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Balkan Report: December 9, 1998

9 December 1998, Volume 2, Number 48

Kosova: No Solution in Sight. Kosova still awaits a political settlement that will guarantee its more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian population their basic rights according to the principles of self-determination and majority rule. The key to solving the problem lies in Serbia, where the difficulties began with the rise to power of Slobodan Milosevic over one decade ago.

The Serbian leader built his initial political success on an anti-Kosovar platform, which he finished constructing in 1989, when he abolished the broad autonomy that the province had enjoyed under the 1974 constitution. The Kosovars responded by setting up a shadow state headed by the moderate and writer Ibrahim Rugova. Milosevic, for his part, turned his attention first toward trying to take control of Yugoslavia and - after the Slovenes, Croats and others prevented that - toward establishing a greater Serbia at the expense of Croatia and Bosnia.

Nine years later, Milosevic's plans for a greater Serbia lay in ruins and tens of thousands of Serbs from Krajina and Bosnia had become impoverished refugees. But in February 1998, he launched a new campaign aimed at destroying the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), which had grown increasingly bold in the scope and nature of its guerrilla activities in the course of the previous year.

Milosevic used in Kosova the same techniques Serbian forces had honed in Croatia and Bosnia. Led by his paramilitary police with support from the army and irregular forces, the crackdown involved the shelling, burning and looting of Kosovar villages and towns. Some 250,000 people - including Serbian and Montenegrin victims of the UCK - became displaced persons in Kosova or refugees in Albania, Montenegro, or elsewhere.

By mid-October, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke succeeded in brokering a deal that led to a cease-fire and held open the door open for a political settlement. Soon thereafter, some 2,000 unarmed civilians began arriving in Kosova under a mandate from the OSCE to monitor the uneasy truce. In neighboring Macedonia, a 1,700-strong French-led NATO rapid reaction force began assembling in order to evacuate the monitors if they ran into danger. But it was clear that fighting between the Serbian forces and the UCK would most likely resume in the spring and that a political settlement would prove elusive.

The difficulty in achieving a settlement stems from the fact that Serbian and Kosovar goals are essentially incompatible. Although few Serbs actually visit Kosova as tourists, most have a sentimental attachment to it as the cradle of medieval Serbian civilization. They oppose independence or even broad autonomy for the ethnic Albanian majority, between whom and the Serbs little love is lost. Following the agreement with Holbrooke, the Milosevic government produced a plan that offered autonomy but at the local - rather than at the provincial - level, and accorded equal political representation to all ethnic groups regardless of their size. The plan firmly anchored Kosova in the Serbian legal structure and gave the Serbian parliament the last word in the province's affairs.

This was clearly unacceptable to the UCK and to moderate Kosovars loyal to Rugova alike. The Kosovars insisted on provincial self-determination based on the principle of majority rule. At the very least, they would accept the status of a third republic - along with Serbia and Montenegro - within federal Yugoslavia, and only as part of an interim solution that would include a referendum on independence at the end of two to three years.

By the end of 1998, Washington began to reassess its view of Milosevic. Instead of regarding him, as Holbrooke had done, as the only man in Serbia who could make any agreement stick, State Department spokesman James Rubin described Milosevic in early December as "the problem" (see below). Washington increasingly came to believe that the solution to the problem in Kosova lies not in any new deals with Milosevic but rather in the democratization of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," No. 46).

Several U.S. officials and commentators suggested that one could support this goal by supporting Serbia's harried independent media and promoting a civil society. The international community could provide scholarships for students and invite opposition and independent Serbs to international conferences. Strong political and economic support, moreover, could be given to the independent-minded leadership of Montenegro, those U.S. officials and commentators added.

Some observers argued in the international and regional media that Serbia is ready for change because of its growing isolation and poverty. They noted that Milosevic recently fired some key advisors and top military commanders, which, these observers argued, suggests that he has become increasingly nervous and unsure of what to do (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," No. 47).

But other observers pointed out that there is no readily discernible alternative to Milosevic among the opposition politicians, who are given to in-fighting and opportunism. Some of these observers suggested that the most likely effective opposition to Milosevic might come from within the governing elite or the army, such as General Momcilo Perisic, whom Milosevic recently sacked as army chief of staff. But whether such individuals would prove to be significantly better democrats than Milosevic is anyone's guess.

Europeans Call U.S. Escort for Serbian Paramilitary Police 'Embarrassing.' Unnamed European diplomats told Reuters in Prishtina on December 5 that the U.S. practice of providing armed escorts for Serbian paramilitary police reflects "bad judgment" and appears "incongruous" in the eyes of the Kosovars (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," No. 47). The escort service involves bright orange U.S. "humvees" accompanying what Reuters called "armor-plated lorries full of heavily-armed Serb police." The European diplomats added that the U.S. practice of escorting the Serbs into the Malisheva region and elsewhere may lead to UCK reprisals against Westerners. On December 4, Chris Janowski, who is the spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva that the Serbian police presence in the Malisheva area discourages displaced Kosovars from returning to their homes there.

Quotes of the Week. State Department spokesman James Rubin, in Washington on December 1: "Nobody gets up in the morning thanking the Lord that President Milosevic is the leader of Serbia."

Yugoslav Federal Parliament resolution, passed on December 3: "In order to realize its destructive objectives in the Balkans, the United States, its officials and services are extending direct support and help to separatism and terrorism and financing the opponents of the independence, stability and progress" of federal Yugoslavia. In this way the U.S., a superpower, also places itself in the service of terrorists and separatists, the forces whose declared aim is the retailoring of international borders, the creation of a so-called 'Greater Albania,' at the expense of...sovereign countries of the region."

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Nikolic, on the OSCE monitoring mission for Kosova, on December 7: "If the peace process is established no one will be jeopardized, including the verifiers. But if Albanian terrorists are allowed to strut around, murder, kidnap we shall have to conduct the same action again as this summer but this time we shall go to the end regardless of what others think...If the West, the Americans, Germans, French, British think there should be peace in Kosovo and Metohija then they should not send their troops to Macedonia."