Testimony before the House International Relations Committee
by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
Balkan Affairs Adviser, The Albanian American Civic League
When President Clinton announced the withdrawal of the Serbian military forces and the arrival of NATO forces in Kosova on June 10, 1999, he said that, “We have a moment of hope. Now…we have to finish the job and build the peace.” These were prescient words, but, as it has turned out, the United States and Western Europe have continued to operate from assumptions that, if left unexamined, will almost certainly insure that we will lose the peace in Kosova and usher in a fifth Balkan war.
Part of the Republican Congress, led by Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, is setting the stage for the dismantling of U.S. operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Kosova. This would be a tragic outcome of President Clinton’s efforts to resolve the Balkan crisis—one that would have disastrous consequences for millions of lives and for the future of Europe. However, if steps are not taken immediately to transform Bosnia from an unproductive, ethnically divided enclave, dependent for its livelihood and security on Western benevolence, and to safeguard Kosova from a similar fate, the Republicans will be able to justify their actions. If this happens, President Clinton will go down in history, not as the world leader who brought a just and lasting peace to the Balkans, but as the U.S. president who, by agreeing to the “quick fix” of the Dayton Accords and the Kumanovo agreement, brought a costly and destructive end to the hope of a unified, stable, and democratic Europe in the 21 st century. The Republican concern about prolonged military involvement in the Balkans was given an added boost on March 20 from Democratic Senator Robert Byrd in the pages of
The New York Times. Byrd asserted that the United States should “turn the Kosovo peace-keeping operation over to our European allies,” because Europe agreed to manage the reconstruction. Europe, indeed, agreed to bear the responsibility for keeping the peace in Kosova, but as the editorial staff of The Washington Postrightly argued on March 18, the United States must also shoulder its part. In order to stabilize southeastern Europe, which the editors concur is a “vital American interest,” “the only thing worse than accepting the burdens of leadership in Kosova would be to try to fob them off on others.”
The Republican call for a pull-out of all troops and funding in the Balkans and the growing Democratic sentiment articulated by Senator Byrd that the prudent (read: convenient) course of action is to leave this region in the hands of Europe reveal that both sides of the aisle are flying blind. Their positions signal either a serious lack of informa-tion or denial about what is happening in the Balkans today, as well as a profound ignorance about the longterm, negative impact of their positions on Europe’s future and U.S. geostrategic interests.
If President Clinton does not want to lose the peace in Kosova and, with it, prospects for a stable, prosperous, and democratic Europe, then he will have to exercise moral leadership and take bold diplomatic steps on the global stage with dispatch. The Clinton administration’s decision to bomb Serbia was terribly important, because it saved tens of thousands of Albanian lives, maintained NATO’s credibility, and justified intervention when mass murder and mass expulsion became state policy. However, the Balkans remain in crisis largely because the United States and Europe did not take the military
steps necessary to achieve an unequivocal Serbian defeat. (This would have required
ground troops and would have resulted in the capture of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic and other indicted war criminals.) Therefore, as Newsweek editorialized on June 21, 1999, “the ultimate legacy of Kosova will depend on whether our diplomatic endgame matches the display of our power.”
The future of Kosova hangs in the balance because our State Department is divided between two forces. Those foreign service professionals who understand that Slobodan Milosevic is the problem in the Balkans–having conducted five wars of conquest and genocide from 1991 to the present–have called on two presidents to respect the integrity of each of the juridical units in the federal presidency of the former Yugoslavia and to integrate Bosnia and Kosova into Europe. They understand that we have a moral obligation to stop “ethnic cleansing” and genocide and a political obligation to bring peace and stability to the Balkans by integrating the region into the rest of Europe. The others, who have unfortunately prevailed to date, rarely speak of Milosevic’s role and instead blame the victims, branding them as “terrorists” instead of recognizing them as people rising up to stop relentless oppression. They subscribe to the failed policy of appeasement and containment that, beginning with the Bush administration, has resulted in the deaths of 300,000 in Bosnia and in the expulsion of more than one million Kosovar Albanians and in the killing, torturing, and imprisoning of many thousands more. This group enabled Milosevic, the war criminal, to become the peacemaker at Dayton. This group kept Albanians out of the negotiations and Kosova off the table at Dayton. This group responds to the symptoms of the Balkan crisis rather than trying to eradicate its causes.
This group operates on the basis of the erroneous assumptions that continue to shape U.S.
and European foreign policy in the Balkans in self-defeating ways.
Independence for Kosova: The Only Way to Peace in the Balkans
The most pernicious assumption held by the West is that an independent Kosova will threaten peace and stability in Europe, when in fact, the reverse is true. President Clinton has publicly stated that he has been profoundly influenced by the work of Balkan scholar Noel Malcolm. Malcolm wholeheartedly endorses independence for Kosova as “the only longterm option that offers a genuine and just solution.” He has repeatedly asked why the West continues to rule this option out, and he has never, in his opinion, received a convincing answer.
When the Yugoslav federation dissolved in 1991 and 1993, each constituent unit of the former Yugoslavia was equal and therefore had a legal right to self-determination under international law. Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia successfully declared their independence. Hence, according to Malcolm, independence for Kosova, which Kosovar Albanians voted for in a referendum in 1991, would have followed an established precedent. Instead, Serbia was allowed to annex and occupy Kosova in 1989 without any protest from the West. When the West could have secured Yugoslavia’s peaceful dissolution, it instead allowed Serbia, in the name of “keeping Yugoslavia together,” to wage wars of aggression and embargoed Bosnia’s access to arms. America and Europe, therefore, became complicit in Milosevic’s policy of “ethnic cleansing” and destabilization.
The war-ending agreement for Kosova represents our inability to learn from the past. UN Resolution 1244 both affirms Serbian sovereignty, but also effectively dismantles it.
It is impossible to administrate Kosova when some NATO member nations support a total suspension of Serbia’s sovereignty, while others vigorously uphold it. The United States recognizes that Serbian sovereignty after genocide is untenable, but this matters little when progress on almost every issue is obstructed by the ambiguity that is built into UN Resolution 1244. In such a climate, only two options remain: either NATO forces maintain Kosova as an international protectorate for an extended period, or Kosova is permitted, eventually, to become independent.
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.” Militating against this path is the pervasive assumption in the U.S. government that the independence of Kosova will lead to a “Greater Albania” and, with it, the rise of an Islamic state in the heart of Europe.
“We spent the 1990s worrying about a Greater Serbia, National Security Council Advisor Christopher Hill told the New York Times on July 2, 1999. “That’s finished. Now we are going to spend well into the next century worrying about a Greater Albania.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Regrettably, we are not finished with the project of “Greater Serbia,” which has been the only hegemonic force in the Balkans–a project that the Times, in response to Hill’s statement, acknowledged has been “pursued with ruthless violence” by Milosevic, while there is “no evidence that Albania has similar will
or might.” Meanwhile, Albanians are not interested in changing borders, but in defending
themselves from extermination, forced expulsion, and forced assimilation. The threat of “Greater Albania” has always been wielded by those seeking for a variety of reasons to maintain the West’s relationship with indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.
Regarding the purported threat of an Islamic state in the heart of Europe, this concern reached new heights of absurdity during the war, when Senator Don Nickles disseminated a report through the Senate Republican Policy Committee, entitled “The U.S. and Iran’s New Balkan Front.” Written by Yossef Bodansky, it raised the specter of Islamic funda-mentalism spreading throughout the Albanian world at the behest of Tehran and threatening Europe. From beginning to end, the report is a complete work of fiction. But if we were to agree with the premise of the report–that fundamentalist Islam represents a serious danger to Western interests–then we should welcome the presence in Europe of moderate, secular Muslims, such as the Kosovar Albanians (who have lived harmoniously with their Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters for centuries), the Bosnians, and the Turks.
Resolving the Crisis in Mitrovice and Presheve
The destructive consequences of Kosova’s ambiguous status are now being played out in Mitrovice and Presheve. Bowing to France, we placed Mitrovice under French zonal command—a prescription for disaster in view of longstanding French collaboration with Serbia. After the war, the French prevented Albanians from returning to their homes and jobs in the north, allowing the Serbs, many of whom are acting on orders from Belgrade, to create a de facto partitioning of the city in violation of UN Resolution 1244. This left the northern sector, whose original inhabitants were primarily Albanians, in the hands of
Serbs who then proceeded to loot and occupy Albanian apartments. The southern sector is populated almost entirely by Albanians and controlled by UNMIK. The conflict in Mitrovice has been presented as a contest between ethnic groups who have hated each other for centuries. This is an outrageous explanation, since it is French perfidy that has ushered in this state of affairs and is the principal source of the violence there. On March 11, The Scotsman newspaper reported that top international officials had accused French peacekeepers of cooperating with Serb paramilitaries controlling access to northern Mitrovice. This followed a similar accusation by the UN police, who verified that the KFOR French soldiers ignored their pleas for help against Serb gangs, who killed ten Albanians in a rampage at the beginning of February.
In addition, it has been widely publicized that the northern sector is teeming with Serbian paramilitary and military troops. Milosevic knows that by escalating tensions in Kosova the NATO alliance may unravel and Washington will grow ever more reluctant to act (witness the recalling in February of U.S. troops from northern Mitrovice because they were stoned and kicked by Serbs when they joined a multinational citywide search for weapons).
If Milosevic cannot have Kosova, then he wants the Trepca mining and metallurgical complex in northern Mitrovice. As the international community knows, he is trying to
consolidate the northern sector in Serbian hands as a possible prelude to the permanent partition of Kosova in the name of Serbian “sovereignty.” Although the Clinton administration has repeatedly made it clear that partition is unacceptable, there are numerous forces in the U.S. Congress and in Europe pushing in this direction. In order to
ensure that Mitrovice remains in Kosovar hands, the following steps need to be taken: 1) The French KFOR troops need to be replaced with an international peacekeeping force; 2) the only hospital in Mitrovice, which currently has a Serbian staff of more than 700 people presiding over a patient population of ten to twenty, should be closed down for modernization and reopened with a multiethnic staff that is chosen by an international team of medical experts; 3) Albanians must be allowed to return to their homes in the north; 4) The French, who brought Serbian directors and workers to the Trepca mines after the war, must now return the Albanian directors and workers; 5) The international community, consistent with UN Resolution 1244, should reclaim the Trepca mines, which were forcibly wrested from Albanian control during the occupation, and place them under the control of UNMIK; 6) KFOR, in compliance with UN Resolution of 1244, should evict from Mitrovice all Serbian military and civilians who are not residents of Kosova; 7) KFOR should disarm all civilians in Mitrovice; the Serbian border should be patrolled vigorously by a multinational force, ideally in cooperation with TMK, who can help identify Serbian paramilitary and military troops, as well as rogue KLA members who may be operating in Mitrovice.
The other flashpoint in Kosova is Presheve. The reports that “Albanian radicals” have infiltrated Southern Serbia in an effort to control Albanian-populated towns there do not reveal the whole story. First, little acknowledgment has been made of the fact that since the end of the war at least 6,000 Albanians have fled from Presheve, Medvejge, and Bujanovc, when the Serbs began a campaign that included harassment, beatings, looting,
threatened murder, and forced expulsion. The Albanian mayor of Presheve, Riza Halimi,
has reported that Milosevic’s forces are trying to drive Albanians in Southern Serbia into Kosova. Because of continuing “ethnic cleansing” in Southern Serbia, largely ignored by the West, a group calling itself the Liberation Army of Presheve, Medvejge, and Bujanovc that includes some former members of the Kosova Liberation Army, has entered the region to protect Albanians. According to Arben Xhaferi, the Albanian leader in Macedonia, they are trying to stop Serbian police and military from killing Albanians and destabilizing the region. While this is true, some former KLA members privately complain that this group is acting on its own authority and is only compounding Kosova’s problems, because it is incapable of protecting the Albanian minority in Southern Serbia.
Either way, the media’s portrayal of an Albanian threat to American forces in Presheve is completely irresponsible. As State Department spokesperson James Rubin stated after his March visit to Kosova, “there is a deep reservoir of respect, thanks, and goodwill toward the United States, not only among the political leaders, but at lower levels as well.”
Instead of allowing the media to inflame public opinion, NATO should accompany General Agim Ceku, commander of TMK, and Major General Ramush Haradinaj, deputy commander of TMK, to Southern Serbia to develop a strategy for saving the Albanians in this region. The key is not just restraining renegade elements of the KLA (which are outside the control of the leadership), but of ending Milosevic’s subversion in the Balkans. In addition, no matter what the cost in terms of additional troops, NATO must seal the border with Serbia.
The Fallacy of Multiethnicity
The second major factor undermining the peace in Kosova is the international commu-nity’s insistence on the creation of a multiethnic state in a country that is more than 95 percent Albanian and living in the shadow of the worst brutality in Europe since the Nazi era. Unlike Bosnia before Milosevic waged war, Kosova is not a multiethnic state, but a state with an Albanian majority with minority populations whose rights must be respected. For years Albanians and Serbs lived side by side without incident. That this has changed in the wake of Serbia’s genocidal war against Albanians should come as no surprise. By attempting to establish a false parity and coexistence between those who engaged in state-sponsored mass murder and the victims, the international community is generating the opposite of what it should want in Kosova; namely, a state where the rule of law and respect for the human rights of all people prevails.
The problem is not Albanian failure to live harmoniously with Serbs; the problem is a century of anti-Albanian racism in the Balkans, which culminated in Milosevic’s brutal ten-year occupation of Kosova and his subsequent attempt to expel or kill all Albanians.
Postwar retaliation by Albanians is not the result of ethnic hatred, but of grief, resentment and desperation in the absence of justice for the victims. An end to individual acts of revenge and peaceful coexistence between Albanians and Serbs can be achieved in the long run only if justice and security are guaranteed in the short run. This will require abandoning the fallacious proposition of constructing a multiethnic Kosova in favor of promoting respect for minority rights; “denazifying” Serbia and the Serbs in Kosova who have collaborated in the torture, rape, murder, and expulsion of Albanians; the indictment
and apprehension of all war criminals, including Kosova’s Serbian civilians who
committed crimes against humanity; a formal apology from the Serbian people and the international community to the Kosovar Albanians for what they have suffered during the occupation and the war; and a serious effort on the part of the United States, the UN, and NATO to secure the release of the 7,000 Albanian prisoners of war in Serbian prisons.
The unresolved fate of Albanian prisoners of war and the international community’s
failure to mount an organized, public campaign to demand their release is fueling social unrest and undermining NATO’s credibility. The international community made a
terrible mistake in not demanding the release of Albanian prisoners of war as part of the peace agreement. Forcibly removed to Serbian prisons and other facilities at war’s end in
violation of the Geneva Conventions and humanitarian law, Albanian POWs are subject to daily torture and deprivation. Their release should have been a condition of the war-ending agreement, but the provision that guaranteed their freedom in the first draft of the Kumanovo Agreement was dropped. According to a January 26, 1999 report from the International Crisis Group, the provision was dropped by the U.S. State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Department of Defense, the CIA, and the National Security Council in order to secure an immediate end to the war. To rectify this situation, the UN Security Council should immediately issue a resolution demanding their release; support for Serbian opposition leaders and humanitarian assistance to Serbia should be contingent on securing the freedom of the Albanian POWs; and Europe and the United States should
present a unified response to Serbia on this issue, with the aid of countries such as Canada and Italy that still maintain diplomatic missions in Belgrade.Transforming UNMIK
The third factor major imperiling the peace in Kosova is that UNMIK is underfunded by the United States and Europe and poorly administered by Bernard Kouchner (although he has a good heart, he lacks the conceptual understanding and vision to do the job). Nine months after the war, no functioning sewage, electrical, water, judicial, health, or telecommunications systems are in place. The international police force is insufficient. Doctors, teachers, local police, garbage collectors, road crews—the full range of civil servants—have been working long hours without pay for months. The recent surge in social chaos and the creeping criminalization of Kosova is a direct result of persistent deprivation, not ethnic enmity. If the United States wants to save money and lives, then the U.S. government and the European Union must meet their financial commitments for the reconstruction of Kosova. They must transfer the funds they have pledged now.
Kosova has suffered, by some estimates, as much as $60 billion in damages. The EU has pledged $340 million for the reconstruction of Kosova and $45 million of this year’s UN budget, but only a small fraction of the amount pledged has been delivered. Mean-while, too much money has been spent on building large international bureaucracies to administrate Kosova, when, in fact, Kosovars, who are hardworking, resourceful, educated, and independent, could be implementing much of the reconstruction process. For ten years under the brutal Serbian occupation, Kosovars created parallel institutions. Today they want to bypass the “aid economy.” Kosovars believe that physical recon-struction must be tied to economic development and achieving economic independence.
Western officials and media have acknowledged that much of the energy and activity that
one sees in postwar Kosova is coming from the Albanians themselves (with access to money from the Albanian diaspora and from some international and local NGOs), not from the international governmental organizations.
The emphasis on humanitarian aid, which was the mistake that the international community made in Bosnia, must be replaced with a plan for Kosova’s early entry into European economic structures. As Benn Steil and Susan Woodward argue in the November/December 1999 issue of Foreign Affairs, the West’s original strategy of containment in the Balkans must be changed into one of economic incorporation into the rest of Europe, if the goal is private-sector development, respect for the rule of law, and an end to violent conflict over resources. One of the first things that the United States can do to achieve this end is to remedy the total absence of Albanians from Kosova, Macedonia, and Montenegro on the three committees that have been formed to implement the Southeast European Stability Pact.
Preventing Another Balkan War
After the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, it was U.S. President Woodrow Wilson who, by standing up to the other “Great Powers” in insisting on the recognition of the State of Albania, saved the Albanian people from complete destruction at the hands of hostile Slavic regimes. In so doing, he generated among Albanians throughout the Balkans a permanent feeling of respect and gratitude to America. Wilson is remembered and revered for his act of courage. While Serbia remains a Communist state and looks toward the East, the Albanians of Kosova look to the West and are pro-democratic.
In 1998-2000, we are witnessing almost a replay of what transpired at the beginning of
the twentieth century. For the second time in the life of the Albanian people (the only
indigenous inhabitants of the Balkans), America has intervened to prevent their extermination, this time through President Bill Clinton. Russia, one of the “Great Powers” that played a major role in the carving up of Albanian lands at the beginning of the twentieth century, is repeating that role today. Russia has always been Serbia’s ally, even to the extent that its troops participated with Milosevic’s forces in his war against the Albanians of Kosova. As a result, Russia has no incentive to make the UNMIK operation succeed—even more so, because Kosova has become the symbol of Russia’s loss of influence in the Balkans. Instead of insisting that Russia must be brought into the political settlement of Kosova, the United States should look for other arenas in which to work out Russo-American cooperation, while expediting the resolution of Kosova’s status within the NATO milieu. Given the alliance of Russia, China, Greece, and France with Serbia and their hostility to the independence of Kosova, moving the issue, with the help of England and like-minded Western European partners, to a definite conclusion before the end of the Clinton presidency is critical.
The Clinton administration has taken a cautious approach to Kosova’s problems in recent months, apparently in an attempt to keep U.S. troops out of harm’s way and to avert a European crisis during the presidential campaign. But only a bold approach will win the peace in Kosova. It must be remembered that America’s leadership in going to war against Slobodan Milosevic made all the difference in stopping a second genocide
in the heart of Europe in this century. But it must also be remembered that it was
America’s caution during the war that left Milosevic and his henchmen in power at
war’s end and able to attack the Balkans once more.
Ossining, New York