Tag Archives: Serbia

I negoziati in Kosovo: quale futuro?

La situazione della sovranità kosovara, che tocca nervi scoperti nel complesso panorama diplomatico degli stati della ex Jugoslavia, rimane ancora centrale.

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Prishtina wake up

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[dropcap]G[/dropcap]li osservatori internazionali saranno sollevati dalla prospettiva di un accordo senza precedenti sulla questione del Kosovo; le misure da adottare, però, rischiano di risolvere alcune questioni (per il momento) e generarne altre. Ci sono state concessioni notevoli da parte dei serbi, che però continuano a non riconoscere ufficialmente l’indipendenza del Kosovo; ma l’accettazione delle autorità kosovare di confine indica la tendenza verso un riconoscimento de facto. Al primo ministro serbo Ivica Dačić va dato atto del tentativo di migliorare le relazioni tra Belgrado e Pristina, probabilmente a fronte dello stallo diplomatico, dell’instabilità politica e delle mancate opportunità economiche tra i due Paesi.

Un eventuale accordo prevedrebbe la presenza di ‘municipalità serbe’, relativamente autonome, nelle regioni a nord del Kosovo dove si concentra la maggioranza serba. In cambio, Dačić cederebbe a Pristina la giurisdizione sui serbi kosovari, smantellando le istituzioni statali parallele supportate da Belgrado. Pur mantenendosi influenti nelle regioni del nord, di fatto i serbi rinuncerebbero al controllo formale sul Kosovo. E se anche le parole usate rimangono forti, la delegazione di Dačić, in modo lento ma inesorabile, sembra voler abbandonare ogni pretesa sul territorio (arrivando a definire ‘una menzogna’ il fatto che il Kosovo fosse mai appartenuto ai serbi).

Un riconoscimento de facto appare il presupposto su cui si baseranno i rapporti tra Belgrado e Pristina. È invece da scartare l’ipotesi che la Serbia (e per estensione la Russia) sia disposta a riconoscere l’indipendenza del Kosovo in maniera ufficiale; almeno, non avverrà nel breve termine, poiché la questione è politicamente molto sensibile a livello sia locale che internazionale. Il riconoscimento de facto potrà costituire un successo relativo, se gli accordi presi riusciranno a stabilizzare la situazione del Kosovo e dell’intera regione balcanica.

Ma le implicazioni a breve e lungo termine sono comunque dietro l’angolo; per prima cosa, c’è da chiedersi per quanto tempo questo status possa risultare sufficiente. Se per il Kosovo un riconoscimento de facto è comunque un passo avanti, non sarebbe in ogni caso equiparabile ai vantaggi di cui godrebbe come stato indipendente: al Kosovo, riconosciuto come tale da appena 98 membri delle Nazioni Unite, alla lunga potrebbe non essere sufficiente l’ombrello di sicurezza garantito dalla NATO e dall’ONU. Nemmeno l’Unione Europea ha un approccio unanime sulla questione: per una serie di ragioni politiche, a negare al Kosovo il riconoscimento formale sono Spagna, Grecia, Romania, Slovacchia e Cipro. Sebbene sembri azzardato affermare che l’adesione all’Unione Europea rappresenti oggi, per i Paesi balcanici, un’irresistibile conquista, il ruolo ricoperto recentemente dalla stessa nella regione è stato dirimente. Poiché è probabile che nel giro di una decina d’anni la maggior parte di questi Paesi diventerà membro dell’Unione Europea, il Kosovo, non ancora formalmente indipendente, potrebbe rimanerne escluso e risultare ulteriormente svantaggiato.

Per di più, il sistema delle municipalità ha immediatamente attirato l’attenzione di varie minoranze all’interno di altri stati: richieste simili a quelle serbe sono state avanzate dai gruppi di etnia albanese nel sud della stessa Serbia. Per alcuni, la soluzione sarebbe addirittura lo scambio di territori e popolazioni, sebbene quest’opzione non sia stata presa seriamente in discussione. Inoltre, un accordo sul Kosovo arriverebbe in un momento particolarmente problematico per la Bosnia-Erzegovina, composta dalla Repubblica Serba (da non confondere con la Repubblica di Serbia) e dalla Federazione Croato-Musulmana di Bosnia: Milorad Dodik, presidente della Repubblica Serba, ha richiesto che, all’interno dell’altra entità territoriale del Paese, le municipalità a maggioranza serba potessero essere autonome. Tali pretese sono state respinte dalle autorità; ma non sarà facile tenere a bada i gruppi minoritari se le politiche adottate in casi simili saranno tanto diverse.

La situazione della sovranità kosovara, che tocca nervi scoperti nel complesso panorama diplomatico degli stati della ex Jugoslavia, rimane ancora centrale. Così, se ogni progresso diplomatico ed economico è auspicabile (il Kosovo ha ancora il PIL e il PPA più bassi tra i Paesi della regione balcanica), non sarà di certo un semplice accordo a risolvere, una volta per tutte, l’intricato groviglio di questioni irrisolte.

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Articolo tradotto da Antonella di Marzio

Articolo originale: Kosovo Talks: Progress Now, Problems Tomorrow?

Photo Credit: Agroni

Serbia e Kosovo, il sottile confine tra verità politica e giuridica

Sono 98 i Paesi aderenti all’ONU, compresi gli Stati Uniti d’America e 22 Stati UE, che riconoscono il Kosovo tradizionale soggetto di diritto internazionale, sotto ogni profilo e a ogni effetto. Diversamente, più della metà degli Stati rappresentati all’Assemblea Generale delle Nazioni Unite – Serbia, alcuni Stati Membri dell’Unione Europea e tutti i Paesi BRICS – negano un suo riconoscimento formale.

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[dropcap]“O[/dropcap]ggi è una giornata storica, un momento decisivo per il Kosovo e per la regione”. Con queste parole il primo ministro kosovaro, Hashim Thaci, lo scorso 2 aprile, aveva aperto l’ultimo incontro con Ivica Dacic, suo omologo serbo, a Bruxelles. Le trattative, vertenti sullo status della regione settentrionale (“Kosovska Mitrovica” o “Mitrovica”) del neo costituito Kosovo, assumono un valore particolare, tenuto conto del riconoscimento mai avvenuto da parte serba dello Stato kosovaro medesimo.

Proprio attraverso queste trattative, si potrebbe giungere a una nuova epoca per gli Stati coinvolti, per la regione balcanica e per l’Unione Europea (“UE” o “Unione”). Infatti, dallostatus giuridico di Mitrovica, almeno in parte, dipende il riconoscimento serbo di Pristina e da questo, a sua volta, la possibilità di ammissione della Serbia all’Unione.

Il 17 febbraio 2008, le autorità di Pristina, futura capitale, dichiararono l’indipendenza del Kosovo, regione con popolazione prevalentemente albanese, situata nella parte meridionale dello Stato serbo, al confine con Montenegro, Albania ed ex Repubblica jugoslava di Macedonia. Allora, come oggi, il Kosovo beneficia del supporto amministrativo dell’Organizzazione delle Nazioni Unite (“ONU” o “Organizzazione”), come disposto dalla risoluzione n. 1244 del Consiglio di Sicurezza del 1999 (“UNMIK”).

Attualmente, 98 dei Paesi aderenti all’Organizzazione, compresi gli Stati Uniti d’America e 22 Stati UE, riconoscono il Kosovo tradizionale soggetto di diritto internazionale, sotto ogni profilo e a ogni effetto. Diversamente, più della metà degli Stati rappresentati all’Assemblea Generale delle Nazioni Unite – Serbia, alcuni Stati Membri dell’Unione Europea e tutti i Paesi cdBRICS – negano un suo riconoscimento formale.

Kosovska Mitrovica e, dunque, le trattative di martedì scorso appaiono determinanti per lo sblocco dei negoziati, in atto dal 2008, tra Belgrado e Pristina. Infatti, sebbene il Kosovo sia in maggioranza popolato da comunità albanesi, rappresentati circa il 90% della sua popolazione totale, le comunità serbe sono presenti e si concentrano nell’area settentrionale del neo Stato, in prossimità di quello serbo.

Una soluzione relativa a suddetta regione, potrebbe rivelarsi decisiva ai fini del riconoscimento serbo dell’intero Kosovo. Ciò comporterebbe almeno due rilevanti conseguenze. In primo luogo, verrebbe meno un notevole impedimento per l’ammissione serba all’UE e, quindi, per la possibilità di ulteriore allargamento di quest’ultima nella regione balcanica. In secondo luogo, l’azione serba potrebbe indurre altri Paesi a concedere quel riconoscimento politico fino a oggi negato e rappresentare una chance per l’affermazione di vecchi e nuovi equilibri internazionali.

Le trattative e, dunque, il riconoscimento assumono valore prettamente politico. Infatti, da un punto di vista giuridico, è prevalente l’orientamento che individua come elementi essenziali, per la costituzione del nuovo Stato, i cd. criteri di Montevideo.[1] Lo Stato, per essere tale, deve soddisfare precisi requisiti, con riguardo alla popolazione, al territorio e al governo, nonché alla capacità di instaurare delle relazioni giuridicamente rilevanti con altri soggetti di diritto internazionale.

A sostegno di quanto sostenuto dalla prevalente dottrina di diritto internazionale, in passato, è intervenuta la stessa Corte Internazionale di Giustizia (“Corte”). In particolare, già nel parere del 22 luglio 2010, la Corte non riconobbe alcuna violazione del diritto internazionale nell’unilaterale dichiarazione d’indipendenza ma, d’altra parte, neppure si espose per validarne il contenuto.

In seguito, si presentarono alla comunità internazionale nuovi casi, con simile oggetto, che confermarono quanto ritenuto dall’orientamento giuridico prevalente (rilevano, di recente, i casi di dichiarazione d’indipendenza della regione del Mali, Azawad, il 6 aprile 2012 e delriconoscimento della Palestina, in seno all’Assemblea Generale delle Nazioni Unite, il 29 novembre scorso), ossia la natura dichiarativa e non costitutiva del riconoscimento.

Sebbene, dunque, il riconoscimento serbo del Kosovo assuma valore prevalentemente politico e in nessun caso costitutivo, continua ad apparire estremamente rilevante per diversi attori ed equilibri.

Martedì 9 aprile, la Serbia ha infine annunciato di non essere disposta a sottoscrivere le proposte avanzate dalle autorità di Pristina, in accordo con l’Unione, in riferimento a Kosovska Mitrovica. Le proposte, infatti, non terrebbero in alcun modo conto degli interessi nazionali serbi, secondo Belgrado. Le trattative continueranno, nelle prossime settimane e nei prossimi mesi, ma dovranno essere altresì considerate le pretese serbe: autonomia esecutiva e amministrativa di Mitrovica, in materia di sicurezza, di polizia e di giustizia.

Nonostante i primi, immediati, segnali di disappunto da Bruxelles, si attendono i formali rapporti della Commissione europea e le considerazioni di Catherine Ashton dinnanzi al Consiglio Affari Esteri, rispettivamente il 16 e il 22 aprile prossimi. È ragionevole ritenere che, almeno da un punto di vista politico, in quelle occasioni verranno prese posizioni non soltanto in riferimento alle relazioni serbo-kosovare, ma anche ai futuri programmi di allargamento dell’Unione e dei rapporti di quest’ultima con l’intera comunità internazionale.[2]

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[1] Sanciti con l’omonima convenzione del 1934, sono oggi pacificamente ritenuti appartenenti al diritto internazionale consuetudinario.

[2] Si ricordi che la mediazione dell’Unione Europea, nei rapporti tra Kosovo e Serbia, è stata accolta e incoraggiata dalla comunità internazionale mediante la risoluzione dell’Assemblea Generale delle Nazioni Unite n. 10980 del 9 settembre 2010.

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Photo Credit: Aardvark EF-111B

 

Kosovo Talks: Progress Now, Problems Tomorrow?

Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations.

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Prishtina wake up

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As an unprecedented agreement on the status of Kosovo seems within reach, to the relief of many observers, the details of the settlement seem likely to close some chapters (at least for now) and open a series of others. Belgrade’s continued and dogmatic refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence has not stopped considerable concessions being made on the Serbs’ part. Indeed, the acceptance of Kosovar border authorities exemplifies a gradual move towards de facto recognition of the state. Perhaps tired by diplomatic stalemate, instability, and lost political and economic opportunities, the Serbian Prime Minister, Ivica Dačić, has made distinct headway in negotiating an agreement for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina.

One of the most notable features of a likely agreement is the proposal for Serb “municipalities” with considerable degrees of autonomy in northern parts of Kosovo, where Serbs constitute a concentrated majority. In exchange for this, Dačić has conceded political control over Kosovar Serbs to Pristina, and the dismantling of Belgrade-sponsored “parallel state institutions”. This marks an important trend in reaffirming Serbia’s effective withdrawal of formal power in any part of Kosovo, even if its influence in the north shall remain pronounced. Despite the usual, strong rhetoric continuing, Dačić’s delegation seems to be softly moving Serbia firmly away from a territorially based stance on Kosovo (even going so far as to suggest that it was a “lie” that Kosovo had ever belonged to Serbs).

Thus it is quite possible that this pattern of de facto recognition shall become the basis for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina for the foreseeable future. As long as the question of Kosovo retains such sensitive and provocative political capital, both electorally and internationally, it seems implausible that official recognition of Kosovo’s independence shall come from Belgrade (and, by extension, from Moscow) any time soon. Yet if an agreement on the status of Serbs and the recognition of state authorities can provide a positive working environment for Kosovo and the region, this de facto status could enjoy relative success.

However, questions must be asked regarding medium-term and long-term implications of such an agreement, as well as the immediate ramifications for the region more generally. Firstly, for how long would Kosovars be satisfied with the status of informal recognition? As much of an improvement as it could offer, Kosovo would still be without the benefits of formal recognition from the United Nations, with only 98 member states recognising full independence. The European Union cannot unanimously give Kosovo its support, either; Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus have withheld full recognition for a variety of political reasons. Although the history of NATO action and sustained United Nations oversight gives a valuable level of security, it may not be sufficient to satiate Kosovars indefinitely. Although it is problematic to portray the EU membership as an irresistible attraction, it has proven to have considerable political impetus in the Balkans (not least in keeping dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina alive in previous years). Kosovo would surely be disadvantaged further if the majority of its neighbours were to ascend to membership (a foreseeable eventuality in the next decade), while Kosovo’s accession was hampered by lack of formal recognition.

Furthermore, following the probability of adopting the Serb municipalities model, minority groups in other states almost instantly raised demands for similar solutions in their own cases. Perhaps most problematically for Belgrade, ethnic Albanians in parts of southern Serbia have called for autonomous municipalities mirroring those in northern Kosovo. Some have even mooted the possibility of outright territory and population exchanges as a solution, although this does not seem to have been seriously considered at talks. It also comes at a time of unease in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the President of Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb entity), Milorad Dodik, recently called for autonomous status for the municipalities where Serbs constitute a majority within the Bosnian Croat and Bosniak Federation. Although the corresponding authorities have rebuffed such claims, it would likely become increasingly difficult to mollify minority groups were such disparities in policy to be realised.

Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations. Thus, while any progress in mediating tensions and easing Kosovo’s political and economic worries should be welcomed (Kosovo still has amongst the lowest GDP-PPP in the region), any agreement that may be soon forthcoming is unlikely to settle the web of issues once and for all.

N.B. Since last update of the page relating to number of states recognising Kosovo, Dominica and Pakistan have added their recognition, bringing the total to 98.

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Photo Credit: Agroni

Is Iraq The Only War Tony Blair Should Be On Trial For?

Kosovo was not a question of defending people from ethnic cleansing and genocide. Tony Blair’s support for intervention led to more deaths than likely would have occurred without the bombing campaign.

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B1-B US Bomber on a night mission

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been back in the headlines recently (though not quite as he would like), with Archbishop Desmond Tutu calling for him to be put on trial, a call supported by, among others, Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who has been promoting citizens’ arrests of Blair. Their argument is that Blair prosecuted an illegal war without UN authorisation, an act of aggression justified on spurious grounds, which led to countless unnecessary deaths.

The facts are certainly on their side, but perhaps more than they themselves realise. For whereas they point only to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I would suggest that these arguments also hold true for the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia (now Serbia), of which Blair’s UK was, as in 2003, a main instigator.

A Moral War?

Like the attack on Iraq, the bombing of Serbia lacked UN authorisation, and so was illegal under international law. The bombing also carried a terrible direct toll (at least 500 civilian deaths and billions of dollars of damage, as NATO targeted Serbia’s civilian infrastructure), including war crimes such as the deliberate targeting of Serbia’s media.

Despite this, the Kosovo intervention is usually seen as justifiable on humanitarian grounds, as it defended the Kosovars (Kosovo Albanians) from genocide and ethnic cleansing, and liberated them from the oppressive rule of the ‘Serbian Saddam’, Slobodan Milosevic.

It is this justification – the moral case, as Blair would call it – that this article will focus on. As we shall see, the situation was no-where near as black-and-white as presented, and, far from preventing violence or promoting compromise, the NATO bombing actually caused a huge escalation of the conflict and eliminated all possibility of compromise: it caused the very disaster it claimed to be preventing. So if Tony Blair ever does face trial for his wars, there is a strong case for including this one in the Prosecutor’s brief.

Kosovo: The Story Before the Bombing

Kosovo is a case – of which there are many in the world – of a territory contested by two national groups, Serbs and Albanians. Serbs, who by the twentieth century formed about a quarter of the population, considered it an integral part of Serbia, and were never too happy about the presence of an Albanian majority there since the nineteenth century. Albanians, two-thirds of the population, wanted the province to be part of Albania rather than Serbia, and were never too happy with the Serbs being there. Whenever one group had control of the region, they oppressed, abused or persecuted the other, in a fairly predictable cycle.

The most recent part of this cycle began in the late 1960s, when communist Yugoslavia transformed itself into a loose federation of which Kosovo, run mainly by its Albanian majority, was de facto an equal part. Despite this unprecedented degree of autonomy, in 1981 Kosovo was shaken by Albanian riots demanding the severing of the symbolic links with Serbia that remained. Soon, abuses of Serbs by Albanian nationalists, acknowledged and described by the province’s Albanian leaders themselves, and the persistence of separatist feeling in the province, became major issues throughout Yugoslavia.

It was this situation itself which helped lead to Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic revoking Kosovo’s autonomy in 1990, now bringing Albanians under a discriminatory and repressive Serb regime. Faced with Serb military strength, the Kosovo Albanians adopted a largely pacifist resistance. Their openly declared goal, however, was not merely civil rights or autonomy, but secession from Serbia and, ideally, unification with Albania.

In the second half of the 1990s, meanwhile, a group of radicals called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) – described as ‘a terrorist group’ even by US negotiator Robert Gelbard, among others – began a violent campaign against Serb rule, targeting not just Serbian police and military, but Serb and Roma civilians too, and any ethnic Albanians they deemed ‘collaborators’, or simply rivals. (Former KLA leaders are on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for some of these crimes). Their goal was to provoke Serb response and thereby greater Albanian support for the KLA, and eventually international intervention. As one of their officials later admitted: ‘every single Albanian realized that the more civilians die, intervention comes nearer… The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA of course realized that’.

The KLA managed to take control of much of the province, and, predictably, the Serbs responded with a brutal counter-insurgency campaign, until the threat of NATO bombing in October 1998 forced an uneasy truce and de-escalation. Over the following months the KLA used the ‘truce’ to re-take lost territory – British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook himself noted the KLA was the truce’s chief violator – but the presence of large numbers of OSCE and EU monitors kept the conflict at a relatively low level.

Thus, the conflict in Kosovo before the NATO bombing was one between two rival nationalist forces, a repressive state apparatus on the one hand and a rebel group on the other, with each guilty of crimes. The Serbian counter-insurgency campaign was brutal and often indiscriminate (like many in the world), but the available evidence does not suggest that it had the goal of ethnic cleansing – no Albanians were being forced out of Kosovo. The number of casualties – although high considering the size of Kosovo’s population of two million – was also hardly exceptional: according to the pro-Western Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) in Belgrade, which has painstakingly documented the killed and ‘disappeared’ of the Kosovo conflict, there were about 1,500 dead in 1998, 300 of them non-Albanians.

The Negotiations That Never Were

Though harshly critical of the Serbian side, Western states at the time did not endorse Albanian nationalist goals. Rather, they advocated a compromise between Serb and Albanian national projects: extensive autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia, as had existed in the 1970s and 80s. In February 1999 negotiations were held in Rambouillet, France, with the supposed aim of reaching this outcome. Serbia’s negotiating platform was for autonomy, but at a lower level than had existed previously, and with built-in protections for non-Albanians (not just Serbs, but also the Roma, Muslims, and other groups in Kosovo). The Albanians, on the other hand, would reluctantly accept expansive autonomy only temporarily, under the condition of a future referendum on independence.

Whether Milosevic was really prepared to compromise is debatable – he was undoubtedly exploiting the crisis to strengthen his own authoritarian rule – but it is notable that his stances were actually closer to the envisaged compromise than the Albanians’. Moreover, just three years earlier he had indeed shown himself willing to claim victory in peace, forcing the Croatian and Bosnian Serbs into abandoning most of their goals.

Negotiations, however, were not given a chance, as Western negotiators instead sabotaged them to create a pretext for bombing, proposing a draft agreement that included a referendum after three years. In a signed promise given behind the back of the Russian negotiator, US Secretary of State Madeline Albright promised the Albanians that this meant a referendum on independence, whose results the USA would respect. This was not a compromise, but the victory of one side, and an agreement that no Serbian government would ever have been able to accept.

When the Serbs rejected the draft in March 1999, NATO then ordered the withdrawal of all OSCE and EU monitors from Kosovo, and began bombing.

Escalation

Predictably, NATO’s bombing caused a massive escalation of the conflict. Serbian forces now not only cracked down on the KLA but also launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing, executing thousands of Albanians and ordering hundreds of thousands out. When Serbian forces withdrew as part of the June 1999 peace deal (which did not include a referendum on independence), these Albanians were able to return alongside NATO/UN peacekeepers. But so did the KLA, which in turn orchestrated a wave of ethnic cleansing against Serbs, Roma and other non-Albanians, kidnapping and executing many, and forcing the majority to flee the province. As has been revealed and extensively documented by former ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte and the Council of Europe’s investigator Dick Marty, there is convincing evidence that several hundred of the ‘disappeared’ non-Albanians had their organs removed by the KLA and sold on the international market. Former KLA leaders, such as current Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, remain dominant in Kosovo today, sitting – according to leaked NATO intelligence documents – atop an apex of organised crime, including the heroine trade.

The HLC has reached a figure of about 10,500 Albanians and 2,500 Serbs and others killed or ‘disappeared’ during the whole Kosovo conflict. (10) These numbers testify to the disastrous role played by NATO intervention, as the overwhelming majority of Albanian deaths took place after NATO began bombing, while a further 1,500 Serb civilians were killed or ‘disappeared’ after Yugoslav withdrawal on 10 June 1999. Moreover, although large considering the population size, the total number of Albanian victims was nowhere near the genocidal levels alleged by NATO (US Defence Secretary William Cohen had talked, during the bombing, of ‘about 100,000 military aged men missing… [who] may have been murdered’). Proportionately, in fact, the Kosovo Serbs suffered a similar number of victims, and – shockingly – as many Kosovo Serbs were killed in post-war peace as Albanians during the fighting in 1998.

Before the NATO bombing, meanwhile, there were no refugees outside Kosovo. During the bombing, however, about 800,000 Albanians were forced out, and afterwards about 200,000 non-Albanians, with very few of the latter ever returning.

Kosovo Today

Unsurprisingly, the result of this escalation was not a compromise between Serbs and Albanians. With the province now outside of Serbian control, the Albanians no longer had any incentive to compromise, and Western states eventually abandoned their support for autonomy. Thus, with Western backing, sensible Serbian offers of a Hong Kong-type arrangement for Kosovo were ignored, and in 2008 Kosovo declared independence.

The end result of the whole intervention is thus one great mess: Kosovo is ruled by organised crime, recognised by only a quarter of the world, and still has no control over a Serb-majority region in its north, which functionally remains a part of Serbia. Albanian-Serb relations within Kosovo remain poor and Serbia refuses to recognise the province’s secession, indefinitely hindering its EU prospects. The Kosovo precedent, meanwhile, has been cleverly used by Russia to justify its 2008 war with Georgia and subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. More devastatingly, the NATO intervention, which took place without UN authorisation, provided an important precedent for the attack on Iraq four years later.

Conclusions

There can be a ‘moral case’ for the NATO bombing only if all the deaths that it caused were inevitable; intervention somehow managed to prevent a far worse sequence of events; and the current situation is the best possible outcome. This seems highly unlikely. Before the bombing the Serbs were conducting counter-insurgency campaigns, not ethnic cleansing, and Western pressure and monitoring was keeping the fighting to a low level. Milosevic had previously shown himself to be susceptible to Western pressure and willing to compromise when necessary, and, even if an agreement proved elusive, it is doubtful that, under the pressure and watchful eye of the West, the conflict would ever have escalated so drastically.

To put it simply, Kosovo was not a question of defending people from ethnic cleansing and genocide, or liberating people from their oppressor. It was a matter of resolving a nationalist dispute between two peoples – and even if that is difficult, bombing one side is usually not the best way to find a solution. NATO’s bombing campaign was illegal, included clear war crimes, and caused the very catastrophe it claimed to be preventing. So if Tony Blair is ever put on trial, there is a strong case for adding it to the list of charges.

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Photo Credit: expertinfantry

Serbia: Back To Genocide?

Serbia is not a perfect democracy, and the dominance of one party, the Democrats, for the last decade has not helped. Is that cause for concern?

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Serbia, it seems, may be returning to the dark days of the 1990s, with former allies of ‘Serbian Saddam’ Slobodan Milosevic and his extreme nationalist counter-part Vojislav Seselj (both charged for war crimes in the Hague), Ivica Dacic and Tomislav Nikolic, recently being elected as Prime Minister and President respectively. As Reuters has pointed out, an alliance of this sort last existed ‘at the close of Milosevic’s disastrous 13-year rule, when his forces expelled almost 1 million ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and NATO bombed in 1999 to wrest the province from him.

This interpretation is what has dominated the headlines in the West, anyway. But such alarmism is unwarranted, as there is unlikely to be any significant change in Serbia’s democratic prospects or its policies towards Kosovo and the EU.

Dacic and Nikolic and their parties, the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Progressives, have changed a lot in the past five to ten years.

Dacic has been referred to as Milosevic’s man, but, much more recently than that, he was an ally of the Democratic and pro-Western President Tadic. The Socialist Party he leads (and which Milosevic founded) had always been closer to the populist and ‘patriotic’ opposition since Milosevic’s fall in 2000, but in 2008 switched sides and joined the Democrats, helping them secure a much-needed parliamentary majority. Dacic became Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister. This about-face was – it was no secret at the time – engineered by Western embassies in Belgrade, and Dacic henceforth became a loyal man in the Democrat-led coalition, including its policy towards Kosovo and the EU. The Socialists entered the most recent elections in that coalition and intending to continue it, and it is only because of Tadic’s surprise defeat that they, again, decided to change sides. Dacic’s promotion to Prime Minister should hardly, therefore, be cause for alarm.

Nikolic, too, has an unsavoury past, but support for him over the past decade has had more to do with dissatisfaction with the rule of the Democrats, in power uninterrupted since 2000, than with support for extreme nationalism. His supporters are the socio-economic ‘losers’ of the transition, whose numbers have grown with Serbia’s current recession. Moreover, his current party, the Progressives, were formed from a 2008 split from Seselj, and have tried to shed their nationalist image.Western embassies probably had something to do with his split from Seselj, and Nikolic has been keen to emphasise his  changed character, taking a former American ambassador as an advisor and even inviting former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a supporter of NATO’s 1999 bombardment of Serbia, for consultations.

The Guardian recently noted Nikolic refusing to rule out the partition of Kosovo, as if this was a radicalisation of Serbian policy. In fact, this was long been an option for Serbia, although officially it is almost always denied, as Serbia refuses to hand over any of its territory. Nikolic and Dacic emphasise their commitment to the territorial integrity of Serbia, as do all the major parties in Serbia, but, despite some nationalist posturing, immediately after the elections Nikolic went to Brussels and confirmed that he would be respecting recent Serbia-Kosovo agreements on ‘normalisation’ and continuing that process, claiming that the EU did not require recognition of Kosovo. Thus, it seems that the same Serbian policy will continue of pretending not to know that they are, bit by bit, being led towards de facto recognition of Kosovo. As Nikolic emphasises, the EU path remains the priority.

Likewise, in relation to Bosnia, where Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Serb entity, Republika Srpska, has been a thorn in the West’s side, there is unlikely to be any real change in Belgrade’s role. Dodik, in fact, had good relations with President Tadic, whom he backed in the May elections.

Nikolic may not initiate reconciliation with Serbia’s neighbours to the same extent as Tadic, and has already committed a few gaffes in this regard, but there is unlikely to be any real deterioration in regional relations, or inter-ethnic relations within Serbia. It is worth remembering that some of the best regional ‘reconcilers’ have had radical nationalists pasts. Former Kosovan President Ramush Haradinaj, for example, who was supported by the West as someone who embraced the idea of a multi-ethnic Kosovo, had to step down in 2004 to face trial in the Hague for horrific war crimes against national minorities committed just a few years earlier. It is notable that, as has become standard practice, the two key Bosniak politicians in Serbia have been given ministries in the new government, one as a deputy prime minister. (Their background is, incidentally, about as radical as Nikolic’s, both formerly advocating the secession of the Serbian region where most Bosniaks live.)

Serbia is not a perfect democracy, and the dominance of one party, the Democrats, for the last decade has not helped. Multiple changes in power are the real test of a democracy, and there shouldn’t be much to fear from Nikolic and Dacic in this respect. Whether they implement the same EU-sought policies as the Democrats, or perhaps the economic programme their voters sought them to implement, remains to be seen, but as far as Serbia’s democratic prospects and its relations with its neighbours go, there is no cause for alarm.