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November 30, 2005


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Oskar L.

Good summary (as always). Am looking forward to the promised follow-up.

In this text, you provide what look like a lot of, mainly economic, reasons why and independent Kosovo would might have a hard time. My view is that what makes a country work or not rarely comes down to economics - people and identity are much more important.

I've probably said this before and shold wait for your follow-up piece, but will expand on it anyway.

In short, things look pretty bleak. I think an independent and ethnically homogenous Kosovo has the best chance for success.

Kosovo albanians are very nationalistic and, as you pointed out, politically naive, that's not going to change overnight. Best then to give an independent Kosovo as few reasons to fight and blame others as possible. The best way of doing this is to get the Serb minority and the international community out of there.

To make this at least a bit palatable for Serbia (and also to try to give as few reasons as possible for future conflict) I think the northern slice of the province (say north of Mitrovica) should be given to Serbia and all populations on the 'wrong' side resettled with the help of the intl. community. Some churches ans monasteries in the other parts of Kosovo could even be relocated.

This would enable each side - Serbia and Kosova - to focus on getting on with their independent lives. The intl. community (the EU) could focus on the cheaper (and from their perspective more important) task of preventing smuggling and organized crime instead of keeping large military force in place.

The Kosovo albanians might have a hard time accepting this since they seem pretty set on getting it all. Serbia should be glad since this way at least they get to keep a part of Kosovo and can forget about the albanians forever (which I think most Serbs would be very happy to do - maybe even build a huge wall along the border or something).


This all goes to the issue of /how/ Kosovo will gain its independence. We'll get to that!

Right now I'm just trying to sketch out what they have, and what they might do with it.

Doug M.

Michael M.

I'm interested in how possible a future union with Albania would be. I rarely hear it mentioned, except from paranoid Serbian nationalists, who see the machinations of a Greater Albania everywhere. Still, it would seem to make sense, wouldn't it? Certainly more than an independent land-locked blob.

I'm probably getting ahead of the story, though, so I'll just sit back and wait.

(This Kosovo series has been fantastic, Doug)


Hi Michael,

Thanks for the kind words. If you really like it, point folks this way! I'd be interested to hear what other people think about this stuff.

Greater Albania is not quite a myth, but it's close. Support for it has waxed and waned on both sides of the border, but at the moment neither Kosovars nor Albanians are very enthusiastic. Albanians view Kosovo as an albatross, poor and politically complicated, at least at the moment. Meanwhile Kosovars have not worked this hard to gain their sovereignty just to hand it over to distant Tirana.

Joining the two countries makes sense from a nationalist POV, but economically... well, there's an inconviently large mountain range in the way. There isn't even a rail link between Kosovo and Albania.

Finally, it's close to 100% certain that any final status agreement will include a provision against Kosovo joining another country. There's precedent (Germany and Austria) in the EU.

Doug M.


The usual road between Albania and Kosovo is through northwestern Macedonia, which, coincidently is inhabited mostly by Albanians, too!

Let's take the three regions and make a country that makes sense both ethnically and economically.

Oskar L.

I always thought it was the Kosovo Albanians who viewed their cousins in Albania proper as poor and unsophisticated. Living in Socialist Yugoslavia must have been a lot better than living in Communist Albania, at least until Milosevic appeared....

What's the GDP per capita in Kosovo and Albania (in real USD, not PPP)?

Doug M.


Fifteen years ago, Kosovars were much richer than their Albanian cousins. Today the Albanians are ahead.

Kosovo's per capita income is about $1200 in real dollars or $3000 at PPP. Albania's is about $1,900 in real dollars or about $4,500 at PPP. By either measurement, Albania is about 50% richer.

This makes sense when you think about it. Albania had a roller coaster in the '90s -- recession, then rapid economic growth, then a total collapse in 1997. Then since 2000 it's been chugging along at about 6% per year.

Meanwhile Kosovo had an utterly disastrous '90s, culiminating in the catastrophe of 1999, when what wasn't bombed by NATO was blown or looted by the retreating Serbs. They had some post-war growth, but the economy has been pretty flat for the last year or two.

Given the province's deeply rooted problems, it doesn't seem likely that Kosovo will catch up to Albania again soon.

Bogdan: there are some problems with your vision of "Greater Albania". To name just one, the Greeks and Serbs would be utterly and absolutely set against it.

Doug M.

Oskar L.

Today's FT actually had a pretty interesting article on the behind the scenes lobbying in Washington on the Kosovo independence issue.


It describes how a Mr. Behgjet Pacolli, a native of Kosovo and head of the Swiss-based Mabetex Group, has funded the Washington think-tank "Alliance for a New Kosovo" with a number of US politicians and ex-politicians tied to it.

The Serbs on the other hand don't seem to have their act quite together yet but a spokesperson for the Serbian Unity Congress says that ethnic Serbs, a large diaspora, played a role in George W. Bush's 2004 election victory.

Also, Tadic has apparently hired Washington-based RSLB as consultant. The FT writes "RSLB is run by a group of Israeli businessmen and former officials and military figures, including Yuval Rabin, son of the assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. This has raised speculation that the Serbian side hopes to attract the support of Washington's influential Jewish lobby groups."

Interesting. Just sad that once again the US will decide on an important European issue. I wish the EU, or at least individual European countries, woudl for once tell Washington to back-off and then take action instead of just footing the bill for whatever solution Washington decides on.

Doug M.

I think this overstates. It's not that Washington will decide. More like Washington has a veto power, and can push the Europeans to hurry up.

Remember, Europe's track record in the region is not wonderful.

Notice that Tadic visited Israel recently, and explicitly compared the Albanians to the Palestinians. There's an old Serbia-Israel connection; Sharon was always an admirer of Milosevic, and the Israelis sold security equipment to Belgrade in the '90s.

The Serbian lobby in America has consistently been a day late and a dollar short. They are usually enthusiastic Republicans, while Albanians strongly tip Democrat.

Doug M.


I'll be headed to Camp Montieth near Gnjilane later this month. I've been trying to keep up with whats been happening in Kosovo since I found out that I was going. Your posts have been very insightful. I've started a blog and plan on posting on what i see happening there, and many pictures from my time in Kosovo.

Oskar L.


First, you write "Remember, Europe's track record in the region is not wonderful." I agree, but I'd say that the US's is even worse.

Second, other than maybe some better than average behavior during WWII from a Jewish standpoint, what's the basis for the Israeli-Jewish connection you describe. I always thought the old Yugoslavia sided with the Arabs during the Cold War?

It seems rather paradoxical that Israel should have run arms to Serbia at the same time as the US was training Tudjman's troops and helping the Iranians smuggle arms to the Bosnian muslims.

Also, I always though the 'jewish lobby' in the US supported the Bosnian muslims and the Kosovo albanians becuase they were the seen as victims of genocide and concetration camps. All this while Israel was supporting Milosevic?


I'd say that the US's is even worse.

In the Balkans? Since 1990?

Oh my goodness, no.

Say what you like about US policy elsewhere, but we've done relatively well in the Balkans. Reprehensibly slow in some cases, but "slow" is better than "motionless until sharply prodded".

Israel and Serbia: couple of reasons. One, there's a lingering sense in Israel that Serbia was one of the less reprehensible countries in the region during the Holocaust. The belief is that (1) Serbs and Jews got along pretty well, by regional standards, before the war; and (2) most of the rounding up of Serbian Jews was undertaken either by Germans or by a minority of quisling Serbs under direct German supervision.

This is IMO not altogether accurate, but the perception is there. In Israeli eyes, Serbia is probably the least-bad country in Eastern Europe after Bulgaria.

Second, there was a very strong perception that Serbia : Albanians :: Israel : Palestinians. Milosevic's repeated invocations of Serbia as a post-genocide country surrounded by hostile Muslims touched a chord here. Also, right-wing Israeli politicians have a fondness for other "pariah" nations... cf. the long covert alliance between Israel and South Africa before 1990.

Bosnia, etc.: There is often some daylight between American Jews and Israel.

BTW, AFAIK the Israeli's weren't selling arms as such. (There was never any shortage of those in Serbia.) More security equipment (wiretaps, laser taps, sigint software) and training.

Doug M.

Oskar L.


You write "Say what you like about US policy elsewhere, but we've done relatively well in the Balkans."

There are a couple of things which give me a pretty negative opinion of US policy in the former Yugoslavia:

1. As far as I understand it was US opposition which sank the 1993 Vance Owen plan. Had it succeeded, it might have stopped a lot of bloodshed. The European supported it.

2. US smuggling of arms to the Croatian government and allowing the Iranians to smuggle them to the Sarajevo government undermined UN/western peace efforts.

3. US training of the Croatian army and aiding it in its attack on the Slavonian and Krajina regions, with the subsequent ethnic cleansing.

4. US one-sided support for the UCK in Kosovo 1998/99 increased rather than decreased the propensity of the two parties to come to a more peaceful agreement.

5. US sponsored 'Peace talks' in Rambouillet were a complete set-up used to justify an attack on Serbia, which finally ensured that Milosevic had nothing to loose by driving out as many albanians as he could.

6. The US led bombing campaign against Serbia quickly took the form of terror-bombing - when there were no more easy military targets they started bombing power stations, water treatment plants, bridges, TV stations, etc, with quite a lot of uranium tipped missiles. All the while Serbian troops and paramilitaries could kill remaining albanians in Kosovo because the US was too scared to put in any groundtroops (or even the much vaunted Blackhawk helicopters).

So, in comparing US and 'European' policy in the Balkans, I'd say it's the same old as always - the 'Europeans' don't do much at all and the US does a lot of stupid things. I prefer slow action to stupid action.

Doug M.

Hi Oskar,

First, thanks for the nomination over at Fistful of Euros.

Second, time doesn't permit me to answer all of these in the detail I'd like. But, briefly:

-- It's hard to get enthusiastic about support for Tudjman's Croatia. That said, it's even harder to feel enthusiasm for the Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK). A gangster state run by thugs and incompetents, it had quite thoroughly immiserated its own people long before the Croatian Army came storming in. And while I'm entirely sympathetic to the Serbs' desire not to live under Tudjman, they lost the moral high ground early in the game when they expelled or murdered their own local Croats.

The Europeans couldn't come up with a solution to the problem of RSK. The closest they got was the Z-4 plan in summer 1995. Z-4 would have given the Serbs local autonomy under fairly nominal rule from Zagreb, subject to the return of Croat refugees, etc, etc.

It was a reasonable compromise. Unfortunately, Serb Krajina was not run by reasonable people. When they rejected Z-4, it was clear that Europe had no plan B. The only alternatives were to allow the RSK to continue as a de facto independent state, or allow the Croats to take military action. And if the latter, then the better equipped the Croats were, the faster the whole ugly business would be over.

Operations Lightning and Storm were resolved in a matter of days. Again, I hold no brief for Tudjman or for Croatian nationalism -- but if the US hadn't trained and equipped the Croatian Army, the conflict over RSK would likely have dragged on much longer, with a corresponding increase in deaths and atrocities.

In evaluating any diplomatic policy, especially in the Balkans, you have to consider the plausible alternatives. So, what if the US hadn't armed and supported Croatia? Well, either they wouldn't have been able to undertake Lightning and Storm -- in which case we'd still be seeing the RSK controlling a quarter of Croatia's territory -- or they would have gone in anyway, but with greatly inferior training and equipment, possibly resulting in a protracted Bosnia-style conflict.

US one-sided support of UCK... US policy on UCK was inconsistent. But while US support certainly encouraged UCK, it didn't make a peaceful solution harder to reach. By 1998, a peaceful solution was already impossible. From 1991 to 1998, Milosevic could have reached a peaceful agreement with Rugova. He didn't. And by 1998, the Kosovars couldn't take it any longer; they were simply not going to live under Belgrade's rule any more.

I mentioned already the March 1998 Adem Jashari "Drenica Massacre" incident. This seems to have been the point of no return. Serb police and paramilitary forces wiped out an entire extended family, including women and children, and this sent shock waves of horror across conservative rural Kosovo. After that, there was no going back; either Belgrade would triumph, or the KLA/UCK. And either of these victories would involve shedding a great deal of blood.

BTW, there's an interesting bit of background to the Drenica Massacre. Just two weeks earlier, US envoy Robert Gelbard had said in Belgrade that "the KLA is, without any questions, a terrorist group". Milosevic interpreted this as a green light: the US didn't care about Kosovo, so he could do as he pleased. He ordered the crackdown at once.

So, if the US made a mistake here -- and I think we did -- it was not too much support for the KLA, but too little. A clearer signal to Milosevic in early '98 might have avoided the Drenica Massacre and the corresponding empowerment of the KLA, leaving some narrow crack of hope for a peaceful solution open.

But I doubt it. Milosevic had begun his career with a call to end Albanian autonomy; it would have been politically unthinkable to give it back again. And Kosovars were not going to endlessly tolerate living in an racist apartheid society quite deliberately designed to impoverish and humiliate them. (N.B., most comparisons of South Africa to Kosovo fall short. Kosovo was worse. South Africa at least made some sort of sense, from the ruling minority's POV. Kosovo was just a decade-long exercise in humiliation and dominance.)

I have some thoughts on your other points, but I also have small children and a job. Perhaps later.


Doug M.

Oskar L.

Hi Doug,

On the Fistful of Euros comment. The nice mix of politics and daily life is something which makes your blog such interesting reading. Too much of either and the balance is lost. Too bad HDTD isn't eligible (as I understood it).

I have a couple of basic issues with US foreign policy in the Balkans:

First of all, the US like to solve problems using military force. Having a big military the US likes to cut its Gordian knots more often than it seems to want to take the time to figure them out and open them carefully.

The problem with military solutions is that things quickly get out of hand and what seemed like a plain vanilla operation get very ugly. The US might not have inteded it that way, but it's still responsible for the outcome. This is true both of Iraq, Kosovo and Krajina.

Second, I especially don't like the US shooting its guns here in Europe. Basically I think the European should grow up, get their own military force and throw out the US military.

Third, just like the US likes easy (military) solutions to it's problems it also like its problems easy and clear cut (which makes it easier to apply a military solution). Seeing the world in terms of good and evil isn't very pragmatic.

There's lots of other issues with US foreign policy. My intention is not to enumerate them all here.


Hi Oskar,

I might agree with your criticisms in general, but I don't think they apply very well to US policy in the Balkans.

First, the US has actually been somewhat reluctant to use force in the Balkans. Operation Storm didn't happen until every diplomatic avenue had been exhausted. The NATO bombings that forced the rival Bosnian parties to Dayton didn't take place until after more than three years of war. And the NATO bombings in Kosovo didn't happen until after eight months of ethnic cleansing and massacre.

It's also possible to point to several examples where the US /didn't/ use force -- most obviously, the conflict in Macedonia.

I hold no brief for recent US policy in, say, the Middle East. But just because force has not worked well there does not mean force never works. You compare Iraq, Kosovo and Krajina; I don't think these three belong together. Iraq has dragged on for three years and cost tens of thousands of (American and Iraqi) lives. Kosovo lasted 78 days, while Operations Storm and Lightning took about two weeks. Kosovo certainly went on longer than either side expected, but it's hardly in the same category as Iraq. And the use of force there seems to have worked: Serb rule in Kosovo is over, and Serbia itself has a chance to join the EU. This would not have happened if Milosevic were still in power -- which, barring the use of force by /someone/, he probably still would be.

This touches on your second point. I agree! It's a bit weird that the US should be intervening in the Balkans at all. This is Europe's back yard, and it should be Europe's job to police it. And Europe should be able to make a convincing threat of force.

Unfortunately, Europe doesn't quite seem to be there yet. Which means the US involvement in the region is far from over.

One other point: the nastiest bits of Europe are in places where neither the US nor the EU can make a convincing threat of force. I'm thinking of Belarus here, and of the "Transnistrian Republic". These places are just too close to Russia for even the US to rattle its sabers. This is not altogether a good thing.

I invite you to consider the counterfactual: no US involvement in the Balkans after 1990. Do we see a better outcome? I really don't think so, but I'm open to being persuaded.

Doug M.


Hi Doug,

I think you are too hard on the Krajna Serbs:
- they cleansed their Croats - after those Croats had sided with Croat police/army forces on several occassions. Call it the logic of a civil war.
- they had conquered ethnically Croat territory - after Bosnia declared its independence in a move that was clearly meant to isolate the Krajna.
- they rejected the Z4 proposal: simply because they believed that they could get better (independence: it was well known that Tudjman valued an ethnically homogenous state and was not totally unwilling to give up some territory for that). It happens all the time in peace negotiations that some party rejects a proposal because it believes it can get better. Z4 may be more memorable because it was the first time Croatia accepted a reasonable proposal.
- after the rejection of Z4 all hope was not lost. If Bosnia was solved Krajna would have good reasons to reconsider their position.

The Serb leaders of the Krajna - a small backward area - were not genuises. But they were a lot more rational and consistent than you give them credit for. And I certainly don't see why they deserved to be mass expulsed.

As for Kosovo and Albania: a new road is being built that will run from a bit north of Kruja to Prizren. So a more direct connection is coming.


come on of course kosovo should become independent. it deserves it. people dies for the country and the serbs shouldn't rule anyone but themselves. KOSOVO is going to become independent, and with that occuring it will help other countries as well.

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