Fanning the Flames in Kosovo

For the second time Europe is paralyzed

There have been many comparisons between the events unfolding in Kosovo and the former war in Bosnia. Yet while most of these comparisons look at the actions of Serbian military and police forces, what is less noted is the EU's ignominious role in the whole affair. That is, for the second time in a decade Europe is paralyzed and unable to resolve ethnic and nationalist conflicts on its very doorstep. The clearest example of this paralysis is the official position taken by the EU toward the conflict, one that rules out independence for Kosovo but supports autonomy. Such a paradoxical position can't lead to a solution and will only fan the flames of conflict further.

This point was driven home by Zako Pahovski, a professor of political philosophy at Zagreb University, during a recent European security conference in Austria. According to Pahovski, the European position is untenable. Moreover, what both the EU and Serbia are saying are actually one and the same thing. In other words, both would like Kosovo to stay within Yugoslavia while the vast majority of Albanians in Kosovo would like to be independent.

This doesn't mean that Europe should suddenly change its position on the status of Kosovo, switching its support from autonomy to independence. In fact, the question of independence for Kosovo is looked upon with grave foreboding by many within the Balkans - including those who themselves had not too long ago fought against the Serbs. Their fear is the conflict will spread across borders. Many within Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and even Greece feel the looming threat of a real war between Muslim and Orthodox in the Balkans developing.

The danger of present trends appears to be leading in this direction. Pahovski believes that if nothing constructive is done soon, then such a war could break out by next spring. He notes that the KLA will simply get stronger and stronger - politically and militarily. At the same time, it's felt that the EU's confused stand is indirectly giving support to those fighting for independence, as well as some of the more extreme elements that are beginning to articulate their demands for a Greater Kosovo or even a Greater Albania.

Consequently, many within the Balkans are convinced there exists a choice between only one of two possibilities: one is of a protracted guerrilla war; the other is some kind of trusteeship or protectorate for Kosovo. The idea behind the second option is that a protectorate would not only defend Kosovo from Serbia but also Greece, Macedonia, and Albania from the idea of a Greater Albania or Greater Kosovo. The way in which this protectorate would operate would be similar to what now exists in eastern Slavonia and Croatia. Hence, what is envisioned is a system whereby an international police force would work together with both Serb and Kosovar units.

Yet this idea of a protectorate for Kosovo hasn't been seriously considered by the international community. One reason is because the implementation of such a concept relies on the co-operation of Milosovic.

But voices from the Balkans argue that Milosovic would be willing to accept such an arrangement. They feel the Serbian President is just faking the war as a means of political expediency. Much of the internal opposition to Milosovic is not because of his responsibility for waging wars but because of his inability to win them. Thus, by creating an image in which he was forced to pull out from Kosovo and maybe even negotiate some kind of new border which would give to Serbia part of what today belongs to Kosovo, he would be able to save face by claiming to have defended the interests of a Greater Serbia, laying the blame for his failures instead on western meddling.

This political stratagem is actually nothing new, for it's merely the repetition of a similar policy he used toward Croatia in 1995. He even gained international acclaim at the time as a "peace broker" until he shattered that image with his handling of local elections and subsequent student demonstrations.

While opportunities for peace do exist, the outlook for a settlement to the crisis in Kosovo is slim. Most people in the Balkans are convinced that only the US can apply the necessary pressure to Belgrade which can make a compromise happen. Despite the efforts of European organizations like the OSCE (which Yugoslavia would like to rejoin), it is felt that Europeans are unable to speak with one voice, while Americans can. The problem is that it's doubtful whether the US is willing get bogged down any further in the Balkans. Somalia still weights heavily on the minds of many Americans, and while the Dayton Peace accords are still holding, many are nevertheless afraid that the worse is yet to come. (John Horvath)