COURTESY BOB JONES
The main street in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, is named for former President Bill Clinton. During his second term, Clinton used American force to stop the "ethnic cleansing" wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Many who know Kosovo are not celebrating its break from Serbia
Editor's note: Midweek columnist Bob Jones, a former longtime Hawaii anchorman and war correspondent, has traveled extensively through Kosovo and studied its history and current politics. His daughter, Brett Jones, was a State Department official there; she worked on Serb resettlement immediately after the war.
The declaration of national independence from Serbia last Sunday by Kosovo's majority Albanian Muslims settled nothing in the Balkans and could make things worse there and wherever there are ethnic populations agitating for separation.
What happens to the 20 percent Orthodox Christian Serbs still living in Kosovo in enclaves such as Mitrovica, Gracanica and Prizren? Who provides a livelihood for the 70 or 75 percent of the Kosovars who are unemployed? How long must NATO troops stay around to protect the minority Serbs and Roma (gypsies), the mosques and the churches? They've already been stuck there since 1999 under U.N. Resolution 1244.
It's a mess. Many of us who have studied the history and politics and traveled the former Serbian province thought the best solution was to let Kosovo sit in limbo longer so the internal animosities could cool. There are myths that make Kosovo a tinder box. True, it belonged to the medieval Serb empire. True, Turkish Muslims conquered it in 1389. But after that, history shows the Turks recognizing and cooperating with Serbia's Christian rulers. When the Ottoman Empire fell, Kosovo went back under Serbian rule.
What happened to upset the apple cart in modern times was a great influx of ethnic Albanians from dirt-poor Albania into much richer Kosovo under its Serb, iron-fist rule. Those immigrants (and residents from earlier times) are secular Muslims -- they had converted to Islam during Turkish rule mainly to do business -- but to this day have not been major mosque-goers, daytime prayer-givers, and do not sympathize one iota with radical Islamists. America is wildly popular among the Muslims who make up 80 percent of Kosovo. The main street in the capital, Pristina, is Bill Clinton Boulevard.
But you cannot blame Serbia for not wanting to let this province go. It has mineral resources. It puts an enemy from the '90s ethnic war on the Serb border. You can blame Serbia, especially its late leader Slobodan Milosevic, for not having the vision to grant Kosovo reasonable autonomy. He wanted Serbia in control of every government post and job, Orthodoxy the favored religion, and he launched the ethnic cleansing that brought in the NATO bombers and a war that Serbia lost -- embarrassing its own people to this day, and its longtime Russian allies. (Serbia, like Russia, uses the Cyrillic alphabet for its language.)
Since 1999, they've had those little Serbian enclaves in Kosovo, protected by NATO troops. But in March of 2004, an incident in Mitrovica that was misreported set off an Albanian pogrom against Serbs. At least 24 were killed and 850 badly injured. More than 350 Serb homes were destroyed. Albanian Kosovars even went to a Serbian old folks home and beat the inhabitants with baseball bats.
It was an incident of great anguish for my daughter, who had been instrumental in resettling some of the Kosovo Serbs who were victims of the thugs.
But it hasn't been one-sided. The record is full of incidents in which Serb militants have attacked Albanian civilians.
One item that should not be overlooked: This declaration of independence has no basis in law and it contravenes the U.S. resolution that created Kosovo as a protectorate. So this further emasculates the United Nations. It signals other protectorates that they can take matters in their own hands and that the U.N. is powerless to enforce its mandates.
The independence problem is compounded because Serbia won't take back its own people who might want to evacuate from Kosovo. Why? Well, many of the people of Serbia feel that their brethren in Kosovo are "tainted," perhaps too sympathetic with Kosovars; besides, it would be very costly to take in those expatriates. They would compete for jobs with poor in-country Serbs.
So, as I said early on, what a mess!
And now we'll have Chechens, Roma, Armenians and all manner of minorities stretching from the Balkans across the former Soviet Union saying, "Hey, if the Kosovars can have independence, why can't we?"
And although the leaders of the new Republic of Kosovo claim they'll install a multi-ethnic democracy, nobody who knows much about the Albanian-Serb animosity puts any stock in that. The long-range plan will be to get the remaining Serbs to leave. It's not feasible to have Albanian Kosovars and Serbs living in Mitrovica, for example, separated by a very slim river, a bridge with barbed wire, two money systems and two flags. One or the other will have to go, or submit.
So excuse me for not celebrating.