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A Pause that Refreshes

By David Binder

Remember what it was like last winter and spring with the Kosovo issue? Hardly a day went by without a declaration or a prediction that a resolution would be achieved in days, weeks, a month. Independence was just around the corner. Condoleezza Rice, Nicholas Burns, Daniel Fried, Frank Wisner and the pathetic Michael Polt went before microphones and cameras to make these vows with the seeming assurance of biblical prophets on behalf of the Bush Administration.

They were echoed by longtime advocates of independence for Kosovo (some of them paid by Albanians) like Richard Holbrooke, Morton Abramowitz, Rep. Tom Lantos and Janus Bugajski. And those were only the Americans speaking.

Then on April 3, Marti Ahtisaari submitted his version of a solution-resolution to the United Nations Security Council. Did anyone hear a “kerplunk” sound of something dropping into the Hudson River behind the U.N. Building?

Since then the silence has grown.

It seems that Serbia, with a huge boost from Vladimir Putin and his able team of diplomats has succeeded in torpedoing Ahtisaari, paralyzing the Security Council and stalling the Albanian drive for independence. At least for a moment it leaves Serbia with more to hope for than could have been expected last winter and the Kosovo Albanians with less than they were counting on as late as April.

We now have a pause. (For an American it calls to mind the first great advertising slogan for Coca Cola, from 1929: “The pause that refreshes”).What might we expect when the pause ends sometime in the autumn? Predictions in foreign affairs are dangerous, especially concerning the Balkans. Yet I think we can discern several changes that may influence the Kosovo deliberations.

Even before his July meeting with Putin in Maine, President Bush seemed to be in the process of scaling down United States plans on Kosovo, leading him to one of his “what did I mean when I said that?” moments. In Rome on June 9 he stated: “In terms of the deadline there needs to be one”

However, a day later in Tirana, the president forgot that he had mentioned a “deadline” and then said: “The question is whether or not there is going to be endless dialogue on a subject that we have made up our mind about. We believe Kosovo ought to be independent.” And, a bit later, “At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you’ve got to say: Enough is enough – Kosovo is independent.”

Whether he expressed such plaintive thoughts to Putin in Maine is not known. But it was clear that the two presidents decided not to tangle on the issue and to delegate it to their foreign secretaries. At least the Kosovo conundrum momentarily reached that height between the superpowers, which it had never ascended before.

Another factor has appeared, which may gain some bearing on the next stage of Kosovo deliberations: a decline in the political influence of the United States as President Bush’s time in office draws to a close.

A Pew poll conducted among 1,000 citizens in each of 47 countries and made public in June showed the United States in disfavor in 26 countries. Germans, French, Canadians and Britons said they trusted Putin more than Bush. Two-thirds of Germans said they disliked American ideas about democracy. Three-quarters of the French polled said the same.

Conceivably, these sentiments could translate here or there into government policies. Still, the Bush Administration continues to be numb to the interests and commitments of others. Among the numbest it seems is Condoleezza Rice. On June 28, she said at the US-India Business Council: “What is the meaning of non-alignment? It has lost its meaning. One is aligned not with the interests and power of one bloc or another, but with the values of a common humanity.” The next day India‘s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, icily retorted: “India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and believes that the movement has contributed substantially to the struggle against colonialism and apartheid.”

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*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade‘s Politika on July 7, 2007.

Serbia’s New Government Faces Old Challenges

By Jan Buruma*

Just before the constitutional deadline and with early elections looming, Serbia’s pro-Western parties managed to form a government.

The returning prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica has a lot of work to do, amongst others about the future status of Kosovo and cooperation with the Hague Tribunal.

At the same time, in an unusal twist, Serbia won the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest- thus winning the right to host the event next year, and so to showcase their country before Europe’s largest annual televised audience.

After the elections of January 21, 2007 the pro-democratic Serbian parties managed to agree on a new government after all. President Boris Tadic’ reform-oriented DS, PM Kostunica’s moderate nationalist DSS and the liberal G17 agree on a new cabinet for the Balkan country. The DS gets most of the ministers; in exchange, Kostunica will remain head of government.

Ever since the elections there was a virtual standstill. The nationalist Serbian Radical Party The Serbian Radical Party, however,.came out of the elections as the single biggest party winner, but did not manage to find a coalition partner.

The Serbs knew all too well that an SRS-dominated government would give a bad signal to Europe. The nationalists refuse to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal. They also have called for closer ties not with the EU and NATO, but rather with Russia, the Arab countries and China.

Last but not least, they (as the other parties) oppose independence for Kosovo and consider Serbians who disagree as traitors. When SRS-leader Tomislav Nikolic was briefly elected as parliamentary speaker, to the horror of the West, a new coalition seemed impossible and early elections were dooming. May 15, 2007 was the constitutional deadline.

Tadic and Kostunica were forced to cooperate with G17 in order to prevent an SRS-led cabinet. Olli Rehn, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, reacted positively: “This is a step forward for Serbia”. He immediately visited Belgrade to congratulate the new government.. Because of the new agreement, Nikolic stepped down, after having served only five days. He had managed to get the support of 142 out of 244 deputies, including the DS, moving the SRS-politician, albeit temporarily, into one of the most powerful positions in Serbia.

Tough Issues

The new Serbian government has a lot of work to do. On May 11, 2007 the Balkan country became chairman of the Council of Europe, just a few hours before the new government was presented. Many Westerners doubted that Serbia could lead the European body that, while it is without effective powers, has some clout as a monitor of human rights.

As the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly Chairman, Mr. René van der Linden quipped, “this does ring a number of alarm bells.” Six months ago, Russia became chairman and similar critical remarks were made. However, none of the 46 countries in the Council officially protested against Belgrade taking up the honorary presidency.

The most difficult topic, however, is the future status of Kosovo, which has been under UN- administration since 1999. The UN Security Council will decide soon about the future status of Kosovo.

In February, UN Special Envoy Matti Ahtisaari proposed de facto independence for the nominally Serbian Albanian-majority province, however under EU supervision. The planwas not only shot down by Belgrade, but was deemed unacceptable also by Russia. China too might block any adoption of it.

Another major issue is the future of EU membership talks for Serbia. In 2006, negotiations about closer cooperation were suspended, because Belgrade still had not arrested former Bosnian Serb leader Ratko Mladic to stand trial at the ICTY in The Hague. PM Kostunica is not seen as being particularly willing to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal.

Still, it was no coincidence that ICTY spokeswoman Olga Kavran stated that on May 15, 2007 an operation was carried out to capture Mladic in Belgrade. In fact, one of his closest associates, Zdravko Tolimir, was caught last week on the Serbian border trying to enter Bosnia and sent to the Hague.

According to the Independent, “…it is a sign that the noose is tightening around General Mladic, who is still at large. General Tolimir was very close to him and is believed to have been the mastermind behind the support network for the former Bosnian Serb army commander.”

Finally, on a slightly different note, Serbian singer Marija Serifovic’s ballad “Molitva” (‘Prayer’) won the Eurovison Song Contest on May 13, 2007. Serbs were overjoyed and greeted Serifovic and her fellow performers like royalty upon their return. “Finally Serbia is making positive headlines in the international media,” was a familiar comment made to foreign journalists. The victory was somewhat ironic in light of what happened, or didn’t happen, in last year’s Eurovision when, for the first time in contest history, a chosen country did not send an entry. Serbia and Montenegro — then still in their state union — could not agree over what song would represent them.

Aleksandar Tijanic, director of the statetelevision RTS added: “when the Song Contest will be in Belgrade in 2008, Serbia will after all be part of the modern world.” Indeed, despite the quite kitschy nature of the songs performed, it is a fact that no other event, save for the World Cup, provides such a large television audience from around the Continent. Winning countries have used their stint hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, therefore, as an opportunity for presenting visually alluring commercials advertising their countries. Serbia will thus finally get the opportunity to portray itself in a more positive light than it has since the Yugoslav wars and their aftermath.

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Jan Buruma is a Dutch freelance journalist, based in Sofia, Bulgaria. He specializes in the Balkan region, and has been coming to Southeast Europe since 1991. He is editor of the Dutch-language magazine Balkan Bulletin.

An Israel in the Balkans?

By David Binder

Could Kosovo, as a newly independent state in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula, become a second Israel? A thorny question: Merely linking Kosovo and Israel in the same sentence could invite accusations of anti-Zionism on the one hand or anti Illyrianism on the other. Yet there are some historic parallels.

I do not propose to evaluate the parallels in terms of good or bad, but rather to explore the question of what happens when great powers try to resolve ethnic and territorial disputes by authorizing a new national state. A basic question poses itself: whether the creation of an Israel or a Kosovo is a factor fostering stability in its region, or fostering strife.

Since its birth Israel has fought five wars as well as engaging in numerous lesser combat actions. In modern times, Kosovo has been the scene of major battles at the end of World War II and again in 1999. The foundation of the State of Israel began with the partition 60 years ago of what had been the British Mandate of Palestine into separate homelands for Jews and for Palestinians.

The UN General Assembly approved the United Nations Partition Plan with a two-thirds majority. In May 1948, a provisional government announced the creation of the State of Israel. US President Harry Truman, who had previously been skeptical about the viability of an independent Jewish entity, swiftly declared de facto recognition of Israel (de jure recognition followed in 1949).

While American political support for Israel was strong and steady, substantial financial assistance was slower in coming. It started with a $100 million loan in 1949, but now amounts to nearly $3 billion in annual grants.

Kosovo became a ward of the United States in a similarly stumbling fashion. In late December 1992 – eight months into the Bosnian civil war – President George H.W. Bush sent a letter to President Slobodan Milosevic declaring: “in the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian action, the United States will be prepared to employ military force against the Serbs in Kosovo and in Serbia proper.”

At that time there was no physical conflict whatsoever in Kosovo. So the Bush message struck the Serbian leadership like a bolt out of the blue. But the marker was set and the warning was repeated later by the Clinton Administration. The US finally implemented it in March 1999 with heavy air attacks.

Then, as soon as Serbian forces withdrew, President Clinton dumped Kosovo into the hands of the United Nations. Since it was taken over by the UN, Kosovo, the eternal economic basket case, has received more than $500 million from the United States and $3 billion from the European Union.

In the case of Israel, foreshadowing its creation was the Nazi genocide, which provided surviving European Jews and their supporters with a powerful argument for establishment of a Jewish homeland. In addition, from World War I on there was also a strongly articulated contention that nations had the right to self-determination. In the case of Jews that was the starting point of the Zionist cause in the late 19th century. In the argumentation of Albanians, Kosovo was the scene of genocidal actions by Serbs -although they do not dare to compare it to the fate of European Jews in World War II. (Their contentions were also weakened by the Albanians’ savage treatment of Kosovo Serbs).

Rather, the most vehement Albanian demands are framed in terms of the right of self-determination. For a long time they have been staunchly backed by the United States. As Condoleezza Rice stated on May 15: “it is important now to recognize that Kosovo will never again be part of Serbia.”

As it enters its seventh decade, Israel appears to be a fairly secure entity, despite being surrounded by hostile neighbors. The Zionist dream of Greater Israel (Eretz Yisrael Hashlemah) – including biting off big chunks of its neighbors – has been reduced to nibbles by militant settlers in West Bank lands. Yet Israel for all its extraordinary accomplishments remains a factor of great instability, not only in its immediate vicinity but well beyond. Now here is Kosovo on the eve of possible independence -no longer as a ward of the UN, but of the European Union. What are its prospects? Given the ambitions of the more militant elements among the Albanians — including fanatical elements in the diaspora – one wonders whether an independent state of Kosovo will contribute to stability in the region. (Stability, we must keep in mind, is the declared policy goal of the United States and of the European Union in the Balkans.)

As with the Zionists of yore harkening back to Biblical times, contemporary Albanians cultivate myths of Illyrian ancestry which would make them coeval with classical Greeks, and of an ancient “Dardania,” encompassing Kosovo, southern Serbia, western Macedonia and northern Albania. (Some chauvinistic elements toy with the idea of renaming the province “Dardania”.) Myths are harmless if they are confined to books and songs. For a dozen years Illyria Newspaper, published in the Bronx, carried a map of the “Greater Albania” encompassing pieces of Macedonia, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro. But the Illyria-Dardania myths have also inspired forays by armed Albanian militants into places like western Macedonia and southern Serbia, as well as irredentist threats to southern Montenegro (“Malesia”) and northwestern Greece (to Albanians, “Chameria”).

Could a new State of Kosovo with its barely tested government and security forces, made up in large part by former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, cope with such elements? Could the European Union and the remains of KFOR still posted in the region contain Kosovo?

*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade‘s Politika on May 25, 2007.

Slovenian Intelligence Confirms Kosovo Link to Sandzak Arrests

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- A Slovenian intelligence source has confirmed for Balkanalysis.com a claim made recently in the Serbian media- that the Wahhabis arrested at a training camp broken up near Novi Pazar on St. Patrick’s Day had connections with Kosovo militants, the final status process there and potential violence again Serbs in the North Mitrovica enclaves.

The March 17, 2007 Serbian police operation against a suspected Islamic extremist mountain training camp near Novi Pazar, which yielded weapons, ammunition and assorted paraphernalia, has inspired unprecedented interest in the phenomenon of Wahhabi extremism in this forgotten area of western Serbia in the international media.

What is perhaps most interesting about the recent foreign media coverage, however, is that no one has cast doubt upon the Serbian government’s version of events. For the first time in a long time, a Serbian counter-terrorism operation has gotten the “benefit of the doubt.” Whether this means that the international media feels the Serbs are trustworthy, or that the former would just like a compelling story, is not clear. However, it is significant.

The facts of the case, according to Serbian authorities, is that a small group of militant Wahhabis from Novi Pazar had organized a training camp west of Novi Pazar, at which assorted weapons, plastic explosives and ammunition were discovered, as well as masks, uniforms, provisions and tents. Serbian medai reports immediately after the operation placed the location more specifically at ˆšÃ–¬Ωabren, on Mt. Ninaji, in the municipality of Sjenica. The reugged and remote area is also close to the Bosnian border and sensitive of Goradze Corridor. According to Serbian counterrorism expert Darko Trifunovic, who has complied a lengthy report identifying numerous members of the Sandzak Wahhabi substratum, “All but one of the arrested men were bearded in the fashion of jihadis, but all were white Europeans.”

The four Wahhabis arrested, all from Novi Pazar, have been identified as Mirsad Prentic, Faud Hodzic, Vahid Vejselovic and his brother Senad Vejselovic. All of these men were between 23-33 years of age- evidence of the foreign Wahhabi strategy of appealing to young and alienated Muslims in the Balkans.

Serbian police reported that one member of the group had evaded arrest. An UNMIK police press release of April 2, bore the photo of a white-capped, dark-bearded young Bosniak “who is to be considered armed and dangerous”- the fifth Wahhabi, Ismail Prentic.

Although Albanian Muslims in Kosovo base their identities much more on secular nationalism than do the Bosnian Muslims just north of the border, Wahhabism has nevertheless caught on in pockets of Kosovo, including even the capital. The arrests in Sandzak had the immediate result of increasing distrust and fear, particularly for the minority Christian Serbs. But the arrests also prompted Pristina’s Wahhabis to lay low. According to one source near the capital, “on that day, the muj [mujahedin, ie, Wahhabis] vanished. You couldn’t see one of them on the streets.”

New information received by Balkanalysis.com from a Slovenian intelligence source confirms Serbian media allegations that at least some of the weaponry found in the Wahhabi training camp had arrived from Kosovo- and for a reason: :according to our information, extremist Albanians in Kosovo opposed to negotiation with Serbs are collaborating with the Wahhabis [in Sandzak]… in the case of new violence, the goal would be a show of force against Serbs from both sides.”

Adding that both groups have different ideologies and purposes, both the ex-KLA militants and Islamic extremists have similar needs. “Both use weapons, and both reply to varying extents on organized crime to fund their movements,” said the Slovenian source, adding that his country had recently taken a more active role in Kosovo/Serbia intelligence-gathering..

The enhanced Slovenian role should come as no surprise. The only former Yugoslav republic thus far to have joined the EU, the small country on the northeastern tip of the Adriatic is also getting ready to assume the mantle of honorary EU president on January 1, 2008. Ljubljana is eager to assert its leadership role in the Balkans and is supporting heavily, for example, Macedonia’s EU and NATO bids.

Slovenian intelligence-gathering operations have been enhanced of late, according to an OSCE officer in Kosovo, who points to the replacement of Italian security officers by some 600 Slovenes a month or two ago, in the area of Pec. One of the most dangerous areas of Kosovo, nationalistic Pec also has a thriving Wahhabi community and was visited by Pakistani al Qaeda member Arfan Qaeder Bhatti at the behest of the powerful former narcotics trafficker, Princ Dobroshi, who exerts considerable influence locally despite being jailed in the Czech Republic. Bhatti had been arrested after plotting to bomb the Israeli and American embassies in Oslo.

“Pec and all of western Kosovo is indeed some of the toughest areas in Kosovo to cover,” stated this OSCE source. “The Slovenes replaced an Italian contingent, with almost no announcement at all.” Although the Christian Slovenes are not bound to be particularly popular with local Albanians, this source confirmed that the new Slovene role in the area probably played a role in the intelligence service’s ability to make the connection between Kosovo arms trafficking and the Sandzak arrests.

The Hague Reclaims Haradinaj as Protest Looms in Kosovo

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- Former KLA chief and ex-Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj was returned to the custody of the Hague Tribunal today, just as the recent death of a potential key witness in the international court’s war crimes case against him underscored the likelihood that the powerful Albanian leader will prevail by way of intimidation.

In Haradinaj’s opinion, what will actually prevail is “justice”: the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo has steadfastly and categorically denied the prosecution’s claims that atrocities against Serbs and Roma occurred under his watch during the Kosovo war some eight years ago. He was indicted in 2005, but soon released and allowed to return to Kosovo, where the UN administration and its then-leader, Soren Jessen-Petersen, treated the ex-militant like royalty, attending his family events and losing no opportunity to praise his alleged positive role in stabilizing Kosovo.

The slain witness, Kujtim Berisha of Decani in western Kosovo, was hit by a car in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica on February 16. Podgorica daily Vijesti reported that Berisha “had recently met with a representative of a “foreign organization or foreign state,’ concerning to the upcoming Haradinaj trial.” Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic noted that “some of the previous murders directly linked to the Hague indictee [Haradinaj] never ended up in court since those who pointed in his direction would later mysteriously withdraw their statements and keep silent.” In a separate case investigating Albanian-on-Albanian war crimes, and implicating Haradinaj’s brother Daut, several key witnesses were also killed. There are few who would risk the ire of one of Kosovo’s most powerful clans to serve international justice.

Haradinaj, whose 37-count indictment was handed down in February 2005, is scheduled to take the stand on Monday, two days after a major protest is to be held by Kosovo Albanians over the perceived slow process of making the Serbian province an independent state of its own. Chants of “Free Ramush” are sure to be heard, and it is likely that the Hague’s actions against a man perceived to be a war hero will provide further fuel for the fire. The February 10th deaths of two protesters at the hands of police led to the resignation of Fatmir Rexhepi, the Kosovo Albanian interior minister and raised the temperature on an already volatile situation.

As protests in Kosovo have increasingly come to target the UNMIK staff, it is no surprise that the civil administration was given a mandatory day off on Friday, March 2, the day before the protest.

According to an internal UNMIK memo, the day “has been deemed a compensatory day off for all staff members, making next weekend a 3 day weekend.” No doubt Kosovo’s finest will be better off taking the weekend for shopping in Skopje or sightseeing in Thessaloniki. The interim administration, increasingly unpopular with locals and acutely aware of its own unending string of failures, has no interest in coming into the line of fire.

Attacks against the UN, the scapegoat replacement for the old Yugoslav authorities, have been increasing. In the early hours on Monday, a hand grenade was thrown in the parking lot of the OSCE building in Pec, 80 kilometers to the west of Pristina. Seven OSCE vehicles and two civilian cars were damaged. The attack was calculated to have been worse, and had political significance: another, unexploded hand grenade was also found nearby, and “the blast occurred ahead of the visit by the OSCE Chairman-in- Office, the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who was due to arrive in Pristina from Belgrade Tuesday.”

A similar attack at a UN parking lot in Pristina caused UNMIK top brass to issue an order that all vehicles must now be parked “only in secured areas.” UNMIK’s area of operation, already reduced of its own accord since the reappearance of armed militant checkpoints in western Kosovo in 2005, continues to shrink as the international administration comes increasingly under siege from the very people who welcomed it as a liberating force almost eight long years ago.

Is There No Independence Station for the Kosovo Train?

By Borka Tomic (Serbian Institute for Public Diplomacy, Brussels)

While some high US officials have claimed that Kosovo’s “train for independence has left the station,” recent developments show that the train for Kosovo’s future might not be stopping at the station of independence. Namely, the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest political organization, with the input of deputy delegations from all European countries apart from Belarus and Montenegro, has voted to exclude from the proposed text of Lord Russell Johnston the part of the resolution containing an open call for Kosovo’s independence in the name of Balkan stability.

The meeting of the Council of Europe showed that the support for Kosovo’s permanent secession from Serbia seems to be waning, not only in the neighboring Balkan countries or Spain, mindful of its Basque separatist problem, but also with permanent member states of the Contact Group such as France and Great Britain. The internationally recognized state of Serbia confirmed its sovereignty over Kosovo in its recently adopted constitution. And the EU Commission representatives confirmed that as well.

In addition, the stance of Russia remains ever firm in its opposition to Kosovo’s independence, and various high-level Russian officials announced earlier that their country’s UN Security Council veto would be used against any decision on the future status of Kosovo not previously accepted by Belgrade.

There are strong concerns especially in the US as to how to overcome Russian opposition to Kosovo’s independence. Russian President Putin has raised the stakes by calling for ‘universal principles’ to apply in settling frozen conflicts, referring in particular to Georgia’s two separatist regions — Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What’s more, the emotional dimension of the Serbian-Russian relations cannot be undermined, as Russia will not leave Serbia’s Christian Orthodox cradle in Kosovo at the mercy of its majority Muslim Albanian population.

At the same time, another major world power, China, has a similar stance regarding the Kosovo issue. As Jiang Men, a professor at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies of the Free University of Brussels put it at a recent conference organized by the European Institute for International Relations, “China and Russia agree and cooperate in the matter of Kosovo, and China’s veto against Kosovo’s independence at the UN Security Council is very possible. This is even more likely, bearing in mind the timing of the Taiwan elections due in 2007 and Olympic Games in China in 2008. China would, thus, try to prevent any destabilizing factors that question its sovereignty over Taiwan.” These significant comments were not however widely reported in the media.

On the other hand, the tension and the threat of violence in Kosovo are increasing. Demonstrations from the majority Albanian population are expected on 10 February as the word “independence” was not included in lead negotiator Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal. The proposal is rather frustrating for the Serbs too, and it is not easy to predict how the remaining Serbian population, less than 10 percent, will react to the potential unilateral secession of Kosovo.

NATO, with its 16,500 soldiers, however, claims to have learnt its lesson from past turbulence, especially the March 2004 pogrom in which a total of 4,100 Serbs were expelled from their homes by Albanians, and 35 Serbian churches and monasteries were torched, among them several dating back to the Middle Ages and of irreplaceable value to Serbian and indeed European cultural heritage. Nevertheless, NATO promises to maintain peace in the troubled Serbian province.

Not many people would like to step into the shoes of the special UN envoy for Kosovo. As for now, Mr. Ahtisaari has presented his proposal to the Contact Group in Vienna and the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers in Brussels, as well as to the authorities Belgrade and Pristina. While there was hardly any consensus to report following these meetings, the two sides will have to bring closer their divergent views through new talks, for a peaceful resolution to be realized.

Estimating Yugoslavia

By David Binder

That was a strange assembly on the fifth floor of Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center on Dec. 7: about 70 aging intelligence agents, diplomats, academics and the odd journalist – mostly male – brought together by that now arcane topic: Yugoslavia.

The group was convened by the Government’s National Intelligence Council and the Wilson Center to discuss the United States intelligence community’s “National Intelligence Estimates” of what was going to happen in and with Yugoslavia from November 1948 through October 1990. “Estimates” is the term intelligence professionals use for educated guesses.

Thirty-four original estimates, long classified “secret,” were published in their entirety in conjunction with the conference entitled From “‘National Communism’ to National Collapse / US Intelligence Community Estimative Products on Yugoslavia 1948-1990.” Altogether the secrets, distributed to the participants, weighed 5 kilos.

For some the conference brought surprising revelations: What had been guarded so long as seemingly holy scripture turned out to be collections of fairly banal and sometimes obvious observations of the Yugoslav scenery. One participant said the information in the estimates “tracks with much of the scholarly literature” – meaning that it did not rely on clandestine sources.

In contrast to the widespread impression that NIEs were the supreme product of the intelligence community, an image cultivated by some at the Central Intelligence Agency itself over the years, the practitioners played down the impact of their work. Dennis Bennett, a retired CIA analyst with a good sense of humor, remarked, “you might have the impression that a policy maker would sit at his desk and say, I’ve got to make a policy, where’s the goddamn NIE?’ That didn’t happen.”

Others pointed out that intelligence estimates, sometimes running 27 pages, simply could not be digested by busy senior policy makers. One of the participants remarked that he he “missed Yugoslavia” and was happy with that construct. At least four other participants echoed his sentiment.

The Yugoslavia NIEs were praised by most of those attending the conference for their balance and perceptiveness, although some academics like Susan Woodward quibbled about their real value; the English journalist Misha Glenny, complained about their lack of attention to some contemporary events and the former German diplomat, Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, mixed some praise with his estimate that he understood Yugoslavia better than any American analyst.

A. Ross Johnson of the Hoover Institution commented: “The estimates get high marks for description and analysis and for forecasting the plausible.” He went on to say, “The 1971 estimate, for example, saw the chances of Yugoslavia holding together after Tito as only slightly better than even. Not great odds, suggesting the need for more attention to “then what?” Among the estimates most discussed at the conference was NIE 15 (the 34th in the published series) from October 18, 1990. It contained a series of “key judgments,” the first of which was “the old Yugoslav federation is coming to an end because the reservoir of political will holding Yugoslavia together is gone. Within a year the federal system will no longer exist.”

The essence of NIE 15 was disclosed 41 days later in the New York Times under the headline, “Yugoslavia Seen Breaking Up Soon – CIA Paper Predicts Action in 18 Months And Adds Civil War Is Likely.” That caused a sensation in Europe, but not in the United States, which was preoccupied with the collapsing Soviet Union and the reunification of

Germany. Strikingly, it was the only one of the NIE’s whose basic conclusions become public. An appendix to The Wilson Center documents asserts that NIE 15 “evidently was leaked to the New York Times.” But the reporter (me), who attended the Wilson Center conference, stated this was not true, that he never saw the NIE until now.

Among others attending were Mile Bjelajac of the Institute of Recent History in Belgrade; Ljubodrag Dimic and Radina Vucetic of the University of Belgrade; Tvrtko Jakovina of the University of Zagreb; Svetozar Rajak of the London School of Economics; Dusan Reljic of the Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin and Rudolf Rizman of the University of Ljubljana.

An interesting sidelight was provided by Ana Lalaj of the Albanian Academy of Sciences, who pointed out the attention given to the Kosovo issue in an NIE (Number 42-1) as early as 1952. At that time, Yugoslavia was organizing groups of Kosovo Albanians to undermine the regime of Enver Hoxha.

The real star of the occasion, however, was Lawrence Eagleburger, former secretary of state and an old hand in Yugoslavia, starting as a junior economic officer in the US embassy and ultimately serving as ambassador. He regaled the grizzled spies and specialists with anecdotes from his various terms in Yugoslavia How he got restaurant musicians to strike up “Tamo Daleko” when his party entered, which earned him a reprimand from the Foreign Ministry; how George F. Kennan made a demarche to President Tito asking that he not allow criticism at the 1962 Nonaligned Conference of the recent US atomic bomb test only to see Yugoslavia join in condemning the American test.

Kennan was so infuriated, Eagleburger recounted, that from then on every cable he sent Washington recommended cutting off US aid to Yugoslavia. Eagleburger also said he had completely misjudged Slobodan Milosevic whom he met early in his industrial and banking career, seeing him as a promising young executive. “If I had known of the multiple suicides in the Milosevic family I might have judged him differently.” He went on to muse out loud if it might have been better to authorize the assassination of Milosevic. “Think of the lives that would have been spared…the blood that would not have been shed…”

In trying to connect these wide-ranging thoughts to the ruminations of the intelligence specialists, Eagleburger paused and said, “You see, in terms of intelligence it is important to know the persons you are dealing with.”

In fact, the US intelligence community did work up a Milosevic NIE in 1994. But that is another story.

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*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade’s Politika on December 16, 2006.

The Days of the Dissident: Milovan Djilas Remembered

By David Binder*

In the following piece, the author reflects on the life and legacy of Milovan Djilas, a key founding member of Communist Yugoslavia who was later imprisoned by that same regime because of the excessive freedom of his ideas. Djilas is remembered today for numerous books and occasional writings, and also a great quote: “The hardest thing about being a communist is trying to predict the past.”

Was it so long ago that it has lost all meaning for us – the arrest 50 years ago (Nov. 19, 1956) of Milovan Djilas on charges of “hostile propaganda?’ The party he was accused of betraying and the international movement to which it belonged have disappeared. So, too, the country he was living in and for which he had fought.What was then a sensation that made headlines around the world now seems almost a conundrum. The very terms “dissident’ and “dissidence’ have lost their ominous resonance and have fallen into disuse. What is there to dissent against today- corporate takeovers? multi-ethnicity?

In the days of Djilas and lesser dissidents, however, there was the monolithic party called Communist. There was Moscow as the benchmark against which what could be said and shouldn’t be said was measured. A font of received wisdom, even if not quite the center of the universe. There was a world split East and West with only negligible Yugoslavia in between.

The sole event these days that bears the scantiest resemblance to that of 1956 is the minor unrest generated by protests in the streets of Budapest. A shallow observer might glimpse a parallel in the fact that the target of the 2006 demonstrations is a faintly socialist government. But it is nothing compared to the vicious Stalinist regime that governed in Moscow’s image until the real uprising half a century ago.

The detention of Djilas was at least three years in coming. As he recounted in later years, rebellion had been brewing in him, the veteran of Yugoslavia’s revolution, for many months beginning with the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953. Later it occurred to him that Tito had exactly the opposite reaction. The passing of Stalin signaled to Tito that he was now free to “strengthen ideological conformity” and to “block democratization, primarily in the realm of ideas.” The vacation from some Stalinist practices that Yugoslavia had begun to enjoy after being kicked out of the Cominform – the Bloc – was over for Tito.

Djilas, on the other hand, only seven months after the death of the dictator in Moscow began a series of commentaries in Borba that culminated in his expulsion from his party jobs at a special plenum in January 1954, as well as his governmental offices. The final straw for Tito was a commentary proposing “fighting for new and concrete democratic forms.” Provocatively, Djilas had entitled it, “Revolution.”

Just days before the plenum, “The Old Man’ (as Djilas called Tito) summoned the former favorite son he called “Djido’ along with his remaining close aides, Aleksandar Rankovic and Edvard Kardelj to discuss the next moves, including Tito’s demand that Djilas resign from his post as president of the National Assembly. Tito was 61, Djilas 42. It was the last time these wartime comrades came together. The break with friends, he later wrote, “was more devastating for me than any clash over ideas.”

At the plenum the three condemned him. In March Djilas was taken to court, found guilty of spreading “hostile propaganda,” sentenced to a year and conditionally released. He resigned from the party.

Djilas was being watched – and listened to – no longer in a party villa on Dedinje hill with the grandees, but in a downtown apartment. For the next two years life was relatively quiet although he was already a well-known dissident. Most people shunned him. He worked on a history-autobiography, “Land Without Justice.” He submitted the manuscript to the Serbian Literary Guild in the summer of 1956 and was utterly dismayed to learn it was formally rejected as “too cerebral,” but actually on orders of Rankovic.

It was another turning point for him. Having been ousted from political life and with his name blackened, he confronted “efforts of the powers that be to finish me spiritually as a writer.” The manuscript of “Land Without Justice” now went to an American publisher and he began writing what became “The New Class.” He completed it in three months. From there it was but a short step to Djilas’ decision to extend apostasy from domestic aspects of the theory and practice of communism to the international level.

The stage was set by the reaction across eastern Europe to Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin at the 20th party congress of the CPSU in February 1956. Four months later, Polish workers took to the streets of Poznan, tearing up red flags. Security forces opened fire, killing around 70 civilians. Poland remained restive throughout the summer and autumn. The fever spread to Hungary. On October 23, a student demonstration soon rallied 200,000 in Budapest. Two days later, Soviet tanks opened fire on the crowds. Then followed an ominous pause while new Hungarian leaders were installed and the Soviet leadership pondered its next moves. Their hand was forced by the newly installed premier, Imre Nagy. On November 1 he announced Hungary’s withdrawal from the Soviet bloc.

Neighboring Yugoslavia was drawn deeply into the Hungarian debacle, both openly and clandestinely. On the open side the UN Security Council debated a resolution on October 27 condemning the first Soviet intervention in Hungary. Yugoslavia abstained. Two days later Djilas sought out the Agence France Presse correspondent in Belgrade and presented a statement openly condemning the abstention.

At the same time, in complete secrecy, Khrushchev and his chief associate, Georgii Malenkov, flew to Poland, Romania and Bulgaria to consult on the deteriorating situation in the bloc.

On November 2 they flew on to Pula, then crossed the little channel in rough seas to Brioni to confer on the Hungarian crisis with Tito, Kardelj, Rankovic and Ambassador Veljko Micunovic. On November 3 the Kremlin leaders decided to crush the Hungarian rebels. The tanks rolled in that night.

The next day, Imre Nagy and 41 other Hungarians sought refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest. “I guessed I’d be arrested,” Djilas remembered himself thinking. But he was far from through. On November 11 he got a telegram from the New Leader, the venerable Socialist periodical, requesting an analysis of the political cyclone blasting the Soviet bloc. “He had the piece in the typewriter and was waiting for someone to ask for it,” the editor in New York recalled him saying. “Storm in Eastern Europe” was published on November 19. That same day, the police came to the apartment at No. 8 Palmoticeva, where the Djilas family had been living for over two years and arrested Milovan. “A cold drizzle was falling,” he noted.

Thus began his total of nine years behind bars in Communist Yugoslavia, three times longer than he had served in the prisons of Royalist Yugoslavia (1933-1936). In Moscow, Khrushchev remarked to Ambassador Micunovic: “how well you solved the problem with Djilas. We can only congratulate you.”

“Storm in Eastern Europe” was in some respects a polemic. But it contained a powerful prophecy and a trenchant analysis. Its central prediction, “the revolution in Hungary means the beginning of the end of communism generally” was ahead of its time by more than three decades. Its basic analysis contended something few Communists were ever able to recognize: that while some might imagine they could reform Communist doctrine and practice, this was an illusion.

In “Storm,” Djilas wrote: “national communism is incapable of transcending the boundaries of communism as such, that is, to institute the kind of reforms that would gradually transform and lead communism to freedom. National communism can merely break from Moscow and, in its own national tempo and way, construct essentially the identical Communist system.”

Then and later, Djilas was battling not only with Tito and the Soviet bloc, but also with himself. “I had to fight for my moral and spiritual survival, my reason and my life…I had to overcome the idea of Leninist communism for which I had fought throughout my youth (Of Prisons and Ideas – 1982).

Nor did this happen overnight. “The reader may get the impression that my ideas were formed simply, step by step, without any wavering. Not so.” (Rise and Fall- 1983). “There can be no doubt that my subsequent imprisonment was due to the determination to improve relations with the Soviet government,” he concluded later (Tito, 1980).

Sentenced initially to three years of hard labor, with a spell in solitary confinement, Milovan Djilas was on his way to becoming the most renowned dissident in the Communist world. This status was confirmed with the publication of “The New Class,” in September 1957, which drew an additional seven-year sentence.

Still, he kept writing and reflecting: “Yesterday Politika announced the shooting of Imre Nagy,” he wrote. “In a way I am sorry for him. I always felt he and I were alike in many respects.” (Parts of a Lifetime, June 15, 1958) “Man cannot live without ideals and yet they are unreal.” (Ibid, June 20, 1958).

But what of Milovan Djilas today, 50 years after that arrest? In the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, there is a listing entitled “Noted Dissidents.’ It includes John Lennon, Susan Sontag and Aleksandar Zinoviev. But no Milovan Djilas. The same is the case with Wikipedia’s list of political dissenters: it includes Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and others. But no Djilas.

Nevertheless, a few of us still remember the melody of that old Partizan song which began, “Tito, Kardelj, Rankovic i Djilas….”

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*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade’s Politika on November 19, 2006.

Formative Early Events in Kosovo’s Serbian History, and the UN-Overseen Destruction of that Historical Legacy

By Carl Savich

When discussing the opposing claims of Serbs and Albanians over Kosovo, its history and its rightful future status, mass media reports often include the obligatory sentence about Kosovo being “Serbia’s historic and culture heartland.’ Usually, the unstated implication for including the phrase is that the Serbs are unfortunate and delusional nostalgics, living in a world of anachronistic fantasy.

The need to address this matter has been brought up again, after the Serbian people recently voted for a new constitution which reaffirms that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia. Pragmatic-minded outsiders impatiently ask: why don’t the Serbs, who now make up only ten percent of Kosovo’s population, just give up? Historian Carl Savich provides a concise account of the facts explaining why the don’t.

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The Serbs, one of the Slavic tribes that settled the Balkans in the 6th-7th centuries AD, acquired the spiritual and cultural orientation they have retained to this day when they accepted Byzantine Orthodox Christianity in the 9th century. They remained within Constantinople’s cultural sphere of influence, while however becoming more independent, forging autonomous kingdoms based on the opportunities that this Christian orientation provided for the development of a coherent civilization and state.

While there were some predecessors, the first major Serbian power arose in 1166, when the Nemanjic dynasty emerged, headed first by Tihomir and then by his brother Stefan. The Serbian Nemanjic dynasty would base the Serbian empire in Kosovo and Metohija, making Kosovo the political, cultural, and religious center of the Serbia. Metohija, which refers more specifically to western Kosovo, is a Byzantine Greek word indicating possessions held by the Orthodox Church. The Nemanjic dynasty would endure until 1371 when it would end due to the invasion of the Ottoman Turks and defeat at the 1371 battle of Marica.

As the Serbian empire sought an outlet to the Adriatic coast, the administrative and religious center of the empire shifted to Shkoder, Prizren, and Decani. From 1180 to 1190, Stefan Nemanja or Nemanjic conquered the Kosovo and Metohija regions, northern Macedonia, Skopje, and the upper Vardar River valley of Macedonia. After the fall of Constantinople in 1204, Kosovo became the administrative and cultural center of the Serbian state.

In 1219 the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church was moved to Pec in Metohija after the church obtained autocephalous or independent status. In 1054, the Christian church had split into two branches, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches, an event known as the Great Schism. Northern Albania became predominately Roman Catholic and was thus incorporated into a powerful anti-Serb coalition led by Europe’s Catholic monarchs, led by the Pope. This created for the first time a divisive and confrontational setting for Albanians and Serbs.

During the reign of Stefan Dusan, 1331-55, the area of Antivar or Bar, Prizren, Ohrid, and Vlora were added to the Serbian Empire. In 1346 the patriarchal throne was permanently established at the Pec Monastery. In 1346, after Epirus and Thessaly were added to the Serbian Empire, Dusan was crowned the emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Albanians in the Macedonian city of Skopje. A legal code was promulgated and the bishopric of Pec was proclaimed a patriarchate which established the Serbian Orthodox Church as independent from Constantinople. Prizren became the political capital of the Serbian Empire and was the chief Serbian city of trade and commerce. After the death of Dusan in 1355, Kosovo was ruled by King Vukasin Mrnjavcevic, who was a co-ruler with Tsar Uros, the last of the Nemanjic rulers.

On September 26, 1371, the Ottoman Turks scored a major military victory at the Battle of Marica near Crnomen over the Serbian forces of the Nemanjic Empire. In 1386, the Turks invaded Serbia and captured the town of Nis. The Bosnian King Tvrtko Kotromanic sent a detachment of troops to bolster the Serbian army and a combined force of Serbs and Albanians defeated the Ottoman Turkish army in Montenegro. Ottoman Turkish Sultan Murad I, 1362-1389, then in Asia Minor, began preparing a massive army to invade and conquer Serbia. This set the stage for one of the greatest battles in history, the 1389 Battle of Kosovo.

The Battle of Kosovo took place in Kosovo Polje (“field of blackbirds,” in Serbian) outside of Pristina on June 28, 1389, on St. Vitus Day, or Vidov Dan. Northern Kosovo was then ruled by Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic, while his brother-in-law, Vuk Brankovic, ruled Metohija. Bosnian King Tvrtko sent a large contingent of Bosnian troops under the command of Vlatko Vukovic, while Vuk Brankovic led his troops himself.

Thus, the Ottoman army was confronted by a Serbian army which included Hungarian, Bulgarian, Bosnian, and certain Albanian nobles led by Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebljanovic. These Albanian princes were close allies of the Serbs at that time and there were close political and economic ties between the two groups. Both Murad and Lazar were killed in the battle which involved approximately 30,000 troops on each side. As the battle ended, the two Serbian contingents and the one Bosnian contingent withdrew, while the Turkish troops held the field. The Turkish troops also had to withdraw. But the death of Murad created a crisis in Ottoman leadership, so his successor, Bayezid, also had to withdraw his troops, lacking the manpower to continue the offensive. Thus it can be argued that the battle was inconclusive.

In 1448, the Second Battle of Kosovo occurred when the forces of the Hungarian noble Janos Hunyadi were defeated by an Ottoman Turkish army under the command of Murad II. By 1455, all of Kosovo fell to the advancing Ottoman Turks, who two years earlier had captured Byzantine Constantinople. By 1459, with the surrender of Smederevo, all of Serbia was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, and a new period of vassalage to a Muslim theocracy began.

Nevertheless, the center of Serbian religious life — the patriarchate at Pec — continued to operate, and the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of its lands was not questioned, and the Serbs continued to live in Kosovo. Only in 1689, as an aftershock of the Ottoman-Austrian wars then going on, were Serbs forced to migrate en masse to the north and east. Nevertheless, the Serbian traditions, life and religion continued unbroken until very recently. And no occupier, neither the Ottomans, nor the Austro-Hungarians nor Nazis, could change this.

So despite the occasional wars and other turbulent events throughout the centuries, the cultural and historical continuity of the Serb’s in Kosovo was generally recognized and affirmed until 1999, when NATO invaded Serbia and the process of the final destruction of the age-old Serbian human and religious presence in Kosovo began in earnest, carried out by the descendents of those Albanian princes who had in ancient times fought side by side with the Serbs against the Ottoman Turks.

There are numerous examples of Serbian cultural heritage that were damaged or destroyed by Albanian extremists, following the NATO intervention, after which time the military alliance and UN police had promised to protect these sites. Roughly half of the total attacks (so far) happened in one four-month spree of violence.

Between June 13 and October 30, 1999, after NATO and UN troops occupied Kosovo, some 74 Serbian Orthodox Churches in Kosovo were damaged, destroyed or vandalized, many dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church in Musutiste, built in 1465, was “leveled with explosives,” while the Monastery of the Archangel of Vitina, built in the 14th century, was burned down. The Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God, also in Musutiste, which contained valuable painted frescoes and was built in 1315, was burned and later demolished. The Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Djurakovac, another 14th century structure, was also destroyed in 1999.

Near Korisa in the southwestern area of Prizren, St. Mark’s Orthodox Monastery, built in 1467, was looted, burned, and completely destroyed by explosives. The 14th-century Monastery of St. Archangel Gabriel in Binac, near Vitina, was also looted and burned down. The Monastery of St. Joannicius of Devic, near Srbica, built in the 15th century, was demolished and looted. The Monastery of Dormition-St. Uros in Gornja Nerodimlja, originally built in the 14th century, was dynamited and demolished too by Kosovo Albanians.
St. Stephen’s Church, built in the 14th century in Donje Nerodimlje, was mined and blown up. The Presentation of the Virgin Orthodox Church in Dolac, near Klina, built in 1620, was mined and torn down. The Presentation of the Virgin Church in Belo Polje near Pec, dating from the 16th century was burned. The 14th-century Monastery of St. Cosma and St. Damian, in Zociste, which contained priceless medieval frescoes, was looted and demolished.

These are just a few examples of the disgraceful events that have been allowed to go on under an international administration supposedly dedicated to upholding human rights and cultural diversity. During the past seven years, a UN administration manned mostly by international employees hired for six-month or one-year contracts, and who generally have shown little interest in or knowledge of Kosovo’s history and society, have allowed an entire culture and legacy to be all but wiped off the face of the earth. The United Nations, supposedly the world body that promotes peace and tolerance while celebrating history and culture, has in Kosovo violated its founding principles, guided by a handful of mere mortals eager to re-write history by destroying it, and to secure for themselves a place in it. It will be left to future generations to assess exactly what that place should be.

Serbia and the Perils of Hard-and-Fast Diplomacy

By Nikolas Rajkovic*

In the quest to establish stability and democracy in Serbia, yet another tumultuous chapter is now beginning. In May of this year, the EU suspended Stabilization and Association talks due to the Kostunica government’s failure to arrest and extradite General Ratko Mladic. On October 1st, the Kostunica government fell over the same inability to capture Mladic and renew EU talks.

Further, the International Contact Group on Kosovo has decided that the Serbian province’s final status shall be determined by year’s end, with the most likely outcome being imposed secession and independence. All the while, the right-wing Serbian Radical Party lurks in the domestic foreground: growing in popularity, sipping on a double-cocktail of international malaise and economic hardship, and eyeing the December parliamentary elections in Serbia with optimism.

Typically, the above storyline is narrated as the fault and handiwork of Serbian nationalism. A great number of analysts and policy-makers have made a venerable career casting “Serbian nationalism” as the causal variable for most Balkan ills. Yet, with this most recent chapter, one has to question whether the present tumult has its “cause” in the discursive chestnut of “Greater Serbia” or, rather, in less-scrutinized US and EU foreign policies. In short, while Slobodan Milosevic may be dead and ousted from power, it often seems that US and EU foreign policy is operating as if the late president were still at the helm in Belgrade.

The 6th anniversary of the democratic revolution in Serbia that toppled Milosevic has just passed. With this in mind, it might be time for a critical re-appraisal of existing policy towards Serbia. The present Washington/Brussels consensus of “the harder you squeeze, the better the results’ has reached its end and is likely contributing to Serbia’s present instability and struggle for democratic consolidation. While such an approach may have been appropriate during the Milosevic era, squeezing the Serbian lemon is now proving counter-productive with respect to the democratically-oriented, pro-European leadership of the country today. Pro-democracy leaders in Serbia need to be treated as allies and not as adversaries endangering regional security and democratic stability.

Serbia is entering its most important elections since the fall of Milosevic in 2000, and further international pressure will only play into the hands of Serbia’s resurgent right-wing and risks undoing hard-won progress made over the past six years. Policies ripe for a rethink are those related precisely to Mladic’s capture and Kosovo’s final status.

First, regarding the former issue, it still appears that both US and EU foreign policy toward Serbia hinges on one man. Or, to frame it another way, that democratic consolidation in an entire country, Serbia, and the security of the Balkans as a region is contingent upon the arrest and extradition of a single fugitive. Clearly, one has to question the proportionality, risk and ethics of such a stance. While policy-makers buttress such a position with reference to legalistic norms (e.g. justice and criminal responsibility) and select images of “Srebrenica’, such a discourse creates more questions than it answers. For instance, does the norm of “doing justice’ negate all other norms, such as a stable and democratic Serbia? Or, need the aforementioned norms be mutually exclusive or work at cross-purposes?

The popular contention that legalistic norms stand in some kind of hierarchical priority should strike many as a rather austere political and legal fiction. Surely, if Serbia can demonstrate that it has undertaken reasonable measures to apprehend Mladic, such as Croatia did with respect to then fugitive General Ante Gotovina, then clearly Serbia’s democratic and European progress should not be jeopardized further.

Kosovo’s final status is another case where Western policy is in need of serious reappraisal. US and EU decision-makers have taken the rare and unprecedented step of setting a “deadline’ to resolve a complex ethnic and regional problem. One need only look at conflicts of a similar nature to view the folly of such a doctrine. Imagine the Palestinian question, Cyprus or even Sri Lanka receiving similar final-status “deadlines.’ How Kosovo is any less complicated than the above conflicts escapes sound reason and judgment.

One explanation for such a misreading rests perhaps in what experts deem to be salient “facts’ with respect to the Kosovo problem. Currently, analysis on Kosovo is dominated by a material-rationalist approach, whereby only the quantifiable is considered of tangible significance. For instance, we hear repeatedly how the vast Albanian majority in Kosovo represents a hard “fact,’ while the constitutive place Kosovo occupies within Serbia’s national identity is represented as a lesser, more trivial concern. The alleged experts fail to acknowledge how the intangible (e.g. identity) is very tangible with respect to a lasting solution on Kosovo, which is not unlike the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Fortunately some regional diplomats, such as Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, have recognized the perils of hard-and-fast solutions and pointed to their fallacious use with respect to the Balkans: “we must not risk achieving a long-lasting viable solution for the sake of meeting a preset, arbitrary deadline.”

Others, however, mostly within the foreign bureaucracies of the great powers, such as US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, do not see a problem at all: “I have yet to hear any argument which demonstrates a delay would bring anything at all.”

Yet the question for the latter camp is whether (a) it is that they have not heard a good argument or (b) they have not heard an argument that is consistent with their predisposition for hard-and-fast solutions.
Addressing the complexities of Balkan and Serbian politics in a sophisticated manner is clearly a messy and difficult enterprise. However, should US and EU diplomacy not embrace such an approach, we will only have a fiction of peace in Kosovo. Poor political fictions produce dire consequences eventually, and by cheating time and detail we may be only making matters worse in the long run.

In conclusion, while hard-and-fast diplomacy may have made a significant contribution to Milosevic’s ouster, that was a policy appropriate to a certain time which is now long past; ironically, its continuation now may only return his disciples to power.

*Nikolas Rajkovic is a political sciences researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

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