Impasse in Kosovo

In the little town of Orahovac, in central Kosovo, I saw a young Albanian woman clearly in shock carrying a baby whose skin had turned white. Her husband was dead and she had been wandering in the woods for days. An old man showed me where he had buried his wife—in a cornfield. In a tiny village in the hills children’s shoes still lay on the road. Six people, including a pregnant woman, had died when a single Serb shell or rocket hit the group.

In the town of Malisevo, once the bustling heart of Kosovo’s “liberated territories,” cows rooted for food in smashed-up shops. Along the roads thousands of houses had been burned, put to the torch by the Serbs. In the fields cows were trampling the wheat and eating the corn. In the village of Klecka, the Serbs unearthed the remains of twenty-two civilians, including children, whom they said had been murdered by the Kosovo Liberation Army. As usual, civilians are paying the price of war.

When the conflict began in Serbia’s southern province in early spring, it appeared that there was still a chance that reason might prevail. Although fewer than 10 percent of Kosovo’s population of roughly 1.7 million are Serbs, the NATO nations and Russia ruled out the possibility that its ethnic Albanians—Kosovars—could be granted independence. Although Ibrahim Rugova, the president of the Kosovars’ self-declared shadow republic, had never backed down from his demand for independence, it was thought that maybe he would compromise and accept virtual statehood within a new Yugoslavia of three republics—Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.

The “three republic solution” seemed to address Serb concerns too. After all, if the Kosovars remained part of the Serbian republic, then they, too, would have a voice in determining the future of the Serbs. The solution also had the beauty of not setting unwelcome precedents for Macedonia and Bosnia. If Kosovo could be independent, why should Serb- and Croat-controlled regions stay part of that American creation, the Bosnia established in November 1995 at peace talks in Dayton, Ohio? And why should the quarter of the population of Macedonia that is ethnic Albanian wish to remain part of that Slav state, for which they have shown little enthusiasm? Still, reason did not prevail.

At the last count, the war in Kosovo has displaced some 265,000 people from their homes. Most, but not all, are ethnic Albanians. Some are in Albania, some are in Montenegro, but most are in Kosovo itself. They are packed into the homes of friends or relatives, but some 50,000 are miserably sleeping in the woods and in the rain. In a few weeks the snow will begin to fall. Many would go back to their houses and villages if they could—but the Serbs have already burned them.

Why did reason fail? Because, at least on the Albanian side, euphoria took hold. Ever since 1989 Kosovo Albanians have lived in a virtual …

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