first indication (to the West) that there were serious
human rights problems in the former Yugoslavia came
in Kosovo in the late 1980s, when Slobodan Milosevic
made his famous "They will never beat you again"
speech and turned increasingly to nationalism to propel
his way to power. Ironically, long after the firestorm
of violence and ethnic conflict had played itself
out in most of the rest of the former SFRY, Kosovo
remains a center of ethnic conflict with no defined
future. Unless and until a satisfactory solution is
found for Kosovo (and by that I mean one that both
the Serbs and Kosovar Albanians can accept), Serbia
itself can never rid itself of the scourge of nationalism
and will be unable to move as rapidly towards the
European Union as it would like. Far more importantly,
the whole democratic transition in Serbia will be
The Kosovo experience should be a case study for
the limits -- and risks --of international intervention.
The United States and its Western allies tried virtually
everything to encourage Milosevic to treat the Kosovar
Albanians humanely, recognizing full well the implications
of his policies. It was an effort doomed to failure,
as the combination of Milosevic's desire to remain
in power, historical enmity among the ethnic groups,
growing national awareness on the part of the Albanian
population, and the conflicting views of Kosovo itself
of the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians were too much
I can remember vividly my frustration in 1992 when
Bosnia and Croatia were in flames and the Bush Administration
was unwilling to get involved. Ironically, and somewhat
cynically, key leaders of that Administration were
concerned more about the potential violence in Kosovo
and its international implications than they were
about the tragedies actually taking place in Bosnia
and Croatia. Thus, we took no action there, but issued
the famous "Christmas warning" to Milosevic
in December, 1992 that if he were to be responsible
for initiating serious violence in Kosovo, we would
respond - including with military force.
Ultimately, of course, the Clinton administration
did use military force in the form of a massive bombing
campaign to compel Milosevic to withdraw his forces
from Kosovo and turn the administration of that area
over to the organizations of the international community
under the leadership of the UN. Was the bombing campaign
the only option left? Did it achieve its purpose?
Could it have been done differently?
I don't have good answers to many of these questions.
But I can tell you that during my time as Ambassador
to Serbia and Montenegro I thought about them a lot
as I tried to deal with the aftermath. Basically,
we solved one problem at great cost (Serbian government
massive human rights violations in its treatment of
its ethnic Albanian minority) but we created others
that thus far have defied solution. What to do about
Kosovo? How does it fit into modern Europe? How does
it interact with Serbia? How to dissuade the ethnic
Albanians in Kosovo, southern Serbia, and Macedonia
from the use of violence? How to proceed in Kosovo
in a way that does not re-radicalize Serbia? How to
moderate the still raw forces of nationalism in Serbia
and among Serbs, which the bombing campaign fuelled?
The job has been made much, much more difficult
because of the international community's unwillingness
or inability to come to terms with what future it
expects for Kosovo and to act decisively to bring
that about. Most speeches and policy statements emphasize
the importance of a multi-ethnic society. Certainly
we make considerable efforts to portray Kosovo as
moving towards that ideal end. But the reality is
that the degree of hatred, fear, and suspicion among
the various ethnic groups remains at or near the levels
seen immediately after the cessation of bombing in
1999. For most of the past five years, the international
community has failed to recognize that fact and even
in the face of incidents to the contrary, continued
to portray Kosovo as making great strides toward multi-ethnicity.
Even after the violence of this March, a depressingly
large number of the UNMIK personnel (and influential
government and non-government people in key capitals)
do not understand the depth of the problem.
This isn't simply a question of naiveté.
There has also been an underlying double standard
in Kosovo on the part of the international community,
based on the very real persecution of the Kosovar
Albanians under Milosevic and the expulsion of hundreds
of thousands of ethnic Albanians that took place at
and around the initial NATO bombing. The overwhelming
feeling of the vast majority of international personnel
that flooded into Kosovo in June 1999 was rather black
and white with the Serbs as the oppressors and the
Kosovar Albanians as the oppressed.
What the international community has been fundamentally
unable to fully comprehend and accept is that the
situation is now turned on its head with the oppressors
becoming the oppressed and vice-versa. I would argue
that some (perhaps most) of the civilian international
personnel in Kosovo even today still have major problems
with this concept. And it has led to a lack of sympathy
to the very real plight of the Serbian minority even
today and a corresponding lack of toughness in response
to provocations by the Albanian majority. This has
limited the efforts of the international community
to effect return of Serb refugees in the face of Albanian
intransigence. It has also led, for example, to full
support for institutions (such as the University of
Pristina) that are totally Albanian (no Serbs are
willing to attend because of its location) but antagonism
towards a similar university run by Serbs in Northern
Mitrovica. The International Community has also accepted
and funded the Kosovo Protection Corps, which is the
successor to the KLA, is led by General Ceku, the
head of the former KLA, is staffed by former KLA members
who rather routinely are found responsible for acts
of violence against the Serb or Macedonian communities,
and whose head (Ceku) routinely declares that he is
the head of the Kosovo Army. While it should seem
rather obvious that the Kosovo Serbs could never be
comfortable with such an organization and that it
would be a major impediment to chances of a true multi-ethnic
society, it still exists.
So what to do about Kosovo now? On the one hand,
if the Kosovo Serbs do not come to feel that their
religion, culture, language, and way of life are secure,
they will never accept rule by an Albanian majority.
They will leave, as they left Sarajevo in 1996. There
is no question that this exodus will be fuel for the
nationalists in Serbia and will also force even moderate
politicians in Belgrade to take radical stances in
order to survive politically. One is starting to see
this even now.
On the other hand, Kosovar Albanians will accept
nothing less than full independence in current borders.
A significant percentage are determined to drive all
Serbs from Kosovo, reasoning that as long as any remain,
the possibility of Belgrade re-imposing itself over
My solution is pretty simple. Give every city and
town in Kosovo the same degree of autonomy and responsibility
enjoyed by any single town or city in the United States.
I grew up in a town of 10,000 people. We had our own
school system, police force, local government, hospital
system, and taxing authority. There were clear guidelines
for which things were the responsibility of the local
government, which belonged to our State governments,
and which were the purview of the federal government.
If this were done - NOW - and with the full authority
and power of the international community to make it
stick and be effective - it would be far, far easier
to deal with the broader questions of the future of
Kosovo later on.
But the trick is to persuade, force, cajole the
Kosovar Albanians to accept this, as the radicals
among them will be bitterly opposed - wanting all
authority to be centralized under majority Albanian
control. It will also be critical to get the Serbs
to accept this concept, because while they may well
embrace it totally in Kosovo, they have proved to
be very reluctant to de-centralize in Serbia proper
despite recurring promises to do so.
If this solution or a similar one is not instituted
well in advance of any decision on final status, my
prediction is that any "final" solution
will not be final at all, but we will just move into
the next stage of the Kosovo tragedy.