Ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo want independence, but even the Europeans don’t believe they’ve earned it. Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy head, has returned from Kosovo’s capital of Pristina criticizing the Albanians’ refusal to move forward on democratization and minority rights.
Six years ago President Bill Clinton and NATO launched an unprovoked war against Yugoslavia, which had attacked neither the U.S. nor any American ally. The “liberated” Yugoslav (now Serbian) province of Kosovo remains in limbo.
The status quo satisfies no one, especially the ethnic Albanians who dominate Kosovo. Nicholas Burns, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, recently told Congress: “The status quo of Kosovo’s undefined status is no longer sustainable, desirable, or acceptable.”
So U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has appointed a special envoy, Kai Eide, Norway’s ambassador to NATO, to assess the province’s compliance with democratic and human rights standards, with an eye to starting international negotiations on Kosovo’s final status in the fall. But the process is dependent on Kosovo’s good behavior, which Solana found lacking.
The fact that Kosovo remains an issue demonstrates the Clinton administration’s hubris and surreal view of the Balkan combatants in 1999. The belief that it could impose a mutually acceptable arrangement, one that enshrined minority rights within a multi-ethnic framework, always was a fantasy.
The hatreds on the ground were too strong. America’s intervention — taking the world’s greatest military alliance into war against a destitute state suffering through a series of civil wars — irrevocably changed the geopolitical environment.
Stopping the bitter guerrilla conflict was an obvious benefit, but little good has occurred since the bloodletting ended. America’s allies, the Albanian majority, conducted ethnic cleansing on a grand scale, kicking out most Serbs, Jews, Roma, and non-Albanian Muslims.
U.N. rule has done little to prevent endemic violence, crime, and instability, including brutal anti-Serb riots last year. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) says simply: “the human rights situation in Kosovo is still not a good one, particularly for minority communities who live in enclaves and for the displaced.”
At a congressional hearing in May, Charles English of the State Department reported, “Discrimination remains a serious problem. Access to public services is uneven. Incidents of harassment still occur. Freedom of movement is limited. And too many minorities still feel unsafe in Kosovo.”
At the same time, the local population is dissatisfied with its indeterminate status: still formally part of Serbia, officially ruled by Western occupiers, with effective local control but no final resolution in sight.
Now, at least, the U.N., with prodding by the Bush administration, is attempting to move forward. There is likely to be some assessment whether Kosovo is meeting a number of democratic “standards” along with the creation of some forum for discussing the province’s ultimate status.
ALL THAT CAN BE SAID is, the sooner the better. The current situation benefits no one. Most obviously it is a source of discord and instability in Kosovo.
The prospect of an international fight over Kosovo also provokes nationalist antagonism in Serbia, where political parties hostile to the West have done well of late. Other nations, too, worry: almost all of Serbia’s neighbors harbor ethnic Albanian populations and worry about the impact of border changes. Unfortunately, it will be easier to start the process than to deliver a good result.
The only hope for finding some solution is to abandon the illusions that long have tainted American policy in the Balkans. First, consent of all of the parties is impossible. There is no agreement that will satisfy everyone. After seeing other parts of the former Yugoslavia secede, why would Albanian Kosovars accept less than independence? But why would Serbia accept dismemberment at the hands of numerous countries — America, Britain, and Turkey, to start — that have historically suppressed their own secessionist movements?
Why would an artificial neighboring state like Bosnia back the partition of Kosovo between competing ethnic groups, creating a principle that could be applied to it? Why would Greece, Macedonia, or Montenegro support an Albanian minority of another nation in winning independence? Why should the nation of Albania forswear the possibility of union with Kosovo and creation of a greater Albania?