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Time Overdue to Give Kosovo its Independence



Sept. 29, 1999

LONDON- The western powers owe Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia nothing. They certainly don't owe him the rewriting of history in his favour. This begs the question why on earth are Nato and Russia policing Kosovo with the avowed purpose not just of "keeping the peace", but of maintaining the fiction that the majority Albanian-peopled territory is part of Serbia and thus part of Milosevic's reduced empire of Yugoslavia?

These questions were asked in this column back in June at the time of Nato's bombing of Serbia. At the time Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and the other western leaders insisted on every occasion their prime purpose was simply an end of the threats to the security of the Kosovo Albanians; they were not prepared to consider a deal with Milosevic that would re-draw the Balkan map more sensibly. In fact before the war they had insisted on a future referendum in Kosovo on whether its people wanted independence; in the end-of-war agreement with Milosevic this condition was inexplicably dropped.

At last, rather belatedly, the White House is beginning to revise its opinion- an independent Kosovo is now considered, at least in the private discussions in the national security apparatus, as a distinct possibility. No doubt there will be a lot of resistance to overcome among the allies in Europe. And certainly Russia will be totally against it. All of them, having stuck their feet in a rut at the time of the war, will find it difficult to step free a few months on.

Yet the logic of what is happening today, nevermind the history of the last half millenium, points in that direction. The UN administration is now issuing travel papers for Kosovo Albanians that are de facto passports. It has introduced a new currency and a special border tariff with Serbia. There is also an independent police force and now, with Nato's blessing, there has been created the uniformed so-called Kosovo Protection Force whose boss is the former head of the guerrilla force, the Kosovo Liberation Army.

As for history, why does Nato, with its obsession with multi-ethnic unity in the Balkans, forget so quickly that Tito's Yugoslavia was very much a personal creation, held together by a mixture of charisma, the chemistry that was the legacy of the partisan's victory against Hitler and sheer political will power? Not for nothing was Tito called the last of the Habsburgs. But, with Yugoslavia, unlike the Habsburg empire which itself inevitably disintegrated under the pull of its ethnic diversity, there was no common language, no unifying single church and thus no common culture. Certainly there was no common history.

Indeed, the history of the Albanian people of Kosovo has been constant emnity and regular warfare with the Serbs. In this century alone there have been six wars involving the two nations. Before that there had been 500 years of Ottoman rule, during the latter part of which the Albanians of Kosovo had asked unsucessfully for autonomy within the Ottoman empire. They realized their constantly deferred ambition temporarily in 1941 when the invading Italians united Kosovo with Greater Albania. At the Second World War's end Tito had promised the Kosovo Albanians that they would have the option of uniting with Albania but thenTito reneged on the deal. After years of unrest, however, he did allow the Albanisation of the province, giving it a great deal of autonomy.

It was when Milosevic came to power that the autonomy was foreclosed and thus began the series of events that led to the decade's Balkan wars, culminating in this year's Nato bombing of Serbia. If it hadn't been for the wise, non-violent leadership in Kosovo of Ibrahim Rugova, a convinced Gandhian, the wars would have begun in Kosovo, not ended there. And if the Dayton Agreement, that was supposed to bring peace not just to Bosnia but to all the Balkans, had rewarded the Kosovo Albanians for their self-discipline over the years, the Kosovo Liberation Army would never have picked up adherents and never gained the leverage to elbow Rugova aside. Instead, Dayton, in effect, slapped the Kosovo Albanians in the face by recognizing Milosevic's new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as made up of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo.

One hopes now that the Clinton Administration has started thinking what they used to say was unthinkable that they have a grand design in mind. There is no point in pushing ahead with independence for Kosovo if it merely gives Milosevic a new lease of life. The nationalist rug has to be pulled from underneath him at the same time, otherwise it will merely aid him in rebuilding his dwindling popular support.

There is a part of Kosovo that is Serbian sacred land- the northern 10% or so with its churches, monasteries and frescos, erected by the Serbs in the Middle Ages before they migrated north. This should be given to Serbia. Also, to make the whole arrangement palatable, Serbia should now be allowed to incorporate the Serbian parts of Bosnia. Time has made it obvious that there will never be a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

The Kosovo Albanians will then be free not only to have title to 90% of the territory but to re-unite with Albania if they vote to do so. (And there should probably also be a plebiscite in neighbouring Macedonia to see if the majority wish to join up with Bulgaria and the minority with Albania.)

The Balkan map never made sense and it never made peace. If the western allies had only realized this before hostilities began, a grand deal perhaps could have been made and the war and the killing of many of the innocents avoided.



Copyright © 1999 By JONATHAN POWER


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