The Other Enemy, Still There...
PRISHTINA, Kosova — While the world reacts in horror to the atrocities in Mumbai, Balkan Muslims and Albanians (the latter both Muslim and Christian) understandably have their eyes on an older but equally feral enemy: Russian imperialism, acting through its Serbian pawn. Kosovar Albanians, in particular, are anxious about the future, repeatedly asking me, during a visit at the end of November, what President Barack Obama would do if Serbia, encouraged by Vladimir Putin, makes an armed attempt to regain full control over Kosova. One can offer them little comfort, especially since the efforts of the Bush administration to reintroduce the entry of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO have been met by indignant repudiation by our European allies -- with the Germans in the forefront of the reaction.
The problem of Serbian intentions is present in Bosnia-Herzegovina no less than in Kosova. The Dayton Accords of 1995, which Democrats tend to acclaim as a great diplomatic achievement, left almost half of Bosnia in the hands of the mafia statelet known as the "Republic of Srpska" or "R.S." International legitimization of this enclave, rather than recognition of the independent Kosova Republic last February, provided the precedent for Russia's theft of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the Georgians. A united Bosnia-Herzegovina with a Muslim plurality, a single Kosova with an overwhelming Albanian majority, are based in historical and cultural realities and recognized continuities. By contrast, the so-called "R.S.,' Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the looming inevitability of a system of special Serbian zones in Kosova represent mere enclaves, erected to satisfy the aggressive demands of unfriendly neighbors.
Kosova may be the only place in the world where the majority of ordinary folk express undiluted affection for George W. Bush and John McCain. It is also perhaps unique in that locals are inclined to drop everything and closely watch United Nations General Assembly debates live on television, most recently on November 27 when U.N. general secretary Ban Ki Moon delivered a report endorsing a so-called "six point plan" originating in Serbia. The six points would maintain a separate status for Kosova Serbs in policing and other governmental functions, as well as a highly controversial provision for establishment of "special protected zones" around Serbian Orthodox churches, in which religious authorities would exercise an ethnic-based political control. The six points further imply an open border between northern Kosova and Serbia.
Kosovar Albanians call this partition on the Bosnian model, supported by Europe and the UN, but opposed by the United Sates under Bush. Foreign administration of Kosova, in line with the six points, would be conducted by a so-called "law and order" mission known as EULEX--but to emphasize, as the proposal is conceived by Ban Ki Moon, the Kosova Serbs would be allowed an exemption from EULEX jurisdiction.
Remarkably, the government of Kosova's neighbor, Montenegro--which historically defined itself as more Serbian than Serbia itself because of Montenegrin autonomy under the Ottomans--supports Kosova in opposing the six points. Montenegro was forcibly wedded to Serbia for most of the period from the end of the first world war to 2006, lastly in a "country" known by the revealing acronym of "S&M"--as in Serbian sadism and Montenegrin masochism. But Montenegrin prime minister Milo Djukanovic has joined Albanian premier Sali Berisha and the Kosovar Albanian politicians in warning that the six points would bring partition and new instability, if not bloodshed, to the Balkans. Still, Serbia is holding out for its demands.
In visits to Kosova's main cities last week, I heard eloquent statements verging on stark fear of events to come. In the historic city of Gjakova, a leading Sufi teacher, Baba Mumin Lama, told me, "If the West is simply going to hand us back to the Serbs, let us all be killed at once, because the liberation struggle of the late 1990s will have proven useless." Other Albanian religious and intellectual leaders voiced similar sentiments. Many believe that Kosova has been propelled back to the uncertain status of 1997, when Serbia threatened Albanian survival and the West acted indecisively.
Kosovar Albanian political leaders such as Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, a veteran of the Kosova Liberation Army, have rejected the six points and demanded that if EULEX takes over law and order in Kosova, it operate in the entire territory from the first day. Thaçi gives the impression that the six points will be blocked by his cohort, but a more articulate and independent Kosovar Albanian advocate, the young philosopher Albin Kurti, who leads a movement called Self-Determination (Vetevendosje), argues that the six points are being implemented regardless of the popular will. Kurti wrote recently, "A careful reading of Ban Ki Moon's [six] points shows that further talks are foreseen for at least three of the points (customs, transportation and infrastructure, and cultural heritage). Therefore, the six-point agreement, besides being an agreement, is also an agreement for new negotiations that will lead to new agreements and maybe to new negotiations . . . " That is, Kosovar independence will be renegotiated interminably.
Until the announcement that Europe would leave Serbian areas free of EULEX authority, many Kosovars were inclined to consider Kurti's group, which calls for stepped-up public protest and resistance to foreign administration, radical. But numerous thoughtful Kosovars, including working class and peasant residents of the republic, now say they should have listened to Kurti months ago, because everything he predicted about Serbia's efforts to reestablish its dominance has come true.
Members of the so-called "international community" that runs Kosova admit that the local atmosphere is "tense"--but that is a mere euphemism for disillusionment and anxiety. Where these two expressions of collective depression are observed, rumors and conspiracy theories abound. Kosovars were astonished late last month when three former German soldiers and current agents of Berlin's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) or Federal Intelligence Service--Robert Zoller, Andreas Brunken and Andreas Jackel--were arrested and charged with a bomb attack on the International Civilian Office (ICO) in Prishtina, which is headed by European Union special representative Peter Feith. While the explosion on November 14 took no lives, it was shocking to imagine that Germans--representing a country that supports Kosova independence--would be involved in an act of state terrorism. Germany admitted the men were its agents but refused to elucidate the case, and although the three were threatened with a trial, they were repatriated to Germany in a special air flight.
Some Kosovar Albanians believed that the Germans intended to provide a pretext for arrest of dissident Albanians; others pointed out that the ICO, whose office was bombed, and Feith, its director, were alone among the major institutions of the international community in opposing the six points. Allegedly, the Germans were running a private security agency, called Logistic Coordination Assessment Services (LCAS). Some Albanians joked that the men may simply have been trying to drum up business by increasing public insecurity, but Albin Kurti put the whole matter well: "If there is no threat to law and order in Kosova, what reason is there to impose a European 'law and order' mission?" Still, the "German affair" remains mysterious.
Other elements busily stirring the local pot include some connected to the crimes in Mumbai--Wahhabi Islamists subsidized and coordinated from Arab countries. In Kosova, one may purchase copies of the excellent Catholic intellectual monthly Drita (Light) alongside a small but venomous Wahhabi periodical produced in Macedonia and titled AlbIslam. The latter is filled with propaganda against the West, along with hateful declarations against Shia Muslims by the fundamentalist Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has gained influence in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Even an impressive monthly titled Urtesia (Knowledge) and published by the Bektashi Sufis, now includes commentaries by the Turkish "soft fundamentalist" Fethullah Gülen, whose cultist adherents are also found in Washington and other Western capitals.
Confronting both Russo-Serbian and Islamist threats, Kosova is a microcosm of the dangers faced by those responsible for the exercise of American power across the globe. From the streets of Pristina and Sarajevo, both continued Serb aggression and pusillanimity in the face of radical Islam seem inextricable from the legacy of Bill Clinton, which President Obama seems pleased to inherit. Some Europeans and Muslims around the world are still celebrating Obama's victory, but the Kosovar Albanians, at least, remain skeptical. After all, they too are on the front lines.