Once upon a time there was a country called Yugoslavia. It was a medium-size country in the southeast of Europe, and more than 23 million people lived there. It was not democratic, but it had a fair name in the world. Its king was called Tito. Being both largely rural and socialist, this country was not rich. But it was getting a little richer. Most of its children grew up thinking they were Yugoslavs. They had other identities, too, and strong ones. Slovenes already talked of the “narrower homeland,” meaning Slovenia, and the “wider homeland,” meaning Yugoslavia. Its Albanians were always Albanians. But still, it was a country.
In the last decade of the twentieth century, this European country has been torn apart. At least 150,000, and perhaps as many as 250,000, men, women, and children have died in the process. And how they have died: with their eyes gouged out or their throats cut with rusty knives, women after deliberate ethnic rape, men with their own severed genitalia stuffed into their mouths. More than two million former Yugoslavs have been driven out of their homes by other former Yugoslavs, many deprived of everything but what they could carry in precipitous flight.
In this former country, the grotesque spectacle of a whole village burned, looted, and trashed has become an entirely normal sight. “Yeah, the usual story,” says the journalist, and drives on. A few people have grown rich, mainly war profiteers, gangsters, and politicians—the three being sometimes hard to distinguish. The rest, save in Slovenia, have been impoverished, degraded, and corrupted. Real wages in Serbia are estimated to be at the level of 1959—in the rare event of your actually being paid a wage. In Kosovo the killing, burning, plundering, and expelling went on throughout the summer of 1998, even as West Europeans took their holidays just a few miles away. It went on though the leaders of the West had all repeatedly declared it would never, ever, be allowed to happen again. Not after Bosnia.
If you look at a current political map of Europe, you may conclude that the former country is now five states:Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (known to diplomats as the FRY, pronounced as in “French fries”). But the reality on the ground is at least nine parts. Bosnia is still divided between a “Serb Republic” (Republika Srpska) and a Croat-Bosniak Federation, which itself is effectively divided between Croat-controlled and Bosniak (or “Muslim”)-controlled areas. The FRY is divided between what may loosely be called “Serbia proper,” Kosovo, and the increasingly independent-minded republic of Montenegro. But even “Serbia proper” should be disaggregated to notice the northern province of Vojvodina, with its large Hungarian minority, and—a delight to the diplomatic historian—the still partly Muslim-settled Sandjak of Novi Pazar. Perhaps one should also distinguish the Albanian-settled areas from the rest of Macedonia. That makes twelve ethnically defined parts to be going on with.
It’s not just we in the West who are largely indifferent. Most inhabitants of most of these dismembered parts themselves live in growing indifference or active antipathy to each other. In Ljubljana, a cultured Slovene woman tells me sadly that her children cannot enjoy the wonderful work of Serbian writers, because they no longer read the Cyrillic alphabet. Why, she exclaims, they don’t even understand Croatian! In Sarajevo, a local veteran of the siege says, “You know, if I’m honest, we watched the television pictures from Kosovo this summer much as I suppose Westerners watched the pictures from Sarajevo.” But the feeling is reciprocated. In Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, a leading representative of the mainly Muslim Albanians tells me, “We don’t feel any fellowship with Muslims in Bosnia, because they are Slavs.” In fact, the two groups have diametrically opposed goals: Bosnian “Muslims” want to keep together a multiethnic state, Kosovo Albanian “Muslims” want ethnic separation.
Across this landscape of extraordinary ethno-linguistic-religious-historical-political complexity crawl the white and orange vehicles of an international presence which, in its different, political-bureaucratic way, is just as complicated. SFOR, OHR, UNHCR, MSF, CARE, OSCE, USKDOM, EUKDOM, RUSKDOM: international alphabet soup poured over Balkan goulash. Americans may be the new Habsburg governors here, but French deputies contend with British ones for priority at court, while earnest Scandinavians get on with laying the phone lines. At Sarajevo airport, I sit next to a man whose shoulder badge proclaims “Icelandic Police.” Perhaps that Icelandic policeman will now be sent to Kosovo, to keep peace among the dervishes of Orahovac?
Faced with such complexity, it’s no wonder that newspaper and television reports have largely stuck to a few simple, well-tried stories: bang-bang-bang, mutilated corpse, old woman weeps into dirty handkerchief, ruined mosque/ church/town, US envoy Richard Holbrooke meets Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, NATO bombers at Italian air base, preparing not to bomb. Yawn. In truth, it needs a whole book to do justice to each single part. Here, I shall confine myself to reporting some of what I saw this winter in just three closely related parts of the post-Yugoslav jigsaw: Kosovo, Macedonia, and Belgrade. But then I shall draw a few larger conclusions and reflect on what Western policy should be now.
Kosovo. The fresh red blood on the fresh white snow looks unreal, like a new avant-garde exhibit at the Tate Gallery in London. But it is entirely real. This is the blood of two dead Serb policemen, shot at dawn, almost certainly by the soldiers of a tough local commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), violating the October 1998 cease-fire. The blood lies, symbolically, just beneath a ruined mosque, in the middle of an Albanian village which those Serb forces have systematically destroyed. Now the women of one of the few Albanian families daring to remain here are telling us how the Serb police beat them up after the assassination.
Two days earlier, we drive through the town of Malisevo, which has been called the most dangerous place in Europe. This summer it was the bustling unofficial capital of the KLA’s “liberated” heartland of Drenica. They even had their own KLA license plates. Now Malisevo is completely ruined and deserted, its shopping center reduced to rubble and pulverized glass. The only people visible are heavily armed Serb police, behind their sandbags in a makeshift, fortified police station. Instead of shoppers, there are large packs of dogs scavenging, as many as ten or twenty together, presumably domestic animals gone feral. You see these dogs wherever you go in the province, and their corpses on the roads.
Further down the empty highway, we find a solitary Albanian farmer trying to rescue his car. As we stop to help him, we face a surreal sight. A large, orange-painted armored car, of the American type known colloquially as a Humvee, slowly and silently approaches. But right behind it trundles a long convoy of blue-painted armored vehicles, packed with blue-uniformed, heavily armed Serb police. In the middle of the convoy there are some very nasty-looking men in an unmarked white jeep. The farmer is terrified: “If the Americans weren’t there, the police would beat us up.”
Later he shows us his farmstead. Behind the high rough walls with which the Albanians surround the property of an extended family, we find two substantial houses, both blown up and looted. The families huddle together in one small basement room. “We can’t come back here while the Serbs are in the police station,” they say. “We can’t live under Serbia.”
Further on, we turn into the village of Dragobilje. Just a hundred yards off the main road patrolled by the Serb police, we find the KLA in their brown and green camouflage gear. A thick-set, bearded man, with hand grenades slung in a belt round his chest, speaks with us on behalf of the “122nd Brigade.” When we ask his identity, he gives his code name: “Journalist.” He explains that he actually was a journalist in Pristina before the war. The KLAforces are currently respecting the cease-fire, he says, but they are ready to fight again at any time, for a free Kosovo. Meanwhile, several carloads of men in KLA uniforms come bucking down the muddy back lane, dodging the horned cattle. It’s their own local version of a Ho Chi Minh trail.
As we drive out of Dragobilje, we see the same orange-painted Humvee halted at the roadside. Beside it, a burly American monitor is talking to a local leader. “Don’t let your guys in uniform be visible from the main road, because that will provoke them [i.e., the Serbs],” says the American. When the local leader starts talking about the bitter past, this quiet American says, “All you can do is look ahead, just look ahead.” And he offers help to get their school and hospital open again. “What do you need? Plastic? Just tell us what you need.”
Another day, another ruined village in the snow, another guerrilla stronghold: Lausa to the Serbs, Llaushe for the Albanians. This was where the KLA first showed its face in public, on November 28, 1997, when two uniformed soldiers unmasked themselves and delivered a liberation speech at the funeral of a local schoolteacher shot by the Serbs.1 Now two of the Geci brothers contemplate their devastated homestead. It was once home to seven brothers and their families, some thirty-five people in all. Most are now refugees in Albania. Those who remain are living on aid. Their own crops have been burned; their cattle killed or lost. “The KLA is our self-defense,” they say. “The soldiers are all local people.” Can they imagine ever again living together with Serbs in Kosovo? No. The grandmother gestures to a bare wire dangling from the ceiling: “How can you live with those who hang people from light fixtures?”
Our knowledge of the KLA is still fragmentary, partly because this guerrilla army is itself quite fragmentary. It has, as one Western military observer politely puts it, a “rather horizontal” command structure. Each region is different, and regional commanders behave like local bandit chiefs. Nonetheless, we can establish a few significant things about its history, leaders, and support.
First and foremost, its emergence is the result of Kosovo Albanians despairing of the nonviolent path which they adopted after the province was robbed of its autonomy by Milosevic in 1989, and Yugoslavia began to fall apart during 1990 and 1991. Under their officially elected “President of the Republic of Kosova,” Ibrahim Rugova, they organized an extraordinary alternative state, with its own taxes, parliamentary committees, private health service, and, most impressively, unofficial education system, from primary school to university. To the frustration of Western policymakers, Rugova was unbending in his commitment to the goal of independence. To their relief, he was equally unbending in his attachment to nonviolent means. How did he propose to square the circle? By the “internationalization” of the Kosovo problem.
Even in the early 1990s, there were those who thought change would only come with the help of more traditional methods. Many Albanians from this region go to Western Europe for training and to earn money to send home. So did they. Ramush Haradinaj, the local commander almost certainly responsible for that blood in the snow, went off to get his military training in the French Foreign Legion. In Pristina, people recall first hearing of a KLA in 1993. But then it was something like one of the terrorist splinter groups from the West European student movement of 1968. One of the KLA’s most important current political leaders, Hasim Thaqi, code name “Snake,” was a student activist in Pristina who then went to study in Albania and to raise funds in the West. But most of the political activists who came from three generations of formative student political protest, in 1968, 1981, and 1990-1991, were still for nonviolence.
What changed the balance? The startling answer I am given is: “Dayton.” I’m told this by the veteran political prisoner Adem Demaci, who is now the KLA’s political representative. He dates the true emergence of the KLA to spring 1996, just a few months after the November 1995 Dayton agreement on Bosnia. I’m also told this by Veton Surroi, a favorite source for visitors from the West, whose influential daily newspaper nonetheless supported (some even say inflamed)the armed struggle. And by several others.
They say they drew two lessons from Dayton. After more than five years of their Gandhiesque struggle for independence, the United States made a deal with Milosevic over Bosnia without securing even a restoration of mere autonomy for Kosovo. Lesson one: nonviolence wasn’t working. Meanwhile, in Bosnia itself, the Dayton agreement went a long way toward recognizing ethnic realities created by force. Lesson two: force pays.
There’s an element of retrospective rationalization in this account. This is not what these same people were telling me in Pristina in March 1997.2 But there is also an uncomfortable element of truth. So long as Rugova kept the lid on his own people, and so long as we felt we had to deal with Milosevic over Bosnia, we weren’t going to push him on Kosovo.
The armed rising then grew from two further developments:the looting of arsenals during the violent implosion of Albania in spring 1997, which gave the KLA access to Kalashnikovs galore,3 and the brutality of Serbian “reprisals” against entire extended families and villages, starting in February 1998. As always, an oppressive army and police were the best recruiting sergeants for the guerrillas.
At each stage, more people from the peaceful resistance went for the gun. Among them was the KLA’s spokesman, Jakup Krasniqi, who had previously studied at the underground Pedagogical Higher School in Pristina. “Un bon étudiant,” says his charming Francophone professor Abdyl Ramaj, as he shows me round the tatty bungalow which is the school’s temporary home. Most intriguing, most sobering, is the case of Shaban Shala. Until the spring of this year, Shaban Shala was the vice-chairman of the Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms, a human rights monitoring group supported by several Western foundations. Now he is a guerrilla commander in the hills of his native Drenica. “Well, in a way he’s still fighting for human rights,” says an embarrassed employee of the Council. Well, in a way.
Though it’s dangerous to generalize, those who joined or actively support the KLA often have three things in common. First, many of them were political prisoners in former Yugoslavia: Demaci for a record 28 years, Shaban Shala for a fairly typical nine. Second, they often come from the worst-hit rural areas. In the countryside, extended family and clan loyalties are still very strong. And in villages like Llaushe, the KLA is now the local community in arms. Third, they are fiercely critical of what they see as the inflexible, authoritarian, but also weak leadership of Rugova.
These, then, are the fighters for national liberation—or “terrorists” according to the Serb authorities—who have completely transformed the situation here. Western military observers are pretty contemptuous of their rag-tag army, just as they used to be of the Bosniak army in Bosnia. They say it was wildly irresponsible of the KLA, in the liberation euphoria of the summer, to take over larger towns such as Orahovac, which they could not seriously defend. When the Serbs came back, “they just ran.” They must have known that the Serbs would then wreak vengeance on innocent civilians like the family I visited. (In all, some quarter of a million people were made homeless in this summer of war.)
This is true. But it’s also true that the KLA are heroes to most Kosovo Albanians. Their exploits are already the stuff of legend, ready to enter the history books beside the doubtless equally mythologized deeds of the kacak rebel fighters against the Serbs eighty years ago. (Drenica was their stronghold too.) Whatever its military weakness, the KLA has growing political strength. Making a comparison with Ireland’s 1916 Easter Uprising that certainly occurs to an Englishman, Veton Surroi says, “We now need a Michael Collins”—a political Sinn Fein to partner their IRA.
Moreover, the KLA in practice holds a large part of the land. The division is roughly this. The Serb forces still patrol the main towns, the main roads, and the borders with Albania and Macedonia; the KLA has most of the countryside in between. In places, the two sides are barely fifty yards apart. This is not peace. It is frozen war. The war is frozen by the heavy snows that came down suddenly in mid-November, although this has not prevented some serious fighting from going on. The war is also frozen, even less effectively, by the presence of international monitors.
Diplomatic monitors have officially been accepted here since July. Following the agreement reached by Richard Holbrooke with Slobodan Milosevic on October 12 under the threat of NATO bombing, they are becoming part of a much larger team of 2,000 unarmed “verifiers” under the novel auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At the moment, they are trying to “verify” compliance with the cease-fire, and some not very clear supplementary agreements on Serb police and army numbers and locations. But the idea is that early in 1999 they should start “verifying” the implementation of a political agreement.
Since October, the United States’ impressive ambassador to Macedonia, Christopher Hill, has engaged in exhausting rounds of shuttle diplomacy to negotiate that new masterpiece of fudge. This has to reconcile the virtually unanimous insistence of Kosovo Albanians that they can no longer live “under Serbia,” and that after a transitional period a door must clearly be open to independence, with the insistence of Milosevic—but also of most other Serb politicians—that Kosovo must remain in Serbia, with the independence door firmly closed. Hill deals with a frustratingly disunited array of Kosovo Albanian leaders, including what he calls “the KLA guys.” On the Serb side, he deals with Milosevic.
The local Kosovo Serbs fear Milosevic will sell them down the river. They are a nervous, sad bunch, hunched over their beers in tatty, dim-lit pubs, while the Albanians take you to smart new cafés. (The Serb-run Grand Hotel magnificently lives down to its reputation as the worst five-star hotel in the world.) How many Serbs are left in this medieval cradle of Serbianness? The 1991 census showed just over 200,000. Some have since given up and left. But Serb refugees from other parts of former Yugoslavia have been resettled here, in prefabricated single-house settlements that stand out amid the sprawling high-walled Albanian farmsteads.
Momcilo Trajkovic, leader of the so-called Serb Resistance Movement, says that a further 20,000 Serbs have left the province since March. Pathetically, he now talks of their desire for a “multicultural, multiethnic” Kosovo. “Multicultural, multiethnic!” he intones, almost like a Sarajevan. What would the local Serbs do if Kosovo became independent? Some would fight, he says. Some would flee. Pause. “I think most would flee.”
Macedonia. “We all support the UCK,” says the burly student, using the Albanian initials for the KLA. “All Albanians here are UCK.” We are sitting in the “Queen’s Club” café, in the largely Albanian town of Tetovo, in western Macedonia. Nearby, behind the closed metal doors of seemingly half-finished red-brick private houses, I have seen classrooms packed with students of the unofficial Albanian university of Tetovo.
“Yes,” agrees that student’s professor, Zamir Dika, a lean, intense, black-bearded man. “There is total support for the KLA. We are one nation.” But there’s still a last chance to realize equal rights for Albanians peacefully, inside the present Macedonian state. And the political party he represents, the Albanian Democratic Party, proposes to seize that chance as a member of the new Macedonian coalition government. His party demands the legal recognition of Tetovo University, the release of political prisoners, ethnic Albanian participation in public service proportional to their numbers, and, finally, that the Albanians be recognized in Macedonia as what is called a drzavotvorna nacija, literally a “state-creating nation.” (This is a piece of Yugoslav ethnoconstitutionalist jargon that presumably derives ultimately from Fichte’s notion of a nation capable of creating a state.)
Later, I talk to his party leader, Arben Xhaferi, a brooding, steely, black-bearded man, in a small, dark room in a headquarters festooned with the black double-headed Albanian eagle on a red background. He says people chant “UCK” at his rallies, not the name of his party. His own support for the Kosovan armed struggle is passionate. This is not surprising since he spent most of his adult life as a journalist in Pristina. (He was a colleague of “Journalist.”) Kosovo is the cradle of Albanian nationhood, he lectures me, scene of 180 Albanian risings against Turkish rule. The Albanians are not peaceful people by nature. They are warriors. Sooner or later Kosovo will win its right to self-determination, even though Americans try to put it “in a straitjacket.” Altogether, he informs me in a mesmerizing disquisition, the whole direction of European history is toward the separation of ethnic groups into their own states. He personally wouldn’t at all mind the Serbs annexing their “Serb Republic” part of Bosnia, if they give up Kosovo in exchange.
As for Macedonia, well, he accepts what he calls the “international framework.” He knows the West jumps nervously at the merest whisper of secession for the Albanian part of Mace-donia, fearing that its neighbors, Bulgaria (which says the Macedonian language is really a dialect of Bulgarian) and NATO-member Greece (which obstinately insists that the state can’t call itself “Macedonia” because Macedonia is in Greece), might then become involved, leading to a bad case of Balkan dominoes, even to another Balkan war. An interesting gloss is added by Bejtulla Ademi, a local politician from the other Albanian party, who himself served nine years as a political prisoner, together with several present leaders of the KLA. There was, he says, a coordinating body of Albanian political parties in former Yugoslavia which, after playing with much more radical variants, decided in 1992 that the Albanians in Kosovo should go for independence, the Albanians in Macedonia should aim for equal rights as a “state-creating nation” in the new state, while the Albanians in Montenegro and Serbia would have to settle for plain citizenship rights. One step at a time.
Next day, I watch Xhaferi at a press conference to present the new Macedonian government in the capital, Skopje, together with the new prime minister, the fresh-faced Ljubco Georgievski, and the likely next candidate for president, a tubby old fox called Vasil Tuporkovski, formerly of the Yugoslav communist politburo. All three leaders privately assure me they didn’t need the pressure exerted by the United States in order for the Albanians to be included in the new government. All agree that the Macedonian nationalists of Georgievski’s party have become more moderate and pragmatic.
The Macedonian tragedy today, prime minister-elect Georgievski tells me in a subsequent conversation, is no longer foreign occupation, whether Turkish, Serbian, Bulgarian, or communist Yugoslav. It is poverty. The country has 30 percent unemployment. To revive the economy, they need to work constructively with Greece and Bulgaria. The challenge, says Tuporkovski, is simply to make a viable state. To do that, they must have the cooperation of the Albanians. And a lot of help from the West too. Last year, the country got just $6 million in foreign investment.
In the short term, things look moderately encouraging for this fragile new state of just two million people. Macedonia’s Albanian leaders are not about to lead their people in an armed uprising. But in the long run? Young Macedonian Albanians tell you they are “all KLA.” Talking to Arben Xhaferi I am reminded of Walter Scott’s haunting romantic insurrectionary Redgauntlet. Indeed, the Albanians here may never need to reach for the gun. All they need to do is what they do anyway: have many, many children. Albanians are now at least one quarter of the Macedonian population. On current birth rates, they will be a majority in about 2025. And doesn’t democracy mean rule by the majority?
Belgrade. “I will lead a movement of one million Serbs to liberate Kosovo,” Vuk Draskovic tells me. “My party is organized like an army. We will fight.” Fight NATO? “There is no Serbia without Kosovo. I cannot betray it. I cannot betray Jesus Christ.” And the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement pulls from his inside pocket a map marking all the Serbian Orthodox churches across the province. This from the man who early last year was still part of the “Zajedno” (“Together”) coalition that was supposed to bring democracy to Serbia.
But Kosovo upsets more than just the ranting Draskovic. I tell the wife of an eminently liberal friend how in Kosovo I visited the exquisite Serbian monastery of Decani. It looked indescribably beautiful in the snow. But it is now occupied by soldiers. Suddenly her eyes are full of tears. She has such happy childhood memories of visiting her grandparents in the nearby town of Pec, of a Christmas with the nuns, of a magical cave where water runs uphill…
I explain to Biljana, one of my student guides through the great Belgrade demonstrations of 1996-1997, that I think Kosovo will become a kind of Western protectorate. “You know,” she says, “my stomach really churns when you say that. It’s such an emotional thing.” Kosovo is somehow closer to her heart even than the fate of the Serbs beyond the River Drina, in Bosnia, and formerly in the Croatian Krajina, although her own family comes from there. Ceda Antic, a patriotic and religious young Serb whom I got to know as a leader of last year’s demonstrations, still uses the official Serb name for the province, “Kosovo and Metohija,” Metohija being the historic lands of the Serb Orthodox church. He is equally dismayed to contemplate its loss.
Never mind that their history of Kosovo, like the Albanians’, is partly myth. Never mind that they haven’t been to Kosovo for years, and would not dream of living there. Or that they know, in their heads, that the Albanians have already won, simply by multiplying and occupying the land. The prospect of losing Kosovo is so painful because it comes on top of many other bitter blows. The former Yugoslav metropolis of Belgrade is so impoverished and depressed. Its population has been swollen by Serb refugees from the parts of the former Yugoslavia that Milosevic’s adventurism has already lost, but diminished by the emigration of much of the elite. Biljana tells me that 70 percent of her high school classmates have left. Those that remain live in a cage, with only limited information from a few independent radio stations and newspapers. They have great difficulty in getting visas to travel to the West.
My Serb friends feel, and they are surely right, that even sophisticated men and women in the West no longer distinguish sufficiently between the Serbian people and their regime. Being a Serb in the world today is like being a German in 1945. They also fear, and in this they are probably also right, that just as the Germans were the last victims of Adolf Hitler, so the Serbs will be the last victims of Slobodan Milosevic.
I find that, if pressed, more and more people in Belgrade see partition as the least bad solution for Kosovo. But generally they prefer to talk about the prospects of political change in Serbia proper, rather than about Kosovo. “Democratization in Serbia” is, they insist, the key to progress in the whole of former Yugoslavia. But what are the chances of that? At the moment, things look worse than ever. Veran Matic, the forceful head of the independent radio B92, sees a familiar pattern: when Milosevic makes concessions externally (over Kosovo, as previously over Bosnia), he cracks down on internal dissent. This autumn saw the universities stripped of their autonomy and the passing of a Draconian “information law” that threatens critical newspapers with confiscation of their assets. This has already happened, in a flagrant example of political justice, to the semi-tabloid Dnevni Telegraf, after its owner turned sharply against the regime.
How might change for the better come? Milosevic’s regime is an extreme post-communist example of what Latin Americans call demokratura: formally democratic, substantially authoritarian. Post-communist demokraturas maintain their power through control of state television, the secret police, and the misappropriation of large parts of the formerly state-owned economy. Such regimes may be overthrown peacefully, but this requires a grand coalition of virtually all the forces opposed to them. I come to Belgrade from Slovakia, where the demokratura of Vladimir Meciar has recently been overthrown, at the ballot box, by just such a “coalition of coalitions”: opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations, independent media, trade unions, parts of the church.
In 1997, with the “walking revolution” and the “Together” coalition, it looked as if that might be happening in Serbia. But the West gave little effective support and “Together” soon fell apart disastrously. Draskovic’s allies reneged on their promise to support his candidacy for the Serbian presidency, and he then made a shocking tactical alliance with the regime, being rewarded with the ample spoils of running the Belgrade city government. Now he and his former ally Zoran Djindjic speak more bitterly of each other than they do of Milosevic. Djindjic is trying to build a broad democratic alternative again, helped by Ceda Antic and other former student activists who have joined his Democratic Party. But their current public support is small and the necessary “coalition of coalitions” seems more remote than ever.
Another recurrent idea is that the Milosevic regime might crumble from within, perhaps being supplanted by a military coup. A recent bout of sackings, including the heads of the army and secret police, and their replacement with confidantes of Milosevic’s wife, Mira Markovic (a.k.a. Lady Macbeth), has supported such speculation. Romania is close, and people wistfully recall how Nicolae and Elena Ceausåüescu met their end. But do these purges actually weaken Milosevic or strengthen him? I, at least, don’t know anyone who can really tell me what is going on behind the closed doors of this messy, embattled, yet horribly durable regime.
But I will venture one guess about the social psychology around it. There is a kind of chemical solution that is both deeply inert and highly unstable. It’s not bubbling at all, but one tap on the test tube and—bang!—up it goes. Serbian society today may be like that. What could the tap be? Many serious observers agree that Western sanctions against Serbia produced a certain defiant popular solidarity with Milosevic, while this autumn’s NATO bombing threat occasioned a wave of xenophobia. Could concessions by Milosevic over Kosovo, in the middle of an economically difficult winter, have an opposite effect? Might that be the final tap?
Yet even if that were so, it is possible—even likely—that power would at least initially be seized by radical nationalists like Vojislav Seselj rather than by conciliatory democrats. Things could get even worse before they finally get better. The tragedy of former Yugoslavia is in its sixth or seventh act. Many have observed that “it began in Kosovo and may end in Kosovo.” Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it began in Belgrade, with Milosevic’s cynical exploitation of the Kosovo issue. And so the last act, too, may be in Belgrade, as Kosovo comes back to haunt him.
What have we learned from this terrible decade in former Yugoslavia? And what is to be done? We have learned that human nature has not changed. That Europe at the end of the twentieth century is quite as capable of barbarism as it was in the Holocaust of mid-century. That during the last decades of the cold war many in Europe succumbed to fairy-tale illusions about the obsolescence of the nation-state and war being banished forever from our continent. That Western Europe has gone on living quite happily while war returned almost every summer to the Balkans. And we have learned that, even after the end of the cold war, we can’t manage the affairs of our own continent without calling in the United States. Wherever you go in former Yugoslavia, people say “the international community—I mean, the Americans…”
Our Western political mantras at the end of the twentieth century have been “integration,” “multiculturalism,” or, if we are a little more old-fashioned, “the melting pot.” Former Yugoslavia has been the opposite. It has been like a giant version of the machine called a “separator”: a sort of spinning tub which separates out cream and butter, or liquids of different consistency. Here it is peoples who were separated out as the giant tub spun furiously round. Even half-formed nationalities (Macedonian, Bosnian) were solidified by the separator, while blood dripped steadily from a filter at the bottom. But when separation was almost complete, the West finally stepped in to try to halt the bloody process: in 1995 in Bosnia, in 1998 in Kosovo. In Bosnia, we now have a Western quasi protectorate. Soon we may have another in Kosovo.
At this point, I will make an argument that departs from the received wisdom of the West and political correctness. I believe that, if it were possible, probably the least bad framework in which the peoples of former Yugoslavia might now start their slow journey to join a civilized, liberal, democratic Europe would be as a group of small nation-states with clear ethnic majorities. (By that I mean, as a very crude rule of thumb, with at least 80 percent belonging to one nationality.) I am definitely not arguing that separating out into such nation-states is the inevitable result of “ancient tribal hatreds” in the Balkans. Buried hatreds there surely were, but to revive, exacerbate, and exploit them was the culpable responsibility of bad leaders—Milosevic above all, but also Franjo Tudjman of Croatia. Nor am Iarguing that earlier, more forceful Western intervention could not have created different possibilities. I am simply arguing that now, after all that has happened, peaceful separation, where it is possible, might be a lesser evil. To adapt Shakespeare to the Balkans: Journeys end in haters parting.
If peoples really cannot live peacefully together, it is better that they live apart. To be sure, there is always a loss—cultural, economic, and political—in descending from the larger to the smaller state. And there is a human cost. I think of Violeta, a plucky Pristina journalist from a mixed Serb-Albanian marriage. What is she supposed to do? Cut herself in half?
But good fences might eventually make good neighbors. It is clear to every thinking person that this array of small and tiny states on the Balkan peninsula will sooner or later have to start cooperating again out of pure economic self-interest, if for no other reason. (One thing they already have, in practice though not in theory, is a common currency: the deutschmark. I suppose when the DM disappears in 2002 they will have to start using the euro.) Some talk dreamily of getting together again inside the European Union. A faint hope, seeing the current pace of EU enlargement. Others, more realistically, would start with a Balkan customs union. Adem Demaci preaches a confederation that he calls “Balkania.”
We are looking at an almost Hegelian dialectic here: separation as the path to integration. But is this dialectic so unfamiliar? After all, we in Western Europe have long since been molded into nation-states, in a process that lasted from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century. There are a few exceptions, to be sure, but even those exceptions, such as Belgium, increasingly divided between its French- and Flemish-speaking parts, or Scotland in Britain, are now proving difficult to sustain. (Yes, I know, there’s still trinational Switzerland, God bless her.) It’s precisely on this basis of clear separation into nation-states that we have been getting together in the European Union, as well as becoming more ethnically mixed again, through immigration.
In Central Europe, the process happened later, in the mid-twentieth century, through war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and the redrawing of frontiers. In the early 1990s, the process was completed by the peaceful “velvet divorce” of Czechs and Slovaks. In each case, it is a sad, hard truth that the resulting relative ethnic homogeneity has, in the medium term, helped each country’s return to the civilized, democratic community of states. And now the small new nation-state of Slovakia is following suit. Again, I am not saying that history had to go this way. I am merely saying that this is the way European history seems to have gone. But if that is true, then what we are proposing to do in our Balkan quasi protectorates is not just to freeze war. It is also to freeze history.
The trouble is this. Intellectually we may—although many Western policymakers still do not—see the case for separation, as a dialectical steppingstone to integration. But the modern liberal conscience rightly recoils from the means used throughout most of European history to achieve it, namely war, partition, forced assimilation, and ethnic cleansing. Yet where in former Yugoslavia can it happen without them?
The former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia was fortunate not only in being the most northern and economically advanced, but also in having a clear ethnic majority. As a result, it is today well on the way to joining the EUin the first wave of its eastward enlargement. In Croatia, we did in fact condone ethnic cleansing. We let Tudjman “cleanse” the Krajina of more than 150,000 Serbs in 1995, while his troops went on to do what we wanted them to do in Bosnia. (Yes, we protested, but very feebly.) The result is that Tudjman no longer has an ethnic “enemy within” to blame for the country’s woes. I believe the days of his nasty little demokratura are now numbered. Here the West has to work to hasten the advent of real democracy, as in Slovakia. Having got away with murder, Croatia, as a well-defined new nation-state, can then start its progress back to Europe. It may then also be more cooperative in respect of the Croat- controlled parts of Bosnia.
Some argue that Serbia without Kosovo would still be liable to further disintegration, with Montenegro, the Sandjak, and even the Vojvodina pulling away. This may yet happen, if Milosevic carries on as he is doing, starting with the incremental secession of Montenegro. But a Serbia without Kosovo and without Milosevic would have a reasonable chance of consolidating itself as a democratic federal republic. In this state, Serbs would constitute a clear majority.
In its policy toward Serbia, the West now has to work simultaneously with and against Milosevic. This is a difficult trick that we nonetheless managed in relations with the leaders of Eastern Europe in the last half of the cold war. We have to work with Milosevic to some extent, because of his direct power over Kosovo and his spoiling power in Bosnia. But we also have to work against him, to encourage much more energetically such fragmentary positive forces for change as there are in Belgrade. For as Made-leine Albright rightly insists, Milosevic is the single person most responsible for the bloody dissolution of former Yugoslavia. When he finally goes, I’m sure the British government will be delighted to welcome him to the VIP lounge at Heathrow Airport, as it recently did General Pinochet. And then, over a glass of lukewarm sherry, the Hague tribunal can present him with its sealed indictment.
In Kosovo, the intricate details of what has come to be known as “the Hill plan” are still fiercely disputed between Serbs and Albanians. But its basic points are now clear. It would restore the far-reaching autonomy of which the province was robbed in 1989, but not explicitly remove Kosovo from Serbia. It would devolve much power to local communes, thus allowing purely Albanian areas to have Albanian authorities and police, while mixed areas would supposedly have mixed ones. It foresees direct international involvement, especially in the reconstruction of the police and the conduct of new elections within six to nine months. And the whole arrangement should be subject to “comprehensive review” in three years’ time.
As this article goes to press, the hope is to move forward early in the new year to direct negotiations between the Serbian and Kosovo Albanian sides, with American and EU negotiators present to help things along. But it is very far from certain that this will produce an agreement, even after deploying the political cruise missile called Richard Holbrooke. If the negotiations fail, fighting in Kosovo will surely escalate around our unarmed “verifiers” when the snows melt in the spring. It will then only be a matter of time before we need to activate the French-led NATO “Extraction Force” (jokingly known as “the dentists”), recently deployed in northern Macedonia, in order to extract an imperiled verifier. However fleetingly, NATO will then have invaded Serbia.
If negotiations succeed, we will have another Western quasi protectorate. A conversation with Ambassador William Walker, the American head of the OSCE mission in Kosovo, makes it clear that he proposes to give a new dictionary meaning to the word “verifying.” The OSCE will mediate and supervise. In effect, the police will be OSCE-trained police, the elections will be OSCE-run elections, election-time television will be OSCE-television. But what happens then?
Ibelieve Kosovo is a case where we should think of working toward peaceful separation. The Albanians are more than 90 percent of the population in a well-defined territory. They have not achieved this preponderance by ethnic cleansing, as happened in Bosnia, so we would not be “condoning ethnic cleansing.” By their conduct in the province over the last decade, the Serbs have seriously diminished their moral right to rule. There is at least some legal basis for arguing that Kosovo was a constituent part of former Yugoslavia, and therefore could be recognized on a similar basis to the other successor states. Anyway, this is a special case, not an international precedent for ethnic self-determination.
Yet certainly this process would have to be managed very carefully over a number of years, with a major international presence. Those magnificent Serb monasteries do need a special status. More immediately, there is a real danger of another panic flight of innocent local Serbs. I ask an Albanian civil society activist in Pristina, a sophisticated woman speaking excellent English, what should be done about the Serbs in a free Kosovo. She slowly exhales the smoke from her cigarette and smiles at me. “Kill them all?” she says. A joke, you understand. Just a joke. But the hard men in the hills are not joking. Without firm preventive action, we will again be party to ethnic cleansing by terror.
Macedonia’s Albanian leaders tell me independence for Kosovo would stabilize the situation in Macedonia. In the short run, this may be right, since few things could be more immediately dangerous than those young Albanian Macedonians joining a renewed war in Kosovo. But in the long run, I don’t believe this. History suggests that a contemporary European state with a less than 80 percent ethnic majority is inherently unstable. If the large and growing minority happens to be Albanian, and contiguous to the motherland, it is even more so. Albanians in former Yugoslavia have been victims, there is no doubt of that. Yet there is also a complex, patient, but stubborn Albanian nationalism. Without continued American and West European involvement in both Macedonia and the anarchic state of Albania itself, and in coaxing along their relations with their neighbors, the last act in Belgrade may not be the last one after all.
Finally, there is insoluble Bosnia. My Sarajevan friends are delighted with the 10,000 foreigners living there, and the $9 billion being spent on the country every year. They tell me that Sarajevo has never in its history been so genuinely cosmopolitan. The new cafés are pulsating. Increasingly, the Office of the High Representative, headed by the Spanish diplomat Carlos Westendorp, rules like a colonial administration. It’s tempting to say that Bosnia-Herzegovina has again become an Austro-Hungarian protectorate, as it was after the Congress of Berlin, with the Americans as the Austrian Habsburgs and us West Europeans as the Hungarian junior partner (although picking up most of the bill). But it’s not a real protectorate. Rather, it’s a bizarre novelty in international relations. We have had protectorates before. We have had partitions before. This is half protectorate, half partition.
The official ideology of all Western agencies is that the unitary state is being pulled together again. It’s just taking rather a long time. Alas, I don’t believe this either. I fear all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not put this Humpty-Dumpty together again. But final partition is an even less acceptable option than this quixotic undertaking. For the Bosniaks to have a serious, workable state, you would need to give them at least part of the western half of the “Serb Republic.” That would almost certainly mean more bloodshed and tens of thousands more people driven from their homes. If, on the other hand, you allowed the Serb- and Croat-run parts to secede as they are, you would be left with a landlocked rump Bosniak state. Some Bosniaks warn that this could turn their people into Muslim fundamentalist nationalists. The result would be a “Gaza strip in the middle of Europe.”
In fact the Bosniaks hold an amazing moral double-lock on the conscience of the West. In effect, they say: “We are the Jews of the Balkans and the Palestinians of the Balkans!” The Jews, because no people in Europe has suffered something as close to genocide since the Jews in the Holocaust. So how could we abandon them? The Palestinians, for the reasons already given. I very much doubt that a rump Bosnia would actually become a Muslim fundamentalist state. But in a sense this reality doesn’t matter. Earlier this autumn, the former German defense minister Volker Rühe told me that the deepest issue in Bosnia and Kosovo is “whether the West sees a place for Islam in Europe.” Powerful Islamic countries agree. Faced with these complementary perceptions of the powerful, the local truth is largely irrelevant.
So in some parts of former Yugoslavia, violent separation has already happened. In Kosovo, there remains a difficult but still Humvee-navigable dirt road to peaceful separation. That road we should take. Elsewhere, in Bosnia, but in a different way also in Macedonia, I see no morally acceptable alternative to a direct Western involvement lasting many years, probably decades. Even if, intellectually, we will the end of separation, we cannot will the means.
But why on earth should Americans be the new Habsburgs? Why should American diplomats enter the twenty-first century trying to solve problems left over from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the nineteenth? Why should sons of Kansas and daughters of Ohio risk their lives in these perilous, snow-covered mountains (“What do you need? Plastic?”) to stop Europeans from fighting over obscure patches of territory? After all, the great-grandparents of some of these Americans probably fled these very mountains to escape just these squabbles.
The vital national interest is indeed hard to see. The new catchall bogey of “regional instability” hardly compares with the old fear of the Soviet Union getting the upper hand in the cold war. But empires, especially informal, liberal empires, are like that. You muddle in; then somehow you can’t quite muddle out. Somalia never had the moral double-lock that Bosnia has. For the Balkans, this has been a decade of Western bluster. First, we had the Western bluster of intervention. Now we have the Western bluster of withdrawal. I don’t believe this bluster either. I think the sons of Kansas and the daughters of Ohio will be here for a good, long time.
“Take up the white man’s burden,” Rudyard Kipling wrote a hundred years ago, welcoming the United States’ willingness, in the Philippines, “To wait in heavy harness/On fluttered folk and wild.” There, and elsewhere, he prophesied, Americans would reap only “The blame of those ye better/The hate of those ye guard.” Today, some of the finest white men are, of course, black. And the local savages are Europeans.
January 14, 1999
This and much other valuable information is to be found in two excellent reports by the International Crisis Group, Kosovo Spring and Kosovo’s Long Hot Summer, both available from their web site: www.crisisweb.org. ↩
See my article “In the Serbian Soup,” The New York Review, April 24, 1997. ↩
On this, see Tim Judah, “Impasse in Kosovo,” The New York Review, October 8, 1998. ↩