185. Burdens of the Past: Separation as Solution to Post-War Kosovo

By
Michael Shafir

The war in Kosovo internationalized the dilemma of democracy - how to treat non-democratic forces that act against democratic premises. Or, how tolerant can one be against intolerance?

By choosing to get directly involved in Kosovo, however, the international community inherently questioned the very definition of national sovereignty. This infringement of national sovereignty was justified in the case of Kosovo by the premise of action in defense of human rights.

As Michael Shafir points out, the aim of the war however, was never clearly defined before NATO planes struck Yugoslavia. This aim evolved with the unfolding of the air campaign. "If the aim of the Kosovo war was to terminate the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic's reign of power," Shafir asserts, "then the war was a failure."

The aim of the war, Michael Shafir asserts, should have been to support the national forces in Serbia that can undertake democratic reform from within. Instead, the war only deepened already existing divisions within the Serbian opposition and contributed to the long term isolation of the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As Shafir points out, this long term isolation will have severe implications and a lasting impact on the short- and long-term policies of Serbia, Kosovo, and the rest of the region as well as the Western NATO alliance.

Implications for Serbia

War radicalizes society. Yet, Shafir indicates, the Serbian population was already radicalized by the sharp divide between the "haves" and the "have nots." Nearly 9/10th of the population lives in extreme poverty. Poverty induces a need to ignore formal rules, encouraging informality and illegality which are in direct opposition to democracy and rule of law. Furthermore, illegality induces violence, distrust and the need to get things done through personal or tribal ties.

In Yugoslavia, these tribal ties are deeply entangled with ethnicity. According to Shafir, Slobodan Milosevic capitalized on and exacerbated this intermingling of tribalism and ethnicity to consolidate power and play up national myths. The current war has only served to strengthen ethnicity-based tribalism, reducing law and trust to the issue of personal ties.

National forces in Serbia consequently, push not toward democracy but toward a form of socialist egalitarianism and a tribalism rooted in ethnicity. According to Shafir, this drive towards egalitarianism is prevalent throughout the rest of Eastern Europe as well, impeding the overall region's rapid transformation to democracy. As tribalism is exported in the region, factors of informality, illegality and organized crime go hand in hand, further destabilizing the region and adding to the already existing economic division of society.

In addition to the reinforcement of tribalism, the destruction and the unclear results of the Kosovo war, also imparts a sense of uncertainty, futility, frustration and an overall feeling of victimization. Furthermore, as Shafir attests, it reinforces popular Serb myths of "them against us."

Yet, Michael Shafir states that the NATO air war against Yugoslavia was not necessarily wrong. The problem lies in dealing with a regime which has repeatedly gone back on its word. Even if Milosevic was removed, the burden of the past cannot be ignored. In this context, would a strong Serbian state benefit Western interests? Shafir points out that a relatively strong Serbian state is responsible for the current decade of devastation in Southeast Europe. Would then, a weak Serbian state be the answer to regional stability? Shafir objects, emphasizing the urgent need for change in the region and the lack of ability of a weak state to undertake even internal reforms. It becomes apparent that a hybrid mixture of both kinds of states, with strong international supervision, is needed to usher in even a modicum of democracy and stability in war-torn Serbia.

Implications for Kosovo

According to Shafir, the province of Kosovo has suffered a long tradition of harassment due to: foreign occupation, hostile military forces, and most recently, deprivation of its former autonomy within Yugoslavia. Had the West intervened at an earlier date or applied more pressure to both Serbian and Albanian sides, Shafir asserts, perhaps a man like Ibrahim Rugova advocating a peaceful solution could have stood a chance. Now, all sides have been radicalized, with Rugova politically dead and the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) agitating for an independent Kosovo. According to Shafir, the delayed reaction of the West and the bombing campaign had the effect of supporting and legitimizing the UCK claim, unleashing an Albanian crusade for retribution and revenge against the Kosovo Serb minority despite initial Western hopes and intentions for a multi-ethnic Kosovo.

This scenario places the opposition to Milosevic in Serbia in a difficult position. As Shafir emphasized, not only is the Serbian opposition not ready to acquiesce in Kosovo's independence but it views the defense of the Serbian minority, now placed in a parallel situation to the Kosovar Albanians before the West intervened, as its responsibility.

According to Shafir, an independent Kosovo is dangerous because it's inevitable UCK-run government would have no tolerance for ethnic minorities and little or no experience with true democratic principles of transparency and a rule of law. In addition, an independent Kosovo would not bode well for either Bosnia or Macedonia. As Shafir attests, a partitioned Kosovo is also not a good option, bringing into question under whose authority such a protectorate might evolve as well as further fanning the rhetorical flames of extreme radicals like Hungary's Istvan Csurka over Vojvodina, Serbia's other formerly autonomous region.

Shafir also stressed the importance of Western presence and direct involvement in the development of a democratic Kosovo. "Without a Western presence, Kosovo will be an unstable state relying on basic tenets of tribalism and filial ties - a state where there are no formal democratic institutions of governance."

Implications for the Region and Russia

According to Shafir, Orthodox ties rallied public opinion in countries like Romania and Greece to oppose the NATO bombing campaign. In both cases, however, the official government line was unquestionable support of NATO. Meanwhile, with the West's intervention and involvement in Kosovo, the region's former dominating power, Russia, was pushed into "semi-irrelevance." Tellingly, the Baltic states took definite pro-NATO positions while their Russian minorities were staunchingly anti-NATO.

The biggest paradox came from NATO's new members - the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary who either opposed the NATO bombing or were caught in the middle between NATO obligations and old regional ties. According to Shafir, overall the war only served to demonstrate European powerlessness in the Balkans.

Against this background, Shafir posed the question, is the idea of a greater Albania, into which the West has unwittingly slipped, a positive one? He resolutely opposes this notion, labeling it "not conducive to democracy" and a negative example for the region's other, dormant, radical separatist movements.

A greater Albania would also toughen the Russian position towards Chechnya and other internal separatist movements, as well as create insecurity in the rest of the region, especially for neighboring countries like Macedonia, Turkey and Greece.

Furthermore, a greater Albania presupposes an easy relationship between the Kosovar Albanians and those of Albania proper. As Shafir points out however, this is far from true - the Kosovo Albanians have had a higher standard of living and cultural development than their neighbors in Albania, implying an unequal hierarchy between the two.

Implications for the West

Shafir dismissed the popular conception that Western economic reconstruction assistance will solve the problems of the region. The problem should be viewed rather, as one rooted in socio-cultural traditions and "burdens of the past." If democratizing Serbia is the aim, the ultimate goal should be, Shafir attests, a state properly run, based on transparency, predictability and accountability -- all elements which need to first take root on local soil. The West also needs to take into account the lack of trust between estranged minorities and ethnic groups - a problem which could take generations to overcome.

Within this context, Shafir emphasizes the need for acceptance within Kosovo of a temporary yet formal zone of separation between the Serbs and Albanians. He prescribes this form of separate cohabitation within Kosovo, together with the recognition of the need for long-term Western involvement in the region, as the only solutions for lasting peace in Kosovo and the Balkans as a whole.

On September 28, Michael Shafir, addressed the post-Kosovo Southeastern Europe region and prescribed ethnic separation and prolonged Western involvement as the only possible solution for Kosovo.

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