Kosovo - aim or means of Serbian national policy?
by Olga Popovic Obradovic
Kosovo, as the sign of far more extensive and serious territorial pretensions, has been a constant quantity in modern Serbia’s national policy. The essence of the modern Serbian state idea from the very beginning of the creation of the national state was and remains the union of all lands that for ethnic or historical or geopolitical reasons are considered to be Serb. This state idea used to be called ‘avenging Kosovo’, today more often ‘return of Kosovo’. The policy of ‘avenging Kosovo’ as a rule assumed territorial wars not necessarily involving Kosovo - or, more precisely, not only Kosovo.
It was in the 20th century, after 1903, when with the arrival of the Karađorđević dynasty the project of Great Serbia was placed on the agenda, that Kosovo became a symbol and the greatest mobilizing factor of territorial expansion, a historical space with which Serbia’s territorial expansion began but did not end. As the priest Milan Đurić, a famous adherent of the National Radical Party, used to shout in the Serbian parliament on the eve of World War I, the task of every Serbian teacher was ‘to educate children in the solemn pledge that they as the future citizens of Serbia will avenge Kosovo and create Great Serbia. The Serb people has been enslaved for centuries and has fought solely in order to avenge Kosovo and to free divided Serbdom. We must not stand with folded arms as Bosnia, the old Serbian kingdom, and Herzegovina, the duchy of St Sava, are being torn from the bosom of the Serb nation.’ Father Đurić was speaking in 1908, at the time of the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Following several wars Serbia, inspired by the Kosovo myth and the slogan of ‘avenging Kosovo’, joined the Yugoslav state in 1918. The slogan now lost for a while its mobilising role, but was not forgotten. It remained preserved in a historical memory that would be revived at times of Yugoslav state crisis. At the end of the 20th century, when Serbia once again placed on its agenda the redefinition of its national interests, ‘avenging Kosovo’ became once again a national political slogan that served to legitimize a project of territorial expansion - as before, regardless of whether its territorial pretensions were based on ethnic, historical or geo-strategic reasons, and whether they were directed to the south or the west.
The latest great re-composition of the area of former Yugoslavia began - after the historic 8th session of the central committee of the Serbian Communist party - with placing ‘the Kosovo question’ on the political agenda: i.e. with the unconditional demand that Kosovo be once again made subject to Serbia. As it became clear, Kosovo’s constitutional status was only a pretext rather than the basic aim in challenging Yugoslavia’s constitutional structure, and certainly not the final aim. Serbia wished not only that its own republic should be re-centralised, but also all of Yugoslavia; so the 8th session must be treated not as an internal Serbian matter, but as an event that affected Yugoslavia as a whole. It announced a radical change in Serbia’s policy towards Yugoslavia. It involved rejection of the policy of consensus in favour of Serbian domination of Yugoslavia, if need be by means of genocide. The slogan ‘Avenge Kosovo!’ became once again a war cry.
The 1974 Yugoslav constitution, which for twenty years the Serbian elite painted as inimical to Serbia, after 1989 delivered to the latter four votes in the eight-member federation. This much derided constitution suddenly became Serbia’s main ally in its struggle for domination of Yugoslavia, since it appeared for a while to justify the violence it unleashed against Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. The advocates of a centralised Yugoslavia who dominated the Serbian media at that time argued that a Yugoslavia based on consensus meant war. This ugly threat soon became a reality. The policy of ‘avenging Kosovo’ ended as vengeance against Yugoslavia.
It is very important to recall that in the Serbian national programme Kosovo was never the aim but rather the instrument of a national project of wide territorial expansion. At the start of 2003, two years after the fall of Milošević’s regime, Serbia once again opened the question of borders in the Balkans. As was its custom during the last two centuries, it did so through Kosovo, arguing that Serbia would seek a new Dayton and the redrawing of practically all borders in the area of formerYugoslavia, if Kosovo insisted on independence. This is how vice-premier Čović explained the Serbian government’s view a year ago: ‘If they [the Albanians] want independence then we [the Serbs] want to divide Kosovo.’ The idea of Kosovo’s partition was accepted by the Serb nationalists around Dobrica Čosić in the 1960s. So Serbia responded to Kosovo’s demand for independence with a list of its own territorial demands, among which the most important has always related to Bosnia-Herzegovina. At this point in time Kosovo’s status remains open, but Serbia continues to believe that it will be able to swap Kosovo for Republika Srpska. Such a policy of territorial compensation threatens the stability of the whole region. Serb nationalists do not bother to hide that for them Macedonia, or at least a slice of it, should be included in Serbia. If one adds to that Montenegro as a ‘second Serb state’, then it is clear that Serbia does not accept the existing borders in the Balkans.
Translated from a longer text in Helsinška povelja (Belgrade), January-February 2005