Letter on Kosovo’s independence.

[The following was written just before I started this blog, in an email to a friend who asked what I thought about Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It was originally just supposed to be an email to a friend, so forgive the prose if it’s a bit loose and ramblous.]

I have a lot of thoughts about it. Unlike the situation in Bosnia, which in some senses can actually be summed up and where I feel like I can take a clear stand (politically, of course, not ethnically), I have a lot of contradictory feelings about Kosovo. In Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia, I think the majority of the populations, at least the urban parts, were always anti-nationalist, and even if they may have disagreed about how to resolve the status of crumbling Yugo, they (the majority of the populations) all wanted to live together and certainly never wanted war. As I guess you know, I’ve spent most of the last decade ranting against the “ancient ethnic hatreds” framings of those wars, and am even coming to dismiss that ethnic tensions were even an actual cause. I’m fixing to focus the rewrite of my book on the theme that those wars can just as easily be seen as wars of governments against their own populations, to force them to overlook the phenomenal corruption and profiteering of ‘post-communist transition,’ through the decoy of the threat of the Other.

Kosovo is different. That’s why I hardly wrote about it in the 1st ed of my book – i couldn’t deal, and it seemed to sketchy to hang out there too long! I think there’s something to the ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’, or at least ‘tensions,’ theory, as a primary cause of that conflict. Kos Albanians were the first to raise the ethno-nationalist card in post-wwii yugo, in 1968, when protests in Belgrade more resembled the concurrent ones in Paris, or Berkeley, or Prague. I never met a single Albanian or Serb in Kosovo who did not strongly identify as nationalist.  Of course, Albanians and Serbs did live peacefully for much of the last millineum, but not really intimately, and not since nation-states replaced the Ottoman Empire. While every other part of Yugoslavia enthusiastically entered into the union in 1917, Kosovo (which even at the time had a large Albanian majority) was given to Serbia as a prize for its role in WWI. It took years of violence to put down the Albanian revolts. After WWII, many Kosovar Albanians expected unification with Albania (perhaps within a larger Yugoslavia), and were disappointed when they weren’t able to. So I think the majority of Albanians in Kosovo have generally thought of Yugoslavia as a colonial occupation (although I’m sure many were glad not to be living in Albania for a few decades there!)

A few weeks ago, I was really worried that independence could lead to a big war, especially given how Russia has been looking to reassert itself lately, imagining a Korea-type situation where super-powers duke it out through a totally wrecked a 3rd-party (if that’s what happened in Korea.) Especially when Bulgaria and Serbia signed over their oil to Russia a couple weeks ago. I think Russia wouldn’t mind the chance to defy the weakening U.S. empire, I don’t think the U.S. could back off the committments Bush has made to back the Albanians, and I think the mafia in power in Kosovo (which I don’t think represent the quiet majority of Albanians there) would be happy for the excuse to clear off some real estate (as they did, with complete impunity, in March 2004, driving out 3000 non-Albanians under the eyes of helplessly confused international forces). Ironically, I now think the one factor missing for war is a Serb willingness. The whole Milosevic path-to-glory ended them up in a totally pathetic state, and people are tired of it. No Serb politician could get away with saying it in public, but most of Serbia accepted the loss of Kosovo years ago. Last year in the center of Belgrade, I saw graffiti that said, ‘I love Kosovo – but I guess the Albanians do too.’ Somebody scratched out the second part but I think everybody still secretly nods when they walk by it.

I think it’s going to be a pretty bleak place, probably considerably worse over time. At best, I’m hoping the minorities won’t be driven out, and can find a safe margin to dwell in, and that Kosovo gets softly incorporated into some larger regional structure (like the EU, or a Balkan Anarchist Federation!) before things get too bad again. It was always a really poor place that subsisted off subsidies from richer republics, and it’s scary to think of it trying to fend for itself in the global economy. Everybody quoted in the media has the same logic – “All we need is independence, since being part of Serbia blocks foreign direct investment and privatization, which will bring us prosperity.” Prosperous like the New Russia, or Liberated Iraq, without the resources. Also, a really sad hope that I keep reading is “Once we have our own passport we’ll have great freedom of movement.” Neighboring Macedonia is a recognized country with a far better reputation, but that doesn’t mean that you can get anywhere with a Macedonian passport (like, say, into Italy, or Slovenia, or I think even Romania.) And I read one analysis that said more countries recognized their UN-protectorate passports than are likely to recognize Kosovo – so from the start, their freedom of movement might be even more limited.

Like I noticed when I was staying with (ex-KLA) Albanians there, everything now is seen in this bizarrely giddy context of relief from twenty years of Serbian apartheid (since ’81, which I don’t want to downplay.) I doubt Palestinians will be preoccupied with their economy when they get their state, either. So I think the big question now is what will happen when severe, deep disappointment sets in in a couple years. Last time they were disappointed, it blew up into a couple days of ethnic cleansing. That could easily happen again, much worse, or a intensification of the inter-clan/political violence that’s been going on since ’99. I’m sure Albania itself is a little worried, since it’s under the countrol of the Tosks (a majority of Albania’s 3 million population) and Kosovo’s 2 million are Ghegs, who might someday be have more interest in their neighbor if Albania ever gets to be some kind of prize (or vise versa.) Right-wingers (and Serbs) are warning of a new ‘open door for terrorism,’ which I still think is unlikely given Albanians’ deep traditions of religious diversity and sufic (thus anti-Wahabi/fundamentalist) Islam, but (hard for a good anti-American-Imperialist to admit!) there have been Al-Qaeda training camps there before, and Saudi money has been known to win friends among the hyper-poor. At the very least, I think it’s going to be a sad place, unless, perhaps, the EU really feels like it’s worth it spending many, many billions to really build up.

As I’m typing this, I’m chatting with a friend in Istanbul, who ran into a Kurdish friend last night who said, “I hope the Kurdish people will use this as an example.” Another hard issue for our types to deal with is this whole national-liberation issue. Without supporting the past macro-and-micro-imperialisms that have set so many borders of the world, I think we can also fear universal destabilization of these borders by people who want to draw new borders (for the same reasons it’s forbidden by the UN – it usually entails horrible suffering). I’ve never been convinced that smaller states are necessarily steps towards local empowerment. And you probably saw that Russia is already talking about recognizing two “autonomous regions” (read: Russia again) of Georgia, and also in Moldova. I’m guessing the majority of countries in the world have some such disputes, which could be backed by some such geoschemes. I do have to admit I hope it makes for more recognition of the newly proclaimed “Lakota Oyate/Republic of Lakotah” that I just visited. Hokahey!!!

As for the Voice of Roma project, as long as there’s still Roma there, we’re going. If you or anybody is interested in going for a later round, lemme know! All the Roma I talked to, all of them, were convinced that they would be ethnically cleansed as soon as independence was declared – referring, universally, to the precedent of cleansing of March 2004. Every single person said, “We don’t want to be here, we have no jobs, no freedom of movement. All we want is to be accepted as refugees by a 3rd country.” But, not to downplay their fears, I think that was the opposite situation from now. The internationals were stalling, on the issue of independence as well as all areas of reform. Since the Serb forces pulled out, the KLA had been driving out and killing non-Albanians, other parties, and each other in factional disputes, without a single conviction in the helpless courts. So even though it took the 16,000 international troops two days to stop the cleansing, I think they got they message across, and I don’t think they’re going to let it happen again so easily. Some people have finally been sentenced for war crimes. In addition, the internationals have been careful to keep things moving since, to keep up hope in progress – which, ironically, has ended up with this hasty declaration of independence. Another act of mass violence against the possibility of co-existence rewarded in the Balkans. But, for now, I doubt the minorities are under threat, since it would be a major embarrassment for the new state, and since – for now – the Albanian forces are getting everything they’ve wanted. For now.

I imagine that was a bit more of an answer than you asked for, but thanks for the chance to put my fretting down in words. Feel free to forward if you think anybody would be interested. And let me know what you think! I’ve been enjoying your book reviews on Goodreads, btw!



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