Kosova: colonialism, violence, partition


By Michael Karadjis

According to the New York Times of November 14, "Serbia proper begins at the heavily guarded bridge ... in Kosovska Mitrovica, some 30 miles south of Kosovo's actual border with Serbia". The term "Serbia proper" means Serbia without the autonomous region of Kosova.

So did Serbia "lose" Kosova, or did it "gain" part of it and extend its own borders 30 miles (50 kilometres) south?

For 10 years, the Serbian regime terrorised the Albanian population and ruled Kosova as a colony; however, the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) had seized control of much of their country by 1998.

Partition was the solution favoured in Serbian nationalist circles. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's attempt to drive out the bulk of Albanians during the war was an ambit claim.

According to veteran Kosovan human rights campaigner Veton Surroi, Milosevic "gambled all or nothing, and he lost", as did the bulk of the Kosovan Serbs — referring to the exodus of Serbs from Kosova since Serbian occupation forces were driven out, and the violence directed against them by vengeful returning Albanian refugees.

Mineral wealth

In the current partition, "Serbia proper" is annexing about one-sixth of Kosova, mostly in the north and the east near the Serbian borders. Since Serbs were only a tenth of Kosova's population, this is not bad as partitions go. However, it brings little advantage to most Kosovan Serbs, who were scattered all over the province.

For the Serbian regime, the question is quality rather than quantity: the northern region being annexed is where the bulk of Kosova's mineral wealth is located, including the famous Trepca mining and metallurgy complex, valued at some US$5 billion.

French NATO troops enforce this partition and prevent the return of Albanian refugees to the north. A French company has reportedly bought a 20% stake in Trepca. Trepca still has the same all-Serb management board. Attempts by the independent miners' union, representing the 13,000 Albanian miners sacked in 1989-90, to return to the mine have been blocked by French troops.

While this region has become a refuge for Serbs from other parts of Kosova, it is also filling up with former police and paramilitaries from Serbia. Because Kosova is still considered part of Serbia, there is nothing to stop "an awful lot of hard young men with no apparent ties to Kosovo" from streaming in, according to UN officials. In this region, the Serbian dinar remains the currency, Serbian newspapers are on sale, and the Serbian government pays wages and pensions on time, which it does not do in Serbia.

The other major Serb concentration is in the east, in the northern part of the US zone, around Kamenica. Considerable harassment of Albanians by Russian troops, who patrol this region, has been reported, and in some areas there has even been a renewed Albanian exodus.

However, in one incident, Russian troops shot dead Serb forces who were murdering Albanians. Of these Serbs, one had a card from the Serbian Interior Ministry, while another had a uniform from a paramilitary group.

This region of Kosova borders part of Serbia with an Albanian majority, thousands of whom have been driven from their homes into Kosova, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Terror against Serbs

A recent report by the UNHCR gave a meticulous breakdown of how many Serbs and other minorities remained in each region of Kosova. Around 100,000 Serbs remained, half the original number. Many more had fled their homes, but large numbers were moving inside Kosova to areas of greater Serb concentration, creating a number of "mono-ethnic enclaves".

Those Serbs outside the enclaves suffer a "climate of violence and impunity", with "widespread discrimination, harassment and intimidation directed against non-Albanians", according to the UNHCR.

Since the withdrawal of the Serbian occupation forces in June, there have been 379 murders in Kosova. This figure includes 145 Albanians and 135 Serbs, so the Serb minority is disproportionately represented.

Media reports have casually blamed the KLA for the terror against Serb civilians. A more fantastic story has the UN and NATO forces supporting the KLA in "ethnic cleansing" of Serbs. "NATO has installed a reign of terror in Kosovo", claims a noted left apologist for the Milosevic regime, Professor Michel Chossudovsky of Ottawa University.

Such analyses cannot explain why NATO would have such an aim, NATO's confiscation of 10,000 automatic weapons from the KLA, nor why the disarming and complete disbanding of the KLA made no difference to the level of violence against Serbs. They also contradict the role of French forces in the north.

In reality, the KLA was confined to barracks by NATO months before its September 20 disbanding. The bulk of violence has been individual acts of burning, looting, assault or murder, as one would expect in a massive crime wave in a completely destroyed society. NATO has hundreds of Albanians in its jails charged with such crimes. In many areas, NATO troops even live in the same blocks of units with Serbs to deter attacks.

The KLA has many times vigorously condemned attacks on Serbs. On August 18, it released a communiqué which "forcefully condemns these actions ... and invites all the Kosova citizens that belong to the Serb and other minorities not involved in crimes ... to stay in Kosova". It released a declaration in the main Kosova daily condemning such acts and calling on its members to cooperate with international forces to bring perpetrators to justice.

However, KLA leaders admit that some of the violence has been carried out by undisciplined former members. This is hardly surprising, given the climate of revenge among Kosovar Albanians, caused by the brutality and the ethnic cleansing against Albanians during the war.

This is exacerbated by the fact that no movement ever appeared among the Serbs to defend the oppressed Albanians, and that many local Serbs took part in the terror. The bulk of these Serbs fled with the police and military immediately after the war, taking their loot to Serbia; those who remained because they had done nothing are suffering the consequences.

Other factors contributing to vengefulness include some 3000-5000 Kosovars still rotting in Serbian jails, and the fact that few Serbian war criminals have been brought to justice; considerable numbers are being protected in the Serbian enclaves, while NATO and Russian troops have shown little interest in making arrests.

Criminal gangs

The destruction of 100,000 Albanian homes by Serbian forces during the war has resulted in a scramble for housing; the UN estimates that up to 500,000 people are without adequate shelter as the first winter snows begin to fall. The UN and NATO countries have donated a mere trickle to reconstruct homes.

The family of Bukurije Deliu and his neighbours in the village of Rezallaare is an example: 20 people share a tent and one room of a barn with four mattresses, three blankets and no winter clothes — everything was burned. While it is unjustified, it is hardly surprising that many Albanian victims seek to seize the undamaged houses of Serbs.

These are often not individual acts. Criminal rings, sometimes from Albania, are organising house seizures as they attempt to grab real estate.

For example, when a mortar was fired into a Serb village in August, killing two teenagers, two 13-year-old Albanians were arrested. They had been given mortars and KLA uniforms by criminals and told it was their national duty to expel Serbs. These gangsters had no connection to the KLA, being only interested in seizing property.

Kosova has come to resemble parts of Albania since the failure of the 1997 revolution — a land racked with crime and without any system of justice. The fact that 145 Albanians have been killed shows that the crime wave is not purely "ethnic". Most of these Albanians have been killed by criminals without ethnic biases. Albanians are also being evicted from their homes.

Provisional Government

The refusal of the UN-NATO authorities to recognise the Kosova Provisional Government and its local authorities throughout Kosova is contributing to the view that the UN is imposing a form of colonialism.

In most cases, these are the only real structures allowing for a minimum amount of order and keeping vital infrastructure working. By not funding them, so that the KLA-appointed local governments cannot produce the goods for the people, the UN-NATO administrators aim to discredit these leaders.

The October 17 Washington Post cynically claimed, "The KLA unrealistically raised expectations that it could get things done". Because no money is going to the Provisional Government, "Resentment has rebounded on [Hashim] Thaqi's government".

The UN has been very slow getting its own structures into place. One thing contributing to the atmosphere of impunity is that the UN has inherited the justice system of the Serbian regime, which the Kosovan population refuses to recognise. The UN refuses to recognise the ad hoc justice system set up by the Provisional Government, or to work with it to devise a new system, because this would compromise its aim of maintaining Kosova as part of Yugoslavia, despite the wishes of the population.

Meanwhile, Kosova continues to await the very slow arrival of more international police. As one KLA leader said, the UN "keep saying they're in charge, but they're doing next to nothing. At the same time, we're to blame for everything."

There are some attempts to begin incorporating local forces into new state structures, heavily controlled by the UN. The need to coopt some former KLA cadres, to pacify them, is behind the setting up of the Kosova Protection Force (KPC) when the KLA was disbanded.

The KLA viewed the end of the liberation army as the time to set up a normal army of Kosova. However, there will be no army, because the colonial administration views this as a step towards independence.

The KPC is completely disarmed, under UN control. Its role will be to fight natural disasters and the like — UN governor Bernard Kouchner likened it to the French civil service. It will not even direct traffic! At least 10% of its members must consist of minorities.

Devolving real power to local authorities would be a Catch 22 for local Serbs; a system of justice would exist, but they would have little confidence in the Albanian-dominated structures. There would also need to be devolution to Serbs in their regions.

Kosova, unlike Bosnia, was never a multi-ethnic society, but a pure Serbian colony; the two peoples have long been divided. The Serbs have set up their own provisional government in their enclaves, the Serbian National Council; in response to the Kosova Protection Force, they set up a Serb Protection Force.

False division

The UN-NATO regime uses this situation to keep power from the local population. A false dichotomy is created: Kosovars willing to submit to the colonial administration are "tolerant" Albanians who support a "multi-ethnic Kosova"; those wanting to wrest more power for the Kosovars are "extremists" who aim to drive out Serbs.

This false dichotomy is related to a greater one: the UN slogan of "multi-ethnicity" is cynically used to mean an autonomous Kosova within "Yugoslavia", while the advocacy of Kosovan independence is interpreted as being intolerant and anti-Serb.

Yet the opposition by the UN-NATO regime to Kosovan independence contributes to violence. The KLA leadership can see that the anti-Serb violence is only contributing to partition and to funding restrictions by the West, and is thus against its interests; however, for the radicalised Kosovar population, the colonial administration's use of "multi-ethnicity" as an argument against Kosovan self-determination is another factor making the remaining Serbs a target. The Serb nationalist leaders contribute to this by opposing the democratic right of the Albanian majority to independence.

Independence has been unconditionally ruled out. On September 23, for example, outgoing NATO chief Javier Solana again insisted, "One outcome will not be independence for Kosovo". At no stage have the Kosovars been offered concrete steps towards independence, on the condition that minorities have equal rights.