CNN’s heart-wrenching images and the New York Times‘ strident editorials on the suffering of allegedly innocent Albanian civilians in Kosovo at the hands of the ruthless Serbs have the Clinton Administration on the same kind of meaningless rhetorical and diplomatic offensive as it was in Bosnia and Rwanda, Somalia and Haiti. And the results, as in those cases, are predictable: misguided sentimentalism, outrage, and protest; increased but covert costs for Americans; and complete disregard of the implications of bellicose statements and a diminishing foreign policy stick. The most disturbing of those implications, the Administration’s protestations to the contrary, is the inadvertent encouragement by Washington of the creation of a Greater Albania, including Kosovo and areas of Macedonia.
Kosovo, annexed by Serbia in 1912, became a highly autonomous province of the Republic of Serbia under the 1974 Constitution of Yugoslavia— a status it lost in 1989 as a result of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s machinations. Although the more developed Slovenia and Croatia had subsidized Kosovo for decades, the region remained the most backward in the former Yugoslavia. Barely larger than Delaware, Kosovo, even more than Albania itself, largely lacks natural resources. Its young, fast growing, poorly educated, and unskilled population of 2.8 million— 80% of which is ethnic Albanian, 10% Serbian/Montenegrin and the rest of various origins, mostly Gypsy— has no economy to speak of, beyond smuggling, remittances from (mostly illegal) emigrants to Western Europe and the United States, and most recently foreign aid. Simply put, Kosovo is, like Albania, the archetypal social, political and economic basket case— a Haiti in Europe.
Although Kosovo is now largely Albanian, it did not have such a large majority prior to 1912. The high Albanian Muslim fertility rate, in addition to Serbian emigration, helped create the present situation. Nonetheless, Serbian and Montenegrin history, sentiments and geopolitical considerations are all strong reasons as to why Kosovo should remain part of Yugoslavia. Indeed, the religious and cultural roots of medieval Serbian nationhood are to be found in today’s Kosovo: the first Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate at Pec, the great monasteries of Decani and Gracanica, and most importantly, the location of the 1389 lost battle of Kosovo, the source of Serbia’s national mythology.
It is easy to dismiss such emotional attachments as irrelevant or obsolete, just because they come from the Balkans, that motherlode of historic delusions; but it is also dangerous to dismiss Serbian motivations, which are truly nationalistic and involve Serbia’s most revered institution— the Orthodox Church. Not surprisingly, the Belgrade Patriarchate is at the forefront of Serbian and Montenegrin sentiments on Kosovo. Nor are Serbian and Montenegrin fears of the implications of Kosovo irredentism all emotion — an independent Muslim Albanian Kosovo, or a Greater Albania, would probably provoke secessionist pressures in the Sandjak of Novi Pazaar, the largely Muslim area linking Bosnia and Kosovo— enough to bring relatively liberal Montenegro back into the arms of conservative and nationalist Serbia. Then there is the little matter of international law, which recognizes Kosovo as an integral part of Yugoslavia, as do all world governments, including the United States.
On the other side of the ledger are the Albanians, whether the “moderate” followers of Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo or those of the increasingly active and violent Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)— and they all share the same objective— independence as a first step toward joining Albania. The Rugova forces use an increasingly sophisticated public relations campaign, including ubiquitous English language banners during their made-for-TV marches in the capital of Prishtina. The KLA is more direct: it threatens the moderates and, more ominously, it uses civilians as propaganda tools. Its money, arms and ideas come from (mostly illegal) Albanian emigres in Western Europe and the United States, its leaders seem to be former Stalinist followers of the Enver Hoxha regime, and its ideology is a hodgepodge of totalitarianism, ultranationalism, and contempt for the West and its values.
Indeed, from the murky images coming from Kosovo through the double screens of Serbian censorship and Western media emotionalism, it appears that the KLA has selected a risky but so far successful strategy. On the one hand it engages in a hopeless static “defense” of villages against superior Serbian forces, resulting in heavy civilian casualties, and on the other it counts on the usual Serbian brutality to make sure that those casualties are widely known (and exaggerated) abroad — in other words creating victims today for the glory of tomorrow— and for provoking a NATO military intervention. And the glory of tomorrow, for the KLA and Rugova alike, is a Greater Albania, which would include large parts of Macedonia (another fragile and largely fictitious Balkan state with its 600,000 irredentist Albanians) as well. Indeed, the U.S. position only encourages the Kosovo Albanians as well as the violent operators of the KLA to pursue their maximalist goal.
Albania proper can best be described as a Balkan Somalia. Its Western-installed regime, led by the barely reformed ex- Stalinist Fatos Nano, hangs on to the capital by a thread. Smugglers, criminals and local clans, in effect, control most of the country. In fact, foreign aid and smuggling— of drugs, emigrants, weapons and anything else — are Albania’s economy. An Albania almost double the size of today’s would not only intensify the clan conflicts and corruption that have already destroyed the state, but also magnify mass emigration to Italy, provoke further “humanitarian crises,” and require more and more foreign aid. Who needs it? Who needs a Greater Albania? And who will pick up the inevitable bill to keep it afloat?
Officially, the Clinton Administration recognizes that Kosovo is, and should remain part of Serbia/Yugoslavia, and has even declared the KLA a terrorist organization. On the other hand, it makes no secret of its sympathy for Rugova, and for the Albanian government whose weakness and duplicity allow the KLA to exist. More seriously, it threatens the Serbs with dire consequences if they defend their territorial integrity, as they have every right to do. Washington demands the withdrawal of Serbian police from Kosovo, protests the mining of the border with Albania, and forces Belgrade into negotiations with Rugova. Symbolically, during his recent trip to the area, Richard C. Holbrooke, the Administration’s factotum in the Balkans, did not even see fit to meet with Serbian religious leaders in Kosovo— as if they are not a party to the conflict.
How do these attitudes combine with the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, forbidding territorial changes by force? Seeking a “peaceful solution” in Kosovo may sound good, but the Administration cannot have it both ways— professing respect for recognized borders while at the same time supporting committed irredentists and condemning the state that tries to protect its borders. If Washington has decided that Kosovo should be independent, then it should explain that decision; if not, it should act accordingly.
By manifesting sympathy for the Albanians and threatening Serbia/Yugoslavia with military intervention for using force in Kosovo, the Clinton Administration (like the Bush administration before it) is making impossible negotiations that might lead to the only solution, if there is one, to the Kosovo problem: the region’s autonomy within Serbia/Yugoslavia— i.e., a return to the 1974 old Yugoslav status quo. That would mean forcing Rugova, before KLA completely destroys his political support, to accept a return to the pre-1989 situation. The same should be required from Belgrade. The alternative is more bloody, useless insurgency by Afghan Muslim ideological veterans, Islamic mercenaries, and fanatical volunteers seeking the creation of a Greater Albania, opposed by a brutal, well- armed, and zealous Serbian and Montenegrin state supported by the masses.
The Congress of the United States has the responsibility to ask questions and to compel the Clinton Administration to answer for its decision to push the Serbians into an unacceptable concession of territory to an ethnic group totally incapable of ruling itself, either alone or with its even less prepared brethren across the mountains in Albania and Macedonia. Meanwhile, Americans should be prepared for a protracted diet of selective CNN images of Serbian atrocities against Albanian “innocents” with no corresponding images of Albanian terrorism, no analysis of the implications of a possible KLA victory, and no analysis of the Serbian motivation for resistance.