Present security situation for Roma in Kosovo.

Posted in 1 on February 25, 2008 by Shon

After talking to several friends today in Kosovo, I can say that the previous post about the immediate threat to Roma was overstated.

Things are indeed very tense, with what my friend described as a “very very big pressure” on the Roma not only in Kosovo but in Serbia and Macedonia as well, for a perceived collaboration with Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia. Most Roma wish to remain neutral on the issue of independence, or are opposed, in view of the threatment they have received in post-war Kosovo. However, Mr. Hadji Zulfi Mergja, leader of the Roma Party of Kosovo, signed the independence documents, and thus has implicated all of the Roma in his alliance. “He only received 200 votes, but you can never explain these things to Serbs,” my friend said.

Many Roma were told not to attend work at international agencies last week, which aggrevated fears about the situation. However, entering the second week after the declaration, it seems that these were precautionary, as many have returned to work without incident. The bomb threat in Laplje Selo which police, KFOR (NATO’s local forces), and other special forces were called in to investigate did nothing to calm tensions, either, but no bomb was found.

The friend with whom I spoke emphasized that the position of Roma in Kosovo continues to be insecure and unsustainable. “If we stay here like this, we have no future, no prospects for my children. If it continues like this, there is nothing that we can do.” He was, however, enthusiastic to talk about the English classes Voice of Roma has been holding in anticipation of our arrival, and very excited about the classes we are starting up when we arrive in April.


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?