Keep an eye on that 'damned silly thing' in Kosovo

Published on November 1, 2006, The Globe and Mail

Category: Violence Against Christian Serbs and Their Holy Places


Serbian voters have approved a new constitution that, among other things, reaffirms sovereignty over Kosovo, which, since the bombing of Serbia in 1999, has been administered by the United Nations with the help of NATO troops. The weekend referendum result will further complicate efforts of Western policy-makers to grant independence to Kosovo since, to do so without Serbia's consent, would violate the UN Charter on territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. Nevertheless, there have been indications that UN special envoy Marrti Ahtisaari will soon recommend that Kosovo be separated from Serbia and become an independent country.

This would be a mistake.

For the past seven years, Kosovo has become one of the most dangerous places on Earth. It is the centre of heroin, weapons and human trafficking into Western Europe. Murder and abduction of non-Albanians are daily occurrences. Civil society is non-existent and living standards are equivalent to those of Haiti. There is evidence that Islamic extremists with al-Qaeda connections are a growing presence. In short, Kosovo has all the characteristics of a failed state.

Under the eyes of the UN and NATO, more than 200,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma and other non-Albanians have been expelled from Kosovo. Those who remain are in constant danger. And some of those encouraged by the UN to return have been murdered. The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Agim Ceku, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, has been accused of war crimes by the Serbs. He is the man who led Croatian forces in 1993 that overran Serbian villages protected by Canadian peacekeepers. When his fighters were driven out, the Canadians found that all of the civilians and animals in the villages had been slaughtered.

One of the crimes committed by the Albanian majority in Kosovo has been the razing of more than 150 Christian churches and monasteries. Many of these churches dated back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Their destruction has been a deliberate effort to remove all semblance of Christian heritage in Kosovo. Shamefully, there has been no international outrage, no serious attempt to apprehend the perpetrators and no expression of alarm on the part of Christian churches in the West.

The UN resolution that ended the bombing campaign against Serbia guaranteed that Kosovo would have a functioning civil society, democratic institutions, security for all citizens and respect for the rule of law. It called for the disarming of the Kosovo Liberation Army and other armed groups. It provided for the return to Kosovo of limited numbers of Serbian security forces to guard Christian holy places. And it reasserted Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo.

Sadly, it seems that the UN and NATO had no intention of honouring these commitments. These are hard facts and they stand as a testimony of failure. The performance of these two international institutions has been marked by duplicity, double standards and cowardice.

Independence for Kosovo would establish a dangerous precedent. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already warned that a decision to grant Kosovo independence could be applicable to post-Soviet territory. He has particular interest in regions of the former Soviet Union that have aspirations for independence. The most volatile ones are the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; these two regions broke away from Georgia in 1992 and want independent status. Recognition of Kosovo independence would give them their precedent. And that could result in bloodshed, with serious implications for world security.

Bismarck once said that the Balkans were not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Yet, he also predicted that, if there were to be another war in Europe, it would be because of some "damned silly thing" in the Balkans. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, sparking off the First World War, proved him right.

Ominously, there is a strong possibility that another "damned silly thing" is taking place in the Balkans: the seeming determination of Western policy-makers to grant the Serbian province of Kosovo its independence. In foreign policy, as in other human endeavours, you can't get good results if you do dumb things.

James Bissett was Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1990 to 1992.

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