« The Tomb of Dracula | Main | Beet! Give me a beet! »

October 13, 2004


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


My solution is pretty simple. Give every city and town in Kosovo the same degree of autonomy and responsibility enjoyed by any single town or city in the United States.

I can't help but think that to people on the ground, it might sound like a proposal for each town and village to become its own private fiefdom. They've had that before. It was unpleasant.


Doug Muir

Actually, neither Kosovo nor South Serbia has been feudal for a long time.

They were part of Yugoslavia from WWI onwards. (Okay, actually 1913, but never mind that now.) Before that, they were Ottoman -- but the late Ottoman Empire wasn't about local autonomy. More like corrupt and confused centralization.

Part of the objection also seems to be ideological, sort of. A lot of this region seems to have been strongly influenced by traditional French models of law, government and political thought -- including, bien sur, the whole centralization thing. Romania, for instance, never had a civil war. But the Romanian government is even more centralized than Serbia's, and Bucharest also seems reflexively suspicious of devolving power to the provinces.

Doug M.


Actually, I was thinking about the rule of traditional law, which was found among both groups in the region, and which the late Ottomans tolerated as long as they got their chunk of change and it didn't kill anyone important.

If there's anything to make people long for Leviathan, it's that. You ask the Icelanders.



Kosovo? A quagmire? Why hasn't the US media made more of us aware of this? What is our plan to win the peace? What is our exit strategy?

Oh, nevermind.

Actually it sounds to me as if a general theory of township-based automony under limited federalism ought to be debated and experimented upon in several venues. Kurdish/Shia/Sunni towns, highly placed in the lab queue. The sad thing is that the problem is not getting attention even in more stable and peaceful places. The tensions between Edmonton and Ottawa in Canada or Indianapolis and D.C. in the US -- by court order, by legislation, or by executive administrative regulation -- have never been slight and seem to be growing.


This thread has a number of links to articles you may find interesting:



Thanks for the post Doug...

Montgomery's article is illuminating in what it explicitly says, what it implicitly says, and what it omits.

I don't think (as you know) that the NATO intervention in Kosovo had much to do with the plight, the rights or the national aspirations of Kosovar Albanians. I don't think it had any intent other than as a warning display of the power and decisiveness in projecting western (i.e. US mainly) power anywhere in the globe. I'm willing to suggest that, had a peaceful option for Kosovo emerged by early 1999, the US would dismiss and subvert it (which is actually part of what happenned, but that's another story...)

Montgomery pretty much confirms that the operation had absolutely no plan for what happens next (as it wouldn't if the aims of the attack weren't local) and that the current situation, imposed by the murder of (at least 500) innocent civilians, the decimation of Serbia's industrial infrastructure and large scale environmental damage, is unstable and potentially destabilizing.

Look at how an ex-US ambassador answers his own rhetorical questions:

"Was the bombing campaign the only option left? Did it achieve its purpose? Could it have been done differently?

I don't have good answers to many of these questions."

...Which seems to me, given his position, as close as he can mange to the answers: No, No and Yes.

But note that while Montgomery freely admits that the situation, as far as the oppressor-oppressed roles are concerned, is reversed from the 1989-1999 years (but let's not look further behind eh?), he doesn't add that this could have been forseen by anyone with even a minimal understanding of the region. Thus he evades the question of why NATO was completely unprepepared for the pogrom against Kosovar Serbs (again IMHO because there was no regional component to the real rationale for war).

Moreover the situation is not really reversed: The Albanian majority could have achieved renewed autonomy by striking a deal with the Serbian opposition and bothering to vote against Milosevic, in which case Milosevic would have been (many times) deposed! The Serb minority has no such option. (Indeed one could claim that the Albanian Nationalist strategy hinged on Milosevic running things, because its aims were not accommodation inside a Yugoslav federation but rather full independence or accession to Albania and nothing less.)

Note that Montgomery doesn't mention that Ceku has never responded to accusations of war crimes against Serbs in Krajina, which makes his appointment as "head of the Kosovo Protection Corps" even more unpalatable to Kosovar Serbs.

Note also this turn of phrase: "There has also been an underlying double standard in Kosovo on the part of the international community, based on the very real persecution of the Kosovar Albanians under Milosevic and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians that took place at and around the initial NATO bombing." [emphasis mine]

The more accurate phrasing would be, I think, "immediately after, and as a (calculated) response to, the NATO bombing". This doesn't make it any less of a crime of course, but it helps with perspective as it indicates that this was not the realization of a policy of ethnic cleansing, but a tactical move by an unscrupulous Serb government, in order to make action against Kosovo harder. This is impossible to demonstrate conclusively, I know, but it seems evident to me that there was no intention of permanently removing a million Kosovars from their homes - that Milosevic knew could not be tolerated...

Of course now, after the blind NATO attack which was part of no strategy whatsoever, there don't seem to be any realistically good options. The only real options are either partition (this has great human cost), or independence through cantonization or something similar - which would possibly have some ugly repercussions such as a Radical government in Serbia and the resurection of a host of minority/border issues in the region. (I can see the far right in Greece easily campaigning and winning votes by calling for a "review of the Northern Epirus question" - not to mention that Bosnian Serbs and Croats could then be logically justified in seeking local "independent" statelets).

The autonomy/decentralization plan, on a city level, in Kosovo would have the result of legitimizing the KLA run Mafia's (violent) control over much of Kosovo... On a city level, the mafia wins easily where no rule of law has been established.

Sorry for the long post - but I owed Doug as much :-) (Although I'm not sure now of the extent of our disagreements)

Doug Muir

Breaking this down a little...

1) I'm not really interested in another discussion of how we got to the present situation in Kosovo. You and I have done that already, on your blog. (Interested readers can find it here -- scroll down a couple of screens.)

What interested me about Montgomery's speech was his clear-eyed assessment of where we are now, and his idea for how to go forward.

2) That said, I must note that you do a lot of ascribing motivations here. "This is why NATO bombed Serbia." "This is what Montgomery really thinks." "This is what Milosevic must have wanted."

This is a bad habit to get into, because you inevitably end up ascribing motives that fit your own world-view.

Here's an example:

"The more accurate phrasing would be, think, 'immediately after, and as a (calculated) response to, the NATO bombing'. This doesn't make it any less of a crime of course, but it helps with perspective as it indicates that this was not the realization of a policy of ethnic cleansing, but a tactical move by an unscrupulous Serb government, in order to make action against Kosovo harder. This is impossible to demonstrate conclusively, I know, but it seems evident to me that there was no intention of permanently removing a million Kosovars from their homes - that Milosevic knew could not be tolerated..."

Well: I think you're wrong there. not the realization of a policy of ethnic cleansing, but a tactical move by an unscrupulous Serb government -- those two things are not mutually exclusive! Don't enable the hegemony of the binary discourse.

Milosevic had seen the West sit on its hands while nearly two million Yugoslav citizens -- Serbs, Croats, Bozniaks -- went through involuntary changes of address. Why wouldn't he think he could get away with it? If the world had tolerate the removal of Serbs from Croatia, why not Albanians from Kosovo?

What was the most recent precedent? Bosnia, and the Dayton agreement.

And what had happened there? The Bosnian Serbs had, more or less, won. Though only about a third of the population, they'd ended up with half of the country. They'd pretty thoroughly cleansed "their" piece of Bosnia of Muslims, Croats and other undesirables. NATO had bombed them a few times, but without inflicting major damage. They'd gotten away free and clear with any number of horrific massacres, including Srebrenica. And at the end, the Dayton agreement had put the stamp of de facto international approval on this.

We're neither of us mind readers. But based on the available evidence, I think that, yeah, Milosevic would have loved to permanently shift the ethnic balance in Kosovo; and if NATO had weakened, he might well have gotten away with it.

3) "is reversed from the 1989-1999 years (but let's not look further behind eh?)"

How far back do you want to go? 1973? 1945? 1913? 1389?

Here's a grim but amusing exercise. Google "Kosovo massacre", and you'll get all sorts of horrible stuff about things that Albanians have done to Serbs. Now google "Kosov_a_ masscre" and you'll get... all sorts of horrible things that Serbs have done to Albanians.

There's probably no place in the Balkans where the finger-pointing goes back further. Again, that's why I thought the Ambassador's speech was interesting: because it didn't dwell on that, but instead looked at the present and the future.

4) Voting against Milosevic: Haven't we been over this already?

Not voting is one of those bad ideas that seems particularly pervasive to the region. You may recall that, in the breakup of the former YU, pretty much every group boycotted an election at one time or another -- most notably the Bosnian Serbs, who refused to vote in any Bosnian election for seven years, from 1990 until after Dayton. And the Bosnian Croats, of course, started boycotting elections after Dayton.

It's still going on today. Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica has told the Serbs of Kosovo that they shouldn't vote in the upcoming Kosovo elections, which will be held a week from tomorrow (October 23). But Serbian President Boris Tadic has told them that, yes, they should. The Orthodox Church hierarchy has lined up behind Kostunica, though, which means that the Serbs almost certainly won't vote.

(Amusing footnote: Over a thousand Kosovar Serbs showed up in Belgrade this week to protest and demand Tadic's resignation. How'd they get there? Turns out they were shipped up in buses owned by the local government, and their expenses were paid out of the state budget. It's a bit reminiscent of the bad old days, when Milosevic used to intimidate liberal Belgrade by shipping in crowds of thousands of supporters from rural areas to demonstrate, protest, and occasionally riot.)

FWIW, I agree that not voting was a deeply dumb move. I also think that not voting next week is going to come back and bite the Kosovar Serbs on the ass. The March riots, bad as they were, gave the Serbs a great opportunity to shift the grounds of the discussion. So far, they've botched it. Boycotting the election will just re-confirm UNMIK and uninformed western public opinion in the idea that the Serbs are the problem.

5) Local self-government as the answer... I don't know, either. Note that it would be on both sides of the ethnic dividing line; Serb towns would be self-governing too.

I don't think it's going to happen. Too alien.

Cantonization? This seems like the least-bad plausible outcome at the moment. And I don't see why it would lead to a Radical government in Belgrade. Kostunica has already come out in favor of it. The Radicals have, I suspect, already gotten as many votes out of Kosovo as they're likely to. Bosnian Serbs already have a de facto independent statelet, so I'm not sure what the issue is there.

It's not going to be easy. Kosovo makes no economic sense as an independent country. Neither the Kosovars nor the Albanians of Albania really want unification. (Complicated story, might be worth a post in its own right.) There has to be some level of economic integration, or the place is going to remain an economic black hole. But who wants to invest in Kosovo?

Well, enough for now.

Doug M.

The comments to this entry are closed.