Kosovo/a independent? Perhaps, but what matters is how

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 106 – December 4, 2000

Originally published here.

 

The main proposal in the independent international Kosovo Commission’s report is that Kosovo should be given conditional independence. This PressInfo deals with this proposal and a few other aspects of the report.

 

THE FIRST PARAGRAPH

The very first paragraph of the report’s executive statement states: “The origins of the crisis have to be understood in terms of a new wave of nationalism that led to the rise of Milosevic and the official adoption of an extreme Serbian nationalist agenda. The revocation of Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989 was followed by a Belgrade policy aimed at changing the ethnic composition of Kosovo and creating an apartheid-like society.”

Here are some simple counter arguments: a) nationalism alone certainly can not explain the conflicts in the region; b) not only the Serbs used nationalism, so did Bosnian Muslim, Croats, Macedonians, Slovenes and Albanians at the time; c) it indicates a poor understanding of Milosevic to say that he was a nationalist; he sold out Serbs and the Serbian ’cause’ repeatedly in order to remain in or increase his personal power; d) there was no official adoption of nationalism; e) Kosovo’s autonomy was not revoked, it was sharply reduced and, for sure, it was done in an offending, authoritarian way; f) there is no evidence that there was an official policy in Belgrade with the aim of changing the ethnic composition of the Kosovo province, but there was a worry over the fact that over the preceding 30 years the Serb proportion of the province’s population had fallen from about 30% to 9%.

 

APARTHEID – REALLY?

The reference to apartheid is misleading. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, apartheid is “(Afrikaans: ‘apartness’) name given by the Afrikaner National Party, in office in Africa since 1948, to the policies that govern relations between the country’s 3,800.000 white inhabitants and its 17,700,000 non-white, mainly black African, inhabitants. It is also used to describe the long-term objective of the territorial separation that is advocated by Afrikaner church and intellectual circles.” Other characteristics of apartheid are mentioned: complete domination of the white minority over the black majority; black Africans were allowed to own land only within the 13 per cent of the territory which were designated native reserves; sexual and marriage relations between blacks and whites illegal; nonwhites were denied the right to vote; and all black Africans were required to obtain a permission before they could enter and remain in urban areas. (15th edition, Vol 1, p 439).

There was nothing even “apartheid-like” in Kosovo. Indeed, its status as autonomous since 1974 speaks against this. It has not been a question of race relations or based on colour, it was not a minority dominating a majority as Kosovo was part of Serbia and of former Yugoslavia in both of which Serbs were the largest nation; Kosovo-Albanians could vote (but boycotted elections), and they were not forced to seek permission to leave reserves. What is true, however, is that Albanian radicals would use the term “apartheid” in conversations with foreign visitors, either as part of their liberation vocabulary or in perfectly understandable despair over their situation. But for the Commission &endash; chaired by South African judge, Richard Goldstone – to make the above statement its basic framework gives reason for concern.

 

THE HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE

And now to the issue of independent Kosova. Let me start out by saying that my TFF colleagues and I conducted several long conversations between 1992 and 1996 with moderate Kosovo-Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, to make the idea of an independent republic more concrete and present various models and ways to achieve it to government circles in Belgrade. At the time such an independent republic had already been declared after a referendum and our personal sympathy for the movement Dr. Rugova headed was based on two facts: the utterly clear repression of the Albanians in the province and that the Kosovo-Albanians were the only actors in ex-Yugoslavia who embraced the idea of non-violent struggle. Under no circumstance would they achieve a de facto and de jure free Kosova by means of a new war like in Croatia and Bosnia.

They were not “Gandhians” and actually never trained the population in non-violent methods. They were pragmatic and should some, like the US or NATO, be willing to come around and liberate them through military action they would not mind, they said with a touch of self-irony. The concept of a state had three features: a) absolutely neutrality vis-a-vis Europe, b) open borders toward all, and c) it would not acquire an army. This was a vision, of course, that a peace researcher could only sympathise with.

Would it join Albania? At the time, this was not the main issue for them. We even discussed that an agreement with Belgrade perhaps could include a provision not to raise that issue within the next twenty years or so – something we knew was important to Belgrade where the fear/opposition against exactly that scenario was no less strong than the fear/opposition against independence itself.

We at TFF saw it as our task to try to explain to the leadership in Belgrade that a state with clearly defined characteristics and realised through a negotiation and transition process might be better than continued repression, mutual fear and hatred and – eventually – warfare. The economic and political costs of keeping Kosovo in Serbia by force were indeed remarkable. We also had the opportunity to carry messages and report back to Belgrade about the repression in the province. It must be pointed out that many Serbian leaders had spent much less time in Kosovo than we had and had little first-hand knowledge about the region in general and the attitudes of the Albanians, stereotyping on both sides being very strong. (In the beginning we were surprised to meet so many Serbs who spoke at great length and depth about their love for Kosovo, but had no desire to go there or had only passed through perhaps twenty years ago with their parents).

We also clearly said that Rugova was about the best player we thought they could hope to deal with. TFF published its report “Preventing War in Kosovo” (1992), an analysis with a series of possible steps, big and small, that could be taken. It stated that the only thing that would not go well in the long run was for the parties to stick to their present positions and refuse direct, serious dialogues &endash; which both did at the time.

In Kosovo we saw it as our task to say: “Look, you stand quite firmly on a maximalist goal: full independence and no less. We understand your motives, but can you define that goal and the process towards it so creatively that it becomes acceptable also for Serbia and for the Serbs and all other nationalities living in this future Kosova?” No easy equation, of course!

What we knew was that a peaceful solution could not be implemented without some kind of negotiations, with or without foreign mediation. Belgrade accepted NGO involvement, such as TFF’s, even at the highest level, but not foreign government involvement.

We also knew that the Kosovo-Albanian side would have to give away something at such a table given that they had already proclaimed a state without prior negotiation and given that it was recognised only by Albania. We jokingly said to Dr. Rugova that that was the nature of LDK’s “policy of symbolics” and I believe he knew that.

What was the situation? Beyond doubt, the human rights violations and the overall repression of Albanians were manifest. As visitors we were checked repeatedly, we were also arrested and interrogated by Serbian police; books given to us by Dr. Rugova were confiscated by Serb police, suitcases searched at the province border in a manner I have not experienced anywhere else. One early morning a young Albanian was shot to death outside the police HQ behind the Grand Hotel where we stayed, a place only few Albanians frequented, at the time also hosting a recruitment office for Arkan. So, Albanian fears were real and certainly not invented.

The Serbs, on their side, feared to lose Kosovo – Kosmet i Metohija. Demographic trends were one reason and the Serb minority in the Kosovo province felt isolated there and craved more, not less, protection and involvement by Belgrade. Many Serbs had what one might call a dominance complex and saw Kosovo as their cradle (exactly as Croats see parts of Krajina as theirs) and they remembered the Albanian position during World War II. They also saw Serb minorities in other republics being increasingly harassed. Being a divided nation – in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro – the Albanians have a victim complex which, naturally, could fuel their vision of Greater Albania, of living in one country. Many Albanians felt that the autonomous years from 1974 were quite good, but in 1981 after Tito’s death, the problem had rapidly escalated.

So we are faced with a minority-in-minority complex: Albanians are a numerical minority in Serbia and Yugoslavia and among that minority live minorities of Serb and other non-Albanian origin. If the Commission believes that the regime in Belgrade ran an apartheid-like policy and was genocidal, the very least it could have done would be to investigate how Serbia – the most multiethnic society among the former Yugoslav republics &endash; treated Albanians and other non-Serbs in Serbia (outside Kosovo) before the war. Figures vary but tens of thousands of Albanians lived in Belgrade. It might also have asked itself why there has been no comparable conflicts and violence in, say, Voivodina and Sandjak.

Constitutionally, the autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo meant that Serbia proper could constantly risk being a minority position; if the two autonomous provinces joined to vote together against a law being proposed for all of Serbia, it would fall. Thus, this was two numerical minority provinces overruling a majority. Tito’s model worked because there were always 6 republics and two autonomous provinces which could make criss-crossing coalitions in most decision-making processes and thus maintain a balance &endash; and Serbs could certainly see themselves as powerful, at least in proportion to the 43 per cent of ex-Yugoslavia’s inhabitants.

But years before the war broke out in 1991, the signs were plenty that Yugoslavia was about to break up in smaller pieces. Thus, while Croatia and Slovenia set themselves on the path to independence, Serbia wanted to assure that, at least, it was not going to break up in three parts should Tito’s Yugoslavia finally dissolve. They wanted to be masters in their own house. The Croatian leadership acted on the same principle, namely refusing autonomy for the 12 per cent Croatian Serbs who did not want to live in an independent Croatia but had done so when Croatia was part of the larger structure. And Tudjman used no less violence to back his policies; only he was assisted in his ethnic cleansing by the US and other Western countries.

 

 

MISSING THE ESSENTIALS BY NOT LISTENING TO ALL

Fundamentally important aspects like these play no important role in the Kosovo Commission’s report. They do not fit well with the kind of statement quoted above from its executive summary.

The report merely takes the position that Serbia has repressed the Kosovo-Albanians to such an extent that it does not deserve to keep Kosovo and that they are therefore entitled to independence. That is a moralising judgement that has nothing to with conflict analysis, international law or real politics. It also argues that Serbs and Albanians ought to be able to accept the proposals of the Commission. But is it realistic to thus ignore years of fear on both sides, hate and polarisation, repression against the Albanians and bombings against the Serb as well as mutual ethnic cleansing? To expect them to understand each other, respect each other and protect each other after all that has happened? I think the answer must be no.

Is it reasonable, given the complexities – a tiny part of which is hinted at above – for foreigners to spend a few days there speaking only with top leaders and then suggest one solution which expresses a lack of consideration of the standpoint of one side? Apart from a handful of NGO-based Serbs and one FRY ambassador, the Commission has not talked with a single person who could explain the official position and views of the Yugoslav and Serbian governments. By that I mean non-oppositional people who were not and are not pro-Milosevic but who might have been involved in politics at some point – with, let’s say, the moderate government of Milan Panic 1992-93, advisers, intellectuals and former diplomats who COULD (and would have been glad to) give the Commission a complex historical background and present the issues and problems as they saw see them.

The Commission’s methods also begs the question: is it acceptable to analyse Kosovo and suggest solutions to the conflict without really even trying to grasp the minority-nationality dimensions of other ex-Yugoslav conflicts, without comparing similar and related issues in Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia? One wonders whether the Commission would have suggested that Krajina or Republika Srpska – both Serb minority areas – should become independent, had it been tasked with drawing the lessons from those areas?

Independence is certainly one option among many. In none of the articles and reports from TFF has this option been ruled out. In fact, TFF has never suggested a solution; we do conflict-mitigation, which means developing proposals for the parties to discuss based on analysis where we meet with and listen to all sides. We believe that the only sustainable and morally acceptable solutions are those, which the parties themselves identify. It takes time and is difficult, yes, but it is so much easier before than after violence.

One example was our report from 1996, UNTANS – A United Nations Temporary Authority for a Negotiated Solution (can be ordered from our Publications section) which was based on a sustained written dialogue between Belgrade and the Kosovo-Albanian leadership at the time. It outlines an international presence, partial demilitarisation of the province and the setting up of a professional negotiation facility to work for at least three years with all sides and all problems and with all peace proposals on the table.

 

 

CONDITIONAL INDEPENDENCE

The Commission clear deprives even a new democratic government in Belgrade a right to participate in the process towards a solution (p. 271): “The essential reality that the international community must face is that, because of the FRY’s systematic violation of Kosovar rights, substantial autonomy and self-government for Kosovo have become incompatible with continued Yugoslav sovereignty of the province, and will remain so even if Yugoslavia eventually makes a transition to democratic rule. The simple truth is that no Kosovar will accept to live under Serb rule however notional, ever again.”

Whether intentional or not, this statement closes the doors to a compromise, now as well as in the future. The Commission uses “Kosovars” as synonymous with “Albanians” and, thus, in linguistic terms excludes non-Albanian people in Kosovo. Will it also accept that the non-Albanians in Kosovo get an independent state inside that province if – as is manifestly clear – they have been/are repressed by the present Albanian leadership under Hacim Thaci and will simply not live in an independent Kosova?

Conditional independence will be realised by a number of provisions. A referendum shall be held; but with about 100,000 non-Albanians left and perhaps 1,5 million Albanians, the outcome is given. Next, “Negotiations would then have to ensue between the elected representatives of both majority and minority communities and the UN administration to determine a constitutional regime that would protect minority rights, guarantee some continuing international military and administrative oversight of these rights, while also transferring the effective administration of Kosovo into the hands of a national parliament…” (p 272). Other provisions are that everybody shall accept human rights, free travel, recognition of borders, non-interference etc – as well as minority rights. It is stipulated that the Kosovo-Albanians will take over control over Kosovo in proportion to the degree to which they accept and comply with international norms and contribute to regional stability.

“While the current regime [i.e. Milosevic, JO] remains in power in Belgrade, no negotiations along these lines are possible. But a change of regime, and a change of heart among the Serbian political elite, might make it possible to negotiate the terms of a lasting peace.” (p, 276). Compare with the statement above and ask yourself whether this can be understood to mean anything else but this: a leadership which gives up all legitimate, non-violent, political goals and interests of FRY – a nation of 10 million people – will be invited to sign a treaty of ‘lasting peace’ that has been negotiated by the minority and the UN/KFOR?

This borders on the absurd. If you want to change people’s hearts, treat them equally and with respect. If the Commission uses as its argument that no Albanian will live as part of Serbia, it would be interesting to know whether it has met any, even strongly oppositional, Serbs who would accept a) FRY to be treated this way and b) would endorse and work for the Commission’s proposal.

The Commission comes close to an answer: “The Commission believes that it would be desirable to negotiate Kosovo’s conditional independence with Serbian authorities, since peaceful recognition of each other’s borders and integrity would constitute the critical guarantee of peace in the region. But neither the existing Serbian regime, nor any other regime that can be imagined is likely to negotiate the cession of Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo” (p.275).

This a boomerang argument. Had the Commission consulted with all, done a fair conflict analysis and then developed a series of possible future peace models, instead of settling for one proposal, there is no doubt that it could have engaged various Serb groups in dialogue – after which a negotiation could be held over the implementation of the model that suited all to the highest degree.

One of the first, wise, things the new Yugoslav president Vojeslav Kostunica did was to appeal for reconciliation and invite Kosovo-Albanians for dialogue. This already undermines the Commission’s philosophy. But one must frankly ask: with this report in their hands, will Kosovo-Albanians feel more or less inclined to engage in serious dialogue, then talks, and finally negotiations to find a mutually acceptable solution?

My answer is unfortunately: less. After 10 years without preventive diplomacy followed by NATO’s Balkan Bombing Blunder everything has become more difficult. The Commission’s proposal and the way it want to see it implemented certainly will not make things easier. Why?

One reason is that the Commission also states that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is unsustainable and based on fiction. Stating that it knows that its principles are not “securely established in international law” (p, 277) it argues: “It would effectively commit the international community to the proposition that national minorities have a right of secession when they have been subjected to a systematic abuse of their human rights, together with a systematic denial of their right to self-government.” (p. 277).

So, the Kosovo conflict is used to spearhead a new era in world affairs. Instead of learning to clash as civilised creatures, instead of appealing to co-existence, fairness, reconciliation and negotiated solutions, the Commission tells that minorities all over the world have a right to be assisted in achieving independence given the conditions it mentions. But it does not even deal with the question: what may repressed minorities do to deserve such a right and do to lose such a right? Not saying a word about that in this particular case, implicitly amounts to rewarding UCK/KLA for its militant policies.

There is reason to fear that NATO and the coming EU military intervention forces would be quite busy for years to come. And since this principle has never been argued before the case of Kosovo, the Commission can be interpreted to mean that the repression of the Kosovo-Albanians was unique in the world and, thus, justifies this new norm.

I personally believe such a norm could be an important innovation in international law and politics. The world would be a better place if we could find universally accepted limits to repression and deny actors, with as little violence as possible, the right to exercise sovereignty over areas where they overstep that limit. However, compared with other conflicts around the world, the choice of Kosovo as the example to promote such a new norm is unfortunate, perhaps even contra-productive, because of the behaviour of hard-liners on both sides in the region and the way the international chose to handle it.

 

 

POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES FOR THE BALKANS AND ELSEWHERE

If Kosovo was granted conditional and later full independence along the lines suggested by the Commission, my honest best guess is that we would risk seeing one of more of the following consequences:

 The new government in Belgrade would face destabilising internal opposition at a moment when it needs the opposite; Milosevic and his SPS, JUL and other nationalists together with many in the security, police and military would think of getting rid of Kostunica should he accept the Commission’s proposal and the “negotiation” procedure toward its realisation (which I do not believe he would). Alternatively, Kostunica would have to take political and possibly military action to make the FRY side’s views heard. (The situation is already bad enough at the time of writing in Southern Serbia where KFOR mysteriously has not prevented new violence from erupting at this delicate moment of president Kostunica’s leadership).

 It would be an almost 100% ethnically uniform Kosova. Some 100.000 Serbs, Roma, Jews and others – plus quite a few Albanians who feel threatened by the present leadership – would flee, most to Serbia, adding to the already 700,000 – 800,000 refugees that the international community still pays very little attention to. This together with the effect of forced economic reforms in Serbia could create a social explosion.

 Serbs in Republika Srpska would probably say goodbye to Dayton-Bosnia and join Serbia. They, as well as the Serbs from Croatia, should be granted conditional independence if we adhere to the Commission’s principles. So should the Croats with their statelet Herceg-Bosna in Bosnia.

 Macedonia might fall apart. It is not that repression there is anywhere near what it was in Kosovo. But the 25-40 per cent of the people who are Albanians feel grossly mistreated and may legitimately ask: if the Kosovo-Albanians, why not us? They too want more unification of the Albanian nation.

 If applied outside former Yugoslavia, the Palestinians, the Kurds, the Basques, the Chechens, the Abkhazis, the people of Eastern Timor and dozens of other repressed peoples will understand the message: forget about non-violence, people-based struggle, diplomacy and decency, nobody will support that (Rugova’s case); ally instead with murky forces and get an army, get NATO to help you to take over the place and drive “the others” out, then you’ll be rewarded with independence! Since the Commission distances itself only from Serb violence and not from hard-line Albanian violence, from the West’s diplomatic mismanagement or from the ensuring NATO violence this is not the caricature it may sound like.

The conclusion of this analysis is NOT that Kosovo cannot or should not be independent. It may actually be the best solution for everybody in the long run. But this Commission rather tells us how it should not be achieved than how it could have been achieved or how it might be possible at some point in the future.

And that is if we talk about direct repression and violence against minorities. What about structural or system-based violence? What about the gross economic human rights violations that are part and parcel of the globalisation of market capitalism? – the hundreds of millions who have no basic human need satisfaction, no access to water, food, clothes, shelter, medicine, schools, social security, employment, because global capitalism is based on and promotes ever more unequal structures?

Could it not be argued that those who are responsible for that global economic “apartheid” have also lost, like Milosevic and even a democratic government, the right to administer the world’s economic territory and exercise power over the millions of their victims? And that there is a fundamental connection between direct and structural violence in the conflicts in former Yugoslavia as well as elsewhere?

All it takes to see that is, perhaps, a change of heart? And in the Western political and intellectual circles, too.

 

Erratum to PressInfo 105

In the emailed edition of PressInfo 105 we had written non-governmental instead of non-oppositional, a term which is explained above. We regret this mistake which has been corrected in the website edition. The sentence now reads:

“It is true that the Yugoslav government refused to co-operate with the Commission. So did the U.S. government (because the Commission wanted to investigate other things than the human rights violations on the Serb side!). But that, however, is no excuse for the fact that theCommission has not met with people on the Serbian side and chooses to ignore all argument from that side. It could have met with numerous non-oppositional representatives, if necessary outside Serbia; it has met with dozens in the United States, including people at State Department and the White House, in spite of the fact that that government declined to co-operate. It has received funding from US organisations.”

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