Foreign Policy Research Institute | September 8, 1999
THE WAR IN KOSOVO ended a few months ago, but the practice of "ethnic cleansing" is flourishing, this time perpetrated by ethnic Albanians who are proving even more adept at it than the Serbs. Whereas Serbian brutality and the war itself pushed only about half of the Albanian population into temporary exile, fully 90 percent of the non-Albanian minority (which numbered about 200,000 at the beginning of the year) have now left the region—this, during three months of "peace" and under the oversight of the United Nations and NATO.
Simply and undiplomatically put, the Kosovo Force (KFOR) and the United Nation's viceroy in Kosovo, France's Bernard Kouchner, are losing their half-hearted struggle to maintain the myth of a "multinational" Kosovo.
The reason: the behavior of the Albanians led by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). First, the KLA and its supporters claimed, probably with some justification, that the Gypsy minority of 30,000 participated in the looting of Albanian property during the war. As a result, the entire Gypsy population was successfully hounded out of Kosovo. The larger Serbian minority has been subject to murder, harassment, and destruction of Serbian historic monuments, churches, and other property. Almost 300 Serbs have been killed by Albanians since the end of the war.
And yet somehow, in the face of incontrovertible evidence of these crimes, the KLA-led Albanians have succeeded in maintaining the widespread perception that they are merely the "victims" of Serbian brutality, and as such, must be beyond reproach.
The problem is that the KLA wants to have it both ways—it seeks international recognition as the effective government of Kosovo while simultaneously denying any responsibility for ethnic cleansing. On the one hand, the organization claims to be in control, and its unelected government claims to be the legitimate authority in Kosovo. It has appointed "mayors," has established what it calls a "police force," and generally acts as if it is the government of a sovereign state of Kosovo—which has been its stated goal ever since Albania's collapse in 1997 made unification with that country an unattractive option in the short term.
On the other hand, the KLA military commander, Agim Ceku, claims that whatever abuses against non-Albanians have taken place are the work of rogue elements over which his organization has no control. His political boss, the self-proclaimed Prime Minister of the "Kosovo government," Hashim Thaqi, even sheds crocodile tears over the fate of minorities. No matter that KLA commanders were directing "spontaneous" Albanian demonstrations and attacks on French KFOR troops in Mitrovica. KLA commanders are in tight control of most, if not all, armed Albanian groups in Kosovo and thus directly responsible for the killings of Serbs and Gypsies.
Nor has the Albanian leadership earned any credibility for its adherence to agreements it signed. On June 21, 1999, Hashim Thaqi signed an Undertaking of Demilitarization and Transformation by the UCK (the Albanian acronym of the KLA). Since then, it has violated each and every provision of that document. According to point 10 (a), it was to cease firing all weapons, and yet Albanians even in Pristina fire at will. Point 10 (d) states that the KLA is not to attack, detain, or intimidate civilians; nor is it to attack, confiscate, or violate the property of civilians. But the KLA "police" are doing nothing but encouraging and participating in the veritable pogroms that now terrorize the Serbs. Article 23 provides for the KLA to surrender its heavy weapons. It has not, and mortar attacks on Serbian peasants have killed dozens.
What should be obvious is that these violations are not emotional outbursts by isolated individuals. Rather, they are part and parcel of a long-standing KLA policy of emptying Kosovo of non-Albanians, a policy unchanged since ethnic Albanians enjoyed political autonomy in Kosovo from 1974 to 1989. Consider that when the KLA had temporary control over the Drenica area in 1998, its first decisions were to ban political parties and expel non-Albanians.
None of this is surprising, and in fact the KLA's deeds are fully consistent with its ideology of authoritarianism and ethnic exclusionism. What is completely inexcusable, however, is the response of the international community. Mr. Kouchner said that he was shocked at what he chose to call "Albanian revenge attacks," as if history began with the Serbian expulsion of Albanians. And how could General Wesley Clark's willfully ignorant claim that there is no evidence of KLA involvement in ethnic cleansing be interpreted as anything but permission to finish the job?
True, KFOR and Kouchner have few choices at this point, and certainly no pleasant ones. Once NATO went to war portraying Serbs as evil and Albanians as angels, it became impossible to admit that there are no angels in Kosovo, but only a shifting balance of evil against evil. To hope, as President Clinton did, for a "multicultural and multiethnic" Kosovo, or to lament the zero-sum game played by both Serbs and Albanians, as Kouchner did, is nonsensical.
The Western powers' misplaced good-vs.-evil dichotomy was already evident last October, when the United States and NATO imposed a de facto capitulation upon Serbia by requiring it to cease counterinsurgency operations against the KLA. It continued with the June 1999 agreement ending the war, which eliminated all Serbian administrative, police, and military presence in Kosovo—everything, in short, but the pretense that the region was still part of Serbia.
NATO's misjudgment was compounded by the fact that, after it eliminated the Serb presence, it was unprepared to replace it. The porous border with chaotic Albania is left to Italian troops—tantamount to making it even more open. And there is virtually no international police presence to challenge the KLA, the promised Fijians (!) notwithstanding. But most egregious is the lack of any long-term strategy to deal with the KLA.
The cold reality is that, except for a few tenuous Serbian enclaves (parts of Mitrovica being the largest), Kosovo is on the way to becoming a purely Albanian area under the de facto control of a profoundly antidemocratic, duplicitous, and violent organization. And Thaqi and co. are no doubt aware that as the minority exodus from Kosovo nears completion there will be even less incentive for KFOR to crack down on the KLA. Worse still, the growth of this totalitarian cancer is being encouraged by KFOR's inability or unwillingness to stop it, and paid for by West European and American taxpayers.
But the costs of the "humanitarian" intervention advocated by Clinton, Blair, and Albright will be measured in more than just dollars. The credibility of NATO, the United States, and the United Nations have all suffered severe damage. And within Serbia itself, the Serbian refugees from Kosovo will join those who left Croatia and Bosnia to create a volatile and vengeful mass of some 800,000—ten percent of the electorate—that will be unlikely to support any Serbian government prepared to accept a more democratic and less nationalistic government. Whether Milosevic or the nationalists of Vojislav Seselj will be able to take advantage of these people's frustrations remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that they have left their homes behind, but not their grievances.