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Time Is Running Out In Kosova

Time Is Running Out in Kosova

by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, Balkan Affairs Adviser

Since June 1999, Kosova’s political, social, and economic progress has been held hostage to its lack of final status. Kosovar Albanians, who are predominantly pro-Western, democratic, entrepreneurial, disciplined, and hardworking, have been trapped in an aid-dependent society. Seventy percent of Kosovar Albanians remain unemployed in a population in which 70 percent are under the age of thirty. Privatization and access to World Bank loans, which would bring much needed jobs and investments to Kosova, have been repeatedly stalled by the international community’s overriding concern for Serbia’s overblown historic claims to Kosova.

On December 20, 2002, Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the International Relations Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, warned that, “Kosova is in danger of becoming another Gaza Strip, this time in the heart of Europe.” “There will be no jobs without peace and stability,” he said, “but there will be no peace and stability in Kosova without independence.”

In January 2003, Hyde joined Congressman Tom Lantos, the Committee’s ranking Democrat, in cosponsoring House Resolution 28, calling on the United States to declare the independence of Kosova now. Less than a year and a half later, deprivation, which has been kept at bay by the generosity of Albanians in the diaspora, is beginning to mount and violence has erupted. Nevertheless, the U.S. State Department continues to insist that Kosova must achieve near-impossible standards before its status can be resolved.

How much more suffering and loss of life will Kosova have to endure before the international community realizes that its misguided policies lie at the heart of the problem? In the aftermath of the tragic violence that followed the drowning of three Albanian children in northern Kosova last month, NATO, the UN, Washington, and Brussels have sent reinforcements to augment the 18,000 NATO troops currently on the ground in this UN protectorate of two million. But the military option is only a temporary solution.

It will not resolve the core problem, which is the failure of the international community to recognize the independence of Kosova—five years after NATO ended former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal war against Kosova’s Albanian majority. Indefinitely delaying Kosova’s final status has brought it to the brink once again.

NATO has wrongly portrayed the chaos that engulfed Kosova from March 17 to 19, killing 19 and wounding several hundred, as an “orchestrated” act by Albanians to “ethnically cleanse” Kosova’s Serbian minority. First and foremost, most Kosovar Albanians deplore violence and were not involved in the rioting that followed peaceful demonstrations. Albanian grief and anger was apparently exploited by a small group of criminals and political extremists in both Serb and Albanian communities. Even so, much of the violence that ensued was neither orchestrated nor inherently about interethnic strife.

It was a spontaneous eruption of pent-up anger and frustration on the part of beleaguered Albanians who have lost trust in the international community’s intentions, triggered by Serbs in the illegally partitioned city of Mitrovice where Albanian resentment is stoked daily by Belgrade’s destabilizing activities there. Until the NATO, the U.S. government, and the European Union grasp this reality, they are doomed to repeat the failed foreign policy decisions of the past.

On the political front, nowhere is the failure of western foreign policy in Kosova more evident than in the Mitrovice region, where the Albanian children met their deaths in the Ibar River, which now divides the Serbian majority in the north and the Albanian majority in the south. Prior to the war, Mitrovice was an undivided multiethnic city, with an Albanian majority. Since the NATO air strikes ended in June 1999, Albanians have been unable to return to their homes in the north and Serbs to their homes in the south. In violation of its own UN Resolution 1244, the international community has presided over the illegal, de facto partition of Mitrovice. Although it has publicly opposed the creation of Serbian parallel structures in the north, in reality the international community has sat back as these structures have proliferated at Belgrade’s insistence and with its aid.

Knowing that it has lost the right to govern Kosova, Belgrade has been actively engaged in destabilizing Kosova since war’s end in order to advance the argument that partition is the only way to solve the Serbian-Albanian conflict. While pretending to be concerned about Kosova’s Serbs, Belgrade’s destabilizing politics had a great impact on last week’s violence. On the fifth anniversary of NATO’s March 24, 1999 bombing of Serbia, Belgrade hopes to convince the international community once and for all that Albanian “terrorism” is the problem and that partition is the answer. While insisting that Kosova remain under Serbian control, gaining more territory has always been Serbia’s endgame.

If Serbia succeeds in its aims, it will be because Washington and Brussels have concealed for the past four years that Serbia, which under Milosevic waged four wars of aggression in the Balkans, leaving more than 300,000 dead and 4 million displaced, is unreformed. Organized crime operates hand in glove with war criminals, special police, and the political establishment. Even though this reality was finally unmasked last year with the revelation that Belgrade sold weapons to Iraq during the arms embargo and was complicit in the March 2003 assassination of then Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the West has failed to use its leverage to dismantle the Milosevic system.

While last month’s violence in Kosova is to be condemned, the international community must come clean about the source of it. Blaming local Albanian leaders, as the European Union has done, when the international community has refused to give them any real power to govern Kosova and has largely excluded them from the decision-making process, will not prevent Kosova from spiraling out of control once more. Only Kosova’s independence will set it and the region on the path to a just and lasting peace. The international community has found it easy to forget that Kosovar Albanians suffered a decade of Serbian occupation followed by a war that claimed more than 10,000 Albanian lives and expelled close to one million. It is time to free Albanians from the fear of being placed back under Serbian domination, to free Serbs who were not involved in the atrocities of 1998-1999 and want to live in Kosova from Belgrade’s pressures, to help Serbia break from its racist and imperialistic past, and to save the West from a peace failure that it can ill afford.

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