Kosovo anniversary marks Triumph of a Lesser Evil

By Kurt Schork

March 22, 2000

(Rtr) - A year ago this week NATO launched 78 days of air strikes to drive Serbian security forces out of Kosovo.

One year on, it appears that the lesser of two evils has triumphed.

Belgrade's army, police and paramilitary units, who had been oppressing Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority in the name of its Serb minority, have been evicted.

On paper, NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers and U.N. administrators now rule the Yugoslav province under the Security Council's mandate.

But in reality, the residual influence of the officially disbanded, ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) equals, if not exceeds, that of the international community here.

The result has been a largely unchecked ethnic Albanian persecution of Kosovo's rapidly dwindling minorities of Serbs, Roma and Moslem Slavs.

The 850,000 ethnic Albanian refugees who fled or were deported from Kosovo once NATO air strikes began did flood back home once KFOR forces arrived in the province.

But as many as a quarter million Serbs and other minorities have been forced out of their homes in Kosovo in the eight months since the war ended.


Trouble in such ethnic flashpoints as the divided northern town of Mitrovica and Kosovo's boundary with the Presevo valley in eastern Serbia threatens additional flows at any time.

Such rough justice was not the result envisioned by Western statesmen who went to war vowing to create a multi-ethnic democracy in post-war Kosovo.

"Ironically, the air war will be judged for what has been achieved on the ground in Kosovo since the bombs stopped falling," a senior Western diplomat in Pristina, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

"There have been some notable successes, but far too many failures. If the verdict were based on where we are today in Kosovo I'd have to say we won the war and lost the peace."

If the intervention in Kosovo has come up short so far it is not for want of trying.

Tens of thousands of KFOR soldiers are now deployed, supplemented by about 2,500 U.N. civil police.

The United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, hundreds of aid organisations and scores of national governments are pouring human and financial resources into Kosovo.

But the process of building institutions to enable the province to enjoy democratic self-government as an autonomous part of Yugoslavia one day is fitful.

Serb leaders are boycotting the most important joint institutions.

The ethnic Albanian side, dominated by former KLA members, pays lip service to Western goals while pursuing its own, frequently divergent plans.

To make matters worse, Western notions of government have little in common with the decentralised, clan and village-based decision-making that has prevailed for centuries among ethnic Albanians here.

Insulated by language and custom from outside eyes, denied access to many legal modes of economic activity by years of Serb oppression, Kosovar Albanian society emerged from war as a perfect shield for criminal activity.


Analysts say Kosovo's future remains hostage to political, criminal and ethnic violence that is largely unprosecuted because of threats to witnesses and judges.

"Continuing KLA influence is manifested in "four pillars". Three of these - political, military and police - are overt," said a recent report by the International Crisis Group.

"The fourth pillar of KLA activity is covert and utterly unacceptable - organised crime and violence."

To critics, Kosovo may have simply traded in a set of Serb oppressors for a set of ethnic Albanian ones.

Such an outcome could vindicate Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's pre-war boast that the international community - with all its soldiers, bureaucrats and money - would fare little better confronting Albanian nationalists here than he did.

Original article