Archive for the Kosovo Category

On the eviction of Serb protesters from the Mitrovica courthouse.

Posted in Kosovo on March 17, 2008 by Shon

It appears that every one of these postings begins with a retraction. At least you know I’m honest, that I’m dragging you along in my process as I’m thinking it out myself. I’d be a little embarrassed, except all the would-be experts I read don’t seem to be doing much better.

In the first analysis that I put up about the situation in Kosovo after the declaration of Independence, I wrote that I had initially feared a new outbreak of war, particularly as Russia seemed to be actively establishing itself in the region by signing energy contracts with Serbia and Bulgaria and eager for a show of its returning power on the geopolitical stage. On the other ‘side’, the ethnic Albanians would certainly take to arms before allowing Belgrade to ever take back their hard-won gains. The u.s. and other western powers have committed to exercising control of the region through the Albanian government. Like Israel or the Saudi royal family, the Albanians make great allies exactly because of their regional unpopularity – they realize that they’d have little chance of retaining their position without u.s./western support, whatever conditions it might come with, e.g. for neo-liberalization and a continued military presence. Contrary to some other lefty analysists, however, I don’t claim that Albanian claims of independence (which, in their current form, began to be voiced in the late 60’s) were somehow cooked up by Western powers; I don’t think whatever legitimacy they might have, after 10-20 years of living under apartheid, is automatically invalidated by their utility for western imperial interests. If only things were so simple!

However, I concluded the previous post by guessing that, after some initial symbolic protest by Kosovo Serbs, there was little chance (in the short-term) of serious conflict. Serbs in Serbia are exhausted after 20 years of war, sanctions, and isolation. The majority will quietly refuse to back any more hopeless military disasters, despite the rhetoric. Everybody seems willing to fight except, ironically, the very forces whose aggressive centralism drove the break-up of Yugoslavia. Let me repeat once again, I am speaking of forces in the political sphere, which I do not see as ever having represented the opinion of the majority of Serbians.

Reading the news this morning, however, made me realize something terribly obvious. As Serbs opened fire on international forces in northern Mitrovica, and attempted to seize a rail line elsewhere in northern Kosovo, the similarity to the violence which preceded the wars in Croatia and Bosnia gave me pause. In those situations as well, the majority of inhabitants never supported the war. They protested, they voted, but they were ultimately left without a political voice. As a number of academics have argued, the media war and the ‘ethnic’ wars were themselves methods of demobilizing opposition, rather than organic results of some historically endemic hatred. The opinion of the majority of Serbians (or Croatians or Bosnians) not only wasn’t considered in making war, but the main reason for the wars may have been keeping these opinions from counting. Political elites threatened by change were thus able to remain in power. Any Americans who have hesitated, even for a moment, to express their dissent in the “post 9-11” environment might relate in some very small measure. In all of the above cases, the wars might most accurately be viewed as state elites waging war on their own populations, through the images and the bodies of The Other.

Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica dissolved the government two weeks ago, blithely stating, “The government will function in a reduced capacity until the elections are held,” supposedly because his opposition (President Tadic) is ‘going soft’ on the Kosovo issue. A struggle for control within the Serbian state through the Other is again underway. Given that Serbs could never hope to regain control of all of Kosovo at this point, their best hope lies in the partitioning off of Mitrovica (with their half of the $5 billion dollar Trepca mining complex) and the rest of northern Kosovo, which ajoins Serbia and in which they are a large majority. And if nationalist Serb forces have learned anything through their experiences in Croatia and Bosnia, it is that aggressivity and war-mongering are always rewarded with the prize of partitioning.

The fact that the private sentiments of the majority of Serbians lies against a new war, as it did against the previous wars, may or may not end up mattering. Clearly President Tadic is in a better position than Milosevic’s opposition was in the late 80’s. We can hope that Kostunica is no Milosevic. The nationalist right does not have the advantage of surprise this time. However, compared to the position of Serbs in Croatia in 1991 which set off the 90’s wars, Kosovo Serbs (and other non-Albanians) really are in a vulnerable position, have much more legal precedent for objecting to independence, and, most importantly, seem to have much stronger international (Russia, China, and several EU states) sympathy and support.

As an aside, for those curious about the project with Voice of Roma to teach ESL classes to Roma, it all depends on what Serbian President Tadic called the danger of “escalation of clashes in the entire territory.” As of today, my friend in the Gracanica enclave, which we’ll be teaching in, says that the situation is quiet, but they haven’t heard yet from Roma in Mitrovica. Gracanica is 25 miles from Mitrovica, which is a long ways in terms of lines of power. But as one of the largest enclaves of non-Albanians in Kosovo, it would not remain neutral if the conflict becomes serious. The precedent of clashes and cleansings under internation eyes in 1999, 2001, and 2004 are not encouraging.


As a final note, rather than enclosing my whole original rant in response to the Tariq Ali interview with Global Balkans, I have decided to foist the responsiblity over on a couple links. Last May, an interesting CIA document on Yugoslavia from 1970 was finally released under our beloved FOIA. The document drives home the point that Yugoslavia always had some deep structural problems, mainly a deep conflict of interest between centralized federation (as embodied at the time by Slovenian Communist leader Kardelj) and a decentralized confederalism (which was already emerging through Croatian and Kosovar Albanian demands for increased autonomy.) The dilemma of Yugoslavia’s basic form was already huge. However, without the greedy rush for land and power of Milosevic and the other nationalist leaders, and the bumbling of conflicting international influences, this tension would never have resulted in war. Interestingly, at the time, the CIA was most worried that this tension would be exploited by the KGB as an excuse to expand Soviet influence in the area!

Sabrina Ramet’s Balkan Babel starts with a great essay on this structural tension written in 1990, though in later years she went on to develop an outlook that frames everything as Communist-Serbs vs. Democratic everybody-else, a bit too simple-minded for me. However, I spoke with Ms. Ramet after a lecture in Slovenia, and even she seems to have now come over to a “demoblization” analysis (rather than a “Rational Choice Theory” one.) Perhaps the more recent editions of her book reflect this – I could only afford the 1995 edition.

Lasly, as much as I hate anything popular, I finally rented the six-hour-long BBC documentary Yugoslavia: Death of A Nation. The related book is a classic in its way, but the documentary is amazing. All these totally incriminating things that I might not have believed, but that the incriminated are speaking for themselves, right into the camera. Not perfect, not so analytical, but really the best historical overview. Check for it in your local library.

Though I agree with Tariq Ali’s criticisms of the 1999 NATO bombing, the pro-war swing of the Left, and the threat of neo-liberalization, I find that he, like many ‘hard left’ critics, focus too much agency on conspiratorial western designs to dismember Socialist Yugoslavia. Germany, the Vatican, the U.S. and others were clearly interested in the outcome of the crisis, and acted in their various interests to damaging effect, but to conspiratorially assign all agency to them is to deny local agents the indignity of their own faults. Though clearly Milosevic, in Ali’s words “was not the only problem,” equating him with Tudjman is another common mistake. Tudjman’s nationalism may have been even worse ideologically than Milosevic’s, but Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Kosovo did not break from Yugoslavia to get away from Tudjman.


On the Burning of the American Embassy in Belgrade.

Posted in Kosovo on February 24, 2008 by Shon

[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.

Letter on Kosovo’s independence.

Posted in Kosovo on February 23, 2008 by Shon

[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!


Akcepti solene!

Posted in Kosovo on February 23, 2008 by Shon

Welcome to the Suffled blog. If you don’t know me already, my name’s Shon, I’m from California, but have spent a couple of years in the Balkans. I’ve written a book with the same name as this blog, which you can order from AK Press by clicking on the link to the right. As most of that book was written in 2002, I’m now working on a second edition, to be released on AK in early 2009.

I started this blog in response to requests from friends to explain events surrounding Kosovo’s declaration of independence. With this situation as with the situation in the all of the Balkans, I would like to create a space for humanist, anti-nationalist, and anti-imperialist analysis of current and recent events in the area – priorities which do not always sit easily together in these subjects. In addition, in a communalist spirit, I’d love to open the book’s contents up to feedback before it gets set down in print. So please, please – repond away! And I’d love to hear any questions or critiques about things in the book.

And for those of you wondering, the subject line (“Welcome!”) is not in Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Ladino, Macedonian, Rromanes, Romanian, Serbian, Slovenian, Turkish, or Vlach. It’s in Esperanto – what else?