The Age
Bringing a sort of peace to Kosovo


Wednesday 22 March 2000

Karl Kraus, the famous Austrian journalist and playwright, once observed that European wars were caused by diplomats who lied to journalists and then believed what they read in the newspapers.

One is reminded of that aphorism today when listening to American and NATO officials insist that they are still committed to building a multi-ethnic Kosovo - despite the murderous inter-ethnic violence still going on there and the obvious desire of the Pentagon and NATO to get out of Kosovo forever.

It's time American and NATO officials stopped fibbing to themselves and then believing their own quotes. It's obvious that the Kosovar Serbs and Albanians hate each other and have no intention of living together in the idealistic multi-ethnic state that the West once envisaged.

Now it might be momentarily satisfying to just walk away, telling both sides: "You people deserve each other. Why don't you just slug it out and call us when you're exhausted." But that would only lead to another bloodbath and refugee turmoil. Like it or not, the United States and NATO do have an interest in stability in the Balkans - if for no other reason than that it would allow them to focus on more important problems.

Since the West can't walk away, our real choices are clear: either we disarm the warriors of Kosovo or we disarm the warring politics of Kosovo.

That is to say, when dealing with an unfinished civil war, in which people hate each other but are still living side by side, one option is to use overwhelming force to disarm the whole population and then stand guard on every street corner until they learn to love each other. At a time when NATO wants to reduce its troops in Kosovo, this option is not realistic.

That leaves the other option - disarming the politics of Kosovo. Right now the politics of Kosovo are always on the verge of explosion, because neither of the big parties - the Serbs and the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army - is content nor exhausted. The KLA is using the US zone in Kosovo as a privileged sanctuary to infiltrate southern Serbia and help ethnic Albanians living there, while the Serbs are infiltrating men and supplies into northern Kosovo to protect their people there.

The only way NATO can reduce its presence in Kosovo, without it blowing up, is by doing what NATO did in Bosnia: disarm the politics by tacitly partitioning the country. Bosnia is stable today because the key factions were exhausted by four years of war and got what they wanted: their own ethnic zones. Once the dividing lines were stable, all NATO had to do was patrol them. And once the parties in Bosnia were secure in their own space, they were more willing to reach out to one another.

To disarm the politics of Kosovo, NATO needs to convene the parties and redraw the map or impose a new one. One idea would be to move the Serbian border with Kosovo near Mitrovica to the south - to encompass the biggest pocket of Serbs still living inside Kosovo. In return, the Serbs would be asked to give the Kosovo Albanians the two small counties of Serbia along Kosovo's eastern border, where a large number of Albanians still live. That would create much cleaner dividing lines. Then NATO could make Kosovo a self-ruling republic of Yugoslavia, with a promise to consider independence some time in the future.

Finally, NATO could tell the Serbs that if they agreed to this land swap the sanctions on them would be lifted. The Serbs would get out of their deep economic hole. The Albanians would have self-rule. And NATO could patrol the fence between them.

True, this would mean the world would effectively have two Albanias - the original Albania and a new Kosovo Albania. Although the Albanians have not shown any capacity for running one state properly, let alone two, Europe would have to live with it.

A broken Kosovo is no place to be experimenting with multiculturalism or affirmative action. As Stalin would say, talking of a self-sustaining, multicultural Kosovo today is like talking about "hot ice or dry water".

The West's interest is that Kosovo, like Bosnia, be a place where the different ethnic communities can live apart, stably, until they choose to live together again, and where the US and NATO can ensure that stability at the lowest cost. Since the Kosovo war ended before a stable dividing line could be established there, we need to draw that now.

Without a stable dividing line, the US and NATO will always be peacekeepers in a land with no peace to keep.

Original article