Great Power Meddling in Kosovo


After nearly eight years of uneasy occupation of the province of Kosovo that NATO wrested from Serbian control by 78 days of bombing in 1999, the U.S.-led “International Community” is eager to shift responsibility for the intractable situation to someone else. This may be done by imposing a false “solution” that provokes either Serbs or Albanians, or both, into reacting in ways that can be blamed for the impending disaster.

The “International Community”, the contemporary equivalent of the nineteenth century Great Powers that carved up the Balkans in ways that led to World War I, appointed former Finnish president Marrti Ahtisaari to be “special envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the future status process for Kosovo”. Ahtisaari’s task was to come up with something that would sound good to Western media and human rights NGOs. Neither international law nor mere reality on the ground were serious considerations.
Ahtisaari’s “Kosovo Status Settlement” defines the future Kosovo according to the IC wish list. Kosovo, it announces, “shall be a multi-ethnic society, governing itself democratically and with full respect for the rule of law, the highest level of internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, and which promotes the peaceful and prosperous existence of all its inhabitants.”_Kosovo “shall be…” Not is. Because that description is about the exact opposite of what Kosovo is now: a poverty-stricken cauldron of discontent characterized by violent ethnic hatred, a political system manipulated by armed clans, a corrupt judicial system, and terrified minorities (notably Serbs and Roma) deprived of the most basic freedoms, such as being able to venture out of their besieged homes in order to shop, go to school or work their fields.

Not to mention broken down public services, an economy totally dependent on foreign aid and criminal trafficking (drugs and sex slaves), and massive unemployment affecting a youthful population easily aroused to violence.
Turning water into wine is nothing compared to transforming this failed province into a model democratic multi-ethnic State. But that is the miracle Ahtisaari is announcing.

And how is this miracle to be achieved?_Albanian separatists seem to be convinced that total independence is all that is needed to turn their ramshackle province into a second Luxembourg. But total independence is not exactly what Ahtisaari is proposing. Kosovo is to have the trappings of independence — things to play with like “its own distinct flag, seal and anthem” (on the condition that they reflect the “multiethnic” nature of the place). It can join the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank — not exactly the key criteria of independence.

But according to the Status Settlement plan, Kosovo will remain under strict international supervision. Control will be exercised by an international bureaucracy run by the European Union and a military presence led by NATO, in three parts:

1. An “International Civilian Representative (ICR), double-hatted as the EU Special Representative”, appointed by an “International Steering Group (ISG) comprising key international stakeholders”, will have the power to “ensure successful implementation of the Settlement”, to “annul decisions or laws adopted by Kosovo authorities and sanction or remove public officials whose actions are determined by the ICR to be inconsistent with the letter or spirit of the Settlement”. So much for political “independence”.

These “key international stakeholders” are, incidentally, self-appointed and do not include the country with the greatest stake in Kosovo: Serbia. Rather, they are a reincarnation of the nineteenth century Great Powers.

2. “A European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) Mission will monitor, mentor and advise on all areas related to the rule of law.”

3. A “NATO-led International Military Presence will provide a safe and secure environment throughout Kosovo” until Kosovo’s institutions are able to do so — which could conceivably be many years, or 24 hours, depending on how the “key stakeholders” choose to interpret events.

With some name changes, this is the same sort of international supervision that has so far failed to combat crime, provide real security to minorities or develop the economy.

Bureaucracy in the New World Order

Government by international bureaucracy seems to be a trend in the New World Order. Since the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnia war in late 1995, Bosnia-Herzegovina has been ruled by a similar combination: a complicated set of local authorities under the strict supervision of a “High Representative” (contemporary version of Proconsul or Viceroy) who can, and does, annul laws adopted by the local democratic institutions or dismiss democratically chosen officials who fail to tow the IC line. The declared purpose of this benevolent dictatorship is to foster “multiculturalism”, but the result is that nationalist antagonism between Muslims, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina is as strong as ever, if not stronger. This eleven-year-old failure is to serve as model for the Kosovo success story.

But the trend is deeper and broader than the administration of the European Union’s new protectorates. It applies to the European Union itself. A number of astute observers note that the complex double-tiered ruling structure of the Balkan colonies is essentially the same as that of the European Union, with its Member States progressively giving up their democratic decision-making power to the EU Commission, only very marginally controlled by a European Parliament with none of the powers or popular legitimacy of traditional national parliaments.

Even more striking, the “Settlement” spells out in advance a whole range of policies and measures for Kosovo, just as the EU draft “Constitution”, rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in referendums held in 2005, spells out in advance not only structures but policies. Basic economic policies are left to the “free market”, or its institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and the EU Commission. Deprived of its economic policy-making, the State justifies its existence by defending “human rights”, especially rights of minorities. This focus on minority identities keeps populations distracted and divided. There is no chance that they will come together to form a majority challenging the right of foreign decision-makers to dictate economic policy.

Despite its unique features, Kosovo illustrates the inextricable mess created by this current imposed version of Western “democracy”.

Creating Rights Violations

The post-Cold War capitalist West, needed to drape itself in a noble cause. “Human rights” did the trick. To preserve and expand the U.S.-led Cold War military machine after the dismantling of its official adversary, the Warsaw Pact, NATO was endowed with the new mission of “humanitarian intervention”. The 1999 “Kosovo war” was the trial run for this new mission.

The background of the centuries-old Kosovo conflict was dismissed as irrelevant by U.S. policy makers in their search for “new Hitlers” on one side and “victims” on the other — the cast of characters required for staging “humanitarian intervention”._Encouraged by the prospect of getting to play the “rescued victim” role, the armed separatist group calling itself the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) provoked reprisals by shooting policemen and other persons loyal to the existing government. Violent repression predictably ensued. NATO then chose to interpret the reprisals as part of a deliberate plan of “ethnic cleansing” and perhaps even genocide. Thanks to ignorant and biased media coverage, NATO enjoyed overwhelming popular support for its bombing campaign and subsequent occupation of Kosovo.Henceforth, NATO has had to maintain its Manichean interpretation in order to justify its intervention. The main instrument for this purpose is the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, which, although formally a “United Nations tribunal”, is essentially staffed, funded and provided with “evidence” by NATO governments.

The main human problem in Kosovo today is psychological: the terrible hatred between communities stirred and aggravated by one-sided foreign intervention. This outside support by Great Powers encourages Albanian nationalists to seek more and more: more concessions, more territory, more indulgence toward their mistreatment of non-Albanians, who, according to the official NATO narrative, pretty much deserve what they get. At the same time it leaves Serbs to nurse a bitter sense of grievance and unjust humiliation.

Instead of a punitive approach manipulated by NATO powers, what was needed to bring lasting peace to the Balkans was some sort of Truth Commission that would investigate events, motives, grievances and misdeeds on all sides in an effort to bring about reconciliation. Reconciliation can only be based on a sense of common humanity, which is destroyed by constant identification of “guilty” and “victim” ethnic groups.

But an unbiased investigation of the whole Kosovo drama would risk revealing the fatally negative role of foreign powers: the United States, Germany and NATO.

Thus hatred and prejudice must be perpetuated.

Designing the Zoo

The basic attitude of the “International Community decision-makers is that they alone are qualified to make decisions. They are better qualified than the people directly affected by their decisions. Lesser peoples must be treated like unruly children, or rowdy animals in a zoo, kept in cages designed by those who know best what is good for them. This attitude is perfectly illustrated by a gaming exercize conducted by and for U.S. officials in the fall and winter of 2001 and 2002 intended as preparation for final Kosovo status negotiations. [1]_In these simulations, participants — mostly American officials — played the roles of Serbs, Albanians, Americans and other international players. The report notes that : “Both simulated ‘Serbs’ and ‘Albanians’ looked to the ‘U.S.’ as the power broker, ignoring other elements in the international community like the ‘UN’, which lacked credibility with both sides.”

The conclusions were drawn in a report by two main operators of U.S. Balkan policy, James Hooper, executive director of the influential Balkan Action Council, and Paul Williams, who served as advisor both to the Bosnian Muslim delegation at the 1995 Dayton talks and to the Kosovo Albanian delegation at the 1999 Rambouillet talks that set the diplomatic stage for NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Incidentally, Williams heads the International Law and Politics group that carried out the exercise and has already undertaken to write the Constitution of a future independent State of Kosovo.

Their most remarkable conclusion: ” — When left to their own devices, the ‘Albanian’ and ‘Serbian’ delegations were ready to engage in division and reallocation of territory, exchanging land in northern Kosovo for land in southern Serbia and ignoring the consequences for Macedonia and Bosnia.”

If redistributing territory to promote ethnic homogeneity is to be avoided, the international community, led by the United States, will have to prevent it.” Leaving aside the dubious reliability of such simulations, what is truly remarkable here is the arrogance of U.S. officials, their absolute certainty that they have the right and the capacity to judge what is best for the peoples directly concerned, who must not be allowed to work out a possible solution by themselves. This has been U.S. policy all along. It is generally forgotten, because largely ignored at the time, that in 1998, Belgrade attempted to start negotiations with Kosovo Albanians.

Kosovo Albanian leaders rejected talks in favor of the implicit promise of NATO intervention on their behalf if the situation deteriorated. Then to save diplomatic appearances before launching NATO’s assault, the U.S. stage-managed last minute “negotiations” in Rambouillet chateau in France during which Serbian and Kosovo Albanian delegations were kept apart, as both were presented with “take it or leave it” proposals drafted by U.S. diplomats. These proposals were crafted to obtain Albanian acceptance and Serbian rejection, in order to justify bombing with the claim that “the Serbs refuse to negotiate” — which was not true. Official Serbian compromise proposals were simply ignored.

Adding insult to injury, the Americans at Rambouillet abruptly promoted Hashim Thaqi, a young rebel leaders with alleged criminal connections, as head of the Albanian delegation, shoving aside the better-known respected Albanian intellectuals who had also come to Rambouillet.

This illustrates a typical feature of U.S. imperial behavior abroad: select, listen to and promote only the worst elements in the foreign society you want to influence. Yes, there are, in any society, better and worse elements.

On the one hand, there are shameless opportunists, flatterers and outright criminals. Their advantage is that they are relatively easy to manipulate, at least in the short run. But not forever. There comes a time when they demand payment for their services. The Albanian secessionists in Kosovo are out of patience, and since they are still armed, the foreign occupiers are getting very nervous.

If the International Community itself is afraid of them, which is an urgent motive for giving them what they want before they start shooting, then what of the defenseless inhabitants? The remaining non-Albanian inhabitants of Kosovo, notably Serb-speaking or Roma, live in terror of these “liberators”. And what of the welfare of the majority of Albanians of Kosovo, who have been delivered to the control of gangsters, or of feuding clan leaders such as Ramush Haradinaj, a favorite of the United States? Haradinaj was given the post of provisional prime minister of Kosovo despite a pending indictment for war crimes by The Hague Tribunal. After his arrest, while awaiting trial, Haradinaj was indulgently released to pursue his political activity. It is constantly repeated that “all Albanians in Kosovo want independence from Serbia”, but in these circumstances, any Albanian who thought otherwise would be ill-advised to say so.

On the other hand there are honorable men and women who are concerned about the welfare of their country and their people. In any society, there are likely to be a few intelligent and selfless people who could be described with the outdated adjective “wise”. They are systematically ignored… or worse.

The Alternative

One such man is unquestionably Dobrica Cosic, Serbia’s geatest living writer, who for a brief period as president of Yugoslavia in 1993 vainly tried to promote peace. Since it was unthinkable to qualify a Serb’s concern for the future of his country as “patriotism”, much less “wisdom”, he was stigmatized as “nationalist” and ignored. Nevertheless, he has continued patiently to advocate the search for a genuine compromise agreement on Kosovo which might be sufficiently acceptable to all sides to serve as a basis for reconciliation and peace. In any genuine effort to bring about mutual reconciliation, his ideas would at least be taken into consideration.

In September 2004, Cosic renewed his proposal “for the Coexistence of the Albanian and the Serbian People” in an eight-page document sent to all interested governments. It includes a detailed reflection on the background of the Kosovo conflict and its context. While naturally and inevitably speaking from a Serbian viewpoint, Cosic takes Albanian views into account and observes a certain symmetry in their national ideologies. The “national ideologies of the Albanian and Serbian peoples”, he writes, include anachronistic political perceptions based on their past misfortunes: lengthy national subordinations and crushing defeats.

The products of these ideologies –“greater Albania” on the one hand and “the Serbian sacred land” of Kosovo on the other — are myths that “cannot serve as a basis for a reasonable and just resolution of contemporary national and state problems of the Albanian and Serbian people, determined by complete interdependence of the peoples in the Balkans, Europe and the world in modern civilization.” Cosic observes that radical changes in the ethnic composition of Kosovo, to the advantage of the Albanians, have compelled Serbia to review its policy, implying a compromise between Serbia’s historical rights to the province and the Albanians’ demographic rights. Keeping Kosovo within the Serbian state “would be a demographic, economic and political burden too heavy for Serbia, and hampering its normal development.”

While the same U.S. representatives who have exacerbated ethnic hatred between Serbs and Albanians now insist that they must live together in a “multi-ethnic Kosovo” with unalterable borders, Cosic acknowledges that “ethnic Albanians do not want to live together with the Serbs” in Kosovo and “Serbs cannot live under Albanians; Serbs and Albanians can live freely only next to each other”. He therefore argues that a territorial division worked out between the parties themselves could provide the basis for a genuine settlement allowing future generations to free themselves from this centuries-old conflict. Contrary to the U.S. approved Ahtisaari “Settlement”, which prohibits Kosovo from uniting with neighboring Albania, Cosic sees such unification as a possible outcome of an overall settlement.

Mutual Respect, or Mutual Hatred

Whether or not Serbs and Albanians could work out a “peace of the brave”, in mutual respect, along the lines suggested by Cosic, has been reduced to an academic question by U.S. meddling. Some ten years ago, a few people in Europe were ready to try that peaceful method. Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of the French President, sponsored round table talks in Paris between respected Albanian and Serb intellectuals. Such initiatives never enjoyed the support of the United States, which preferred to take the side of Albanian secessionists against the government in Belgrade, on supposedly “humanitarian” grounds. The result was to rule out compromise and to promote Albanian gangsters who posed as “victims” into the leadership role in Kosovo

The United States and its “International Community” have done everything to preclude an accord based on mutual respect. The inevitable result is mutual hatred.

It used to be that conquerors grabbed the top spots but left certain essential structures in place, such as police and courts, so as to keep order.

The humanitarian conquerors are different: in Kosovo as in Iraq, they abolish the police and courts as tainted by whoever it is they overthrew, and attempt to start from scratch. The result is chaos: large-scale chaos in Iraq and small-scale chaos in Kosovo.

The province is now known throughout Europe as a hub of drug trafficking, transit for prostitutes bought and sold from desperately poor Eastern European areas (notably Moldova), and various other forms of illegal trade. Industrial production has plummeted. Trash accumulates uncollected. A plethora of gas stations serve as money laundering facilities. The landscape is dotted with huge buildings serving no noticeable purpose, other than to absorb foreign subsidies for “reconstruction”. The local police and courts are described as corrupt and indulgent toward the criminal activities of fellow Albanians, and neither NATO nor the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) have dared to try seriously to enforce respect for the law.

In the midst of this mess, the United States operates the huge, self-contained strategic military base, Camp Bondsteel, that it built the moment U.S. forces entered Kosovo — the very symbol of the autistic empire. Revolution could happen in Cuba, but the U.S. military hung onto Guantanamo. Never mind what happens in Kosovo, Bondsteel can remain.

Other, less protected occupiers are more nervous. Already, in March 2004, some of them clashed with huge Albanian mobs that went on a rampage against Serbs and Serbian churches. Everyone knows that this could easily happen again, on a larger scale, and it will be very embarrassing to have to shoot at “the victims” in NATO’s Manichean reality show. Emissaries of the “International Community” have announced that Serbia “lost its right to govern Kosovo” because of Milosevic’s treatment of the province. This substitutes highly selective moralizing for international law. And what gave the United States and its satellites the right to dispose of a Serbian province as they see fit? The answer: 78 days of NATO bombing of Serbian bridges, homes, factories, schools and hospitals, brought to an end when the faithful emissary Ahtisaari conveyed to Milosevic the message that if he did not give in, Belgrade would be razed to the ground.

Many Serbs might agree with Cosic that the burden of trying to govern a violently hostile Albanian population would be too much for Serbia. Perhaps more than Kosovo, Serbs want to keep their sense of honor. Their whole nation has been slandered for close to twenty years by enemies intent on grabbing off pieces of the former Yugoslavia for themselves, on the pretext that they were “oppressed” by the Serbs. In their (successful) effort to curry favor with Western Great Powers, a number of Serbian politicians and journalists have eagerly spread lies about their own country in order to demonstrate that “we are better than Milosevic”. The most significant of these lies is that the Albanians of Kosovo had to be rescued by NATO because they were “threatened with genocide” — a “genocide” no more real than the “weapons of mass destruction” that served as pretext for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The Kosovo issue has been used to punish and humiliate Serbia in a way that no nation could be expected to accept. Serbia cannot resist Great Power dictates, but it can refuse to endorse them. This is not “nationalism” but elementary dignity.

The Russians and “Plan B”

The Ahtisaari plan was accepted by the provisional prime minister Agim Ceku, who as a senior officer in the Croatian army commanded troops who “ethnically cleansed” Serbs from the Krajina region of Croatia, before taking command of Kosovo rebels. This man, considered by Serbs a war criminal, is the “International Community” choice to ensure the safety of Serbs in “multi-ethnic Kosovo”. The plan has been rejected by the Serbian government, which states its readiness to grant full autonomy to Kosovo but not to give up part of Serbia’s historic territory. The Russians have said they will not give UN Security Council approval to a plan Serbia rejects. Independence for Kosovo is also opposed by European Union Member States Spain, Slovakia, Rumania, Greece and Cyprus.

The danger of the precedent set by rewarding an armed secessionist movement with independent statehood is of concern to much of the world, since it would almost certainly encourage armed insurrections by ethnic minority leaders hoping to win Great Power support as “victims” of the repression they would provoke.

After the death of the non-violent Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, who was denounced in his time for being willing to negotiate with Milosevic, Kosovo has fallen into the hands of militia and clan leaders quite plausibly accused of various crimes. Serbia on the other hand is run by what the IC describes as “pro-Western democrats”. This makes no difference to the U.S. tilt toward the Albanians. After all, there is nothing to fear from “pro-Western democrats”, whereas the Albanian nationalists risk running amok, as they did in March 2004, if they don’t get what they consider was promised them by NATO’s war.

Kosovo Albanian leaders have long announced that they intend to declare independence, regardless of the UN Security Council. According to Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch, “If the UN Security Council fails to approve the plan, then Washington could turn to Plan B: unilateral recognition by the United States, the United Kingdom, and then other states.” [2]

This could lead to armed conflict if an “independent” Albanian nationalist Kosovo government undertook to extend its rule to Serbian enclaves, especially the solidly Serb northern part of the province whose inhabitants will surely wish to remain part of Serbia. Even Serbs who might want to forget about Kosovo cannot easily abandon their compatriots besieged in Kosovo by fanaticized mobs. The United States will of course blame the Serbs for whatever goes wrong. And meanwhile NATO has made contingency plans to evacuate the remaining Serbs from their ancestral homes in Kosovo — all to avoid partition, which is ruled out by the doctrine of imposed “multiculturalism”.*


1. See the United States Institute of Peace Special Report No. 95, November 2002, “Simulating Kosovo: Lessons for Final Status Negotiations”. The government-financed gaming exercises were conducted by the Public International Law and Policy Group on September 28 and November 2, 2001, and February 15, 2002 at American University in Washington, D.C.

2. Fred Abrahams, “Kosovo’s Tricky Waltz”, Foreign Policy In Focus, February 7, 2007.

DIANA JOHNSTONE is the author of Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. She lives in Paris and can be reached at



Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. She can be reached at