bosnia report
New Series No. 8 January - March 1999
Drawing a veil of silence overthe causes of suffering in Kosovo

by Rusmir Mahmud Cehajic

'Poets, Politicians and Propaganda in Kosovo' by Robert Williams and Thomas Quiggin, published in the International Security Review 1999, begins with the assertion that: 'Two acts remain to be played out in the drama that is the break-up of the former Yugoslavia: Kosovo and Macedonia', and ends with the conclusion that: 'Only long-term plans with achievable goals should be considered and must be tied to benchmarks that are applicable to both Serbs and Albanians.' These two sentences, both apodictic in tone, say much about the nature of this essay, which, by failing to address the causes of the break-up and by reducing the whole process to its outcome, fails to come up with a workable solution. The whole enterprise amounts, in fact, to an apology for ignoring the root cause of Kosovo's suffering. This demands a reply.

Deconstructing the myth
Williams and Quiggin explain how both Serbs and Albanians rely in their propaganda on myths, and argue that these myths must be challenged in order to halt the growing instability in Kosovo. 'Deconstructing the myth' in the unfolding drama would, in their opinion, contribute to a better understanding of the latter and facilitate more effective solutions. However, they conceive of 'myth' as a word with a single, clear meaning, whereas myth is traditionally 'inexplicable': it is 'that which can not be put into words', and 'to which silence is an answer'. The authors' interpretation of the concept of myth leads them not only to ignore important elements in the Kosovo drama, but also to additionally mystify it. As a result, we are left with a picture that differs little from that presented by the Serbian side. For the sake of those who wish to know more and to judge events from a wider perspective, it is worth drawing attention to some aspects of their mythologizing exercise.

As noted above, the authors simply register the break-up of Yugoslavia without investigating its causes. By making the causes seem irrelevant, they make irrelevant too the nature of the state of Yugoslavia. They ignore the fact that Yugoslavia as a country was an artificial creation comprising different historic and administrative entities, and that the identities of these component parts were subjected to systematic repression for the benefit of this creation. Yugoslavia's main raison d'etre was, in fact, Serb national unification. It was a substitute for the Greater Serbia which for more than a century has kept the Serb people in a state of conflict with all other nations in the region, and which has been a source of majoÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ r suffering not just for 'others', but for the Serbs as well. The project of Greater Serbia has operated by inciting those 'others' - identified as the obstacle to its realization - to react in the same way that it does itself, which has led to replica projects among the Croats, the Bosniaks, the Albanians, etc. Once all sides had identical goals (to establish their dominance over others), the decisive factor became the number of people each side could recruit to its cause and the physical power achieved in this way.

The authors fail to understand this chain of causes and events that lies at the heart of the matter with which they try to grapple. The story, in fact, is an old one. The project to establish the Greater Serbia marks the surrounding areas inhabited by 'others' - or by 'others' too, since Serb minorities live in the areas adjacent to Serbia - as targets for annexation. As long as the project is led by an elite willing to achieve it at all costs and there are organizations through which the project can be furthered, the unfolding Balkan drama cannot be halted. It will continually strive to exhaust and break up the surrounding entities, in order to add broken parts of them to the hypothetical nation-state. There is a rational answer to this situation: the advancing force of the Greater Serbia project will stop only when faced with a force its leaders know they cannot take on and win.

Bosnia and Kosovo
The disintegration of Yugoslavia began as a 'secession from the centre': that of Serbia from the rest of Yugoslavia, with the aim of transforming the bulk of Yugoslav territory into a Serb nation-state. Among the entities comprising Yugoslavia, Bosnia has enjoyed a continuous historic and administrative existence, but as a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic society: its nature has presented the main obstacle to the creation of mono-ethnic states in the region. Bosnia's neighbours not only argued that its complex nature denies it the right to independent statehood, but to clinch their argument they started a war against it in order to destroy the cohesive elements that guaranteed Bosnia's unity. A Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia could then be built by adding parts of dismembered Bosnia. Bosnia, interpreted in this way as a Serbo-Croat problem, became the target of a planned and co-ordinated aggression conducted by Serbia and Croatia. The result is 270,000 dead, 2,111,000 expelled and displaced people, and a massive destruction of property.

For Williams and Quiggin, however, Bosnia exemplifies the 'wrong approach to independence', one which is now threatening Kosovo: 'If the question of independence in Kosovo is mishandled as it was in Bosnia, a similar violent breakdown could be the result.' This is because, the authors claim, 'Kosovo is simply not ready for any substantive form of independence or autonomy. The internal splits between numerous clans and political groupings are serious.' They argue that: 'Kosovo society remains in a near feudal state',and that: 'The concept of the rule of law remains unknown in Kosovo. Democracy, in any accepted form of the idea, remains elusive.' To them the Kosovo Liberation Army 'is really more of an amorphous grouping of gangs'. Searching for further reasons why it is impossible to form a united organization of Kosovo Albanians, they bring up the fact of Albanian division into Gheg and Tosk components. They assert that 'independence for Kosovo will not solve its economic problems', while 'internal feuding among the clans would rupture a suddenly independent Kosovo'. The pivotal message of the whole essay is, unsurprisingly in view of the above, that: 'Independence in Kosovo would usher in Albanianüon-Albanian violence that could at best produce a highly repressive government as clans fought for control. The departure of MUP [the Serbian police and state security forces] and VJ [the Yugoslav army] would result in more violence.'

Serbia's recorÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ d in Kosovo
The authors put the issue of 'independence' centre-stage in their essay and repeatedly warn that it would not solve the problems of Kosovo. There is no doubt that a state, and state independence, can mean violence when taken as the only goal, rather than as an instrument for realization of individual and collective human rights and freedoms in a society. This exclusive concentration on the issue of Kosovo independence and its promotion into the central regional and European problem serves, however, to deflect attention from the real problem, which is the democratic quality of Serbia itself. Serbia has been an independent state for over a century, yet numerous questions facing the Serb people in that state have been left unanswered. It is an ideological state in the full meaning of the word, in that an ethno-national ideology has been imposed upon the whole state, even though it is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional and multi-cultural state made up of different historic entities.

The Serb ethno-national project led to Kosovo's violent annexation in 1912. Kosovo has been within Serbia ever since, but none of the needs of the Kosovo Albanians have been addressed. Albanians in Kosovo have long suffered terror and oppression orchestrated from Belgrade. This fact completely escapes the authors' attention, although repeated campaigns even to actually eliminate Albanians from Kosovo are well documented. The standard of life of Albanians in the Serbian state still falls way below that of the Serbs. The Serbian core had an illiteracy rate of 11.1% in 1981, an infant mortality of 17 per thousand in 1991 and an average income of US $2,390 per capita in 1990. Kosovo's rates in the corresponding years were 17.9% for illiteracy, 46.6 per thousand for infant mortality, and US $590 for average income.

cardsThe record of the eight decades of Serbia's possession of Kosovo shows unmistakably that the inherent and indisputable rights of this national group cannot be realized within the administrative system of Serbia. The rule of Belgrade in Kosovo must end. Any approach to the Kosovo problem must take this as its first premise. Arguments favouring continuation of the existing state only support, directly or indirectly, continuing oppression of the Kosovo Albanians. Failure to take steps to end the ongoing oppression is inexcusable. Serbia must be forced to withdraw its police and army from Kosovo, and more: the secret-service networks, functioning primarily through various criminal groupings, must be broken and disbanded. This will not happen of its own accord. It falls in the domain of the responsibility of the key international players, above all the United States. Given that the expansion and strengthening of Serbia throughout this century has taken place with the open support of France, Britain and Russia, all of which as a rule have shown indifference to the plight of the Kosovo Albanians, any peace plan that is not led by Americans is likely to be suspected by Albanians while permitting Serbia to cheat yet again.

The democratic content of Kosovo's independence
The withdrawal of the Serbian police and army from Kosovo would mark the beginning of a solution for the region. Peace cannot be achieved without it. Kosovo people, like any other people, will show a desire and an inclination to build democracy and take responsibility for their own society, if given a proper chance. Democracy cannot be built overnight. It takes time and needs the right conditions. Kosovo Albanians have never been allowed the right conditions. Democratization and establishment of the rule of law require modernization, which will depend on assistance from the developed world. For the process to begin, however, it is necessary to get an agreement that would end the control exercised by Belgrade over the fate of the KosoÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ vo Albanians. The withdrawing Serbian police and army would have to be replaced by international troops, aiming to transfer control to the newly developed democratic Kosovo institutions in the shortest possible time. Kosovo society must be modernized, and this is a task that cannot be postponed. New educational, health and administrative systems need to be established, local government, tax collection, judiciary, private ownership, public finance, free media, etc. put in their place. As all these things develop, democracy will grow.

These are questions to be addressed primarily by the Kosovo Albanians themselves, but also by those responsible for global stability. The problem of Kosovo cannot be solved without international involvement. It must be begun without delay, as a precondition for the democratization of the post-communist Balkans and its integration into Europe. It must represent a show of strength against all pretenders to totalitarian power and ethno-national supremacy. This would also ease the tensions in Europe caused by ethno-national projects. It would liberate Serbia and its people from the ideology that has pitted them against all their neighbours. The need for an enemy close at hand has fed ideas of ethno-national supremacy and ensured their continuing survival. Only by abandoning the Greater Serbia project and accepting equal rights for their neighbouring states will the Serbs establish peace based on mutual respect and co-operation with other nations in the region. They must accept that their own freedom cannot be sought at the expense of others.

The Serb people need help too
None of the above will be achieved through Slobodan Milosevic a man responsible for grave crimes against humanity. Prevarication and weakness shown to Milosevic will only help to further undermine the rule of law in Serbia and serve to deter his own people from seeking democracy for themselves. The evil of the Greater Serbia plan, which prevents mutual respect and co-operation from prevailing among the states and nations in the area of former Yugoslavia, will eventually have to be stopped by the Serb people themselves. If they are to succeed, however, they will need our understanding and help. This is a project that cannot be delayed and depends on the long-term commitment of the major international guardians of freedom and democracy. Creating conditions for a democratic independence for Kosovo, and helping the Serb people to make peace with their neighbours, provide the only genuine foundations for a peace that will serve the interests of both Serbs and Albanians. It is a responsibility that cannot be shed by a shoulder-shrugging acceptance of Serbian terror in Kosovo as the inevitable penultimate act in the drama of the 'disintegration of Yugoslavia'.


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