Updated: Aug 6, 2018
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi-Testimony
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
Balkan Affairs Adviser, Albanian American Civic LeagueU.S. Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations Hearing
July 14, 2004 U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Southeast Europe:
Unfinished Business in the Balkans
In 1990, Secretary of State James Baker stated that “Yugoslavia must stay together at all costs.” This response to the impending dissolution of the former Yugoslavia (which began a year later) turned out to be disastrous. By 1999, Serbian dictator, now indicted war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic had waged four wars of aggression, leaving 300,000 dead, four million displaced, and billions of U.S. tax dollars spent. As Balkan expert Noel Malcolm has explained, when the Yugoslav federation started dissolving, each constituent unit had a legal right to self-determination under international law. The world recognized the independence of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia. Hence, Malcolm said, “independence for Kosova and Montenegro would have followed an established precedent.” Instead, the West allowed Serbia, in the name of “keeping Yugoslavia together,” to wage wars, and even embargo Bosnia’s access to arms. In this way, the United States and Europe unwittingly and tragically aided Milosevic’s strategy of destabilization, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.
Although the U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in the spring of 1999 halted Milosevic’s genocidal march across Southeast Europe, it did not bring lasting peace and stability to the region. As Croatian scholar Branka Magas stated in a speech to the Bosnian Institute in London on May 10, 1999, “Unless the process of dissolution of Yugoslavia is allowed to be completed and the Former Republic of Yugoslavia dissolved into its component parts, thus setting Kosova on a path to independence, it will be impossible to build a peaceful and democratic state system in southeastern Europe.”
The unfinished business in the Balkans is the recognition of the independence of Kosova and Montenegro. To achieve this will require the United States to abandon its erroneous assumption that has driven its foreign policy since Yugoslavia began to dissolve; namely, that an independent Kosova will threaten peace and stability in Southeast Europe, when, as Magas has observed, the reverse is true.
In September 2002, Senator Joseph Biden stated in a speech to the Albanian American community in Chicago that “the naked self interest of the United States rests on the 21st century beginning with a whole, undivided, and unified Europe,” because every time that Europe plunges into chaos “our sons and daughters die, our economy falters, and we pay the price.” He added that the fate of seven million Albanians in the Balkans is also “critical to our self-interest.” If the “ethnic legitimacy of the Albanian people is not recognized and protected,” Biden said, “all of the pieces in the region will fall apart, and if we do not stabilize the Balkans, we will pay dearly.” Biden recognized that if the West did not send a signal to Serbia that there can be no return to the old formula of a Yugoslav federation the United States would risk a whole new chapter of strife and march to war.
After ten years of working to resolve the Balkan conflict, including more than twenty-five trips to the region, I believe that there will be no lasting peace and stability in Southeast Europe until the Albanian dimension, which lies at the heart of the Balkan Conflict, is resolved—beginning first and foremost with the recognition of the independence of Kosova. Until such time as the United States and the European Union affirm Kosova’s right to self-determination and independence, I believe that we will continue to recycle the failed foreign policy of the past at our peril—risking renewed conflict in the Balkans at a time when we can least afford such an outcome amid a full-blown crisis in Iraq, dangerous instability in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and the threat of a nuclear North Korea.
Today, the result of the failed foreign policy of keeping Yugoslavia together at all costs (even though its disintegration is almost complete) is that we have a corrupt, quasi-Mafia state in Serbia, because we have avoided putting conditions on Serbia’s aid after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic and failed to help Serbia de-Nazify, democratize, and dismantle Milosevic’s criminal system after a decade of war. The recent election of the reform-oriented Boris Tadic as Serbia’s new president and the defeat of the ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolic is salutary, but it will mean little if Tadic is unable to convince the ultranationalist majority in parliament to take responsibility for Serbia’s history.
Montenegro is today a weak state riddled with corruption, in great measure because Western Europe, with U.S. assent, spent years forcing Serbia and Montenegro into a confederation in an effort to stave off Kosova’s independence. The union does not work and it will inevitably disappear when Montenegro’s referendum on independence occurs next year. Montenegro’s financial obligation to the new Yugoslav administration has increased with little benefit in return, and the effort to create a union it opposed has shifted its attention away from much needed reforms. In Bosnia, we have a weak, semi- Criminal, failed state, the result of a cantonization instituted by the Dayton Accords that has led to paralysis in the parliament as a result of destructive splits along ethnic lines, each wielding veto power over the decision-making process.
Kosova, meanwhile, has been a UN protectorate since the NATO airstrikes of 1999 ended Serbia’s genocidal warfare against Kosova’s Albanian majority population of almost two million people. Although Kosova is pro-Western, intensely pro-American, and entrepreneurial, its political and economic progress has been held hostage to its lack of final status. Seventy percent of Kosova’s population is under the age of 30 and more than 60 percent of the population is unemployed. Five years after war’s end Kosova is trapped in an aid-dependent economy against its will. 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 Belgrade’s sovereignty. At the political level, although Kosova has a legally elected government called the Kosova Assembly, its powers are limited and it has been excluded from the decision-making process by the United Nations. The UN administrator has unlimited powers, but he is constantly supervised by the UN Security Council (in which most of the member nations oppose the independence of Kosova). Meanwhile, Belgrade has been actively engaged in destabilizing Kosova since war’s end (starting with the de facto partition of Mitrovice in violation of UN Resolution 1244) in order to advance the argument that partition is the only way to solve the Serbian-Albanian conflict. Belgrade has intimidated Kosova’s Serbs into separatism, using paramilitary groups and police, and also provided financial incentives to Kosova Serb politicians to maintain parallel institutions that the UN professes to oppose but does nothing to stop.
The violence that erupted in Kosova on March 17 is an indicator, not of the state of interethnic affairs in Kosova, in my opinion, but of the failure of the United States and Europe to develop a policy that will enable the remaining juridical units of the former Yugoslavia to have self-determination and to develop functioning states. NATO has wrongly portrayed the chaos that engulfed Kosova from March 17 to 19, killing 28 and wounding 600, as an “orchestrated” act by Albanians to “ethnically cleanse” Kosova’s Serbian minority. In reality, a small group of political extremists and criminals (both Serb and Albanian) exploited peaceful demonstrations and triggered a race riot in the northern part of the country, which is largely under Serbian control. While the violence cannot be justified, it is essential to grasp the larger picture. Deprivation is beginning to mount in Kosova and with it pent-up frustrations that will continue to be exploited if the status quo is maintained. Albanians are losing 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. Meanwhile, Washington and Brussels are insisting that Kosova achieve near-impossible standards before its status can be resolved. However, as Congressman Henry Hyde, chair of the House International Relations Committee, said at the end of 2002, “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, and there will be no peace and stability without an independent Kosova.”
Our reading of the events of March 15-17 should be that 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 who 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. The goal in Kosova should be an independent state that receives international assistance in reaching democratic standards and NATO protection. This will lead to the complete integration of Kosova’s various ethnic groups and allow development, without which there will be no stability and peace in Kosova and in the rest of the Balkans.
To accomplish this goal will require some radical changes in the way U.S. foreign policy is conducted not only in the Balkans, but across the globe. In this regard, I believe that we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift that will entail moving from a foreign policy forged in response to the eruption of violence to a foreign policy that seeks to prevent violence by eradicating it at its roots. This paradigm shift will entail understanding that a policy of “Realpolitik,” unhinged from human rights norms, will not achieve the vital interests of the United States: namely, the spread of democracy, economic development, peace, and security across the globe. This paradigm shift will entail the understanding that respect for state sovereignty must go hand in hand with respect for human rights.
In order to realize this paradigm shift in the Balkans, we will first have to ask and answer some hard questions: Why has U.S. foreign policy been continually Belgrade-centered since war’s end in June 1999, after Serbia brutally and illegally occupied Kosova for a decade, exterminated thousands of Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians, and forcibly expelled millions more? Why have we refused to confront the main issue—which is the need to de-Nazify and democratize Serbia? This has been the issue ever since Milosevic came to power in 1987, and it can no longer be concealed in the wake of the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, which was the result of a massive and longstanding collusion in Serbia between war criminals, organized crime, and the ruling establishment. It can no longer be concealed since Belgrade was revealed in 2002 to have sold weapons to Iraq during the arms embargo. It can no longer be concealed since indicted war criminals Slobodan Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj were voted into office and their political parties made a strong showing in Serbia’s December 2003 parliamentary elections. And it can no longer be concealed since Serbia’s parliament pushed through a law in March 2004 providing salaries and benefits to Milosevic, Seselj, and other Serbian war crimes indictees in The Hague.
Why did the United States allow Milosevic to occupy Kosova and then try to kill and expel the Albanian majority there in the first place, a population that was committed to nonviolence until it was forced to defend itself and remains to this day deeply pro-American? Why did we make Milosevic, one of the worst war criminals in the modern era, into a peacemaker at the Dayton Accords in 1995, assenting to his wish to keep the Albanian issue out of the negotiations and awarding him a near-sovereign territory in the form of Republika Srpska in exchange for his signature to end the war in Bosnia? Why did we support the Kosova Liberation Army during the war in 1999 and then in the postwar period join Western Europe in branding the liberators as “terrorists?” And, finally, why, after acknowledging the lessons that we had supposedly learned from our deadly waiting game in Bosnia and our near-fatal delay in Kosova, are we endangering the postwar reconstruction of Kosova? By our actions and our inaction, why are we leaving Kosova in a social, economic, and political limbo and risking violent conflict, perhaps even war, in the process?
I believe that there is one, underlying answer to all of these questions—namely, that the United States and Europe have operated and continue to operate according to Belgrade-engineered myths about the Serbian-Albanian conflict that serve to demonize Albanians and rationalize their destruction. The primary myth—that Albanians are a violent, potentially fundamentalist, Muslim force in the heart of Europe—enabled Europe to remain “neutral” during the Milosevic’s genocidal wars. This myth allowed the United States to write off the Balkans for years as unimportant to our vital interests so that we would not have to put American lives at risk. This myth now enables us to justify taking a backseat to Europe in the region’s future—a Europe that does not want to take responsibility for its complicity in Milosevic’s wars against Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians, a Europe that erroneously thinks that Serbia holds out the promise of riches (when the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was triggered by its financial collapse), a Europe that fears the specter of a “Greater Albania,” when the only hegemonic force in the Balkans has been the quest for “Greater Serbia,” and a Europe that believes that completing the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia through an independent Kosova will somehow set a precedent for other self-determination movements that it is not prepared to recognize.
Sadly, part of the U.S. government has found it all too easy to accept the myth that Albanians are fundamentalist Muslims who pose a threat to Christian Europe. In reality, Albanians are secular Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians who have
lived together harmoniously, often intermarrying, for centuries. Albanians pride themselves on their religious tolerance. They are Albanians first; religion is secondary. The leading Kosovar Serb religious leader, Bishop Artemje, has helped bolster the myth of Albanians as extremist Muslims with the help of the Serbian lobby. A month after the March 2004 riots, Artemje came to Washington with fellow Orthodox priests and distributed a book entitled Crucified Kosovo to members of Congress. The book covered the destruction of Orthodox churches and other religious sites in Kosova from June to October 1999. Although a few Serbian churches were desecrated after the war and several were burned in March, most of the perpetrators have yet to be identified and apprehended. Some were undoubtedly Albanian, but it is widely believed (even by Kosovar and international law enforcement) that the Serbian secret service paid some Albanians and Serbs to burn Serbian churches in March.
It is important to recognize that all of the churches in Kosova were once Albanian, because all Albanians were Christians until the Ottoman Empire occupied Kosova and established Islam as the dominant religion. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Balkans wars, Kosova’s churches were taken over by the Serbs when they illegally annexed Kosova. From the Ottoman times to the present, Albanians have always protected the churches and other religious sites in Kosova. Meanwhile, thousands of Albanian mosques, churches, religious monuments, and archives were destroyed by the Serbian military and paramilitary troops from the spring of 1998 to the end of the war in 1999. This massive destruction has been comprehensively documented in an electronic database and traveling exhibit, entitled “Burned Books and Blasted Shrines,” by Harvard University’s Andras Riedlmayer, who also testified before the Hague War Crimes Tribunal on this subject, and by a group of scholars in the Islamic Community in Kosova in a book entitled Serbian Barbarities Against Islamic Monuments in Kosova: February 1998 to June 1999.
There is no justification for the destruction of any religious monuments, but there is also no justification for the misrepresentation of this issue by Belgrade and its supporters in the Kosovar Serbian religious community. The attempt by the Milosevic regime (which continues through the present administration in Serbia) to paint Albanians as a potentially extremist Islamic force in the heart of Europe and to deflect international attention from the a decade of occupation and genocide that Serbia committed in Kosova is a sham. It is designed to play into Western fears about Islam for the purpose of achieving a land grab for Serbia. Belgrade knows that it will not be able to regain sovereignty over Kosova, and so it is engaged in a propaganda campaign in order to get Kosova partitioned. In addition, Serbia is not really interested in the Orthodox churches in northern Kosova where most Kosovar Serbs live today, but in the Trepca mines, one of the largest mining and metallurgical complexes in Europe.
The greatest tragedy in postwar Kosova is that the anti-Albanian propaganda machine, led by Serbian Deputy President Nebojsa Covic, is succeeding in creating a false parity between Serbian state-sponsored terrorism, which left thousands of Albanians dead and millions displaced, and individual acts of revenge by psychologically shattered Albanians after the war. In an ironic twist of destiny, credence has been given once again to longtime Serbian propaganda that Albanians are radical nationalists and are responsible for everything negative in the Balkans. Because responsibility for diplomacy and foreign relations are retained by the UN Mission in Kosova; because Kosovar Albanian leaders have failed to understand the need to express the legitimate aspirations of Kosovars for self-determination and independence in the parliaments and editorial board rooms of the world; and because Kosova lacks sovereignty, international opinion has shifted in five years from Serbian genocide to a perceived lack of progress in building democratic institutions in Kosova, human rights violations against Serbs, and corruption.
The tragic eruption of violence in Kosova from March 17-19 has made this shift almost complete.
In response to Kosova’s call for independence, the UN Security Council has called for “standards before status.” “Standards before status” has become the mantra of almost every government, every multilateral institution, and every international NGO. It has even become the mantra of one of Kosova’s leading political parties. There is nothing wrong with standards. But, to the degree that this policy is a delaying mechanism, it is designed to perpetuate the policy of “keeping Yugoslavia together at all costs” in a new guise. It has less to do with democracy building than it does with Europe’s, and therefore America’s, desire to postpone final status resolution in Kosova. If Kosova is to thrive, it must be integrated into the Stability Pact and given access to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. There will be no large injections of capital from Europe and the United States until Kosova is a sovereign state. Therefore, delaying final status has become a recipe for undermining the economic and political viability of the region.
In addition to “standards before status,” the international community has crafted two other policy mechanisms to postpone final status resolution. These are the demands that Kosova become a “multiethnic state” and guarantee the return of a substantial number of Serbs who fled or were driven out at the end of the war. But Kosova is not a multiethnic society; it is 95 percent Albanian with minority populations of Serbs (around 4 percent), Bosniaks, Roma, Ashkali, and Turks. The international community should be focused on establishing the rule of law and respect for and protection of minority rights. To some extent it has succeeded, through admirable work by local NGOs such as the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms and U.S. government agencies such as USAID. But the cry for “multiethnicity” and “Serb returns” has too often been a propaganda tool used by Serbia to block the integration of the Kosovar Serb minority into a majority Kosovar Albanian state.
Belgrade continues to inflate the number of Serbs who were in Kosova before the war and who now want to return. Most of the young and able-bodied Kosovar Serbs do not want to return except to get grants to rebuild their houses, sell them, and then leave for good. Meanwhile Belgrade and its allies are mute on the need for reciprocal returns of Serbs to their homes in the south and Albanians to their homes in the north part of the city of Mitrovice. There is a reason for this. The ultimate goal of those who make Kosova’s future contingent on the return of Serb refugees is not making respect for the human and civil rights of Serbs and for the rule of law the order of the day, but in partitioning Kosova along ethnic lines or giving it “substantial autonomy” under “Serbia and Montenegro.”
The Kosova parliament and the Albanian people are not against the return of Serbs, but they need assurance from the international community, led by the United States, that independence will be granted in order to surmount their legitimate fears of the renewal of Serbian state-sponsored terrorism. In my opinion, the United States is not prepared to give this assurance. On the contrary, I believe that the American endgame is “granting” Kosova “substantial autonomy” under Serbia, an act that would simply reinforce Western European economic and political ties to Belgrade that have been cemented with more than a century of anti-Albanian racism and with Albanian blood.
Above all, the international community’s focus on “multiethnicity,” in the absence of justice for past sufferings, exposes it for what it is: a ploy to buy time. So, too, is its emphasis on “dialogue” between Kosova and Serbia prior to final status resolution. This strategy of continuing to prolong the life a doomed Yugoslav federation will not work. As foreign policy analyst Georgie Anne Geyer said in her syndicated column on the events of March 17-19 in Kosova, “The chaos in the Balkans is birthed by irresolution on the part of the West, particularly of Europe and the United Nations, and by the unwillingness to make Serbia come to terms with what it has done. …Independence for the long-assaulted province [Kosova] is not only right and just—it is inevitable.”
In conclusion, it is my view and that of the board of directors of the Albanian American Civic League that the key to lasting peace and stability in Southeast Europe is an independent Kosova, secure within its own borders, and able to accept its minority groups—without viewing them as some sort of Trojan horse. The key to accomplishing this is sustained American engagement in the Balkans and willingness to make clear to Western Europe that Kosova’s independence is the only way to prevent renewed war in the region.
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