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  • Some Thoughts on Kosovo

    Posted by John Jay on March 2nd, 2008 (All posts by )

    The former Yugoslavia is a mess. It has been so since before the Ottomans ruled that part of the world, and judging from recent events, it will continue to be so long into the future. My blog partner CW is fond on quoting from Dame West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”, because the pre-war Balkan region she describes in that book is remarkably similar to the situation today.

    In “What Went Wrong”, Bernard Lewis noted the stark cultural difference between Turkey and the rest of the Muslim world in the period from roughly 1880 to 1922. When confronted with the reality of European dominance and success, the Turks asked themselves “What did we do wrong?”. The Arabs asked themselves: “What did they just do to us?” Turkey flourished, relatively speaking, and the Middle East today would be right where it was in 1922 if it were not for oil. In fact, it is pretty much where it was in 1922, just with more automobiles and guns.

    The culture of the Balkans blames everyone else for their troubles: their neighbors, the UN, the EU, and most of all the US. After nearly 3 decades of murdering each other, here’s what the Serbs have to say:

    “The whole nation is angry,” said Sinisa Tasic, one of the organizers. “We are furious with the Americans. Wherever they go they create problems.”

    As intellectual rationalizations for bad behavior go, blaming the US is a pretty convenient one, but the leaders of the Balkans have always been pretty good at rationalizing their actions in the absence of foreign interference. P.J. O’Rourke noted that same thing when writing about the Bosnian situation in All the Trouble in the World:

    Yugoslavia’s ethnic wounds are also, unfortunately, infected with idealism. There’s a surplus of intellectuals in the regions. Yugoslavia, like the rest of Eastern Europe, has more artists, writers and teachers than it has art, literature, or schools. In the resultant mental unemployment, idealism flourishes.

    What puzzles me about the current situation is the sheer ineptitude of the Bush Administration. Over 90% of the troops on the ground in Kosovo are European nationals, not US. I’m pretty sure that nothing happens to or in Kosovo that is not vetted by Brussels. The Economist has a pretty good review of the situation here:

    Besides, the “independent” Kosovo will for a long while in effect become a protectorate of the European Union, which is sending a large mission to take over from the UN.

    The three big dogs of the EU are thrilled to confront Russia here, on a battleground no one really cares about. Once again the Balkans are the setting for a proxy fight between the great powers. Many of the new member states or candidates for membership to the EU were long under the thumb of the USSR, and many have ties to Russian as part of a vague but very real larger Slavic culture. In order to prevent Russia from influencing EU affairs and to preserve their dominance, France, Germany and the UK are delighted to have a current example of old Russian habits to remind the new member states why they turned to the West in the first place. A regional power play explains why the French and German contingents in KFOR outnumber the US by a factor of 2:1 each.

    Forcing the Russian eminence grise out into the open in fact stabilizes the rest of Western and Central Europe at the expense of the Balkans. Since the Balkans are already torn by war and occupied by foreign troops, destabilization there will not significantly affect the rest of Europe. In time, Kosovo will become Europe’s Afghanistan, a forgotten conflict uncovered by the press save for a few pathetic casualty reports.

    American interests probably receive a few collateral boosts as well. The major effect, and the only real reason I can see for the US rush to recognize Kosovo, is to focus the attention of the “Stans” on Russian activities there. As a great power, Russia can keep its eye on many problems simultaneously, but it can not run multiple strategies at once. The Russian military has been leaning on the Stans to roll back their cooperation with the US. Freedom to operate in the Stans will be vital if the situation in Pakistan goes South, so this is an excellent opportunity to show Russian chauvinism in a pro-Slavic, pro-Orthodox, and anti-Muslim situation. I’m sure the Uzbekhs and Kazakhs are watching closely.

    However, by putting the US at the forefront of recognition and by ignoring International Law, the Bush Administration has once again taken a correct strategy and so mishandled the tactical execution that the objectives that would have been served by the strategy are completely lost. I find it supremely ironic that the US is supporting the construction of a Muslim state in a region whose religion-tainted wars in the 1990s trained many of the Al Qaeda operatives our forces have faced in Iraq.

    The Russians are of course concerned about contested regions such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Pridnestrov. As one Russian headline proclaims: “The Americans Have not Yet Realized the Full “Uniqueness” of Kosovo”. The Bush Administration claims the action does not legitimize self-rule movements in places such as Chechnya, but the Russians are rightfully suspicious of the precedent.

    The best course of action would have been to let the EU take the lead in recognition and follow with official notice from Washington once EU troops were firmly manning the barricades. If the US is taking one for the team by focusing ire on Americans so that EU troops in Kosovo are not unduly targeted, the risk to American interests is far too great in proportion to the level of support the EU provides to the US efforts in the Middle East (with the obvious exception of the UK). Whatever small gains the US takes away, the dominant powers in the EU gain more, and should take a more proportionate share of the risk.

    The Russian press in fact recognizes the game. (All translations below are mine, but I am including the Russian text, for reasons that will become clear below, so that Tatyana or other commenters who speak Russian can confirm if I’m playing fast and loose with Russian remarks as I claim the MSM has done ).

    Представители косовских сербов неоднократно высказывались против присутствия новой миссии европейцев в крае. Такого же мнения придерживается и Белград. Несмотря на эти возражения, Евросоюз в минувшую субботу дал зеленый свет развертыванию EULEX. В нее войдут около 2 тыс. человек, в том числе 1500 полицейских. В декабре прошлого года отправку миссии одобрили лидеры ЕС. Сейчас в Косове присутствуют гражданская миссия ООН (UNMIK) и силы миротворцев KFOR.
     
    На первом этапе существование самопровозглашенной республики будет контролировать EULEX. Миссия ООН UNMIK не может в полной мере взять на себя эту функцию, так как решение по косовскому вопросу было заблокировано в Совбезе ООН.

    My translation:

    The representatives of the Kosovo Serbs repeatedly registered their opposition to a new EU mission to the region. Belgrade shares their views. Disregarding these protests, last Saturday the EU gave the green light to the organization of EU-LEX. Nearly 2000  members, including 1500 police officers, will be sent [These troops are not part of the existing EU mission in the region and include 700 SWAT team members- JJ] . The addition was approved by the leaders of the EU last December. Currently, both a humanitarian mission from the UN (UNMIK) and the KFOR peacekeepers are operating in Kosovo.
     
    Initially, the existence of the self-proclaimed republic will be controlled by EULEX. The UN mission UNMIK could fully not take on that mission upon itself, as a decision about the Kosovo situation was blocked in the Security Council of the UN.

    Russia is of course protesting the move to recognize Kosovo. The EU and US have been making Russia out to be the bad guys. In many senses, the Russians are behaving reasonably, although it is obvious that Moscow would like to pull the Serbs firmly into Russian orbit.

    The MSM seems to be rushing to judgment as well. I’m not sure if the distortions are intentional or due to ineptitude, but the Russians position is not well represented in the Western press. Take, for example, this CNN quote:

    “If the EU works out a single position or if NATO steps beyond its mandate in Kosovo, these organizations will be in conflict with the U.N., and then I think we will also begin operating under the assumption that in order to be respected, one needs to use force,” Moscow’s ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said, in comments carried by Russia’s Interfax news agency.

    I went to the Interfax files and pulled up the original Russian story. The actual text is:

    Москва. 22 февраля. ИНТЕРФАКС – Постпред РФ в НАТО Дмитрий Рогозин не исключает, что после косовского прецедента государственные интересы в мире можно будет защитить только с помощью военной силы.
     
    “В случае если Европейский Союз и Организация Североатлантического договора выйдут за пределы мандата, который определен им Организацией Объединенных Наций, то это означает, что они вступают в каком-то смысле в конфликт с самой ООН. Это будет означать, что мир в будущем будет строиться не на международном праве, а на грубой силе – читай вооруженной силе”, -подчеркнул он в пятницу в ходе телемоста Москва – Брюссель.

    My translation:

    Russian Federation Emissary to NATO Dmitri Rogozin does not discount that after the Kosovo precedent that in the future national interests may be defensible only with the aid of military force.
     
    “If the EU and NATO overstep the bounds of the mandate that has been given to them by the UN, then that means that they are heading in some sense into conflict with the UN. That means that peace in the future will be constructed out of International Law, but by the basest of pressure – military force” – he emphasized on Friday in a teleconference between Moscow and Brussels.

    The original text contains no reference to “respect”, and it’s inclusion is a clear bias in the CNN reports attitude towards Russian loss of influence in the post-Soviet era. The Russian text is much less threatening, and clearly, in my mind, aimed at maintaining the Russian moral authority to use force in Chechnya and other break-away regions within its territory.

    The original mis-quote was used to support a headline of “Russia does not rule out force in Kosovo”. It’s interesting to note that the original article title was taken down and replaced with another, with fresh content added.

    Unfortunately, in the brief time that misinformed headline graced the Web, it was picked up by other clueless Western reporters.

    From what I’ve read in the Russian press, the concern about Kosovo is mainly over the violation of UN resolutions and what that may mean for Russia in the future. Take, for example, the Argumenty and Fakty opinion poll on Kosovo:

    Парламент Косова проголосовал за принятие декларации о независимости края. Как вы относитесь к образованию нового государства?
     
    39% Отрицательно. США и Европа не посчитались с мнением Сербии
     
    44% Отрицательно. Теперь любая спорная территория может провозгласить себя отдельным государством
     
    10% Положительно. Этнические меньшинства получат самостоятельность и свободу
     
    4% Мне все равно
     
    3% Другое

    Translation:

    The Kosovar Parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence for the region. How do you feel about this new country?
     
    39% Negative. The US and EU did not consult the Serbs.
     
    44% Negative. Now every contested region may vote to make itself a separate country.
     
    10% Positive. Ethnic minorities are achieving self-rule and freedom.
     
    4% Don’t care.
     
    3% Other

    The Russians in fact do seem to be somewhat reasonable in this instance*.

    Возможен фактический раздел Косово на две части, считают в МИД РФ Москва. 22 февраля. ИНТЕРФАКС – В Москве не исключают раздела Косово на сербскую и албанскую части.
     
    “Складывается ситуация, имеющая перспективы к самоизоляции косовских сербов, не согласных или не принимающих одностороннее провозглашение Приштиной независимости Косово”, – сказал “Интерфаксу” в пятницу заместитель директора четвертого европейского департамента МИД РФ, курирующего Балканы, Александр Боцан-Харченко.
     
    “Это вполне может привести к фактическому разделу Косово”, – сказал собеседник агентства.

    My translation:

    It is in fact possible to divide Kosovo into two partitions, claims the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation.
     
    Moscow does not exclude the possibility of dividing Kosovo into Serbian and Albaninan regions.
     
    “This situation may lead to the self-segregation of the Kosovo Serbs who do not agree to or do not accept the one-sided declaration of independence for Kosovo by Pristina” –Deputy Director of the 4th European Department of the FM of the RF with responsibility for the Balkans Aleksander Botsan-Kharchenko told Interfax. “This indeed could lead to the de facto partition of Kosovo”, – he told the agency.

    So, fears of a new cold war are quite unfounded. The Russian understand the game they are playing in the EU. They will, of course, jockey for as much position as they can by taking Serbia’s side in the forced succession of a large chunk of formerly Serbian territory, for which Serbs protests are not without merit. However, P.J. O’Rourke also once again summarizes my attitude towards everyone who is squabbling in the region:

    The Serbs, of course, have as many excuses and grievances as anybody does in Yugoslavia, which is to say a lot. And they are just as much in the right as everybody else, which is to say they’re shits.

    * Interfax apparently does not believe in public archives that last for more than a week, so I was forced to link to Russian sources that quoted the agency. When I started this article, I could pull the original stories directly from Interfax.

     

    13 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Kosovo”

    1. Vince P Says:

      I think it’s a disaster what we have done in the Balkins , starting with Clinton’s war against Serbia up to Bush’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

      The foreign policy of Bush’s second term under C. Rice has been a catastrophe as far as I’m concerned.

      In my view, the war we’re in is best defined by “Islamists with the goal of establishing a Caliphate and spreading Sharia law vs. the rest of the world”

      Under that definition, we’re losing on just about every front.

      Recognizing Kosovo only bolsters our enemy’s cause, not to mention antagonize Russia when there is no reason to.

      The fact that our State Dept is advocating position after position that bolsters the Jihadis says to me that they have no more understanding about our enemies than they did on 10 Sept 2001.

      Its very disturbing.

    2. Tatyana Says:

      JJ, afraid you appealed to a wrong girl for confirmation.
      Not only your translations are not accurate (in letter if not in spirit), I totally disagree with your premise, with your understanding of the conflict, with what you think is the US role and purpose, and most definitely I don’t think of Serbs as shits.

      I think during recent Balkan war US has shown itself as an unreliable ally – to fellow Christians, as an appeasing weakling – to expansion-seeking Muslims, and generally shoot itself in the foot.
      As to Stans paying attention to pro-Slavist Russia: at least Russian policy in this regard is centuries-old -consistent. Stans, and Turkey and Persia before them knew all along that Russia will support Slavic population everywhere, under any circumstances. Europeans played a joke against Russia with their support of Albanians (because that’s who we are talking about when you say “Kosovo”; real Kosovars are Serbs; Kosovo is their historical and native land)
      – but the ones who laughs are Muslims. And when you say “Yugoslavia is a mess” maybe you should realize that it’s better not get yourself involved into a mess you don’t know the starts or ends of.

    3. Tatyana Says:

      P.S. Since you read in Russian, let me offer you a LJ of Russian-Albanian “patriot”, who celebrates victory in Kosovo as first steps in expanding Great Albania:
      http://community.livejournal.com/emirat_albania

      Somewhere down in his posts there are threats plans of acquiring parts of Macedonia (which he says, the cowardly Macedonians are offering to their Muslim overlords themselves, without even attempt of fighting), etc etc.

      Still proud of yourself?

    4. John Jay Says:

      Tatyana – did you read this entire post? I quote:
      “I find it supremely ironic that the US is supporting the construction of a Muslim state in a region whose religion-tainted wars in the 1990s trained many of the Al Qaeda operatives our forces have faced in Iraq.”
      I quote again:
      “They will, of course, jockey for as much position as they can by taking Serbia’s side in the forced succession of a large chunk of formerly Serbian territory, for which Serbs protests are not without merit.”
      My point is that everyone in the region is going to play the US for a patsy if they can, and that the Administration seems quite willing for this to happen. And yes, I still think the Serbs are shits, as are the Croats, the Macedonians, and most especially the Albanians. No one’s hands in that regions are free of innocent blood.
      The premise of this post is that Kosovo is an EU affair, and aside from some shaky strategic objectives the US should not have taken the lead in recognition.
      Please tell me line by line where there are mistakes in the translation. I put the Russian there deliberately so that those who read the language can see than I am not distorting stated Russian intent as I accused CNN of doing. Do not cast aspersions on the translations just because you disagree with the premise of the post (which you clearly did not read carefully and the premise of which you clearly do not understand).
      You seem to think that Moscow was threatening to use force in Kosovo? Or do you mean something else by “spirit”?
      I came out pretty pro-Russia in this piece, allowing for the fact that US and Russian interests decidedly do not overlap much in the Middle East.

    5. Tatyana Says:

      No, I read the entire post. You contradict yourself there many times – first you say Yugoslavia has been a mess ever since it has been under the Ottomans (i.e. Turkey). Then you compare Turks and Arabs and Turks win your approval in their attitude. You hint that Serbs are whiny (the accusation I heard before); you are offended that Serbs are blaming Americans for the condition their country is – after you just acknowledged that we are part of occupying forces on Serbian and Kosovo territory; you call Serbs shits right after you say their territorial claims “are not without a merit”. So on, so on. You come out like a school teacher who doesn’t want to separate those who started the fight on a schoolyard and those who defended themselves – and just punish everyone involved, collectively. And then you talk about misguided Bush’ tactic, as if his strategy – of playing our enemy’s hand – is a wise one.

      My own position here: I’m not so much pro-Serbian as anti-Muslim. Any country willing to fight the plague is my ally. Especially if they are doing it on their own territory and defending their own women and children in the process – they have all the moral right on their side.

      You noticed that Muslims in Stans, as you call them, build their foreign policy and their alliances orienting themselves with other Muslim states, ethnicity not-withstanding. They are creating a united front, they are united under their green flag – against us. or sure, they have their oqn squabbles and their own territorial disputes – but that only comes into play when we are not much of a danger. And we losing time, shooting our own and draping ourselves into high-moral togas and call our former allies (remember Tito?) shits.

    6. Tatyana Says:

      Now, to your translations.

      “Представители косовских сербов неоднократно высказывались против присутствия новой миссии европейцев в крае. Такого же мнения придерживается и Белград. Несмотря на эти возражения, Евросоюз в минувшую субботу дал зеленый свет развертыванию EULEX. В нее войдут около 2 тыс. человек, в том числе 1500 полицейских. В декабре прошлого года отправку миссии одобрили лидеры ЕС. Сейчас в Косове присутствуют гражданская миссия ООН (UNMIK) и силы миротворцев KFOR.

      I altered your translation thusly:

      The representatives of the Kosovo Serbs numerous times voiced their opposition to the presence of new EU mission to the region. Belgrade is of the same opinion. Disregarding these protests, last Saturday the EU gave the green light to the creation of EULEX. It will consist of nearly 2000 new members, including 1500 police officers. The deployment of the mission was approved by the leaders of the EU last December. Currently, both a humanitarian mission from the UN (UNMIK) and the KFOR peacekeepers are operating in Kosovo.

      It translates the meaning of the statement closely, not your interpretation of what they are saying.

      Same goes on with other translations, I don’t want to take up space and go into more technicalities.

    7. Tatyana Says:

      Just read the translation again (sorry for double posting, Jonathan!) – and I see that I missed more discrepancies.

      It should be

      The representatives of the Kosovo Serbs numerous times voiced their opposition to the presence of new EU mission to the region. Belgrade is of the same opinion. Disregarding these protests, last Saturday the EU gave the green light to the deployment of EULEX. It will consist of nearly 2000 members, including 1500 police officers. The deployment of the mission was approved by the leaders of the EU last December. Currently, both a humanitarian mission from the UN (UNMIK) and the KFOR peacekeepers are operating in Kosovo.

      The difference: this is not an addition to the EU mission, it is the mission. There are no NE members, 2000 troups is the size of the mission. Etc.

    8. fred lapides Says:

      I have a friend on Fullbright there and he tells me that Serbs at a dinner in Kosovo weree generally not at all unhappy with current events. I sent him this link, which I find helpful

      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/weekinreview/02bowley.html?_r=1&ref=weekinreview&oref=slogin

    9. John Jay Says:

      Corrections noted. We won’t quibble about whether I should ahve kept “read” or other uselss signifiers that don’t trasnlate into amooth English. The EU mission to Kosovo is an addtion ot the Bosnian mission, a point which the Russian text was not making.

      I left Yugoslavia in 1991 with exactly the same impression that O’Rourke left it in 1992 or 3. If the Serbs want US sympathy, they should have attempted to constuct a peace there before foreign militaries got involved. The are reaping the whirlwind of 1993, and I will not cry for them that they have lost control of a lot of territory that should have been theirs if they had reigned in the Chetniks and acted like civilized people. Serb “Christianity” cuts no ice with me.

      I’m pretty anti-Muslim as a culture, but the US can not fight the entire Muslim world at once. The Stans retreated from US involvement not to gather under the green flag, but at the urging of Russia and China, who are all too eager to support regimes such as Saddam’s. Pakistan will go South in the next decade, and reality dictates that the US keep the Stans and Egypt out of the coming conflict.

    10. John Jay Says:

      Fred – I have a very hard time believing that. Did you read any of the English language Russian press reports from Serbia, or Serb reports in translation The only Serbs who are hapy about this are the insane ones who want to start a war with the EU and think that Russia will back them.

    11. Tatyana Says:

      We won’t quibble about whether I should ahve kept “read” or other uselss signifiers that don’t trasnlate into amooth English.

      No, I won’t. I’ll just permit myself to remind you that in your article you called on me, specifically, to check your translation. I obliged, and found it inaccurate. I wasn’t asked to edit the translation from pov of stylistically better English – and if I was, I wouldn’t take on the task.

      You understood the meaning more or less correct – but for a formal translation, “less” is not acceptable.
      Sorry.

    12. just_a_serb Says:

      Let me try to escape being “weeny”, since I can’t escape being “shit”.

      U.S. lost soft power against us, Serbs after Kosovo UDI and recognition by U.S. There is only the brute force left now.

    13. Robert Schwartz Says:

      I read some 700 pages of Rebbecca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”. I stopped, a bit more than half way through the 1200 page monstrosity, because I really couldn’t stand it anymore.

      West was an icon of the left in the middle of the 20th Century. She launched her career as a leftist luminary by being a suffragette and the inamorata of the original liberal fascist, H.G. Wells. She published BLGF in 1941.

      BLGF is full of overblown prose, distorted history, and nationalist stereotypes. She swallows and spits out the absurd Serb line that they should rule Kosovo because they LOST a battle there 600 YEARS AGO. Her Serbs are noble, Croats are treacherous, and Albanians are like the darkies on her plantation, always laughing and singing like little children.

      If you want a much better book on Kosovo, read “Kosovo, a Short History,” by Noel Malcolm.