The Centre for Peace in the Balkans
Humanitarian Bombing vs. Iraqi Freedom
Analysis, June 2003
Qui habet aures audiendi audiat
This June marks the 4th year anniversary of NATO’s presence in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Given that the Kosovo Mission may be perceived by some as a success story, offering precedence in the approach of the international community’s strategy for dealing with post-war Iraq, it would be both timely and wise to, recap the "successes" of NATO’s Mission in Kosovo. Such a reflection may prove to be a telling and honest warning to those embarking on similar, future projects in Iraq.
"Maintain civil law and order; promote human rights; and assure the safe and unimpeded return of all refugees and displaced persons to their homes in Kosovo" - UNMIK Mandate
Almost four years after the United Nations established its mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), inter-ethnic hostility is still widespread and the few Serbs remaining in the province, are afraid to travel freely.
Although the number of ethnically motivated attacks can be interpreted in many different ways, tensions between the ethnic Albanian majority and the Serbian minority remain high. Surrounded and outnumbered by the ethnic Albanian majority (many of whom see no room for Serbs in Kosovo) the Serbs are realistically pessimistic about their future.
The ethnic make up of the population of Pristina reflects the validity of this fear. Since 1999, the population of Pristina has grown to over 500,000 people – less than 200 of which are Serbs.
Since NATO's entry into Kosovo in June of 1999, the indigenous population of this region has suffered at the hands of Albanian extremists and organized terrorists. NATO troops, operating under the organizational name KFOR (Kosovo Force), have done little to protect minority groups. KFOR has stood by and watched over 350,000 people be ethnically cleansed from the region (primarily Serbs and Roma). Over 2,500 Serbs have been abducted or killed. More than 200,000 Kosovo Serbs have left their homes as a result of actual and threatened extremist violence. The 80,000 to 120,000 Serbs who remain live in isolated enclaves, sometimes as small as a single apartment block, "protected" by NATO troops.
The continual depletion of the number of NATO soldiers committed to Kosovo is a strong indication that little will be done to help these victims or prevent the further persecution of minorities in Kosovo.
As a result of this absence of multi-ethnic tolerance, the non-Albanian population of Kosovo is forced to live in ethnic ghettos. For those living in ghettos, it is not safe to travel freely. Consequently, they can only travel if KFOR provides an armed escort. The people are left to the mercy of the schedules and goodwill of the KFOR unit assigned to this escort task. Should the particular KFOR unit "not feel like" providing this service, trips to the hospital, the market, school, church or polling booths are not possible.
While Kosovo’s Serbian National Council has demanded that the UN Security Council and NATO urgently develop a plan for the protection of the Serbian communities within the province, the reality is that the KFOR check-points, guaranteeing some level of security to the remaining Serbian enclaves, have all but disappeared.
The decision to remove the checkpoints was ordered by the UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) administrator Michael Steiner, who believed that the security situation had improved significantly.
Mr. Steiner’s position was contradicted by the province’s UN Ombudsman, Marek Anton Novicki, who stated that: "The situation is not in the least bit optimistic for the Serbs who have been expelled to return to urban regions, and at the moment there are no basic conditions for their return."
At the same time, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) claim that Kosovo’s minorities lack access to education, healthcare services and equitable employment.
The report issued by these organizations states that one concern is primarily the minority Serb and Roma populations, which find it harder to move around freely and therefore to live normal lives in Kosovo where ethnic Albanians are an overwhelming majority.
The question is then, on the foundation of what information does the UN Administrator base his position? The inconsistency in the two positions indicates an inherent lack of communication between the two UN agencies, the UNMIK and the UNHCR.
As a warning to the unfounded and bias position of the UNMIK, the incident rate of murder, terrorist activities and hate crimes in the region is, despite the presence of the international community, increasing.
NATO has created the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), a local constabulary allegedly comprised of terrorists from the supposedly disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Since its inception, this organization has only presented roadblocks in the path of those trying to establish stability in the region. The KPC is openly engaged in organized crime. They run the region's largest drug trafficking operations and fund themselves through protection rackets across Kosovo: shopkeepers, businessmen, and contractors across the province (including those in Pristina, Suva Reka, Dragash, Istok and Prizren) are required to pay the KPC "protection". Instead of focusing on building and establishing the civic foundations for the future of Kosovo, the international community has been forced to commit its time and resources to investigating and "purging" the criminal and terrorist cells that exist within the KPC. These criminals are not restricted to operations within the provincial borders of Kosovo; they have infiltrated Macedonia and other regions of Serbia.
Macedonia remains volatile after a 2001 conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and Macedonian government troops. A renegade ethnic Albanian group, known as the "Albanian National Army", who operates from Kosovo, plans, organizes and executes occasional terrorist attacks in Macedonia. This group advocates the unification of ethnic Albanian-dominated areas in several Balkan countries.
It is clear that the UNMIK Mission in Kosovo has turned a blind eye to the corruption that has infiltrated this operation. It is impossible to imagine that the KPC, and groups similar to them, can operate their international-scale drug rings (to the extent that they have been tagged as the "heroin bridge" linking Asia and Europe), without the intentional ignorance of UNMIK. The watchful leaders of UNMIK appear to disregard organized crime in Kosovo, and are seemingly unmotivated to take any action to combat the drug trafficking, prostitution rings, organized crime, and threat of potential terrorism that exist in the province. Even the Albanian population in Kosovo has come to see that UNMIK is clearly incapable of instituting positive and proactive change in the province.
Multi-ethnic tolerance in Kosovo has not been established. The murder and persecution of ethnic minorities in the province not only continue to happen, but these incidents are not even reported by the provinces’ media outlets, which are of course, owned and operated by the Albanians. Moreover, anything and everything that bears any resemblance to a culture other than Albanian, is destroyed.
This politically corrupt and culturally intolerant climate continues to strengthen its hold on the province. And in spite of the efforts of renowned international human rights agencies (such as Amnesty International), who have voiced their concerns over Kosovo’s oppressed minorities, nothing has been done to instigate change. Amnesty International has conclusively stated that: "Unless such rights can be guaranteed, minority refugees and internally displaced people in other parts of Serbia and Montenegro will be unable to return to their homes."
When assessing the shortcomings of progress in Kosovo, the ineffectiveness of the Government in Belgrade to take a proactive role cannot go unmentioned. As the primary stakeholder, Belgrade has failed to propose a constructive or detailed plan for their vision of the future of Kosovo. More importantly, the Serbian Government has been unable to create enough presence in order to hold the international force responsible and accountable in governing this province according to resolution 1244 and as an integral part of their sovereign state.
Iraqi Freedom four years from now
And hence the question of Kosovo’s fate remains unresolved. In today’s Kosovo, no one side can offer acceptable objectives, while the Albanians push forth with an unrealistic and menacing agenda of independence. Such a precedent would most certainly lead to new Balkan divisions (in particular Bosnia and Macedonia) and consequently new conflicts in the unstable region. The UN is frivolously allowing what little credibility they may still maintain (especially after their failed diplomatic role in Iraq) to be destroyed by passive and corrupt representatives, who in Kosovo have done little to uphold the UN’s mandate and ideals. Belgrade, from its side, must abandon its naďve hope for a quick and easy solution and instead approach the problems of Kosovo constructively.
Thus, what lessons can we learn, more than four years after NATOs intervention in Yugoslavia?
Before Canada can confidently engage in international reconstruction efforts, such as the opportunity we have in shaping the rebuilding of Iraq, we must be aware of the consequences of our role. More importantly, to ensure that Canada’s contribution can be measured, and that the impact of our contribution has a long-standing and positive effect, we must first outline the concrete and viable steps needed to achieve our goals. In the unfortunate case of Kosovo, NATO’s Forces either totally disregarded, or were not in a position to implement the very goals they themselves set - a multicultural and multiethnic society, the protection of human rights, and the safe return of refugees. Their failure to deliver on these promises has jeopardized or shattered the lives of most non-Albanians in Kosovo.
As a similar mission in Iraq unfolds today, we as Canadians must offer credence to the example of Kosovo in determining the role we play in reconstructing this fragile nation.