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Balkan Report: March 26, 2004


26 March 2004, Volume 8, Number 12

WHICH WAY FOR KOSOVA? The recent violence in Kosova that left over two dozen people dead and many hundreds injured touched off widespread speculation as to what caused the trouble and what effect it will have on Kosova's political future.

The unrest may or may not have broken out spontaneously. It was, however, quickly exploited and fanned by ethnic Albanian extremists anxious to drive members of the Serbian minority from some enclaves in several parts of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 22, 23, and 24 March, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 March 2004).

Regional politicians, past and present international officials, and pundits around the globe offered a wide range of explanations for the violence, the magnitude of which seems to have surprised most observers. Some critics blamed NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers for not protecting all Serbs or not rounding up all young Albanian toughs. Other writers criticized the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) for not succeeding in less than five years in creating a multiethnic society.

Voices from Belgrade said that the international community has been too indulgent toward the Albanians, while Albanian leaders in Prishtina argued that there has not been enough clear progress toward settling Kosova's final status, by which the Albanians mean independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, and 13 and 20 February 2004).

Some observers in the Balkans and beyond stressed that the unrest must not be allowed to influence the process of determining Kosova's final status lest the thugs behind the violence get their way. Some of these observers also suggested that it might even be wise to dampen Albanian expectations that talks on the final status could begin in mid-2005. This, so the argument runs, is because Kosova now seems farther than ever from meeting the standards set down by the international community under the formula "standards before status."

Other observers drew the opposite conclusions. They argued that the unrest was a wake-up call revealing the danger inherent in not clarifying Kosova's final status, and stressed that uncertainty breeds instability and trouble. Some of these writers called the proposed standards unrealistic for any of the post-Yugoslav states and wondered how many EU member countries themselves could meet them.

Some American commentators argued that the United States must lead the way in pressing for a solution because the ethnic-Albanian majority trusts Washington in a way it does not trust Brussels. Some of those Americans added that the United States should, for a variety of reasons, reconsider whether it is wise to cede control of Western policy in the Balkans to the EU as completely as many in Washington once hoped to do, at least prior to the 11 September 2001 attacks (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 September 2003, and 27 February and 5 March 2004).

Several critical writers on both sides of the Atlantic added that the EU seems doomed to fail if it seeks to promote a joint state of Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova, which would be unacceptable to most Montenegrins and Kosovar Albanians alike, and which has few supporters in Washington.

Another issue that received much attention in the media was the possible "cantonization" or partition of Kosova. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica argued that a physical separation of the Serbs and Albanians seems necessary for the sake of the Serbs' survival.

Partition has long been anathema to the Kosovar Albanian leadership and the international community alike, but there have been some suggestions in the wake of the violence that at least some such individuals are now leaning toward partition as the only sensible way to deal with two apparently mutually antagonistic populations.

The problem with this approach, however, is that it potentially opens a Pandora's box of problems in the region. Nationalists of various hues could argue that if ethnically based partition is the cure for what ails Kosova, why should it not be applied to Bosnia or Macedonia as well? And why should the present international borders remain sacrosanct and not give way to a Greater Albania, a Greater Serbia, and a Greater Croatia?

In short, the problems are complex and the proposed solutions are many. "Balkan Report" has long argued that no outcome will be perfect but that political, economic, and social problems will grow unless the status issue is settled, and that peace is inseparably linked to jobs and prosperity.

In any event, the recent unrest may prompt the international community to pay more attention to Kosova and the western Balkans lest problems once thought to be on the wane re-emerge with a vengeance. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN REACTIONS TO KOSOVA VIOLENCE. The recent interethnic clashes in Kosova sparked fears that the violence could spill over to neighboring Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 March 2004). These fears seemed to be justified when unknown persons hurled Molotov cocktails at a mosque in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo on 20 March. Although the government tried to play down the danger of a spillover, most media reports mirrored the widespread unease about the situation.

During its 18 March session, the Macedonian Security Council concluded that there is no danger that the clashes could spill over, "Vreme" reported. Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski said after the session that the government is closely monitoring the situation in Kosova.

Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski told media that he considers the situation to be very complicated, adding that he believes that the international community will manage to stabilize the situation. Buckovski dismissed Serbian reports that armed groups from Macedonia are entering Kosova as "gross disinformation."

"We have offered our friends from Serbia and Montenegro to exchange the information we have in order to convince them that we have prevented any illegal movement [across the border between Kosova and Macedonia] thanks to the good cooperation between the [Macedonian] Defense Ministry and KFOR," Buckovski added.

Whereas the government did not blame anybody for the flare-up of violence in Kosova, media pundits were quick to assign blame. Depending on their ethnic and political affiliation, they charged unspecified "Albanian extremists," the Serbs, or the international community with being responsible for the clashes.

In a commentary for "Dnevnik" on 22 March, Todor Pendarov, a foreign-policy analyst, praised the international community for its sharp condemnation of the violence in Kosova and for warning that such incidents could jeopardize Albanian aspirations for an independent Kosova. "These are very clear signals that the international community is changing its position on Kosova [and] adopts a more truthful and more honest picture of the reality [in Kosova]," Pendarov wrote.

He added that "the [unnamed] Albanian leaders [who promote the idea of an ethnically pure Kosova] are to blame [for the fact] that the world now perceives the Albanians as being responsible for ethnic cleansing, rather than being the victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing."

"Utrinski vesnik's" commentator, Dimitar Culev, was less diplomatic in his assessment. For him, it was clear that "after the turbulent incidents...the naked truth surfaced that the...Albanian population...does not want to and cannot accept the fact that there are non-Albanians or Serbian, Bosnian Muslim, Romany, Turkish, and other nationalities in the former Serbian province."

But Culev also said the politicians in Belgrade will use the unrest as a pretext for promoting their ideas about Kosova's future status -- either by creating ethnically based cantons or partitioning the province along ethnic lines outright.

What is interesting, however, is that Culev, like Pendarov, accuses the international community of not having been attuned to the "real problems" in Kosova. Culev charges that "[the] international community, which has given itself the right to...[make Kosova its protectorate], does not show the slightest understanding for the ethnic differences and historical frustrations of the population, which, according to Serbia, lives in a southern Serbian province, and, according to the Albanians, in lands that have always been Albanian."

The Albanian-language daily "Fakti" of 18 March published a comment by Emin Azemi, who blames the Serbs and the UN civilian mission in Kosova (UNMIK) for the violence. "Due to the ineffectiveness of part of [UNMIK], aggressive Serbian policy has managed to impose its militarist scheme," Azemi wrote. He added that "UNMIK has been too naive in believing that Serbs are not dangerous if they are left in their enclaves." But these enclaves have been "a time bomb waiting to explode at any time." According to Azemi's scenario, the Serbian government will adduce the violence as evidence that the international community is unable to administer Kosova, and that Kosova must return to Serbian rule.

These comments clearly show how differently the Albanian and Macedonian journalists perceive the situation in Kosova. These differences, which can be observed among ethnic Albanian and Macedonian voters as well, might be exploited during the upcoming presidential election campaign, as Biljana Vankovska, a professor at the Institute for Defense and Peace Studies, noted in "Vreme" on 19 March. Vankovska warned that the tensions across the border could polarize the political debate among the candidates for the 14 April election. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The violence [in Kosovo] is not likely to end until the West stops relying on failed assumptions about a multiethnic Kosovo, a united Serbia-Montenegro-Kosovo, and the power of the EU to resolve all difficult political issues in the Balkans. That requires the West to focus now on the final status of Kosovo before extremists of all stripes take over." -- Morton Abramowitz in "The Washington Post" on 19 March.

"Russia cannot be indifferent to the events [in Kosovo]. Our Western colleagues admit that ethnic cleansing is taking place, and our support to the Serbs must be firm." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 22 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2004).

"The incoming Spanish government has declared its intention to move away from the United States and back to the 'core of Europe,' meaning France and Germany. Presumably Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder will welcome their new ally in Old Europe. But presumably they also know that dissociation from the United States in the wake of the Madrid bombings will be a disaster for Europe.

"If the United States cannot fight Al-Qaeda without Europe's help, it is equally true that Europe can't fight Al-Qaeda without the United States. If Europe's leaders understand this, then they and Mr. Bush should recognize the urgency of making common cause now, before the already damaged edifice of the transatlantic community collapses." -- Robert Kagan, writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 18 March.

"Who still believes in the talk about values...[such as] freedom and human rights?" -- A commentary entitled "Values" in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 17 March. The editorial was pegged to calls from Paris and Berlin to lift the EU's arms embargo on China and to the recent joint maneuvers between the French and Chinese navies -- the largest the Chinese have ever held with a foreign navy -- just four days before the Taiwanese elections.

"Access to European weapon technologies, which are nearly as advanced as U.S. capabilities in some areas, would...enable China's defense industries to accelerate their modernization by filling critical technology gaps.... "These developments would have a direct impact on stability across the Taiwan Strait and on transatlantic relations. China's military modernization is largely aimed at preparing for a potential conflict over Taiwan.... "If the EU ban [on arms sales to China] was lifted [as Paris and Berlin want] and conflict erupted [in the Taiwan Strait], U.S. forces could conceivably find themselves under attack by Chinese weapons produced with the help of America's NATO allies." -- Roger Cliff and Evan S. Medeiros in the "International Herald Tribune" of 23 March.

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