The Multi-Ethnic Dream of Kosovo

Admiral Gregory Johnson, the NATO Commander in charge of Kosovo, as recently as a week ago has linked the violent Albanian struggle for independence to "ethnic cleansing" – and expressed that the recent attacks against Serbs and Romas were "orchestrated".

Derek Chappell, a spokesman for the UN mission, echoed this sentiment by saying that these attacks were planned well in advance.

Another UN official has been quoted as saying that "Kristallnacht is under way in Kosovo".

In spite of all this, the "International Community" continues to try to impose a "multi-ethnic" solution from above.

This idea goes back many decades, and can be traced to the cultural-imperialist fixation with "Balkanism". Defined by George Kennan, one of the founders of the American Slavic Studies, he warned as early as the 1920s that the problems in the area have "deep historical roots which feed on the characteristic traits of the Balkan peoples that are obviously inherited from the distant tribal past."

According to Kennan, the "aggressive nationalism" in the Balkans is an issue to which the West must pay special attention; namely, it is necessary to occupy militarily these "agitated peoples", until such time that they "calm down and grasp their problems in a right way". Therefore, it is the small Balkan peoples who, because of "their bloody wars," represent a "major problem" for civilization, and not the imperialist violence and colonialist practices perpetrated by Europe or the USA. This problem can only be cured through military occupation.

It is interesting to draw attention to the similarity between Kennan’s ideological perception and the current Balkan policies of the Western powers, above all the United States.

The Balkans, the "Wild East of Europe", where the "enlightened states" have still not completed their "mission civilisatrice", are still the "powder keg", an "immature society" imbued with ethno-nationalist animosities that can be explained only by the barbarian history of the region, etched, in an unusual manner, in the mental outlook of a barbarian world in the "heart of Europe" (Madeleine Albright). The direct consequence of this cultural-imperialist view is the ideological desire by the benevolent international community to impose "multi-ethnicity from above".

Serbian "civil society," a diverse (but class-homogenous) group of rent-a-intellectuals and NGO’s, fully supports the concept of "multi-ethnicity from above" as a solution for Kosovo. Thus, a distinguished professor, in an interview given to a Belgrade weekly, described the state of our "immature society": "Serbia must sever its umbilical cord with the Orient, and must become Europeanized…. I had great respect for Zoran Djindjic (the Serbian "reformist" prime minister, the author of the neo-liberal program who was killed because of his links with organized crime), because…..he was like a space shuttle. He was too fast for our slow Serbia.

What remains is a late Byzantine synthesis of disintegration, moaning and tears. Enough of those…Muslim tunes…. However, viewed from our perspective, globalization is something positive. It brings to immature societies like ours a wind that is anti-provincial and does not allow insularity. All societies similar to ours face a constant threat of insularity."

We are, however, according to this professor, to be freed of this specific civilizational claustrophobia by God’s intervention: "It is as if God had looked down on this wretched Serbian people and said: if I do not help them and do not send them some generations that will be unfettered, they will simply be doomed…. They are my students…. Those kids have grown up into a non-provincial generation, they are very good in foreign languages, the Internet, I admire them and believe that they are the generation that will take a Copernican turn that is so indispensable."

The international community and local civil society seem to share the same kind of repugnance for the "mass" of unenlightened "Balkans," both Serbs and Albanians, who need to be somehow tamed; generosity calls for a "multi-ethnic solution" for Kosovo: they must learn how to live together and they must do so by force.

The Serbian government, a fragile alliance of neo-liberals and nationalists, waver between two solutions: imposing a model of a "cultural and personal autonomy" or a collective prayer (the prime minister had for days, at the peak of the Kosovo unrest, led people in daily prayers in Orthodox churches, while the less pious torched mosques in Serbia – a spree that they interrupted to senselessly attack Romanies, themselves refugees from Kosovo.)

In his report to Parliament, Prime Minister Kostunica proposed "substantive autonomy for the Serbian community in Kosovo, partitioning into entities, that is to say, a Cantonization of Kosovo and Metohija, as well as cultural and personal autonomy."

That would be a heavy defeat for the Albanian political elite, as they are now the masters of the situation on the ground because of the bombings. They are presently positioned to fulfill their "national plan" of eliminating the other nations in Kosovo – and Serbia and the International community could soon be faced with a completely new situation. The latest campaign of violence has most likely beern a sign of impatience to carry out that "national plan" as soon as possible.

Cantonization, as observed by a renowned Belgrade journalist (himself prone to the fatalism of "immature society"), "was invented by the Swiss, because they needed that kind of association in order to unite. In the Balkans we do just the opposite and reach out for the Swiss scheme to more easily divide and protect ourselves against one another". But is that truly the reality?

Could there possibly be a solution that would not unavoidably imply "ethnic division" or "multi-ethnicity imposed from above"? Moreover, could there be a left-libertarian solution founded on the sheer undermining of such concepts, going from a mutual struggle to mutual aid, through putting together a mosaic of mutually linked alternative approaches in a new kind of politics? A solution not based on the ridiculous idea of bringing together so-called ethnic groups – reproducing the logic of ethnicity- but developing a plan that is centered around solving essential social problems such as poverty, education, housing and resisting privatization.

The ethno-nationalism in Kosovo must be surmounted, true enough, but not through a violent imposition of a multi-ethnic society or by defining new ethnic border lines, but instead through the alchemy of restructuring society by doing away with borders and differences through mobilizing the energies of the social movements. Can ethno-nationalism and imposed multi-ethnicity retreat when confronted with the organic solidarity that could possibly be achieved in the conditions of a "participatory society" along Bill Tampler’s line of thinking about Palestine?

( see this interesting article at http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide.edu.au/vol2no3_2003/templer_impasse. htm)

I am talking about a "a project of a gradual transformation founded on the idea of a "policy from below"- altering politics from the bottom up, shaping society from below, seeking to overcome statecraft – a top-down system of pseudo representative governments ultimately based on the state monopoly of violence -and one that would be reflected in a struggle for the creation of an inclusive democratic awareness, through different models of alternatives, participatory social experiments, and a transformation practice that would win the practical imagination of all peoples in the region".

That alternative differs from the one that is proposed by the Yugoslav "old Left": Troskyists, Stalinists and anarcho-syndicalists, who mostly talk about a project of a "socialist federation" – which had been an important locus in the progressive history of the region. The organized "old left" in Serbia, exemplified in small activist groups and parties, opposes the "border solution" in any form. Some of them seem to envision a resurrected Soviet-style socialist world, while others, without questioning the State, as a container of political life, talk about a "socialist Balkans."

The alternative approach that I have offered here accentuates the primary importance of grassroots practices. This utopian program of transformation would accomplish surmounting and leaving behind for good the separation of the Albanian and non-Albanian populations, together with the very logic of borders and ethnic conflict. Some efforts towards this goals are already in evidence.

Andrej Grubacic is a historian and a social critic from the Balkans. He can be reached at zapata@sezampro.yu




Leave a comment