The UN approach to settling the Serbia-Kosovo dispute fails to take account of the fallout of an ‘independent’ Kosovo. The way this issue is resolved will set the paradigm to address similar conflicts
Slobodan Milosevic has settled his score with the Hague Tribunal. He died the death of a martyr in a prison cell of causes that are not quite clear. This is the best route to creating a myth about an unflagging fighter who cared for the interests of his country and managed to pass a verdict against his foes at his own trial. This is exactly how the charismatic leader wanted to go down in Serbian history. His goal was to justify himself morally and politically, at least in Serbian eyes, if not in world opinion.
But only successful rulers can expect forgiveness for ‘too much’. The losers should not hope for mercy. Politically, Milosevic went bankrupt in 2000, when the wave of popular anger swept away, in a matter of hours, his 13-year long authoritarian regime. It was no surprise that Yugoslavia ceased to exist shortly after his downfall.
To be a former president of a non-existent country is easily the worst-case scenario for any political leader. His death will change little in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans. However, now that the deceased has exacted his revenge against the Hague Tribunal, it will not be easy for Serbian authorities to fulfil the EU ultimatum on the extradition of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to the Hague before the end of this month.
If the Hague Tribunal sought justice instead of justifying the consistently anti-Serbian policy of the West, Milosevic would have been tried on par with the Croatian President Franjo Tudman and the head of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegovic, who were allowed to quietly pass away, along with the ringleaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who are now respected politicians.
Large-scale war crimes, violation of the law and inhumanity are features of any civil war. Treating confronting sides differently means undermining the very foundations of law. Although the legal and extreme political bias of the Hague Tribunal does not ‘clear’ the criminals, but cooperation, under the circumstances, is a big headache for the cabinet of Vojislav Kostunica, who may well be the last democratic leader of Serbia.
The new context makes the hasty attempts by Washington and Brussels to achieve an early proclamation of Kosovo’s ‘independence’ from Serbia even more dangerous. This intention is difficult to explain in the context of the UN-proclaimed goal to create a democratic multi-ethnic society there. After all, the Comprehensive Review of the Situation in Kosovo has its diplomatic formulas of the situation in Kosovo change into a ‘thugocracy’ when Nato officers, who served there, describe the situation off the record. The façade of the current government conceals the mafia clans that enjoy the patronage of leading Kosovo politicians from among the former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army. The majority of the Serbs (about 220,000 people), who left Kosovo after June 1999, have not come back. More Serbs fled the area in the wake of anti-Serbian pogroms in March 2004. Ensuring good neighbourly relations between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs has proved to be an unfeasible task.
Having yielded to the blackmail of the Kosovo Albanian nationalists and drug dealers, Western patrons of Kosovo’s independence encourage them. If these patrons prevent them from translating the ideal of a ‘pirate republic’ into reality, they will come under pressure as well. The ‘entry ticket’, as it were, to the EU seems to be an effective instrument for controlling the Kosovo elite from Brussels. But why should they give up their bad habits? The Kosovo criminals already feel quite comfortable in Europe without any ‘ticket’ and control a big portion of the black market of drugs, weapons and prostitution.
Belgrade authorities will not accept Kosovo’s ‘independence’. In olden times Kosovo was the cradle of Serbian statehood — a shrine of national history, religion and culture. Kosovo’s independence will be an attack on the Serbian national identity and is tantamount to a political suicide for any Serbian leader.
In the long-term, preservation of ‘paper’ sovereignty over Kosovo will cost Serbia too much. Kosovo’s changing ethnic profile, backward agrarian territory and unemployability is a burden that the Serbian economy will not be able to bear. As part of Serbia, Kosovo is a source of endless conflicts.
The first consequence of Kosovo’s independence will be the ultimate exodus of Serbs from the area and growing conflict. But advocates of Kosovo’s independence are stubbornly reluctant to admit its broad repercussions on international geopolitics. But once talk on this subject started, it instantly generated tensions in ‘unrecognised’ post-Soviet state formations — Transdnestr, Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. How Kosovo fares is a potential precedent even in the Crimea and Transcarpathians. Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova have rushed to warn that any solution of the Kosovo issue should not be seen as a precedent. But it would be more logical to assume the reverse — that the echo of Kosovo’s independence will roll from the Basque Country to Kurdistan.
Speaking at a Kremlin news conference in January, Vladimir Putin stressed that dual standards are inadmissible in settling ethno-political conflicts, and that there is a direct link between the Kosovo settlement and the destiny of the unrecognised post-Soviet States. Russia upheld a universal approach at the UNSC session and the Contact Group on Kosovo. Conversely, the Western spokesmen insisted on the situation ‘being unique’. But this approach is incompatible with international law or common sense. After all, such a ‘unique’ situation may develop in any other place, and ‘no less unique’ conflicts may be settled in the same ‘unique’ way as in Kosovo.
The writer is Chief of Department of Ethno-Political Problems of the Russian Institute of Europe.