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Kosovo - what the international
'community' never understood



Jan Oberg

May 16, 2008

It hardly understands its own role

Media and politicians convey the view that the international so-called ‘community’ is a detached peacemaker in the world’s conflicts, neutrally and impartially fighting for freedom, democracy, peace, and human rights.
Unfortunately, this international ‘community’ are participants with past, present or future interests. No knights altruistically ride in on white horses to save people for humanity’s sake.

The international ‘community’ isn’t a mediator in the Balkans, the Middle East or in the Far East. And if the UN comes closest to a truly mediating role, leading members who will undermine it. National(ist) governments are not mature for global governance or the common good for all.

The international “community” is a euphemism: a handful of Western leaders having appointed themselves as spokespersons the world. However, less than 30 of 190+ UN members have recognized Kosovo.


Too late, not intellectually equipped

For a decade the Kosovo conflict was ignored; focus was on Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. No real negotiations were ever held and the parties never met in Rambouillet. Instead, the US and Germany equipped the murkiest nationalist-separatist Kosovo-Albanians behind the back of Dr. Ibrahim Rugova who together with Macedonia’s president Kiro Gligorov was the only political leader in ex-Yugoslavia practising non-violence.

Anyone informed about the region’s complexities and Kosovo’s polarized situation in the 1980s knew how dangerous this conflict was. Nobody in the Foreign Ministries listened. There was virtually no expertise and Europe was occupied with Maastricht and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia would be ‘fixed’ later.

In addition, peacemaking and peacebuilding remains amateurs’ playground. To my knowledge, no ‘mediator’ sent to Yugoslavia had taken as much as a weekend course in the academic-professional knowledge fields like conflict analysis, negotiation, conflict transformation, or reconciliation. Would they send their young boys to the front without training? Would they themselves undergo surgery by a someone without medical education?


Outdated conflict paradigm

After the end of the Cold War, there was only a two-party model in the mental map of decision-makers. It was applied with no understanding to the Balkans: The Serbs were cast in the role of the dangerously expansionist, Orthodox Russians, while the Slovenes, Croats, Muslims and Albanians, like the Baltic Republics, played the peace-loving, innocent, democratic Westerners. The # 2 man told me at the US Embassy in Zagreb – “You must understand, Dr. Oberg, that we shall never treat the Serbs the way we treat the rest.”

That’s why we witness independence for Slovenia and Croatia and de-facto for Croats in Bosnia (Herceg-Bosna) and Albanians but not for Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. And during the night of December 15-16 1991, the EU made its hitherto only decision with One Voice: Recognizing prematurely Slovenia and Croatia out of Yugoslavia without a clue about the rest and knowing well that it made war in Bosnia unavoidable.


No principle, the only principle

Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia were neither entitled to normal human rights principles or protection by the West, not worthy a fair listening. The Serbs were Milosevic. The crime of the Serbs as a people was that they insisted that they would live in the multi-ethnic Yugoslavia and even be Yugoslavs but not become minorities in haphazardly created new countries under new nationalist leaderships which, historically, reminded them of the Second World War. People not listened to usually make themselves heard in their own ways.
The international community preached principles and law – and broke it in terms of simple fairness, minority protection, bombings in Bosnia and Serbia, and the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state in gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the European Charter and a series of other norms and texts. Local leaders were brought to the Hague Tribunal, Western leaders were either kicked upwards like Javier Solana, the highest civilian responsible for the destruction of Yugoslavia, or still at large. 


Strategic interests rather than humanism

It wasn’t about goodness exactly, or justice. It was a fierce struggle about the strategic Balkans, the triangle of the Middle East-Balkans-Central Asia, about the spoils after the Soviet Union, oil and gas from Central Asia, the EU’s identity, self-assertion and Once Voice as well as Atlantic relations. It was about saving some raison d’etre for an alliance that had none after the Warsaw Pact crumbled - NATO. The largest US base after Vietnam and before Iraq is Bondsteel; but the media never told you. It was built in no time right outside Prishtina after NATO’s bombing and linked to Clinton’s militarization program all around Russia begun in 1992. If Kosovo remained in Serbia, Bondsteel would be dismantled. And Mitrovica is one of Europe’s largest deposits of various metals.

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NATO’s Balkan bombing blunder

Of course bombings were meaningless, a manifestation of earlier conflict mismanagement. Cover it up as if the stupid Serbs don’t take our offer! – an offer to have NATO roaming around anywhere in Serbia proper. Milosevic said no to that and CNN’s Christiane Armanpour interviewed her husband, State Department’s James Rubin, who said in Rambouillet that the Serbs chose war and the Albanians peace.

NATO using the Kosovo-Albanian Liberation Army as its foot soldiers on the ground and OSCE’s being 70% military staff under a Norwegian Christian, Knut Vollebek – what an odd team of peacemakers you might wonder. Peace was about the only thing that could not come out of it, but it helped re-direct the attention from Monica Lewinsky’s soiled dress and the Clinton-Albright sanctions-caused mass murder of Iraq’s children to Washington’s noble humanitarian passion. To believe that these 78 days of virtual hell – I was there - would make Serbs and Albanians come closer was as laughable as its consequences were tragic. Thus, Kosovo today – billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands suffering citizens, thousands of peacemakers, and hundreds of lies and self-deceptions later.

Even the exodus of innocent Serbs from Kosovo in 1999, a tiny fraction having returned, is ignored – as is Serbia as the host of Europe’s largest refugees problem. For these and many other reasons, tiny Kosovo will remain a regional, a European and a world order issue. We have not seen the end of the Yugoslav drama. Independent Kosovo is likely to prolong it – if not for the status itself, for the way that status has been achieved. It will, thus, in all likelihood remain a millstone around the neck of the EU and everybody else. And it will strengthen the wish for secession elsewhere – Republika Srpska, Macedonia, Kurdistan, the Basque country, Taiwan, Tibet, South Ossetia, Abkhazia…


In lieu of conclusion

Did the international community make mistakes? Or did it have a deliberate plan to destroy Yugoslavia? Or was it a mix of this spiced with general conflict illiteracy? The answer is as hugely complex as it is important.

One mechanism is obvious, however: Having started out with the outdated, two-party conflict paradigm – one all right, the other all wrong - borrowed from the just dissolved Cold War structure, nothing could go right. And since this community by constitution cannot admit that it makes mistakes, it has had to build on blunders, covering them up by continuing its irrational, counter-productive policies.The sum total is a boomeranging make-believe such as independent Kosovo.

April 13, 2008




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