Friday, November 14, 2008

Optimistic about Kosovo???

New Kosova Report has a report from a discussion in London. It has an upbeat tone about the situation in Kosovo. I quote:

However one refreshing theme emerged. Daut Dauti's final word on the subject was 'hope'; Tim Judah elaborated. He reminded his listeners of the dire forecasts made this time last year of what the world could expect as a result of a declaration of independence: lines of Kosovo's Serbs on tractors heading for the border, enclaves wiped out, churches destroyed, and Serbian politics dominated by the far right. It hasn't happened.

The upbeat tone surprised me. When I had read Judah's book Kosovo: war and revenge I had found it a bleak analysis of the cycles of Serb and Albanian ascendancy in Kosovo and the apparent inevitability of these cycles. This view is perhaps another way of articulating Anna Di Lellio's concept of Kosovo's 'permanent transition'. I hadn't wanted to believe that these cycles and transitions would repeat endlessly.

But how could the last 10 years be considered different from any other period of Kosovo's bloody history? My optimistic answer would be because of this and that. This, the internet. That, the debate at LSE and what it represents. Through electronic media, widely if not universally available, and through other contact with people from beyond the Balkans, today's Kosovars - Serb, Albanian, and others - are more aware than any generation before them, of the world outside Kosovo. Kosovo has witnessed an unprecedented exchange of peoples and ideas in this decade, through the international community which has come to Kosovo and the experience of Kosovars and the countries where they sought asylum.

I don't share this optimism. I never shared the the expectation that Kosovo's Serbs would leave en masse on tractors. It was based on the belief that Serbs had left the Krajna and Sarajevo in 1995 without reason. In my view that was simply wrong. The Croats had a long track record about how they treated the Serbs in the areas that they conquered and Krajna's Serbs had no reason to believe that they would be treated differently. Bosnia's Muslims used different methods to make the Serbs feel unwanted but they were just as effective. In Kosovo this scenario that the "others" would take over and change everything at once isn't possible. The international peacekeepers guarantee against sudden changes for the worse.

But all reports point to a worsening of the situation of Kosovo's Serbs. The number of departures is increasing. Interethnic tensions is rising. And with Albanian cops in Serb villages we have a scenario that doesn't fit basic minority rights. It looks like the go-slow ethnic cleansing is continuing.

The idea that it is now quiet because of the internet is a misperception about how we got the violence in the first place. It was because the international community seemed totally unaware of how revolutionary it is to declare provinces independent without negotiations. Giving one side everything in an ethnic conflict is a sure way to inflame a conflict - even more so when the other side has the military means to resist. (For me Badinter is still the greatest war criminal of all in former Yugoslavia.) Nowadays the international community is doing everything very slow while it keeps a small army ready for the case that something goes wrong.

The expectations about the rise of Serbia's extreme right is based on misperceptions too. Nikolic had built the Radicals from a small racist party into the main opposition party. He had done this by paying attention to populair social-economic themes like corruption and poverty. When he recently broke with the Radicals and founded his own party the "old" Radicals went back to the 10% of the electorate they had under Seselj. So the belief that 30% of the Serb voters supported Seselj's extreme ideas was simply a misconception about the functioning of politics in Serbia.

But is there reason to optimism? I doubt it. The slow exodus keeps going. With one Serb family leaving at a time it doesn't get the headlines. But in the end it is just as much ethnic cleansing as the queue of tractors. And it will have long term effects on the relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

How it works? I think this quote from a report by Victoria Hayes gives the best impression:

I would like to see Kosovo less as a national Kosovo-Albanian state, but I understand that given the country’s past it is difficult for people, Albanian, Serbian, and others both in and out of the region, to refrain from viewing it as such. It seems that it will be impossible to ever view Kosovo as anything but an Albanian nation, despite attempts to include minorities in the country’s activities. I think a lot of these attempts are nothing more than words; in general, it did not appear that anyone was truly interested in including Serbians, or the Romas, Ashkalis, Egyptians, or any other minority group. I say this because many people, who claimed that they would really like to see a better representations of the Serbian population in the government, police, etc., would attribute the lack of Serbians in these areas to laziness, stubbornness, or some other undesirable characteristic of the Serbians. There is so much underlying anger on each side that even people who I considered extremely intelligent would make ethnically-biased comments about the Serbian population in Kosovo.


Anonymous said...

"Croats had a long track record about how they treated the Serbs in the areas that they conquered and Krajna's Serbs had no reason to believe that they would be treated differently"

So, when exactly did Croatia conquer Krjina?

Anonymous said...

Operation Storm

Aleks said...

I take anything Tim 'Kitchen Sink Historian' Judah with a large pinch of salt. It would be helpful if he 'came out' an admitted he holds partizan opinions on the Balkans.

As John Pilger just said recently in a BBC interview, most journalism is practised from the top down when it should be mostly practised from the bottom up.

What you say about the simplification and pidgeon holing of the Serbs is of course true. This is also reflected in the reporting over Russia and other states. People see what they want to see as long as it fits in to their own little narrative.

As for the internet, it is a saviour, but because it allows the average person access to information that is outside the media elite. I search for the 'nuggets', those small pieces of gold that say far more about a situation or a place than the thousands of column inches or broadcast hours.

The most recent nugget I came across was a report describing how the nuclear fuel from a Hungarian research reactor was returned to Russia, studiously avoiding the Ukraine:

From the above CNN report:

"The unusual roundabout route was needed because "we couldn't ship it through Ukraine" even though that would have been a more direct route to Russia, Baker said."

Of course they don't ask why it couldn't be shipped through the Ukraine. That should frighten everybody.

Anonymous said...

Krajna was Croatian before Operation Storm. All Operation Storm did was drive some recent invaders out of the country.