On the Burning of the American Embassy in Belgrade.

[This was written in reponse to a couple friends in an email debate about the burning of the American Embassy in Belgrade, and whether to support Serbian opposition to American imperialism. For an authoritative account of the horrors of post-war Kosovo, click on ‘Peace At Any Price’, the first link in the ‘Recommended Reading’ page on the right.]

On one hand, I enjoy seeing footage of a U.S. embassy burn, and I think it was a valid expression of rage, even if the people doing it would have been happy to kill me if I was there. Serbia’s boundaries including Kosovo were as valid as any other state boundaries, they ‘deserve’ to call it ‘home’, and such a selective application of ‘human rights over sovereignty’ does merit some anti-imperialist indignation. Nazi skinheads in Serbia love reading Noam Chomsky, and I don’t think insincerely. I definately am sadder about the 21-year-old Kosovo Serb refugee who burned to death in the embassy, than I am about the building. I saw his native village Caglavica last summer, which he fled when he was 12. There is now a shopping mall on top of his childhood home.

On the other side, ethnic Albanians made up about 80% (acc. to Tim Judah) of Kosovo’s population previous to the war, and about 90% since 1999. Had Serbia been allowed to continue its rule over the province, or to somehow resume it now, it could have done so only through bloody repression of the KLA insurgency, followed by years of apartheid, like the 10 years (or, in some ways, 20 years) preceding the war. The fatalities might not have ended up so much more than during the war (which drastically shot up after NATO began bombing), but the ensuing oppression would have been unfathomable, and necessarily would have led to another insurgency. Of course, living under a government that has attempted to obliterate you, or at least your political will, is unthinkable. If you can sympathize with Palestinians’ or South Africans’ right for self determination, it would be hard not to sympathize with Kosovar Albanians in Serbia.

However, immediately following the war, the ethnic Albanian forces wasted no time in diving into a spree of bloody revenge and (probably more) opportunism. 250,000 or more Serbs, Roma, and other minorities fled in terror before the wave of violence. In March 2004, in what UN administrators now admit was clearly a carefully planned and co-ordinated operation, Albanian forces drove thousands of Serbs and Roma out of their homes, destroyed hundres of homes and sacred sites, and successfully consolidating a great deal more of Kosovo’s land under their control. Again, not a single perpetrator has been convicted of involvement in this wave of violence. Between eruptions of violence, a not-so-low level of murder and violence by ethnic Albanians against minorities has continued, up to and including this first post-independence week. And, particularly offensively, this violence has very often targeted Roma, far more for blatant racism and greed than for any, still unproven, allegations of systematic collaboration with the Serbs.

In pre-war Serbia, Kosovo’s Albanians made up just under 20% of the population. In pre-war Kosovo, non-Albanian minorities made up just under 20% of the population. The official British line that “The Serbian government invalidated its legitimate claim to Kosovo by pursuing political violence” could just as well be said of Kosovo’s current leades. Western leaders readily admit that Ramush Haradinaj, for example, is a war criminal by any measure, but that he is needed to keep order in the New Kosovo. What does this say about the kind of order being kept?

So, who ‘deserves’ Kosovo more – the people who’ve been there millinea and make up 90% of the current population, or the people who’ve only been there 1,300 years, have most of their culture artifacts there, and clearly have right to it under international law? Was it worse to drive out 700,000 people for three months, or 300,000 (and counting) forever? Is killing thousands (5,000 is the latest figure) to put down a popular insurgency worse than ethnically cleansing thousands (perhaps 2,000) from your new-found gains? Or is it just that more violence is required to subdue 20% of 10 million people than to subdue 20% of 2 million?

What is clearly upsetting about the violence during ethnic Albanian reign in Kosovo is that it has all taken place under the supervision of the international forces. The irony that the moral equivalency of all sides alleged – falsely – as the reason for non-intervention in Croatia and Bosnia, only became true in Kosovo – under international occupation. With the absolute credibility and support with which they entered their mission in Kosovo, the UN could have made a phenomenally positive impact in Kosovo society. How could the UN do such a bad job protecting minorities? How could they hand all power to the war mafia? How could they say ‘rule of law’ in public while acknowledging a complete ‘culture of impunity’ in private? Why wasn’t refugee return even mentioned in the recognition of statehood, as it was in Croatia and Bosnia? Why, nine years after the war, do all Kosovars still suffer power daily electricity and water shortages, and 50% unemployment, while NATO had no trouble finding the equivalent of 70 years of Kosovo’s GDP for the bombing campaign?

Maybe I’m going soft, but I’m starting to care more about the hows of imperialisms and competing sovereignties than the whos. The tragedy is that, even among the peoples of Kosovo, there are plenty of normal people who could begin to reconcile and rebuild, it’s just that in situations like these the worst people get in positions of power, and then are the only ones the internationals will deal with. If anybody makes a convincing show of addressing this social crisis – internally in Serbia, internally in an independent Kosovo, or through imperialistic occupation, I’m behind them. I just haven’t seen any convincing attempts by anybody.

One last bit for balance – D.. , I’d ask your Greek ‘anti-war’ friends if they actually propose returning Kosovo to direct rule under Serbia, and if they’d accept the Serbian state killing ethnic Albanians to reconsolidate its power, and if so, how many killings would be acceptible. If they change the topic back to American imperialism, you should consider the implications of that answer.

Don’t know if that’s exactly what you guys are debating, but that’s where I come down at the moment.


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