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Turning Point?


Can anyone recall when the first time was that, after the Americans bombed and invaded a foreign country—even if, as we just saw with the case of Iraq in early June, they install a puppet regime which, in turn, invites them to stay on as the leaders of what both the United Nations and the Mobil Travel Guide for Iraq and the Middle East refer to as a “multinational” force—various organs of the United Nations followed right in their tracks, and started mopping up after them, even though there was no prior UN approval of the Americans’ war, and widespread fear and hatred of it globally?


Just sticking with our freshest and keenest memories, was it Iraq (March, 2003)?

No. Not a chance. Because 17 months before Iraq, there was Afghanistan (October, 2001).

So Afghanistan it was, then. Right?

Hardly. Because before Iraq and before Afghanistan, there was Kosovo (March, 1999).

To be more precise, more faithful to the historical truth: The American-led NATO-bloc “coalition” (officially speaking, of course) that bombed and eventually occupied the Serbian province of Kosovo in the spring of 1999. That bombed and occupied the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, as it still called itself back then—what is now called Serbia and Montenegro, all hope of a multiethnic and multiconfessional state encompassing the “South Slavs” having been wiped out for this generation. And for who can honestly tell how many more generations to come?

Kosovo, after all, preceded Afghanistan by some two-and-a-half years—and was every bit as unblessed by the United Nations as the other two that followed. Though in the intellectually degraded climate of the 1990s, a decade during which so many brazenly apologetic caddies for American Power came of age, and ever-more innovative legitimations for the threat or use of state violence were brought into play—depending on which state exercises the option, of course, and against whom—Kosovo was alleged to stand out not only as a case of pre-emptive war. But a case of pre-emptive moral war as well.

“[W]e are fighting not for territory but for values,” the British Prime Minister said at the time. “For a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated. For a world where those responsible for such crimes have nowhere to hide.” (Newsweek, April 19, 1999.)

Several weeks later, Tony Blair was at it again (Newsweek, June 14):

We now have a chance to build a new internationalism based on values and the rule of law. A new world where our television screens are not full of suffering night after night, but where we can work together to build prosperity and freedom. That is why it is so important that we persevere in this, the last stage of the conflict. Milosevic has often in the past failed to deliver on the deals he signed. We need to hold Milosevic to this one and get the refugees back. We can then embark on a new moral crusade to rebuild the Balkans without him.

So whatever happened to Kosovo?

“The election this weekend marks a turning point for Kosovo, and an opportunity to set the record straight,” Soren Jessen-Petersen, the latest—and indeed the fifth overall—Proconsul for NATO-occupied Kosovo, explained in the October 23 International Herald Tribune, the day of the most recent Parliamentary election.

(Quick aside. These days, it’s awfully hard to tell exactly who occupies Kosovo. Unce upon a time, it was relatively easy: The Americans, British, French, and Russian militaries occupied Kosovo. (Though none of them would have set one foot within the province without the Americans.) While a special organ of the United Nations, created on the nonce and doubtless in violation of UN Charter principles by the Security Council’s Resolution 1244 of June 10, 1999, and known officially as the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), with a splashy head proconsul named Bernard Kouchner, labored to show the world the redemptive power of American arms and “values,” to build the cults of “nation-building” and of smiting evil tyrants—and the cult of waging war “as a preventive measure to stop wars before they start and to stop murderers before they kill.”)

(Quick aside to this quick aside. For one my favorite analyses of the adaptation of the rhetoric of human rights to the service of naked Great Power politics of the kind we witnessed for the first decade or more after the collapse of the old Cold War system of propaganda, don’t miss the superb essay by David Chandler, “‘International Justice’,” New Left Review, November/December, 2000.)

But this seems like ancient history—almost. “The key task is to prepare Kosovo,” Jessen-Petersen continued—all preparations pointing towards the “future status of Kosovo,” just as they have since at least the second-half of 1998, well before the American-led NATO bloc’s war. “But everyone must get on board as Kosovo moves forward.” And this includes the province’s remaining ethnic non-Albanian population—though god only knows why, since these stragglers now comprise maybe five percent of the total, and the trend is down, not up. “Kosovo is the last piece of the puzzle in normalizing and stabilizing the western Balkans,” Jessen-Petersen concludes. “If we want to put the era of the region’s wars behind us, all sides must take part in building a more just and secure future.”

(Another quick aside. Hate to burst Jessen-Petersen’s baloon, but Kosovo has been moving away from a multiethnic province-slash-statelet for the better part of the past four decades. The 1999 war only greatly accelerated this trend. Not create it. When Kosovo’s remaining Serb population boycotted last Saturday’s parliamentary election, it was through this boycott that they cast their vote. The Serbian province of Kosovo is lost to them. And they know it. Only UNMIK and the “international community” want them to pretend otherwise. Hence, Jessen-Petersen’s ridiculous commentary. Back in the real world, Kosovo’s fate—all high-promulgations about its future status, “standards,” and “multiethnic society” aside—is sealed. Has been sealed, in fact, ever since the Americans became involved, and helped transform the armed ethnic Albanian resistance into the Kosovo Liberation Army. Meanwhile, the quasi-independent statelet of Kosovo has become about as monoethnic as they come. Wedding the nation to the state—as Robert Hayden described the logic of the breakup of Yugoslavia so simply and yet elegantly back during the 1999 war, while others were busy sharpening their picks and shovels, readying to rush into Kosovo looking for gold—Kosovo can’t get any more classically European than this. As far as Europe is concerned, only neighboring Albania is as monoethnic as Kosovo. They will make a perfect couple one day. Not even Slovenia or Croatia are this ethnically pure. (See the CIA’s “Field Listing—Ethnic Groups” webpage, which is reasonably up to date.))

“The vote for the 120-seat assembly is seen as a test of the international community’s efforts to build a multi-ethnic democracy in the southern Serbian province, administered by the United Nations since NATO bombing forced Belgrade troops to withdraw in June 1999,” Agence France Presse reported. (Agence France Presse, Oct. 24.) This is partially right. But also fundamentally wrong. True, the vote was a test—but not of multiethnic nation-building, needless to say. (“The elections have been a failure from the point of view of the maintenance of the multiethnic character of Kosovo,” a statement attributed to the Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica asserted. But I think this objection also misses the point. Whatever nonsense circulates about the multiethnic purpose of these elections—forget it.)

Rather, the vote was a test of the so-called international community’s capacity—in large part UNMIK, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and their new baby, the Central Election Commission of Kosovo—to stage yet another demonstration election under conditions of military occupation and massive foreign interference, with the Kosovo Albanians and the rest of the captive nations of Kosovo and beyond having at best supporting roles in the grand spectacle. Nothing more. As for the Kosovo Albanian population, the election was understood to be a “single-issue” event: Another step along the way to the “formal recognition of Kosovo’s independence,” as the Democratic League of Kosovo’s Ibrahim Rugova put it, his party receiving the highest share of the votes cast in a turnout that was so dismal at 51 percent, almost nobody wanted to talk about it. Let alone reflect for a moment upon what a lousy turnout such as this really meant.

At present, the final election results have not been released to the public domain. (Anyone who wants to look over the preliminary partial results can choose one of two options: A Spreadsheet (which is virtually unreadable) or a pie diagram and related materials (all quite readable).)

Still. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the voter turnout among ethnic Serbs was considerably less than one percent (Monday’s Independent reported Serb turnout as low as 0.3 percent)—the Serbs’ refusal to participate in last weekend’s demonstration election having been that resolute. In an interview with the Associated Press, Oliver Ivanovic, whom AP grotesquely identifies as a “moderate,” explained (I’m paraphrasing his comments as best I can) that the rejection of the formal political process by the province’s remaining Serbs is the result of the occupying powers’—that cacophony of Americans, NATO, the UN, the Europeans, and the NGOs that chase all of the aforementioned like a pack of jackals—longstanding sense of contempt toward Serb concerns. The No. One Serb concern, according to Ivanovic? Self-rule in those very small parts of Kosovo were Serbs are massed, largely in the northern border regions with the remainder of Serbia proper. Thus has the longstanding grievance of the province’s ethnic Albanian population returned to face its new occupiers once again, but now wearing a different guise. “The policy of multiethnic Kosovo has failed,” an important local Serb leader named Milan Ivanovic told Agence France Presse. “There is no multiethnicity here.” (“Kosovo vote widens gulf between Serbs and Albanians,” Oct. 25.)

How did the “international community” respond to Saturday’s election? First, there was complete unanimity that the election was a “turning point for Kosovo” (Soren Jessen-Petersen) as well as a “milestone” (NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer), and that the overall process was “in accordance with a legal framework that provided the conditions for free and fair elections” (Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union).

Second, and far more revealing, there also was complete unanimity that “those who called for a boycott were acting irresponsibly” (German Foreign Minister Joscha Fischer), that the American Government is “deeply disappointed that many Kosovo Serbs chose not to vote” (State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli), and that the “European Union expresses its disappointment about the low participation of the Kosovo-Serb community” (the E.U. Declaration again).

Some time in early December, it is expected that the European Union will assume the command of the Stabilization Force for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR), one version or another of which has been on the ground in this state since the Dayton Accords were signed at the end of the civil wars of 1992-1995. This official change of command may be pro forma merely, the British General John Reith slated to replace the current American General Steven Schook. Nevertheless. The coming transfer has received a lot of attention in E.U. and NATO circles as a postwar triumph of neocolonial management (though the true believers would never use this phrase)—along with the Office of the High-Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, two sides of the same “nation-building” coin.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a mess according to every democratic and developmental standard you’d care to mention. But it keeps the Neocolonial Community gainfully employed. (My god how the Human Rights Brigade gets its jollies rubbing the noses of ethnic Serbs in the dirt of “mass graves”!) And as long as the international structures of coercion—hirings and firings, threats of never working again, the withholding of credits and investment, threats of arrest and prosecution or ostracism from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and shows of military force when felt necessary—remain intact, it seems that Bosnia and Herzegovina will go right on, status quo ante, whoever sits on the neocolonial throne.

Less so the Serbian province of Kosovo—which for all intents and purposes, ceased being a part of the territory of Serbia proper from June 1999 on.

Dramatically less so, in fact.

“A New Generation Draws the Line,” Tony Blair, Newsweek, April 19, 1999
“A New Moral Crusade,” Tony Blair, Newsweek, June 14, 1999
Doctrine of the International Community at the Economic Club, Chicago,” Tony Blair, April 24, 1999

Establish a Right to Intervene Against War, Oppression,” Bernard Kouchner, Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1999

‘International Justice’,” David Chandler, New Left Review, November/December, 2000

A Very European War” (an interview with Robert M. Hayden), Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer, April, 1999

UN Security Council Resolution 1244, June 10, 1999
United Nations Intermin Administration in Kosovo (June 1999 through the present)
Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission in Kosovo (July 1999 through the present)
Kosovo Force (KFOR)
The Kosovo Standards Implementation Plan, March, 2004

The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (a.k.a., Dayton Agreement), December 14, 1995
Office of the High-Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR)
Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR)

SRSG visits Shtërpcë/Štrpce: GO OUT TO VOTE AND BE PART OF THE FUTURE’,” UNMIK Press Release, October 21, 2004
Statement by SRSG Søren Jessen-Petersen following the release of partial preliminary election results,” UNMIK Press Release, October 25, 2004

Kosovo’s Serbs Should Head for the Polls,” Soren Jessen-Petersen, International Herald Tribune, October 23, 2004
Serbs largely boycott Kosovo election,” Associated Press, October 23, 2004
Ethnic tensions, boycott mark Kosovo’s second post-war election,” Agence France Presse, October 24, 2004
Kosovo vote widens gulf between Serbs and Albanians,” Agence France Presse, October 25, 2004
Rugova triumphs in Kosovo polls,” BBC News, October 25, 2004
Kosovo Poll Reveals Failure of UN Role,” Harry de Quetteville, Daily Telegraph, October 25, 2004
Partition Fears as Serbs Stay Away from Kosovo Polls,” The Independent, October 25, 2004
Serbs Boycott Kosovo Vote, Raising Fears for the Future,” Nicholas Wood, New York Times, October 25, 2004
Activists Struggle to Cool Kosovo’s Heat,” Michael J. Jordan, Christian Science Monitor, October 26, 2004
Kosovo: A Neoconservative Victory,” Brendan Simms, The Times (London), October 27, 2004

“Kosova”: On its way to the ethnically-pure dream, ZNet Blogs (the old ones), April 2, 2004

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