society, co-existence and human community. And, third, moral values and the ideas of democracy, trust and – peace.

You may find my view cynical but I am convinced that only by being cynical in the analysis can we be truly humane and work to help those who suffer from all these double standards and power games,” concludes Jan Oberg.


August 17, 1998

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