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Tensions in Kosova again after Serbs kill Muslim children

M.A. Shaikh

It is not as unfair as it might sound to describe the management of Kosova’s affairs (mismanagement, according to many analysts) by the UN and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as meddling. But that is exactly what it has been since 1999, when NATO intervened to force out Serbian army units, installing a provisional government, and a Security Council resolution was signed to give NATO and the UN responsibility for security. Since then the government has remained provisional and without real powers, and the UN and NATO, which in effect run the country, have failed to provide for the political future of Kosova, where more than 90 percent of the population are Albanian Muslims who have been persistently demanding self-determination. They have even failed to perform their core duty of providing security, as the current turmoil demonstrates, and have had the audacity to blame their failure on the Muslims, who are even accused of war crimes against the Serb minority.

In addition to NATO and the UN, the European Union (EU) is also active in Kosova. The three organisations, which have "invested much time, money and personnel in the province", as one newspaper put it recently, are controlled by Western powers that were active in securing East Timor’s independence only because East Timor’s people are mostly Christian. It is not, therefore, surprising that the organisations have not invested their time, money and personnel to evolve a political plan that could lead to Kosova’s independence in defiance of the tiny Christian Serb minority and the nationalist Serbian government in Belgrade. Nor is it surprising that they felt free to blame the Albanian Muslims for the current unrest without carrying out an enquiry first. To take just one example, Jaab de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands, NATO secretary general, appealed for calm on March 19, saying that the prime responsibility for ending the violence lay with the communities themselves, especially the Albanians.

In a later speech to a conference of East European leaders, natural supporters of Serbian nationalism, Scheffer felt it necessary to issue a strong warning to the Kosova Albanian leadership. "Those who think they can achieve political ends through violence will be severely disappointed," he said. This is very unfair, because Albanian leaders called on their peoples and groups not to attack members of the Serb minority, although the violence had begun spontaneously in their opinion, after the murders of three Albanian children who were drowned in a river by Serbs. Bajram Rexhepi, the Albanian prime minister of Kosova’s provisional government, for example, urged rioters to stop. His attitude was in strong contrast to that of Serbian political and religious leaders, who addressed their people on nationalist and sectarian platforms.

Vogislav Kostunica, the Serbian prime minister, accompanied by members of his cabinet and by senior clergy, led a government-sponsored march of 15,000 demonstrators in Belgrade on March 19, giving a strong impression of the sectarian nature of the Serbian approach to the conflict. The march ended with a mass at the Saint Sava church, the biggest orthodox cathedral in Serbia. Archbishop Amfilohije of Montenegro, who addressed the marchers after the mass, even brought Jerusalem into the issue, saying that Kosova for Serbs should become what Jerusalem used to be for the Jews. "As Christians we will constantly repeat the words: let my right hand be forgotten if I forget thee, Kosovo," he said.

The reference to Jerusalem, and to Jewish claims to Jerusalem, is not accidental; the similarities between modern zionism and Serbian nationalism are striking. Both lay unfounded claims, reinforced by violence and military might, to lands held rightfully by Muslims, and are supported by Christian countries and organisations that at least tend to blame the violence on the Muslims. It is not an accident that while Western governments, media and human-rights organisations are condemning Kosovan and Palestinian Islamic organisations such as Hamas for the upheavals in both regions, they are silent about the Israeli raids on Refah and the West Bank, which are killing Palestinian civilians and destroying their property. It is not, therefore, at all surprising that Israel and Serbia are strong allies and jointly lobby their respective allies ifor support.

But despite the hostility of the UN and Western organisations and governments to Kosovan Albanians, public calls by well-known figures and analysts have not been lacking for the main political issue to be addressed by granting independence to the province. Even some Western newspapers that blame the violence on the Albanians have argued that only independence can stem the violence between the two groups and avert another civil war.

On March 19, for instance, diplomats and analysts warned that failure on the part on the UN, NATO and the EU to take immediate steps to resolve Kosova’s political status would engulf the whole region in another Balkan war. Misha Glenny, a historian of the Balkans, warns: "It is now up to NATO, the EU and the UN to sit down and start working a settlement between Serbia and Kosovo. If not it could usher in a terrible wave of instability. It is time to act now. The powder keg is there for the lighting." Richard Watts of the Campaign Company in Britain, who has recently worked in Kosova as a political development consultant, made similar remarks in a letter to the London-based Independent on March 20. Blaming events in Kosova on the UN’s failure to address province’s economic and political problems, rather than on "ancient hatreds", he wrote: "It would be a tragedy if the international community used the current situation as an excuse to continue to fudge the province’s political future, as a long-term political solution can only be built on the certainty that Kosovan independence will provide."

Some well-known political figures, such as Lord Owen, a former British cabinet minister who is familiar with the Balkan war, added their voices to the call for a political solution, as have some widely-read newspapers, such as the French Le Monde (Paris). Condemning the "international community’s failure" to seek a final-status solution, the Paris daily said on March 19 that the inaction had rendered it "incapable of easing the hatred [between the groups] even to the slightest extent."

But, as Watts seems to fear from his letter to the Independent, the UN, NATO and the EU are using the current ethnic face-off in Kosova to postpone indefinitely any plans they might have had for a political solution. According to press reports, the organisations were planning to begin political negotiations in "next year’s spring", a tardy step in any case. Instead they have despatched extra troops (750 from Britain, 600 from Germany and 500 from France, for instance) to concentrate on security matters alone. The nationalist government in Serbia, encouraged by all this, has called for the partition of Kosova to give the tiny Serb minority a territory of their own. There is hardly any doubt that the Serb nationalists believe that their tactics are working, and that the "international community" is on their side.

But the real tragedy is that the Muslim world is silent and inactive. And while it is right to condemn the UN and the West for their backing of the Serbs, the failure of Muslim governments and organisations to back the Kosova Albanians’ rights to self-determination is even more reprehensible.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 2

Safar 11, 14252004-04-01

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