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Conflict In Kosovo. Essay, Research Paper

For all this years Serbians were considered a minority group. In the past years Clinton administration’s started to increase their involvement in the conflict in Serbia’s Kosovo province where threatening new economic sanctions and NATO interventions against Yugoslavia, to increasing military and intelligence ties with Albania. Bordering Albania and Macedonia, Kosovo is the southern province of present-day Serbia, which, together with Montenegro, makes up what remains of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Further undermine the prospect of democratic reform in Yugoslavia, perpetuate European security dependence on the United States. Bordering Albania and Macedonia, Kosovo is the southern province of present-day Serbia, which, together with Montenegro, makes up what remains of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Serbs are not identified until the 10th century writings of Byzantine emperor Constantine VII. There, they are described as Slavs residing in the area of present-day Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia, and who converted to Eastern Christianity in the 9th century. In the 12th century, Serbs successfully fought against the Byzantine Empire to establish an independent Serbian kingdom. Kosovo was crucial to that kingdom and to the Serbian Orthodox church for the next two centuries. In fact, virtually all of the oldest monuments in Kosovo are Serbian Orthodox and most of place names have a Serbian language root. But in 1389, the Serb dynasty fell to the Ottoman Empire at the battle of Kosovo Polje. Although they fought alongside Serbs during the battle, most ethnic Albanians in the area converted to Islam in the 15th and 16th centuries and participated in the Ottoman administration of Kosovo.

As the Ottoman Empire declined in the 18th and 19th centuries, Kosovo became the focus of competing Serbian and Albanian independence movements. In 1878, the League of Prizren, which sought to create an independent Albanian state, was founded in Kosovo. But when the Ottoman Empire finally buckled under the weight of the First Balkan War in 1912, Kosovo became part of Serbia once again. By that time, Serbs comprised only about 20 to 25 percent of Kosovo’s population. (2)

Kosovo after World War I

At the end of World War I, Serbia joined with Croatia and Slovenia to form the new state of Yugoslavia, with Kosovo remaining a constituent part of Serbia. During the 1920s, Serbian authorities attempted to repopulate Kosovo with Serbs. By 1928, the Serb population was increased to about 38 percent, mainly because of state-organized immigration from Serbia. (3) But during World War II, after Yugoslavia was defeated by the Axis Powers in April 1941, the population trend lines in Kosovo were reversed. Italy ceded the province to neighboring Albania, which had been under Axis occupation since 1939, and Kosovo was ruled as part of Italian-occupied Albania for the remainder of the war. Between 1941 and 1945, more than 70,000 Serbs fled Kosovo while 75,000 Albanians migrated there. (4)

After World War II, Kosovo was returned to Serbia. Wanting to forge a Balkan communist federation with Albania and Bulgaria, the new Yugoslav government under Josip Broz Tito hoped that the prospect of reacquiring Kosovo would draw Albania into the pact. Tito, therefore, wanted Kosovo to remain predominantly Albanian. On March 6, 1945, he issued a decree forbidding Serbs displaced by the war from returning to their homes in Kosovo. (5) The following year, Kosovo was made an “autonomous region” within Serbia. Tito’s plan to create a Balkan communist federation, however, collapsed in 1948 when Yugoslavia broke with the Soviet-led Cominform.

Nevertheless, the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo continued to grow and to push for greater autonomy. In 1963, Kosovo was made an “autonomous province,” and under Yugoslavia’s 1974 constitution, it was granted separate federal representation and was only formally linked with Serbia. During that period of enhanced autonomy, ethnic Albanians exercised almost complete control over Kosovo’s provincial administration, but many Serbs complained of pervasive discrimination in employment and housing, and of the authorities’ unwillingness to protect them from anti-Serb violence.

Kosovo after Tito

By 1981, official census data pegged Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population at 77.5 percent. (6) The same year, in the wake of Tito’s death, riots broke out in Kosovo as ethnic Albanians demanded full republic status within the Yugoslav federation. In the course of the violence, Serbs and Montenegrins in Kosovo were beaten, their homes and businesses burned, and their shops looted. (7) Also, a mysterious fire was set at one of Serbia’s most cherished religious shrines, the Pec Patriarchate in Kosovo, a complex of medieval churches and the historical seat of the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. (8) The civil unrest was eventually quashed by the communist authorities, but thousands of Serbs fled Kosovo following the violence.

Throughout the rest of the 1980s the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Serbian civic groups documented numerous cases of harassment, intimidation, vandalism, destruction of Serbian monuments and churches, and attacks on Serbian priests, nuns, and civilians by ethnic Albanians. As historian Noel Malcolm reports,

“In the mid-1980s the Serbian Academy of Sciences commissioned a survey of 500 households of Serbs who had migrated to inner Serbia from Kosovo. Many of the people interviewed thought that there was a political dimension to the deterioration of conditions for the Slavs in Kosovo. . . . When giving the reasons for their migration, 41 per-cent mentioned “indirect pressure” from the Albanians, and 21 percent referred to direct pressure: that last category was composed of verbal abuse (8.5 percent), material damage (7.5 percent) and personal injury (5 percent).” (9)

While the number of cases of abuse against Serbs varies by source, historian Miranda Vickers has concluded that “many Serbs and Montenegrins who decided to leave Kosovo [in the 1980s] had experienced intimidation, pressure, violence, and other severe abuses of their human rights because of their ethnicity.” (10) Similarly, historian Richard West notes that while ethnic Albanians from Kosovo were “always ready to tell sympathetic journalists an account of their suffering under the Serbian regime . . . foreign observers failed to notice that, although the Serbs were supposed to be the oppressors, they themselves were departing from Kosovo, complaining about the destruction of property, the desecration of graves, and many assaults and rapes.” (11)

Enter Slobodan Milosevic

In April 1987, over 60,000 Serbs from Kosovo signed a petition calling on the government in Belgrade to stop the ethnic violence and intimidation aimed at them. (12) In an opportunistic attempt to raise his political profile, then Serbian Communist Party president Slobodan Milosevic traveled to Kosovo and played the nationalist card, proclaiming to Serbs everywhere, “No one should dare beat you again.” (13) By October 1987, federal riot police and army troops were deployed in Kosovo following demonstrations by thousands of Serbs protesting an alleged comment by a Kosovar Albanian leader that “the incidents of [ethnic] Albanians raping Serbian women could be reduced if more Serbian women worked as prostitutes.” (14) In 1989, Belgrade downgraded Kosovo’s autonomy to its pre-1974 level, and Milosevic was elected president of Serbia, with 65 percent of the vote. As Aleksa Djilas later noted in Foreign Affairs, Milosevic “succeeded because he understood the power of fear and knew how to use it for his own purposes.” (15)

Following the reduction of Kosovo’s autonomy, Belgrade imposed “emergency measures” in Kosovo, summarily dismissing thousands of ethnic Albanians from state-sector jobs. No part of Kosovo’s society was left untouched. Even the provincial theater in Pristina was placed under “emergency management” and the theater manager removed by police officers and replaced by a Serb. The greatest changes, however, occurred in education: The teaching of Albanian history, literature, and language was reduced to a minimum. Also, ethnic Albanian students were forbidden from enrolling in secondary school unless they could pass Serbian literature and language examinations, which few could do. (16)

In 1991, ethnic Albanians responded to their diminished autonomy by forming a shadow government, complete with a president, a parliament, a tax system, and schools. Shadow president Ibrahim Rugova has since worked for Kosovo’s independence through peaceful means, but a more militant group has emerged.

Enter the Kosovo Liberation Army

By the mid-1990s, the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo had grown to between 85 and 90 percent, and the human rights conditions in the province continued to deteriorate. (17) As Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights organization, reported,

“Since the revocation of Kosovo’s autonomy, the human rights abuses against ethnic Albanians by the Serbian and Yugoslav governments have been constant. The names of the victims change, but the frequency and the manner of beatings, harassment, and political trials remain the same. It is a status quo of repression. . . . The brutality of the police continues against the population. Random harassment and beatings are a daily reality for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, especially those in villages and smaller towns.” (18)

In 1996, a shadowy separatist organization called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) surfaced for the first time, claiming responsibility for a series of bombings in southern Yugoslavia. By its own admission, the KLA killed more than 50 government officials and ethnic Albanian “collaborators” over the next two years. The KLA’s intention: To trigger the secession of Kosovo from the Yugoslav state. Pursuing a textbook strategy, the KLA carried out attacks on police and civilians aimed at provoking a government crackdown that would radicalize the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo. In February 1998, the KLA intensified its attacks against Yugoslav authorities and Serb civilians. Armed KLA guerrillas attacked Serb houses in the villages of Klina, Decani, and Djakovica, and a Serb refugee camp in Babaloc. KLA guerrillas also ambushed and killed two Serb policemen patrolling on the road between Glogovac and Srbica.

A government crackdown on the KLA immediately followed, and the world soon learned that nearly 80 Kosovar Albanians, including many women and children, were killed by Serbian internal security forces in Kosovo’s central Drenica region. The Yugoslav Interior Ministry claimed that the action was directed against Adem Jashari, whose clan allegedly constituted the core of the KLA organization. On a closely supervised trip to the village of Prekaz, foreign reporters were told that government security forces had killed Jashari and destroyed the power base of the KLA organization. “We have struck at their heart and we have dealt terrorists a lethal blow,” a police spokesman said. (19) The spokesman was wrong. Government versus guerrilla clashes continue in Kosovo, leaving more than 900 dead since February. “Only force keeps Kosovo inside Yugoslavia now,” concludes Mark Almond, Oxford professor of modern history. (20)

Tying the Balkan Knot

Still, there are more than 180,000 Serbs living in Kosovo today, and the province is widely considered by Serbs as the cradle of Serbian culture and history. (21) In fact, over 75 percent of all Serbian cultural and national monuments are located in Kosovo, including the historic 14th century monastery of Samodreza where the Serbian King blessed his army just before their defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1389. Accordingly, Yugoslav Army Gen. Dusan Samardzic recently told a group of new officers,

“This is a turning point for Yugoslavia, when we need to show the world our military ability and might. Kosovo-Metohija’s integrity has been threatened by [ethnic] Albanian secessionists, with assistance from abroad. Our ancestry and posterity would never forgive us if we surrendered the cradle of Serb culture to someone else.” (22)

At the same time, representatives of the KLA have said that they will not stop fighting the Serbian government until they achieve the “total liberation” of Kosovo. (23) Further, in a March 1998 statement, the KLA pledged revenge on Serbs, declaring,

“We will wreak multiple vengeance for innocent deaths in the region of Drenica. We swear it on their blood.” (24)

The conflict is Kosovo, therefore, is not simply a matter of Kosovar Albanians suffering under a brutal and repressive regime–which they are–but a complex clash of mutually exclusive political claims which are aggravated by conflicting historical grievances–real and imagined. As former U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman correctly observes,

“The competing claims of Serbs and Albanians have been hopelessly tangled in the webs of history and myth. In its essence, however, the main issue is as simple as it is intractable. The Serbian claim . . . is based primarily on the historical-cultural principle–the Jerusalem argument. The Albanian claim to independence is based largely on the demographic principle.the majority argument. Since these claims are mutually incompatible, there is little reason to believe that Kosovo will be easy to solve.” (25)

Similarly, Amos Perlmutter, professor of political science at American University, notes,

“Kosovo is the most intractable postwar Balkan conflict to date. . . . This is because the Serbs and their [ethnic] Albanian rivals are irreconcilable, poised to inflict heavy damage on one another to fulfill their conflicting aspirations.” (26)

Ironically, over the course of the last 50 years, Kosovo has gone from being Tito’s lure to bring Albania into a federation with Yugoslavia to a province that wants to secede. It is tempting to compare the situation in Kosovo today with that in Bosnia in 1991, but there are differences. The key distinction is that Kosovo, unlike Bosnia, was never a constituent republic of Yugoslavia. Indeed, since the 1913 London Treaty, which ended the First Balkan War, Kosovo has been recognized by the international community as part of Serbia.

Washington’s Reaction

Washington’s reaction to Belgrade’s February-March crackdown was immediate. “We are not going to stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with doing in Bosnia,” warned U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on March 7. (27) Two days later, she announced that the United States reserved the right to take unilateral action against the Serbian government, saying, “We know what we need to know to believe we are seeing ethnic cleansing all over again.” (28)

After holding emergency meetings in London and Bonn, the Balkan Contact Group–representing the United States, Russia, Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy.agreed on an arms embargo against Serbia, a freeze on export credits to Belgrade, and a denial of visas to officials involved in the crackdown in Kosovo. Not satisfied with the Contact Group’s sanctions package, the United States left the door open to military intervention. In fact, when asked about that possibility, Robert Gelbard, President Clinton’s special envoy to the Balkans, told a congressional hearing, we will first use “every possible economic sanction or other kind of tool we have diplomatically, but we aren’t ruling anything out.” (29)

At the same time, the political arm of NATO, the North Atlantic Council, raised the prospect of NATO intervention noting, “NATO and the international community have a legitimate interest in developments on Kosovo . . . because of their impact on the stability of the whole region.” (30) NATO representatives then held an emergency meeting with the government of Albania and agreed to increase military and civilian assistance, including new communications equipment and vehicles to patrol the border. (31) But the violence in Kosovo continued. Soon afterward, NATO agreed to establish a small military mission in the Albanian capital of Tirana to oversee efforts aimed at helping the Albanians bolster their armed forces. (32) By mid-June NATO warplanes were conducting “show-of-force” air exercises over Albania and Macedonia, and in August and September, NATO participated in ground war games with Albania’s army.

Today, U.S. ambassador Christopher Hill is trying to broker an interim political agreement between Belgrade and moderate ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Meanwhile, the UN has issued Security Council Resolution 1199 demanding a cease-fire to end the conflict, which has produced 200,000-300,000 refugees since February. That notwithstanding, some commentators suggest that Washington is trying to “avoid military intervention [in Kosovo]. . . at all costs.” (33) But the Clinton administration has diligently put everything in place for intervention. In fact, by mid-July U.S.-NATO military planners had completed contingency plans for intervention, including air strikes and the deployment of ground troops. All that was missing was a sufficiently brutal or tragic event to trigger the process. As a senior Defense Department official told reporters on July 15, “If some levels of atrocities were reached that would be intolerable, that would probably be a trigger.” (34) Sure enough, in late September NATO seized upon reports of a massacre of 10 women and children in the village of Gornje Obrinje to commence its latest–and most serious–threats against Belgrade.

NATO Intervention

The United States currently has 6,900 combat troops in Bosnia and 350 in Macedonia. As if that were not enough involvement in the volatile Balkans to tempt fate, the recent violence in Kosovo has prompted calls for more American intervention in the region–60,000 NATO troops would be necessary for a full-scale peacekeeping operation, according to one Pentagon estimate. (35) The idea of further U.S. troop involvement in the Balkans, however, is misguided.

First, the events in Kosovo pose no threat to U.S. national security–neither the territorial integrity, nor the national sovereignty, nor the general welfare of the United States is in jeopardy. Further, a peacekeeping or other noncombat policing mission in Kosovo might actually harm U.S. national security by keeping American soldiers away from military training, thereby reducing their combat readiness. In fact, reports the Washington Post,

“Over the past decade, the [U.S.] Army has been used in 29 substantial overseas deployments, compared with 10 in the four previous decades. The strain of the pace of such operations on a much reduced force has shown up in negative trend lines across all military services across various readiness categories. (36)

A Kosovo peacekeeping mission will simply add to the problem by further compromising U.S. military preparedness.

Second, military intervention in Kosovo will encounter fervent and incompatible ethnic interests that are unlikely to be dislodged by an American presence. On one side of the dispute are ethnic Albanians, most of whom boycott Serbian state institutions, resist speaking the Serbian language, and view Serbian state security forces as an occupation army. In addition, most ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are Muslim.

On the other side of the dispute are Serbs who consider Kosovo the cradle of their culture and Christian orthodox religion, and are about as willing to give up Kosovo to Albanians as Israelis are to give up Jerusalem to Palestinians. In fact, 42 percent of Serbs polled recently said they believed that “the solution to the Kosovo problem was the removal, by force or peaceful means, of its Albanian majority.” (37) And on April 23, 97 percent of Serbs participating in a national referendum reportedly said they oppose foreign mediation of talks with Kosovar Albanians. (38) Putting American ground troops in the middle of that kind of conflict is bound to produce casualties. Moreover, because intervention would entail violating the borders of Yugoslavia, it could further entrench Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic by uniting Serbs behind him.

Third, NATO intervention in Kosovo could unfold as it has in Bosnia; that is, with no end in sight. It should be recalled that in his November 1995 address making the case for sending U.S. troops to Bosnia, President Clinton assured the American public that the operation he was proposing had a “clear, limited and achievable” mission and that the total deployment “should and will take about one year.” (39) Since then, the president has twice changed his mind about U.S. troop withdrawal, and Washington now has an open-ended troop commitment to Bosnia.

It should also be recalled that the Clinton administration claimed that the Bosnia intervention would be a strictly military operation. As Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott explained in a November 1995 speech, “There will be no ‘mission creep’–from purely military tasks into ‘nation-building.’” (40) But it is now known that President Clinton allowed U.S. forces to be used to help elect Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, and that the U.S.-backed representative in charge of implementing the Dayton Peace Accords designed Bosnia’s first national currency, imposed a national flag, and is working on a national anthem–examples of nation-building at its most basic. (41)

Fourth, NATO intervention of any kind in Kosovo could cause the already deeply flawed Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia to completely unravel. Indeed, if it appears that Washington is facilitating Kosovo’s secession, Bosnian Serbs could interpret that as a sign of a broader anti-Serb Western agenda. Not only would that expose NATO troops stationed in Bosnia to possible acts of retribution like those that occurred against the American Marines in Beirut in the 1980s, it would also threaten to undermine the fragile U.S.-brokered peace there as well.

On the other hand, if Washington appears to be forestalling Kosovo’s independence by enforcing some sort of autonomy or republic status within Yugoslavia, NATO troops could find themselves trying to contain a still independence-minded KLA. That would mean that Americans would be fighting Milosevic’s battle for him. And according to Alexander Vasovic, a military expert with independent Radio B92 in Belgrade, a war in Kosovo will “be like Algeria or Vietnam. . . . [Soldiers will] be isolated in military compounds. The Kosovo Liberation Army will control the rest.” (42)

Encouraging the KLA

Another significant problem with NATO intervention of any kind in Kosovo is that it might actually encourage the KLA in its militant drive to break away from Yugoslavia. Many Kosovar Albanians already believe that Washington is on their side. “One of our main struggles is to convince them that we really don’t support independence,” explains Richard Huckaby, director of an office of the U.S. Information Agency in Kosovo. But “they just don’t get it. . . . I have tried really hard to lower their expectations.” (43)

Serbs, too, believe that Washington backs the ethnic Albanians. As the Washington Post reported in March,

“The Serbs also have directed their ire at Americans, whom they regard as in league with the Albanians. At a caf? owned by ethnic Albanians in the town of Pec, west of Pristina, a hand grenade splattered the walls with shrapnel recently. When [Serb] police officers came to investigate, they suggested with a smirk that the bill for the damage be sent to [U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K.] Albright.” (44)

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