Capital Prishtina
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 377 (Monaco); 381 (Serbia)
Mobile Codes 44
Currency Euro
Land Area 10,908 sq km
Population 1.8 million
Language Albanian, Serbian, Turkish
Major Religions Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism

Book Review: The Kosova Liberation Army: Underground War to Balkan Insurgency, 1948-2001 editor’s note: with last week’s regional celebrations of Albania’s independence centennial, and yesterday’s final acquittal of Ramush Haradinaj at the Hague, national aspirations are likely to increase in future. The friendly competition to be ‘on the right side of history,’ dictates the future publication of apologetic studies in the tone of the one presently reviewed.

By Anita McKinna

In The Kosova Liberation Army, British scholar James Pettifer continues his investigation into the war in Kosovo that began with Kosova Express. But while the latter provided an eyewitness account into the war as it happened, this latest book examines the origins of the movement that became the KLA and its development into an insurgent campaign that engaged in armed conflict against Milošević’s forces.

The Kosova Liberation Army also charts the subsequent transition of key KLA members into representatives of Kosovo’s political elite. There are no shortages of literary contributions on the war in Kosovo, but while most existing works focus on the international component of the conflict, Pettifer’s emphasis is very much on the role of Kosovars themselves in the war. Furthermore, the author engages with existing authoritative works on the topic, such as those of Noel Malcolm, Tim Judah and Misha Glenny. In addition, he consults an extensive number of Albanian-language sources, and also draws on personal interviews with key figures involved in the war. The book also contains a substantial collection of appendices with useful reference materials such as the military organisation of the KLA, timelines, and political platforms of the Kosova People’s Movement (LPA), the Popular Front for a Kosova Republic (LPRP) and the KLA.

The book begins with a short explanation of the situation in Kosovo prior to the Second World War, and then goes on to chart the rise of the Albanian unification movement from 1950 onwards. It details the ideological origins of the KLA with discussion about Maoist, Guevarist and Enverist influences, and outlines the early guidance of Tirana and the prominent diaspora in Switzerland. Within Kosovo itself Pettifer describes the rise of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) and its iconic leader Ibrahim Rugova. He analyses Rugova’s policy of civil disobedience and reliance on the idea of international rescue, as well as the eventual marginalization of Rugova at the Rambouillet negotiations and subsequent rise of the KLA.

Pettifer goes into some detail about military techniques, including the impact that the KLA’s inability to harness the use of explosives effectively had, and the technical and strategic shortcomings of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA)/Yugoslav Forces (VJ). He also analyzes the tenor of international involvement in the conflict and charts the transformation of western understanding of the conflict, from attempting to retain Yugoslav borders and towards accepting the idea of Kosovo as a future independent state. In an interesting footnote, the author recounts asking Tony Blair in Pristina (in July 1999) whether the British government was considering future independence for Kosovo- Blair apparently had seemed surprised that the question was even raised.

Pettifer also highlights the impact that Serbia’s myth of military superiority had on Milosevic’s decision-making. He also discusses the Serbian reliance on antiquated doctrine; in particular, he cites a comment that Milosevic had made, attesting that securing Kosovo in 1945 had been achieved at Drenica through frontal military confrontation. The Yugoslav leader had planned to do the same in 1998, without taking into account the changes that Kosovo had undergone in the intervening period.

The KLA also had the advantage of inside knowledge of the JNA and VJ as some leaders, including Haradinaj, had previously been conscripted and thus had seen firsthand how things had deteriorated.

By contrast, the KLA’s early success lay in its hit-and-run guerrilla campaign. But it was drawn into traditional warfare in Rahovec in the summer 1998, and lost the key advantage of surprise, which resulted in defeat there and ended the myth of KLA invincibility. Pettifer also focuses on the KLA’s recognition of the importance of adapting their image both domestically and internationally to increase support.

Aside from the footnote about a conversation with Tony Blair, however, there are few new tidbits about foreign political leaders, though they might seem appropriate here. The author does mention one of the famously controversial players in the war effort, the former head of the OSCE’s ‘Verification Mission’ in Kosovo, William Walker. The American was vocal in claiming a massacre of ethnic Albanians had occurred in January 1999 in Raçak, an incident which gave a strong push for NATO intervention. However, the incident has always been murky, with the Yugoslav government (and French journalists who filmed the battle) claiming that the KLA later deliberately massed battle casualties to simulate a massacre scene. In fact, the Yugoslav government had allowed journalists and international observers to be present for their police action in the village, and no one reported any such massacre until the next day, when the village was back under KLA control. Nevertheless, Pettifer denounces any criticism of Walker by saying that any accusation that he had fabricated Raçak for political reasons was ‘plainly untrue, as all independent verification of the facts has revealed.’

The author outlines the events surrounding the cessation of hostilities and the demilitarization of the KLA and charts the rise of certain KLA commanders into the highest echelons of Kosovo’s political elite. In particular Pettifer makes the link between Hashim Thaçi’s military successes and his post-war reputation and political career. Pettifer also includes a final chapter on the relatively uncharted topic of the spread of conflict into Preshevo Valley in southern Serbia and Macedonia, in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

From the beginning of the book it is clear to the reader that Pettifer’s allegiances lie firmly with the Kosovar Albanians. After all, on the first page of the acknowledgments section Pettifer pledges his gratitude to Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi and former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, both former KLA commanders who have had to defend themselves against allegations of war crimes (and, in the case of Haradinaj, two court cases- the second has now resulted in a final acquittal). Pettifer’s repeated mention of the death of KLA strongman Adem Jashari and members of his extended family, and the emotive language that is used to describe these events, further illustrates the author’s lack of objectivity on the subject matter.

Pettifer is extremely critical of the international community’s involvement in Kosovo, both before (the Kosovo Verification Mission), during (NATO) and after (UNMIK, EULEX) the war. Most criticisms of internationals, however, are directed at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Pettifer offers little explanation for his assertions that the ICTY’s pursuit of political leaders, including Haradinaj, is entirely politically-motivated.

Furthermore, while he goes into some detail regarding the atrocities that were committed by members of the JNA/VJ, there is no explicit mention of similar atrocities being committed by members of the KLA, or war crimes cases that have resulted in convictions. Thus the reader is left with the impression that for the author, the idea that such events could have taken place is apparently inconceivable. This impression unfortunately undermines the study as a whole. It is particularly unfortunate given that the events described happened in living memory, and a more balanced approach would have thus been both possible and a welcome contribution to transitional justice and inter-ethnic reconciliation.

Nevertheless, this book is well-researched and well-written and therefore comprises a significant contribution to the field, as it comprehensively details the rise of the KLA and its ongoing influence on the contemporary Kosovar political landscape. Thus, this book should appeal not only to students of Kosovo’s recent history and its contemporary politics, but also to those wishing to understand the effect that the war has had on the psyche of Kosovo’s people, and the high regard with which former KLA commanders are still held.

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