The Kosovo Crisis: Perception and Problem

O.N. Mehrotra,Senior Fellow,IDSA

 

Since March 1998, the Kosovo crisis has been heightened again. There have been reports about increase in terrorist activities of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and repressive measures taken by the Yugoslav security forces against the Kosovo Albanians. The media, print as well as electronic, which are largely controlled by the United States of America and its allies, have generally projected a picture of the Serbs suppressing the genuine aspirations of the Kosovo Albanians who reportedly constitute 90 per cent of the population of Kosovo, a province of Serbia. The Serbs, who were earlier blamed for initiating "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia and Herzegovina, have again been accused of indulging in a policy of not only crushing the peaceful demand of the Albanians for autonomy in Kosovo, which was taken up by Slobdan Milosevic about a decade ago, but also of pushing them out from Kosovo. In other words, the nationalist leader of Serbia, Milosevic, who allegedly failed to realise his dream of a "Greater Serbia", has again been engaged in muzzling the democratic minority rights of the Kosovo Albanians. Thus, a distorted perception of the Kosovo crisis has been built up, and a majority of commentators and analysts blame Milosevic and the Serbs for adopting an inappropriate policy in Kosovo for which they should be punished suitably since they failed to listen to the world community for changing their policy.

The Kosovo crisis is a complicated one and cannot be understood in the proper perspective until one knows its background and the present ground realities. The Serbs, who belong to the Slav race, had come to the Balkans and settled primarily in the present province of Kosovo at the end of sixth and the beginning of the seventh centuries. For the Serbs, Kosovo is of exceptional importance for the Serbian history and for the cultural civilisational identity of Serbia. It is the cradle of Serb civilisation. It is emotionally as important for the Serbs as the Wailing Wall is for the Jews. In fact, many Serbian cultural monuments are situated in Kosovo (200 medieval churches, some of them under the protection of UNESCO).

Constitutionally Kosovo is called Kosovo and Metohija. Kosovo is a Serbian word which means land of blackbirds. Metohija is a Greek word that means land (property) of monasteries. It is popularly known as Kosovo as Jammu and Kashmir is called Kashmir. In short, Kosovo and Metohija is known as Kosmet like Jammu and Kashmir is called J&K. According to the Serbian sources, 50 per cent of the territory of Kosovo belongs to monasteries though in the recent past, Kosovo Albanians have illegally occupied some of the territory, vandalised monuments and forced priests and nuns out from places in which they have been living for centuries.

For almost eight hundred years, the Serbs remained the sole inhabitants of Kosovo. The chequered history of Kosovo began with the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 when the Serbs were defeated by the Turks and the Ottoman Empire advanced towards Europe. Consequently, the occupying Turkish forces forcibly settled Muslim Albanians in Kosovo. The Serbs, in large numbers abandoned the region and even moved their churches from Kosovo to north Serbia. In the Serbian national consciousness, the Battle of Kosovo has immense significance because for them it is a symbol of the struggle for freedom and independence. Though Serbia achieved its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, and acquired international recognition as a sovereign nation, Kosovo could be reunited with Serbia only in 1912 after the First Balkan War. Incidentally, for the Albanians, "it was in Kosovo that the Albanian national revival began with the founding of the League of Prizren in 1878".1 However, Kosovo was never a part of Albania, claim the Serbs. During World War II, Kosovo was occupied by Italy and Germany but it was reunited with Serbia after the conclusion of the war.2 According to another account, while Serbia was occupied by Germany during the war, Kosovo was annexed by Albania.3 Be that as it may, Kosovo was legally never a part of Albania except when it was annexed by it during the time of war. Nevertheless, the Serbs have been apprehensive of annexation of Kosovo by Albania as and when it gets an opportunity because the Albanians are in an overwhelming majority in Kosovo. In this respect, it may be noted that when Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in the early 1990s, it was widely feared that Kosovo would be the major bloody flashpoint in the Balkans. Though the Kosovo crisis had not exploded then, it has been persisting for long, especially since 1981.

The current Kosovo crisis may be traced back to the reconstitution of Yugoslavia by Josip Broz Tito after the conclusion of World War II. Like other Communist leaders, Tito also granted separate identity to distinct ethnic groups and nations of Yugoslavia. Perhaps those leaders believed that different nationalism and ethno-nationalism in a multinational and multi-ethnic country could be submerged in a utopian classless and stateless society. In fact, neither in the former Soviet Union nor in the former Yugoslavia, which were multi-ethnic and multinational countries, was nationalism allowed to grow or prosper. The Russians and Serbs considered their affiliation to their countries more than other groups and, therefore, they are more remorseful about the disintegration of their former countries than the others. Once these two countries began to collapse, they were divided on different national lines as they were crudely demarcated in the form of various republics.

In the post-War Yugoslavia, for the first time the Albanians were recognised as a distinct national group as their language was made one of the official languages and they were granted the right to education in their own vernacular. This recognition laid the ground for the growth of Albanian nationalism in Kosovo. Their main grouse that then began to emerge was that they were not given the status of a republic while they constituted the largest minority in the country and their population was almost equal to the Solvenes and Macedonians and more than that of Montenegrins who were given their own republics in the new political structure of the country. However, this discontentment generally remained latent for almost two decades.

Since the late 1960s, Kosovo Albanians have been complaining that their gains in the post-War period were undermined by the repressive policies adopted by Alexander Rankovic, a Serb, who was head of the state security police. After his downfall in 1966, the Kosovo Albanians began to air their grievances publicly. In November 1968, the Kosovo Albanians staged large-scale demonstrations calling for granting of republican status to Kosovo province. Such a demand sent a shock wave in Serbia and Macedonia where the Albanians were suspected of harbouring their cherished dream of merging with neighbouring Albania and thus establishing a "Greater Albania", which had also been opposed by both Serbia and Macedonia. The Albanians constitute 20 percent of the population of Macedonia.

Without taking into account the apprehensions of the Serbs and others as well as subsequent repercussions in the fractured and volatile region, the Yugoslov Constitution of 1974 granted autonomous status to Kosovo province within the Serbian republic. Kosovo was given many of the powers of a republic within the Yugoslav Federation. It had its own Constitution like the other republics and its consent in the decision-making procedure at the federal level became significant where the principle of consensus was followed. It had a right to enter into bilateral cooperation agreements with other countries. Consequently, Kosovo developed close relations with Albania, and the Kosovo Albanians' aspirations to join Albania gained confidence and strength. It is appropriately observed elsewhere that the "1974 Constitution had established decentralisation, and so provided the framework for nationalist activity once the restraint of Tito's power was removed."4 The granting of autonomy to Kosovo and the Serbs' claim of control over Kosovo because it was their province emerged as a major cause of nationalist conflict between the Albanians and Serbs in the 1980s.

At the same time, the Serbs' abject fear was growing rapidly because of the declining ratio of population of the Serbs in Kosovo. It may be recalled that before World War II, the Serbs and Montenegrins constituted 61 per cent of the population of Kosovo. During the occupation of Kosovo between 1941 and 1945, the Serbs and Montenegrins were forced to leave Kosovo and the Albanians were reportedly settled in their living places. After the war, the new Yugoslav socialist regime banned the return of the Serbs and Montenegrins to Kosovo in order to strengthen the confidence of the Albanian national minority in the new political dispensation. Though Kosovo is rich in natural resources, it was the least developed region in Yugoslavia. In the post-War period, the region was economically developed but the Serbs and Montenegrins continued to migrate to Serbia and Montenegro for better employment opportunities and due to the growing Albanian nationalist aggressiveness. In 1961, the Serbs were reduced to 23.6 per cent of the population of Kosovo, which declined further to 13.2 per cent Kosovo in 1981.5 The Kosovo Albanians' ratio of the population was growing not only because of the migration of the Serbs from Kosovo but also because of the high rate of birth of the Albanians.

The Serbian fear of Kosovo Albanians' motive to secede from the Yugoslav Federation increased after the death of Tito as Kosovo Albanian representatives gained equal rights in the ruling collective Presidency of Yugoslavia. At the same time, Kosovo Albanian nationalism was gaining strength because of growing acute unemployment amongst the intelligentsia in Kosovo. In certain quarters, it was believed that this situation was exacerbated because of the establishment of an Albanian university in Pristine, the capital of Kosovo, in 1968. The Kosovo Albanian nationalist discontentment exploded in 1981, with massive demonstrations calling for granting of republican status to Kosovo autonomous province. Though the demonstrations were controlled with the help of federal armed forces, 300 people reportedly died and several hundred were wounded. At the same time, as many as 7,000 Albanians, mostly young men, were arrested and many of them received prison sentences because of their nationalist/ disruptive activities. These incidents further widened ethnic relations in Kosovo and strengthened the nationalist aspiration amongst the Albanians. The Serbs as well as Montenegrins continued to emigrate from Kosovo complaining of systematic harassment involving rape, murder and attacks on their property by members of the Albanian population.6

As the ethnic divide was widening in Kosovo, no serious efforts were made to bridge the division and defuse the situation by adopting confidence building measures and resolving the differences peacefully. In fact, the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians adopted intransigent policy postures. Perhaps they thought that compromise on any issue would amount to a display of weakness and encourage others to raise their demands. In other words, while there was a need for the policy of compromise and accommodation, both sides adopted adamant positions which gradually became more inflexible. There were reasons for the adoption of such an attitude by the leaders and people of the two ethnic groups.

The Serbs have always believed that they are the best warriors of the region and have sacrificed their lives for the protection of other ethnic communities in the region. However, their main grievances are that other ethnic groups have always been ungrateful as they have never acknowledged their sacrifices. In other words, they had not received their due and what they deserved. For them, the history of the Balkans has not been congenial. During World War II, they also suffered heavily at the hands of their brethren but instead of demanding any war indemnity, they decided to cooperate with them and re-established a federation for the Slavs of the south. While they acknowledged the leadership of a Croat—Tito—the Croats, Slovenes and others had not approved of the creation of Yugoslavia and had always entertained the groundless grudge that the Serbs were ruling the country merely because they constituted the largest percentage of the population of the country. The Serbs comprised 36 per cent of the total population of Yugoslavia, according to the 1981 censuses; the Croats 20 per cent, the Muslims 9 per cent, the Slovenes 8 per cent, the Albanians 7.7 per cent, the Macedonians 6 per cent, the Montenegrins 2.6 per cent and the remaining were various other minorities.

In fact, the Slovenes and Croats had begun to protest about contributing their share of revenue to the federal government for economic development or feeding of the unemployed people in the other republics. In the 1980s, a major cause of growth of nationalism was the economic slump, rising unemployment, increasing foreign indebtedness, and sky-high inflation. Slovenia and Croatia were economically more advanced than the other republics and not faced with hardship during the economic crisis. They considered themselves part of the economically developed and "civilised" Western Europe, unlike the others who were poor and Orthodox Christians or Muslims. While the nationalism of Slovenia and Croatia was associated with the demand for greater democratisation and economic liberalisation, Kosovo Albania's nationalism was based on ethnic exclusiveness and that of Serbia was on recentralisation of power and control of the state apparatus from Belgrade. Apparently, the Serbian leadership believed that with centralisation of power, the country could be saved from fragmentation with the help of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) where they had the largest share.

But they had failed to visualise the limitation of their plan, and the growing national aspirations amongst other ethnic groups. Since there was no official nationalism, in the absence of the charismatic leader, Tito, and his control of the Army, nobody would command respect and sway over the whole country. At this stage, any move to criticise Tito for his anti-Serb policy was to be counter-productive in the way of recentralisation of the Yugoslav state. In fact, concentration of Yugoslav power in Belgrade was tantamount to handing over state power to the Serbs whom the Croats and Slovenes disliked the most.

When ethno-nationalism was growing amongst the various ethnic communities in Yugoslavia, in March 1986, the Serb Academy of Arts and Sciences released a memorandum calling for strengthening the unity of the country by means of centralisation of power in the Yugoslav Federation, and blamed Tito for all the Serbs' problems. It also criticised establishment of Macedonia as an independent republic and granting of immense autonomy to Serbia's provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina.7 Such a memorandum was appreciated by the Serbs and raised their national pride which was intelligently exploited by Milosevic, but it aroused apprehensions amongst other ethnic groups who became suspicious of the Serbian design to strengthen the power of the federation for the predominance of the Serbs.

As the nationalist feelings amongst various nationalities were growing in Yugoslavia, Milosevic emerged as the popular leader of the Serbs. He promised to preserve the territorial integrity of Serbia and protect the interests of the Serbs wherever they were living, especially in Kosovo. As his popularity was growing in Serbia, the people and leaders of the other republics became suspicious of the Serbs' alleged objective of controlling the federal structure, failing which they would annex from the other republics territory inhabited by the Serbs. While the Albanian nationalism was rising, the anti-Albanian sentiment throughout Serbia heightened due to an incident in September 1987 when an ethnic Albanian conscript from Kosovo killed four fellow Slav conscripts and wounded five others. He was later found dead near the barracks and initially the cause of his death was officially described as suicide. But after investigation, it was found that he was a known "chauvinist and separatist" and the killing was a premeditated, nationalist-inspired act. The military prosecutor indicted eight other ethnic-Albanian conscripts for helping him in planning the killings.8

In such a situation, two hostile views generally prevail and there is no possibility of any meeting ground. In fact, anyone trying to defuse the situation, is likely to become the target of ultra-nationalists who would like to silence him, and if he is holding some important position, then to remove him from it as soon as possible. In the case of the killings of the Slavs by an ethnic Albanian and subsequent findings of his motives, and punishment of his alleged collaborators, while the Serbs believed that he was a racist and hardened Albanian nationalist who was assisted by others, the Albanians termed it a stage managed conspiracy of the Serbs to give the incident a distorted nationalist colour, and enable Serbian repressive measures to suppress the Albanians in Kosovo. The hardline nationalist leaders must have been happy in both communities because they were provided with the best conditions for strengthening their positions and stifling their opponents by raising jingoish emotions.

In the emotionally surcharged atmosphere, on October 25, 1987, the federal collective state Presidency announced emergency measures of despatching of federal police units to Kosovo, suspending the authority of the provincial police and judiciary. Apparently, the federal government took measures to maintain law and order in the province in the face of the worsening ethnic tension between the majority Albanians and the Serb and Montenegrin minorities. But for the Kosovo Albanians, the measures meant the curtailed autonomy of Kosovo and the ascendancy of hardliners in the Serbian leadership. In the period from late 1986 up to the announcement of the emergency security measures in Kosovo, a number of public demonstrations demanding federal intervention in Kosovo for protecting minority rights took place in Serbia and Kosovo. Amongst them one was at the time of the Communist Party's central committee meeting in June 1987 and another at the funeral of one of the victims of an ethnic Kosovo Albanian conscript on September 5, 1987, where many Serbs and Montenegrins from Kosovo took part and chanted anti-Albanian slogans. Subsequently, many anti-Albanian demonstrations were held. The Kosovo Albanians have reportedly forced more than 23,000 Serbs and Montenegrins to move out of the province since 1981.

On the one hand, the minority Serbs and Montenegrins became victims of the silent policy of Kosovo Albanians' "ethnic cleansing"; on the other, the Kosovo Albanians had been agitating for acquiring the status of republic thus securing a right of secession from federal Yugoslavia, as provided in the 1974 Constitution. In such a situation, no Serbian leader could take a lenient view towards Albanian nationalism in Kosovo and pacify the Albanians. Ivan Stambolic was dismissed from the Presidency in Serbia in December 1987 on the same charge levelled by hardliners on the Serbian leadership. The tension between the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians continued unabated. As the tension in Kosovo was building up because of the miners' strikes, the ruling League of Communists of Yugoslavia's central committee dismissed several members from its ranks, including Azem Vlasi, the popular ethnic Albanian former League leader, on February 1, 1989. Later, demonstrations were held in Belgrade against the dismissal of three pro-Serbian leaders of Kosovo and the demonstrators demanded the arrest of Vlasi who was reportedly believed to be instrumental in their dismissal. They dispersed only after Milosevic promised to carry out their demands. Subsequently, Vlasi was arrested and the Kosovo Albanians staged demonstrations. Miners and industrial workers went on strike. Several of them had been imprisoned and suspended from their jobs. Without taking into account the deteriorating economic conditions and workers agitation, the Kosovo Provincial Assembly on March 23 endorsed changes to the Serbian central authority's control over the internal affairs of Kosovo in such areas as defence, justice and planning.9

In the media, time and again, it has been highlighted that the Serbian nationalist leader Milosevic has taken away the autonomy of Kosovo. No doubt, the Kosovo autonomy was curtailed in 1989 but nowhere was it noted that such a step was taken because of the deteriorating law and order situation in Kosovo, due to the Kosovo Albanians' nationalist and separatist activities. In fact, on March 1, the two Chambers of the Federal Assembly held an emergency joint sitting to discuss the situation in the province. In the keynote speech, Lazar Mojsov, the member for Macedonia of Yugoslavia's Collective State Presidency, blamed the Albanian intelligence service for helping nationalist and separatist activities in Kosovo with the objective of making the province an integral part of a "Greater Albania".10 In short, though the Serbian nationalist leadership has recently been blamed for its repressive measures against the Albanians' demand for restoration of their autonomy in Kosovo, it has hardly been mentioned that such measures were taken against them because of their unconstitutional demand for independence and their indulgence in terrorist activities in Kosovo. Moreover, reference is rarely made to the Albanians' non-cooperative and agitational activities in Macedonia, and harsher measures have been taken by the Macedonian government to control them. In fact, the Macedonian government has even objected to Albanian nationalist names and at times forced the Albanians to change their names. In other words, in the former republics of Yugoslavia, the Albanian minorities, with active assistance from Albania, had been engaged in disruptive activities, and in Kosovo, the constitutional authority of the Serbian government was challenged.

The movement for secession of Kosovo from the former republic of Serbia began much before the emergence of Milosevic as the leader of Serbia. He may be the first leader of a republic in the former Yugoslavia who took steps to check the separatist activities in an autonomous province of the republic. One may criticise his methods of implementation of his objectives but not his goals which have been universally acknowledged, i.e., Kosovo is a part of Serbia and Serbian territorial integrity must be protected. Milosevic has been criticised for his policy because he could not handle it intelligently and failed to place his objectives in the proper perspectives. In fact, his policy was not acceptable to the nationalist leaders of the other republics like Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim leader of Bosnia, who articulated their views more convincingly than Milosevic. In fact, they and their domestic as well as their external supporters orchestriated allegations about the Serbs' hegemony in the former Yugoslavia and the Serbs' design to establish a "Greater Serbia" by annexing the territories of adjoining regions of the republics in which they constituted a majority. Their support for maintaining a federal Yugoslavia was considered as continuation of the domination of the Serbs in a multinational country and denial of the right of self-determination and secession of republics from the federation as envisaged in the Yugoslav Constitution.

When Milosevic became the leader of Serbia, the Kosovo Albanians had already declared their intention to separate themselves from the republic of Serbia and establish their own republic. That could not be possible without amending the Constitution for which the consent of Serbia was required. For the Serbs, the Kosovo Albanians could raise their demand of becoming a republic because their province was granted autonomy in the 1974 Constitution. Thus, if the autonomy of Kosovo was to be taken away, then the Kosovo Albanians' movement could easily be controlled, the Serbs felt. But that proved counter-productive and the Kosovo Albanians' movement has gradually become strong and violent.

1989 was a historical year in the Communist countries of Europe when, one after another, regimes began to fall and the Berlin Wall was pulled down. While the command economic and political system was replaced by economic liberalisation and democratisation of polity, the Serb leadership made valiant efforts to unify Yugoslavia which had the most fractured social and cultural fabric in spite of a large number of mixed marriages. For that, the Serbian leadership needed the cooperation of the ruling Federal Council of the country. "By 1989, Milosevic had succeeded in toppling the governments in Vojvodina, Montenegro, and Kosovo, replacing them with his supporters."11 Apparently Milosevic miscalculated that he could determine the future of the Yugoslav Federation with the control of four out of eight votes in the Federal Council. In fact, the other republics had already moved towards more independence from the federation, failing which they would prefer to go for secession from the federation. In other words, the political strategy of Milosevic proved counter-productive, and the disintegration of Yugoslavia began.

While the Serbs were becoming suspect in their designs of keeping the Yugoslav Federation under their control, Milosevic decided to curtail the autonomy of the irredentist Kosovo Albanians. The Communist Party Central Committee asked Mrs. Kacusa Jasari to resign as party President of the provincial League of Communists and Azem Vlasi, a popular Kosovo politician, as a politburo member. Many more Kosovo leaders were forced to resign and expelled from the ruling Communist Party. They were charged with "counter-revolutionary actions endangering the social order" because they encouraged the strikes and the anti-Serbian riots in Kosovo. Yugoslavia had begun to move towards disintegration in the following months. In June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia proclaimed full sovereignty and independence, Macedonia moved towards sovereignty, Bosnia declared its sovereignty and the Kosovo Assembly (dissolved by the Serbian government in July 1990) organised a referendum on September 26-30 on sovereignty. On October 19, 1991, elections were held and a provisional coalition government was constituted, headed by Bujar Bukoshi, which was recognised on October 22 by Albania.12

After the former four republics—Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia—declared independence from Yugoslavia, Serbia (including the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina) and Montenegro brought into being a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by adopting a new Constitution on April 27, 1992. While the Kosovo Albanians boycotted the federal elections in May 1992, they elected their own 130-member Assembly, which was declared illegal by the Serbian Assembly. But Ibrahim Rugova was elected "President" of the self-proclaimed "Republic of Kosovo." He held talks in Geneva with Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance (peace negotiators in Yugoslavia) in September, during which he reiterated his position that Kosovo should be treated as a part of the former Yugoslavia, and not as a province of Serbia.13 In reality it meant that Kosovo would become a republic of Yugoslavia with the right to secede from the federation. The Kosovo Albanian leaders rejected a proposal by the federal Prime Minister, Milan Panic that talks should be held in Belgrade on the Kosovo question. Instead, they insisted that any talks between them and the Serbs should be held under international auspices.

Rugova made frantic efforts to internationalise the Kosovo issue and prevent Serbia from interfering in the affairs of Kosovo. As early as in October 1992, the the USA approved $5 million in aid for Kosovo and warned that it would be forced to intervene in Kosovo if the Serbs began "ethnic cleansing" in the province. No doubt, Washington declared its respect for internationally recognised borders but the US reportedly made no effort to persuade the Kosovo Albanian leadership to try to settle the issue by adopting a conciliatory policy in dealing with the Serbian leaders. In fact, the Serbs had already earned a bad reputation of adopting the policy of "ethnic cleansing" in Croatia and, therefore, it was widely believed that the Serbs had no intention of resolving any ethnic dispute reasonably and peacefully. At the same time, the Albanians had a strong lobby in the USA and some European countries. It may be recalled that an ethnic Albanian, Bob Dole, once visited Yugoslavia but was ignored by Milosevic. The Serbian leadership failed to realise the importance of the media and the need of goodwill of political leaders of friendly as well as neutral countries. Perhaps they entertained the presumption that they were the best warriors of the region whom none could defeat. Moreover, they firmly believed that they were the aggrieved ethnic group in the region and had to fight for their cause without the cooperation of anyone, except the Russians who had their own limitations.

At the earliest opportunity, Rugova met President Bill Clinton on February 3, 1994, during his visit to the USA. Rugova claimed that Clinton had expressed his "concern and understanding" over the situation in Kosovo, when Rugova said that the Albanians had been subject to "violence, intimidation and even apartheid."14 While the Kosovo Albanians blamed the Serbian armed forces for the repressive measures and forcing the Albanians to leave Kosovo, the Serbian leadership blamed the Kosovo Albanians for adopting the policy of "ethnic cleansing" against the Serbs and Montenegrins. In the meantime, some ultra-nationalist Serbs gave a call for sending back refugees who migrated from Kosovo to Serbia and Montenegro. During August 1995, Albania strongly critisised the alleged moves of the Yugoslav government to settle Serb refugees from the Croatian Krajina region. In fact, in early August, the Croatian armed forces who had reportedly received US training, successfully launched an offensive against the Krajina Serbs. Some 150,000 Serbs were forcibly expelled from Krajina. These Serb refugees were allegedly to be settled in Kosovo. But neither they nor the former refugees from Kosovo were ever settled in Kosovo. Most of the Krajina Serb refugees were settled in Bosnia.

The Kosovo crisis was overshadowed by the Bosnian problem. With the Dayton Agreement in late 1995, the warring ethnic groups were forced to accept the agreement on the ceasefire in Bosnia. Following the Bosnian ceasefire, Milosevic and Rugova met in 1996, and they agreed on the opening of the university in Pristina. Their meeting was extremely significant because both unofficially acknowledged each other's position. The opening of the university would have been a significant confidence-building measure. But, unfortunately, their agreement could not be implemented. Since Milosevic has been opposed to discuss the Kosovo issue in any international forum because it was an internal affair of Serbia, it had widely been considered that the issue should be resolved by the conflicting parties. However, the US made efforts to involve itself in the resolution of the crisis. It deployed some armed forces as observers in Macedonia which also has Albanian minorities.

The Serbs have always blamed Albania for its assistance to the Kosovo Albanians in fighting against Serbian forces and working for the establishment of a "Greater Albania". The relations between Serbia and Albania have been poor as a result of the grievances of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo. Unexpectedly, the first ever summit meeting of leaders from Balkan countries was held at Iralion, on the Greek island of Crete, on November 3-4, 1997. The Greek hosts avoided using the term Balkans, and called the meeting a conference of south-eastern European countries. During the summit meeting, Milosevic and Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano met and agreed to initiate the process of normalising relations between Albania and Yugoslavia. Though Milosevic reiterated that the problem of Kosovo was an internal Yugoslav matter, he reportedly discussed the problem with Nano.15 However, no progress could be made in reducing tension between the two countries and in defusing the Kosovo problem.

Instead, the Kosovo crisis became more serious in the following months. The militant KLA had established its stronghold in part of the Kosovo province. The KLA was unknown before 1998 though it had been set up in 1994 and declared its existence in 1996. The Serbian government has already declared the KLA a terrorist group. Its terrorist activities assumed serious proportions not only because it was engaged in guerilla warfare but because it also drove some Kosovo Serbs out of their villages and interfered in the functioning of workers in the mines. In the last week of February, the Serbian special police units launched an offensive against rebel strongholds. In an anti-terrorist operation, some civilian casualties are bound to occur. The Western media immediately stressed on the civilian casualties and fleeing refugees. It blamed the Serb forces for committing atrocities and the Serb authorities for not granting autonomy to Kosovo which was taken away by Milosevic about a decade earlier. It failed to refer to the Kosovo Albanians' aggressiveness and the decline in the percentage of Serb population from 23.6 per cent in 1961 to 10 per cent in about three decades.

The KLA is the fastest growing guerrilla force. In March 1998, Western diplomats estimated that the tiny KLA had only 150 to 200 trained fighters, who were hopelessly outgunned by heavily armed Serb paramilitary police.16 But within three months, the KLA claimed to have 50,000 men under arms. This claim has been considered exaggerated by a factor of two or three.17 The KLA has reportedly receiving training in many camps in Albania. The main source of its income is reportedly based in Switzerland where the Kosovo Popular Movement has been collecting money from ethnic Albanians. They are also active in Germany. Like many other terrorist outfits, the KLA has also been engaged in large scale drug trafficking and reportedly controls the largest drug mafia in Europe.

The Clinton Administration threatened to take military action against the Serbs' forces if they failed to stop their policy of atrocities against Kosovar Albanians in May this year. In the same month, Milosevic met Rugova and agreed to have regular meetings and work together to defuse the tense situation in Kosovo. However, they failed to keep the promises as Rugova could not come to Belgrade for the next meeting. In the same month, President Clinton met Rugova and Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi of the self-proclaimed republic's government, and Veton Surroi, a Kosovo negotiator and spokesman.18 In a related development, the US Agency for International Development announced an increase in its assistance to Kosovo by $6 million.

Though President Clinton insisted on military action by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) against Serb forces in Kosovo, he could not secure the consent of some NATO members. He maintained that NATO did not need sanction from the UN Security Council for any military action in the Balkans but the leaders of many other countries did not approve of his contention. President Boris Yeltsin also opposed any action by NATO in Kosovo and he met Milosevic. While Milosevic could restrain his armed forces, the KLA continued its terrorist activities. The Contact Group (representatives of the United States, Russia and the European Union's four biggest countries) could not make any headway in resolving the Kosovo crisis. The West European countries have urged the KLA and its backers in the Albania diaspora to renounce violence and start peace talks. As Rugova started losing his base in the terrorist-ridden Kosovo, the US and Russia backed his leadership. In July, US envoy Richard Holbrooke and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasyevsky met Rugova and representatives of all 16 ethnic Albanian political parties. But the representatives of the KLA did not attend the meeting.

However earlier Holbrooke met members of the KLA, and another US envoy, Robert Gelbard, also met true "representatives of the KLA" in Switzerland.19 Many Western leaders have not approved of the meetings of US envoys with the representatives of the KLA which was considered a terrorist organisation. Though a faction of the KLA announced the names of its spokesman and other leaders, the KLA is not under a unified command. Therefore, any negotiation with the representatives of the KLA seems to be difficult. NATO's military intervention for resolving the Kosovo crisis appears to be arduous. According to NATO military planners, about 50,000 troops would be required to police a ceasefire in Kosovo.20 At the same time, NATO has to police Albania's chaotic north-east, where an outlaw mini-state is run by adherents of the ex-President, Sali Berisha, who have been assisting Kosovo's guerillas.21 Be that as it may, NATO has planned more than joint exercises within the Partnership for Peace for September, to include a possible deployment of a "preventive intervention force" to the Albanian border with Kosovo and Macedonia.22 However, a NATO solution is not practical. At best, it can bring about a fragile ceasefire but it will not be in a position to resolve the crisis.

While Milosevic has agreed to the functioning of humanitarian organisations in Kosovo and visits of foreign diplomats to the province, the KLA has adopted an aggressive posture and refuses to accept anything short of independence. As far Rugova is concerned, he insists on the granting of the status of "republic" to Kosovo and he has been receiving support for his proposal from some Western leaders. The Kosovo Albanians want more than autonomy since the term has lost its significance because it was once taken away by Milosevic. Therefore, there are arguments for other terms, such as "special regime" or other diplomatic ways of going around the use of the term "autonomy."23 At the same time, the Kosovo Albanians, especially the KLA, have been insisting on the role of Western mediation in resolving the crisis. However, Belgrade opposes any involvement of a third party in the resolution of an internal dispute. Though the Kosovo crisis appears intractable at present, it can be defused by resuming negotiations amongst the Serbian and Kosovo Albanian political leaders. However, the KLA may pose a problem in the conclusion of any agreement because it does not acknowledge the authority of the political leaders of the Kosovo Albanians. The KLA, which has been assisted by the Mujahideen from Pakistan, Chechenya and some other Islamic countries, can be contained by an international concerted effort, especially with the US' cooperation. Until and unless the KLA's terrorist activities are controlled, any solution of the Kosovo problem appears to be unlikely.

 

NOTES

1. Minority Rights Group ed., World Directory of Minorities, (Essex: Longman), p. 137

2. "Kosovo and Metohija—an Integral Part of the Republic of Serbia and FR Yugoslavia," Review of International Affairs, no.1037, October 15, 1995, p. 11.

3. Ivo H. Daalder, "Fear and Loathing in the Former Yugoslavia" in Michael E. Brown ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict (Massachusetts, 1996), p. 40.

4. Jame G. Kellas, The Politics of Nationalism and Ethnicity, (London: Macmillan, 1991), p. 114.

5. A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples, (Washington: Library of Congress) as quoted in Times of India, July 24, 1998.

6. Keesing's Record of World Events, vol. 34, no. 3, March 1988, p. 35795.

7. Daalder, n. 3, p. 43.

8. Keesing's, n. 6.

9. Kessing Record World Events, vol. 35, no. 3, March 1989, p. 36514.

10. Ibid.

11. Daalder, n. 3, p. 43.

12. Keesing Record of World Events, vol. 37, no. 10, October 1991, p. 38513

13. Keesing Record of World Events, vol. 38, no. 9, September 1992, p. 39103.

14. Keesing Record of World Events, vol. 40, no. 2, February 1994, p. 39872.

15. Croatia and Slovenia did not send their delegations. The leaders agreed to hold a second summit meeting in Turkey. See Kessing's Record of World Events, vol. 43, no. 11, November 1997, p. 41934

16. Newsweek, March 23, 1998 p. 28.

17. Economist, June 20, 1998, p. 58.

18. Khaleej Times, May 31, 1998.

19. Ibid., July 13, 1998.

20. International Herald Tribune, July 8, 1998.

21. Economist, June 6, 1998, p. 17.

22. Jane's Defence Weekly, May 27, 1998.

23. See Thanos Veremis, Greece, the Balkans and the European Union, Discussion Paper, C9, Centre for European Integration Studies, Bonn, 1998, pp. 4-5.