bosnia report
New Series No: 39-40 April - July 2004
Mistaken policies in Kosovo - a reply to Andrej Ivanji
by Paul Hockenos

The new flare-up of violence in Kosovo surprised me just as little as it did Andrej Ivanji (Tageszeitung, 22 March). But his analysis of events does not correspond to reality and leads to a dead end.

What happened recently in Kosovo was not a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign, and even less ‘genocide’ or ‘mass murder,’ goals that Mr. Ivanji attributes to the Kosovo Albanians in particular and which he cynically considers characteristic of Balkan peoples in general. In fact, the March riots were above all a spontaneous uprising, which was exploited by extremist elements on the Albanian side whose goals intersect with those of Serbian nationalists on one point: both want an ethnic partition of Kosovo.

Although this in no way excuses the actions of the perpetrators, Kosovo's Albanians are understandably fed up with the dithering administration of the province by United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Neither politically, in terms of the future status of the province, nor economically has the international protectorate been able to deliver any promising prospects for the future to the Kosovo Albanians. Given that the status question remains an unbridgeable issue on which Serbs and Albanians take diametrically opposed positions, the international community should have bent over backwards to provide ordinary people in Kosovo with other tangible results, in the form of economic development and a visible development of the infrastructure.

Neglecting economic development

Instead, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a great deal of energy and money has gone into so-called democratization initiatives (elections) and support of civil society. Meanwhile, the international community has irresponsibly neglected economic development, in particular the creation of a sustainable private sector. In fact, after a brief boom spurred by postwar reconstruction, the Kosovar economy has contracted. Kosovo, like neighbouring countries, is undergoing a difficult process of de-industrialization as bankrupt socially-owned firms close and their workers return to living off subsistence agriculture - as did their grandfathers. In the countryside, the standard of living is now lower than it was during the 1990s under Milosevic. Compounding the problem, young Kosovar men cannot emigrate to the West to seek work elsewhere, as their fathers did. The door to the West, which had been open ever since Yugoslavs were first allowed freedom to travel abroad in the 1960s, is now closed. Western Europe has no further need for cheap labour and since the end of the 1999 war Kosovars can no longer obtain asylum abroad.

Despite these and many other problems, the situation in Kosovo has not been permanently marked by violence. Following the killings and expulsions in the immediate aftermath of the war, the situation in Kosovo calmed down significantly. According to UNMIK police data, in 2002 there were 68 murders in Kosovo -- relatively fewer than in Sweden that same year. Of those murdered, only six were Serbs and only two of those Serbs had been killed by Albanians. But when the Kostunica government came to power in Serbia, the climate in Kosovo began to turn more raw. Already in his election campaign Kostunica had effectively exploited the Kosovo issue, even though every informed Serb knows all too well that Kosovo is lost to Serbia and that its status has no bearing whatsoever on the already difficult lives of people in Serbia.

The posturing in Serbia contributes to the sense of insecurity of Kosovar Albanians, who more than anything fear a return of Serb rule to Kosovo. But Belgrade no longer wants to rule over all of Kosovo, just part of it, the ‘ethnically pure’ north. Serbia's political elite has no interest in a multi-ethnic Kosovo, with Serbs living scattered all across the province and governing it jointly with Albanians. Every event that drives Serbs from the south into the northern enclaves serves to bring the [Belgrade leadership's] goal a step closer. That goal is shared by extremists on the Albanian side, a tiny fraction of the population, who also want a partitioned, ethnically homogenous Albanian Kosovo.

Maintaining ethnic enclaves

The international community plays into nationalists' hands by helping to maintain ethnic enclaves, rather than focusing on the return and reintegration of refugees. By doing so, it follows the logic of ethnic partition. In Bosnia, by contrast, the international community supported refugee return. With some model results: where war criminals were arrested and property disputes resolved, those refugees who wanted to do so did return, even to war-ravaged parts of Republika Srpska. Those places where people of different ethnicities once again live side by side are the ones where tensions are lowest.

One of the lessons of Bosnia: more not less reintegration breeds tolerance and lays the ground for peaceful coexistence. The behaviour of Kosovar Albanians must consequently be held to the same standard as for the Bosnian Serbs. If they fail to provide for the security of their fellow citizens of different ethnicities, they must know that they will pay the price in lost international aid. This is evidently clear to Kosovar Albanian politicians. Which is why they have pledged to pay for the reconstruction of all destroyed Serb houses and churches out of their own funding.

Likewise, the perpetrators of the March violence must be brought to justice by the respective Kosovar institutions - or, if the latter cannot manage it, by the international community. The international community must take at least three steps in Kosovo, measures equally applicable across the entire Balkans, if it wants to achieve positive results: One, it must rethink its policy on economic development and make this its top priority. Two, the European Union must reach out and offer the countries of the former Yugoslavia a serious prospect of membership. This is the principal means by which Europe can exercise leverage and influence on governments in the region. But it can do so only if the prospect of future membership is a convincing one, and is accompanied from the start by close cooperation.

Finally, Western governments cannot allow themselves to consider once again as a solution the possibility of any form of ethnic partition, whether in the form of cantonization, ‘entities’ or permanent enclaves. This is another lesson from Bosnia. The seeming logic of ethnic partition and of homogenous national states will not function as a foundation for enduring stability in Europe.

This article appeared in Tageszeitung (Berlin), 5 April 2004, and has been translated by András Riedlmayer


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