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Crisis 1999
Opinions Archive 1999
Pax Americana in the Balkans

Hard questions about the war in Kosova

The first question and the more obvious one would be: Who won the war?

Everybody proclaims victory: Solana in Brussels, Clinton in Washington, Yeltsin in Moscow, Milosevic in Belgrade, and the UCK in the mountains of Kosova. In Tirana, too, fireworks were fired to celebrate victory.

Certainly, not everybody has won, although the winners have won only in part, and the losers have not lost totally.

In a poll taken by the CNN TV network 60 percent of those interrogated answered that nobody had won the war.

Was the Belgrade agreement a provisional compromise or a definitive solution? Was it an exit from the conflict or a capitulation? Or, in the last analysis, was it a Pax Americana?

Things are never all too clear in the Balkans. After peace Kosova remains still under the formal sovereignty of Belgrade, though under the de facto NATO protectorate.

The Kosova refugees hastening to go back to their homes in Kosovo regardless of mines can hardly imagine to be issued again passports with Cyrillic characters spelling "The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia". Moreover, unlike the "Rambouillet peace" the "Belgrade peace" leaves no way open for a referendum that would express the political will of the Albanians about their future. Regardless of the fact that they have achieved less than they had fought for, the Albanians of Kosova are still the winners, although the price they had to pay was excessively high.

Actually the Albanians have won Kosova to the extent Serbia has lost it. That is why the Albanians see in the NATO troops their liberators and allies. The Albanian press both in Prishtina and Tirana has described the entry of NATO troops (or allied troops, as they are more frequently called) in Kosova as the end of Serb rule in Kosova, considering it the greatest event in the history of the Albanians since the founding of the Albanian independent State in 1912.

The Albanian flag flies for some days now on both sides of the border between Albania and Kosova, at the Morina crossing-point. In the direction of Prizren, along with Kosova refugees, there are also hundreds of NorthernAlbanians eager to visit Prizren, only some 30 kilometers away, for the first time since the Second World War. What the Albanians saw as the last Berlin Wall in Europe has been pulled down. That also is proof of victory for the Albanians. The great loser of the war is Milosevic who, regardless of the fanfares playing in Belgrade, has been brought to surrender. He console himself claiming that his surrender is not total, that on paper Kosova continues to be part of Yugoslavia, although he seems to forget that he will never be able to tread on Kosovo soil, not only because the Albanians would receive him with stones, but worse still, because NATO soldiers would arrest him and send him handcuffed to the tribunal at the Hague. What Milosevic refused to sign at Avenue Kleber, he had to sign under a military tent at Kumanovo, thereby proving that he knows only the language of force.

NATO and the West in general have more reasons to feel triumphant. NATO has not lost a single soldier in eleven weeks of war. For those who claimed that this was a moral war, a war to defend the principles and values of present-day civilisation, the result is that the Western Alliance succeeded in punishing the Butcher of the Balkans and imposing its principles. For those who claimed that this was a war of interests the result is that the United States and the Western Powers managed to establish a visible international military protectorate over Kosova and an invisible one over the whole region.

As to Russia, it has both won and lost in the seventy-seven days war. Russia has come back with a vengeance to the international political scene as an important world power, but with a profile that resembles more that of a rival than a partner of the West. If Yeltsin had to play the card of the Prishtina airport to affirm his authority in the eyes of the Russian communists and nationalists, that would be understandable. But if he had dispatched two hundred Russian soldiers urgently to Prishtina in the hope of bringing about a Berlin-style partition of Kosova, he was utterly mistaken in his calculations.

Second question: Who will govern Kosova?

Although it will be called autonomy, actually the government of Kosova will be a long-term protectorate. As a rule, autonomies have not been achieved through bloodshed and violence, but through peacefull protests and compromises between the conflicting sides. That is not the case as far as Kosova is concerned. There is no compromise or agreement between the Albanians and the Serbs, with the exception of the worthless document hostage Rugova signed with Milutinovic in April this year.

The obvious answer to the question of who will govern Kosova would be: the UN and NATO. Although the name of the "Westendorp of Kosova" is not yet known, it is beyond all doubt that he will be the highest authority there. The political administration of Kosova, headed by Rugova, Thaci or somebody else will be in some sense a "paralell government", or a shadow of the international administration.

The international protectorate over Kosova is necessary for three reasons: First, to protect the Albanians from the Milosevic regime. Second: to protect the Kosovo Serbs from a possible revenge on the part of the Albanians. And Third: to prevent possible clashes among the various rival Albanian groups. Although the mandate of the KFOR or of the future international administration is not specific about it, that is what the international protectorate over Kosova means.

Now the question the Albanians of Kosova have to decide is: Rugova or Thaci. Actually it is highly probable that it will be both Rugova and Thaci, regardless of their strained relations. In part the problem will be solved by vote when elections are held, although the formulas offered by the West will be determinant here, too.

For the moment Thaci and the UCK seem to have an edge and enjoy broader popularity among the people of Kosova who acclaim the UCK in the streets of Prishtina. Rugova is delaying his return home, which should not be all too easy after his handshake with Milosevic. On the international plane, too, Rugova seems to have lost out in the last few days, meanwhile UCK sems to have a clear American support.

However, neither NATO nor the Western Powers seem to have any problem with Rugova now. Thaci is the problem. After NATO troops moved in and Serb troops moved out followed by a stream of Kosova Serbs, Kalashnikov-toting men in UCK uniform represent a problem for the Alliance. In all probability, the agreement signed between the UCK and KFOR will not be too easy to implement. One does not know whether the UCK rank-and-file or local commanders will be ready to part with their weapons.

The triumphalist mentality, which has strong roots among Albanians, just as among all the peoples of the Balkans, does not allow them to surrender their arms easily. And there is a danger that, after the euphoria of victory has fizzled out, part of the UCK fighters will not be satisfied with what has been achieved, but will continue to call for independence. And if arms were needed to achieve half a victory, they are all the more necessary to attain the other half, or the complete victory.

So NATO will continue negotiating with the UCK, but also will continue to contain it. One thing is certain: the UCK, transformed into a political force, will surely be an important factor of power in the Kosova of the future. The monopoly of power, however, is dangerous. An UCK-led government with Rugova in the opposition would create a dangerous revolutionary situation, which would be unacceptable not only to the West, but to the Albanians of Kosova as well. In that case there would be a revolutionary power under NATO's umbrella.

On the other hand, Rugova governing single- handed, without UCK participation, would seem an old-fashion operetta to some, or a collaborationist regime of some sort to others. Without mentioning that Rugova's nine year-long shadow government, although it was a shadow, was far from being democratic. The Gandhi of the Balkans was not so Gandhist when the question was about the treatment of his political opponents. However, it cannot be realistically imagined that the freedom fighters who carried the day, after starting as an opposition, would like to continue to be an opposition.

The return of the Kosovar politicians to Prishtina shifts the Kosova political scene from Tirana or the other Western capitals to Prishtina. The political debate will certainly be a heated one. However, fierce competition can be expected to be replaced by the compromise of joint government, which might also be imposed from outside.

The third question: What will Albania do?

The rapid emptying of refugee camps and the return of the UCK soldiers to their homes will discharge Albania of a heavy burden and allow it to turn to its internal problems.

Albania emerges from the Kosova war with an improved international image. The international community sees Albania not only as a problem, but also as a partner. Albania may not be a huge refugee camp any longer, but it will continue to be the great NATO base in the region. The Kosova refugees will pull down their tents, but the same cannot be said of the NATO soldiers. The Albanian Rinas airport will remain under the control of the Alliance, that has instoled there thousand of solders and tens of helicopters.

However, it must be admitted that the Albanians do not dislike the NATO umbrella. In the course of the visit of the US General Chief of Staff, General Shelton, to Albania, Majko made a formal request for NATO troops not to leave Albania. The American reply was that those troops will remain in Albania as long as necessary. In other words, American presence will continue in Albania for the whole duration of the NATO protectorate in Kosova. This was made clear also in the message that President Clinton addressed to the Albanians during his visit in the region.

The deployment of NATO troops in Kosova also means a redefinition of the geopolitical and geostrategical balance in South- Eastern Europe, and Albania has a place of its own in that balance. The government and the opposition are in agreement about the NATO presence, nor are there problems with public opinion or pacifists.

Certainly, although it does not say it explicitly, official Tirana expects to be rewarded for the sacrifices the Albanians made and for the burden Albania shouldered throughout the eleven weeks of the Kosovo War. And offers have not been lacking. Albania has signed the Pact of Stability in the Balkans and, together with Macedonia, is said to be among the first- runners (after Kosova) in the scheme for the reconstruction of the Balkans.

But in order to profit from this reconstruction, Albania must first achieve stability and establish law and order in its own backyard. No Father Christmas would contemplate visiting a country in utter chaos. There is a fear that the internal political squabbles, which were muted during the Kosovo crisis, will flare up again. Prime Minister Majko's government has won wide sympathy outside the country, as well as among the Kosova refugees. However, its authority within the country remains weak. The opposition led by former President Berisha has decided to return to the Parliament it had abandoned a year ago, but has stepped up its demands for early elections.

The possibility cannot be excluded that the political strife within Albania spills over, as has happened before, to the political scene of Prishtina and vice-versa. Rugova refused definitively to visit Tirana, which could not pass without consequences. Berisha maintains a privileged relationship with Bukoshi, while he is in bitter enmity with Qose and in difficult, almost hostile, relations with the UCK. Official Tirana does not conceal the fact that it has thrown in its lot with the UCK, at a time when it orders the Bukoshi troops stationed in Albania to clear out.

Be as it may, the war has ended. Now we must guard against peace, as Berthold Brecht said.

Remzi Lani (AIM)

Source: BalkanPeaceNetwork

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