Socialist Worker

Kosovo: a ‘triumph’ for the West?

Issue No. 2082

If you want to get the moral measure of the so-called “international community” look at what they claim to be their successes.

The other day I heard James Rubin, a senior state department official under Bill Clinton, saying on the radio that the US would regain its international credibility when it repeated the humanitarian triumph that it had achieved in Kosovo in 1999. I nearly threw up.

Kosovo is a province of Serbia. The majority of the population are now Albanians, but Kosovo retains an important place in Serbian nationalist ideology. It was by playing on these associations that Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic launched the programme of expansionism that helped precipitate the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The last episode of these wars was fought in Kosovo in the spring of 1999. By then a vicious, but small scale counterinsurgency campaign was being waged by the Serb-controlled Yugolsav army (JNA) against the guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) demanding national independence.

Clinton and his European allies, headed by Tony Blair, mounted a bombing campaign against Serbia. Milosevic reacted by ordering the JNA to expel hundreds of thousands of Albanians but eventually had to abandon control of Kosovo to the United Nations (UN) and Nato. Under the Russian‑brokered deal that ended the war, Kosovo remained legally part of Serbia.

Now Kosovo is back in the news. Its Albanian-dominated government is threatening unilaterally to declare independence from Serbia. This plan has the support of George Bush’s administration and of the big European powers.

Last weekend’s European Union summit decided to send 1,800 police, judges, customs officials and prosecutors to Kosovo to help “stabilise” it after independence. They will join the 16,000 Nato troops of KFOR (Kosovo Force).

The recently elected prime minister of Kosovo is Hashim Thaçi. He was one of the leaders of the KLA, which during the 1999 war worked with Nato helping to target its bombing raids. He was widely criticised for the crime that flourished during the few months that he effectively ran Kosovo after the Serbian withdrawal.

Failed state

In response to the crime wave, and to widespread atrocities against Kosovo’s Serb minority, the UN adopted a policy of “standards before status”. In other words, Kosovo had to achieve functioning democratic institutions – the rule of law, freedom of movement, the return and reintegration of Serbs and other minorities, dialogue with the Serbian government in Belgrade – before there could be any agreement of its international status.

This policy has now been abandoned. The business analyst Oskar Lindström wrote in a letter to the Financial Times back in May:

“Bombings and assassinations of political opponents (and UN staff) are common… Clearly, an independent Kosovo looks more likely to become a failed state, ethnically cleansed of all its minorities, than the democratic multicultural model state that the US and Britain claim.”

The EU mission is probably intended in part to restrain Thaçi and the thugs around him, as well as to deter Serbia from any military moves. But even with the 1,600 reinforcements being held in reserve by Nato, the Western presence is too weak to be able to defend the Serb enclaves from the ex‑KLA warlords who run Kosovo.

Meanwhile, Western support for Kosovan independence is likely to worsen relations with Russia. Vladimir Putin’s government has said it will veto Kosovan independence at the UN security council, and Western officials are worried about Russian retaliation elsewhere. For example, the US client regime in Georgia fears that the Russian government may use the Kosovo precedent to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two Russian-backed separatist enclaves in Georgia.

To sum up, the US and the EU are rushing to back a regime run by nationalist gangsters whose independence may destabilise a region that was torn apart by war less than a decade ago. This is the “good governance” they are constantly preaching to the rest of the world.


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Article information

Alex Callinicos
Mon 17 Dec 2007, 17:16 GMT
Issue No. 2082
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