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Bungled Intervention In Kosovo Risks Unraveling: A New Deal Needed For Peace

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Bungled Intervention In Kosovo Risks Unraveling: A New Deal Needed For Peace

Doug Bandow

Washington’s policy in the Balkans never made much sense. The U.S. wanted to keep some nations together and dismantle others. American officials deplored ethnic cleansing in some cases and ignored other instances.

The only principle which explained Washington’s actions was that the Serbs always lose. With Kosovo and Serbia now shouting threats of war, it’s time for the U.S. and Europe to take a more even-handed approach.

A train from Russia, decorated with the Serbian flag and artwork featuring Serbian churches, monasteries and medieval towns, plans to begin trips traveling from Belgrade to Kosovska Mitrovica. (OLIVER BUNIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Yugoslavia was an artificial creation of the Versailles Treaty. It survived after World War II due to the repression of Communist dictator Josef Broz Tito and fear of invasion by the Soviet Union. But Tito died in 1980 and the Soviet Union collapsed a decade later, eroding the cement which held together the ethnic and religious polyglot nation.

In the ensuing political vacuum Slobodan Milosevic won power by playing the Serbian nationalist card. Other ethnic groups responded by establishing their own nations. The Balkans erupted.

The first Bush administration originally supported Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity, but Germany recognized Slovenia’s secession, spurring Yugoslavia’s serial break-up. The U.S. and Europeans supported creation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (divided among Muslims, ethnic Serbs, and ethnic Croats) and Croatia (with a large ethnic Serb population in the Krajina region). However, after encouraging the break-up of Yugoslavia, the allies suddenly opposed secession of ethnic Croats and Serbs from Bosnia and ethnic Serbs from Croatia.

While Serb atrocities were common and noteworthy, Muslims and Croats were not innocents. Nevertheless, Washington and Brussels expected ethnic Serb minorities to politely suffer under other ethnic majorities, even when faced with ethnic cleansing. For instance, Croatia, buttressed by U.S. aid, launched a large-scale military offensive against the Krajina Serbs, causing hundreds of thousands to flee. Years later I visited the region: the rural landscape was dotted with abandoned farms and ruined Orthodox churches, while the façades of urban buildings were pockmarked with bullet holes. However, Washington refused to acknowledge, let alone criticize, this episode of ruthless ethnic cleansing.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) smiles as she walks out of a store named in her honor, which is located next to an unseen statue of her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, on a stop driving from the airport to Pristina. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The bias persists today. Last week Washington sanctioned Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska, the ethnic Serb section of tripartite Bosnia, for “obstructing” the U.S.-backed Dayton Accords, which forced ethnic Serbs to remain in Muslim-dominated Bosnia. Dodik responded by calling the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia “a proven enemy.” Certainly Washington rates that title from ethnic Serbs everywhere.

Kosovo became the next Balkan crisis. Intimately tied to Serbian history and culture, the region’s population shifted over the years with an influx of ethnic Albanians, creating a large majority. An insurgency arose in response to Belgrade’s repressive rule. However, U.S. officials originally denounced the guerrillas as "terrorists." But ethnic Albanians were media savvy. In the summer of 1998 I met with a top aide to local opposition leader Ibrahim Rugova, who later became Kosovo’s first president. The former told me that ethnic Albanians needed Western military intervention, and that required getting the conflict onto CNN. Hence the sometimes dubious atrocity claims amid a brutal counter-insurgency campaign that killed civilians as well as combatants.

So the U.S. and NATO entered the war, despite the absence of any security threat to America or Europe. The Milosevic government responded by expelling thousands of ethnic Albanians. After the victorious allies ousted Serb security forces, the triumphant ethnic Albanian Kosovars launched their own campaign of ethnic cleansing, kicking out around a quarter of a million Serbs, Roma, and others. The U.S. and Europeans, though occupying the territory, did little. A few years later another round of ethnic Albanian violence drove many of the remaining ethnic Serbs into camps or to Kosovo’s north, in which a majority of residents were ethnic Serbs. Pristina acquired a dubious reputation, essentially a gangster statelet ruled by war criminals. It was a black hole for organized crime, where Saudi Arabia, in particular, underwrote efforts to radicalize heretofore moderate and secular Muslims.

There are worse places to live and Serbia has its own problems, but Kosovo has not earned the right to hold ethnic Serbs in political bondage. For instance, Freedom House’s 2016 “Freedom in the World” report rated Kosovo as only “partly free,” with middling scores for both political rights and civil liberties. Among other problems, “journalists report frequent harassment and intimidation, and occasional physical attacks.” Crimes against non-ethnic Albanians are rarely prosecuted. The courts suffer from political interference and bribery. Corruption facilitates human trafficking and more.

Human Rights Watch said “human rights protections progressed slowly” last year, with “serious abuses” remaining. For instance, there were “threats and attacks against journalists.” The U.S. State Department put together a 36-page human rights report. Among the problems: “Reported police mistreatment of detainees; substandard physical conditions in prisons; drug abuse, corruption, and favoritism in prisons; lengthy pretrial detention and judicial inefficiency resulting in mistrials.” There also were restrictions on religious liberty, intimidation of the media, and attacks on displaced people returning to their homes. A European Commission report last year found many of the same problems: “slow and inefficient” courts, “insufficient accountability of judicial officials,” and extensive corruption.


Written by Mika

6. marta 2017. u 10:23

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