It is nearly five years since the outburst of ethnic Albanian violence in Kosovo on March 17, 2004, when 19 people killed and 954 wounded and when 35 Orthodox holy sites were ruined in two days. This pogrom got its prize a year ago on February 17th when Kosovo Albanians unilaterally – but orchestrated by western powers – declared independence of this province. The events showed way to all separatist movements on the globe that violence is accepted method to attain political goal. They also uncovered the EU’s nonexistent skills with crisis management and designing anything else than already dead road maps for conflict resolution.
Those two dates are well remembered in all ethnic groups in Serbia and its separatist province, although from different perspectives. Also international community, especially EU should remember them as they have lost their perspective in West Balkans long time ago.
March 17th 2004
Almost 4,000 Serbs were expelled from their homes, six town and nine villages were ethnically cleansed, 935 houses belonging to Serbs and 10 public institutions (schools, health centres, post offices…) were ruined or torched in addition to 35 Orthodox churches (total 150 since bombings 1999) . March 17th violence was sequel to the ethnic Albanian terror and war in Kosovo as a result more than 200.000 refugees or better say internally displaced persons (IDPs) from province.
March 17th showed the total failure of international community in Kosovo. Fabricated, biased or optimistic reports were singing the praises of conflict management and progress, intelligence – lacking touch with local community – didn’t know anything about planned terror. The response of peacekeepers and police was also delayed. The commanders were unreachable, drunk or had hangover due the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations after buckets of Irish whiskey and Guinness.
March 17th finalized IDP problem
After 72 days illegal bombing campaign 1999 international community started wide housing program for refugees and IDPs and with Albanians it was a success while Kosovo accommodated nearly half million more Albanians than before bombing (don’t ask from where those extras came). Serbs instead were afraid to move back – like it was situation also with refugees from Croatia – so today Serbia is suffering one of the biggest (326,853 refugees and IDPs) refugee/IDP problems in the whole Europe (More in my article “Refugees and IDPs in Western Balkans” )
According to statistics from the UNHCR there are about 206,000 IDPs from Kosovo living in Serbia. This fact has mostly ignored in western mainstream media. Their attitude is understandable since this media from the very beginning had fixed their one-sided picture about good and bad guys so Serbs somehow deserved their fate. The outcome is that Serb Refugees and IDPs from Kosovo are one of the forgotten and forsaken victim groups in the former Yugoslavia.
After pogrom 2004 new housing program was planned but it is questionable if more people from non-Albanian ethnic groups moved in or out because lack of security. March 17th guaranteed that Serbs are not considering to come back to their earlier homes and those who still live in enclave ghettos are planning to move anytime.
Dream of “European” standards and forgetting them
After reverse ethnic cleansing during Summer 1999 UN started to administer its protectorate. Autumn 2002 UN started to plan and later launched a “standards before status” –policy, 8 milestones to achieve before starting status talks. The first independent review about these “European” standards came public October 2005 in Karl Eide’s report to UN . Latest then it was clear that Kosovo will not reach European standards in foreseeable future. However growing frustration among Kosovo Albanians made international community to fear that March 17th pogrom could repeat again so status talks started regardless of standards.
On the behalf of UN Martti Ahtisaari – unofficial lackey of U.S.State Department and Nato – held ten rounds of pseudo talks with Pristina and Belgrade during 2006. Ahtisaari published his biased report which soon found itself in garbage bin and UN started new negotiation round. This time facilitators were better balanced in sc. Troika including representatives of U.S., Russia and EU. This time real alternatives for future status were on table such as Åland and Hong Kong models, partition, confederation, new autonomy model. Albanian side did not see necessary to negotiate anything because U.S. had already promised independence for them so also this round lead to stalemate. (More about negotiation events here)
February 17th 2008
In December 2007 NATO and EU started to implement coordinated declaration of Kosovo’s independence. Its elements were e.g. following:
- the US and the EU would take leading roles in “coordinating and managing” Kosovo’s process towards independence
- a “creative interpretation” of UN SC Resolution 1244 would allow for NATO to stay in Kosovo “no matter its status” and for the EU to send its ESDP mission without Security Council authorization
- Pristina would be asked to “coordinate” their moves and not proclaim unilateral independence without prior signals from Washington and Brussels
- Serbia would be sent a “sweetener” in the form of a promise of accelerated candidate status in exchange for “constructive disagreement”.
The EU would build a “unified” position by creating a framework which would allow for Kosovo’s independence, but decisions on recognition would be subject to national decisions, procedures and frameworks, meaning that EU members would not be obliged to recognize it.
This scenario was implemented and February 17th 2008 Kosovo declared its independence regardless international law and UN. The first recognitions came from Afghanistan, U.S. and other its lackeys followed.
Everything didn’t go like planned in Washington and its Brussels allies. Bribing of Serbs wasn’t successful; Russia with other rising BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries had their say in UN, recognitions stopped.
When Albanian majority declared Independence Feb. 2008 the idea was to transfer international administration from UN to EU. However the only internationally accepted UN Security Council resolution 1244 – which says that Kosovo is part of Serbia – stayed valid. So that about independence which in mistake has accepted through some 50 countries.
The UN General Assembly was backing Serbia’s draft to request an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) about the legality of the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo. October 8th UNGA, by a recorded vote of 77 in favour to 6 against (Albania, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 74 abstentions, adopted a resolution drafted by Serbia and now the case is in Haague.
Today the actual situation on the ground is big mess without any clear exit strategy. EU is administrating in Kosovo under UN umbrella. Albanian dominated southern part is continuing its life under EU supervision while Serb dominated northern part will formally continue to be an UN protectorate de facto integrated to Serbia. However a wider framework is international law and UNSC resolution 1244 are valid before new resolution will replace the existing one.
International situation escalated immediately by Kosovo’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence – some 5.000 ethnic groups had waited this signal that with violence one can achieve political goals despite international law. Kosovo was already good excuse for separatist movements during last Summer and Autumn in Caucasia and South America.
From frozen conflict to frozen independence
After agreement with Serbia EU’s rule of law mission (EULEX) finally started end of 2008 after half an year delay. This filling of power vacuum came in right moment before Kosovo would slide to next “failed or captured state”. Probably also local population in Kosovo has noticed during short independence experiment that for state more is needed than only flag and anthem.
In an interesting interview of John Bolton in Interfax , former US Undersecretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations made e.g. following remarks:
- US recognition of severed Kosovo province was a serious mistake, leading to an escalation of tensions, instead of calming down the situation in the Balkans.
- “support to the independence of Kosovo is an atavism that might have made sense 15 years ago, but makes no sense today.”
- “consensus boils down to the fact that nobody knows where Kosovo is”
Normally I have doubts with thoughts of U.S. neocons but this time Mr. Bolton hit the nail on the head – I can only agree.
It’s easy to blame the today’s situation in Kosovo on U.S foreign policy. After implementing its failed attempt to please Muslim countries, after increasing the profits of its military-industry-complex and after creating one of its biggest military complex in Europe U.S. is covering its track record and leaving the whole mess to its lapdogs in EU. As a result of EU’s short-sighted post-conflict management policy they must again throw away few billions of EU taxpayer money to keep flag in international protectorate and safe haven of drug cartels – in artificial unsustainable creature with no realistic visions nor exit strategy.
March 17th 2004 in Kosovo is an example for international community general and for EU missions especial about fatal failure of crisis management when they are short of right situation analysis, when practice is contrary to their ideals and when interests of local stakeholders and internationals differ. The outcome of EU’s nearly nine years efforts for capacity building to create economically sustainable multiethnic society with democratic values could be joke – unfortunately this never-ending story continued February 17th 2008 and is still continuing to unforeseeable future and it is not fiction.