OJPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution

Issue 2.4 | November 1999

ISSN 1522-211X


How Not to Solve a Conflict: The Kosovo Question

By C. Clermont

First of all, I should like to apologise for having to write under a pseudonym. Unfortunately, since the information that I will forward is contrary to the point of view of Western governments, I cannot reveal my name.

I was in Kosovo in March 1999 and in Yugoslavia several times since 1998, before, during, and after the war. I have seen refugee camps in Albania during the war and I hope my article will help in the peaceful resolution of such conflicts.(1)

As stated, I was in Kosovo in March 1999, just a couple weeks before the war. I visited Kosovo on my own, with my own car, and was able to talk freely to ethnic Albanians, Serbian policemen, and Yugoslav soldiers. One night, at about 11:30 PM, the police asked me to spend the night at their offices. I was very well treated, was given a bed in a warm room, and left at 8 AM with no hint or threat of violence. Other than that, and cursory requests for my documents at police checkpoints, no further control happened.

Going around Kosovo, I saw much evidence of Serbian violence against Albanians. At least, that is what it seemed, but of course one cannot guarantee whether destroyed buildings sprayed with Serbian slogans were the result of Serbian aggression or adverse propaganda by Albanian nationals. These buildings were also in very exposed areas and could easily be seen by anyone who passed the road. They could also have been Serbian warnings.

I also saw the results of several attacks against Serbians by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Soldiers and common citizens were the target of these attacks, usually made with rocket-propelled grenades. I also saw that there was a certain pattern in these attacks: the KLA would enter a village, attack Serbian offices from there. The villagers would flee, creating even more refugees, because they knew that the village would be attacked by the police and/or the army. One can, therefore, safely assert that the violence was not unilateral, that it came from both sides. What is impossible to say, however, is who generated it.

The decision of the Yugoslav government to suppress the autonomous status of the province of Kosovo and Metohia is often cited as the main source of the conflict, together with the repression against ethnic Albanians. Naturally, I cannot vouch for the safety of those actively involved in the KLA. However, what I did notice was that, in most of Kosovo, shop names could freely be written in Albanian. People spoke in Albanian. There were schools in Albanian. People had their business cards written in Albanian. Consequently, one could deduce that they could express their status as ethnic Albanians.

During the war, I visited Montenegro, which is very close to the Kosovo region and borders with Albania. In the southernmost cities, again the same situation for the ethnic Albanians: shops in Albanian, Albanian schools, etc. I have not visited Macedonia, but the information I have from ethnic Albanians from that country matches what I saw in Montenegro and Kosovo. And right in Belgrade, ethnic Albanians gather in public places and meet and chat freely in Albanian.

This all struck me as rather odd, since their rights were supposed to be trampled, they were supposed to be oppressed. However, while in the Baltic states the USSR did not allow any nationalist expression, such as the use of the Lithuanian, Latvian, or Estonian languages, this did not happen in Yugoslavia.

What was also quite strange was that the Albanians in Montenegro, not very far from Kosovo and right next to Albania, did not want to secede. Montenegro is an integral part of Yugoslavia. The question therefore arises: Was the forming of KLA a spontaneous movement or was it induced?

Although the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo might have wanted such 'liberation' from Yugoslavia, there is strong evidence that hints that the KLA received strong foreign help. Everyone from the KLA I met in Albania, where the KLA (sometimes alone, and sometimes with the help of the Albanian police) checked cars and people from about 30 km from the border with Yugoslavia, , had brand new uniforms even with plastic name tags, which is a good evidence of a good influx of money, considering the KLA is meant to be a 'popular' liberation army. They seemed very well trained and nourished. Many of them spoke German among themselves, and, wherever the KLA was stationed in Albania, the rate of the German mark to the Albanian lek, in the black market, dropped by around 20%. Furthermore, since the KLA was not considered a terrorist group by the US government, one could freely donate money from the US to that organization. It is also worth noting that several convicted drug dealers, in Italy, for example, declared that they wanted to help the KLA. And now, among the European underworld, Kosovo is considered a place where anything goes, and is already an entry point for the smuggling of cellular telephones in the Balkans, as there is no effective tax system at the border. And when one smuggles telephones, switching to drugs is merely a question of changing the merchandise.

I should like now to discuss the question of the legality of the conflict itself. NATO, through its various Heads of State, claimed various reasons for the attack on Yugoslavia: non acceptance by Yugoslavia of the whole of the Rambouillet agreements; the flow of refugees, which would upset the 'ethnic balance' of the region; the alleged genocide of the ethnic Albanians, etc. These arguments are easily refuted - Yugoslavia did not legally have to accept the Rambouillet agreements, imposed by foreign powers; the bombing created a much larger flow of refugees; and, well, genocide being the systematic and complete destruction of a genus, it implies that such crime should be perpetrated in the whole of Yugoslavia, but Albanians in Montenegro and in Serbia outside of Kosovo were not systematically killed - and one can dispute whether those in Kosovo were to be 'eradicated' (to use the infamous ausröttung contained in the Nazi document which mentions the final solution) in such a methodical manner. Incidentally, one should remember that in the Balkans, the national borders do not match the ethnic ones very well. There were Italians in Dalmatia and Istria, Serbs in Knin, and there are Albanians in Montenegro and Macedonia, Macedonians in Greece, and so on.

But let us assume that all that the NATO Heads of State said was correct. Let us assume that there was indeed a genocide in Kosovo, that the refugees could create an inbalance in the region, and that NATO had every right to impose on Yugoslavia a diktat on it's most cherished region (Kosovo is considered the birthplace of Serbia, it's most important monasteries are there, and many historic battles were fought in Kosovo).

Having made that assumption, we have to face a formidable obstacle: the United Nations Charter specifically forbids any regional organization from attacking a country, even if to preserve peace, without the approval of the United Nations. In fact, this article acts should prevent regional organizations from doing exactly what NATO did, because the Security Council would only legalize such attacks in very evident peace-threatening situations. Since NATO could not count on UN support, they simply bypassed the UN. Previous peacekeeping operations were all done with UN support. Since this one would probably not have Chinese and Russian aquiescence, the UN was ignored.

Another very serious implication of the attack is the violation of the constitutions of the member-States. NATO was conceived as a defensive organization. Such was its Charter at its inception. Now, in democratic governments, the Executive cannot enter an international agreement without the approval of the Legislative. When the Legislative, i.e. the representatives of the people, approved the entrance in NATO, it was approved as it was stated in its Charter - a defensive organization. Of course, any international organization has the right to make changes in its charter, but when such changes are of such nature that they make substantial and significant changes to the nature of the organization, then they should be approved by the Legislative. Otherwise, one could easily fool this constitutional requirement by, say, having approval for a peaceful cultural organization and then completely redoing its charter to turn into a military alliance. Finally, all the constitutions of the member-States have certain requirements for a declaration of war. Simply having wars and calling them 'interventions' or any other name, and not following the constitutional procedure is, again, plainly illegal. It is a well known legal principle that the name chosen for an act does not determine what the act is, only its actual nature does(2).

What is the situation in Kosovo at present? Kosovo is massively occupied by KFOR troops. There is no effective government there, as Yugoslavia no longer controls the region. The Albanians are now raising flags - of Albania proper - on public buildings and, geopolitically, Italy and Greece sure don't want a large Albania right next to them. All sorts of illegal deals are going on there. Furthermore, the Albanians are often attacking the Serbs - men, women, children and old people. In fact, what people say there now is that the most dangerous thing you can do is show that you speak Serbian. The Serbs in the region naturally harbour much resentment against the Albanians, and want to get even. The attack managed to lock Yugoslavia into a simmering political situation: some Yugoslav people generally do not like the present government, because, among other reasons, he managed to "lose" Kosovo; they however do not like the opposition, because they see it as backed by the West, by NATO, by the very people who bombed their country. There is no third option. Germany in 1919 had a diktat imposed onto it, lost historic regions and was partly occupied; it sort of survived until a third force came out with the consequences that we all know. The situation in Yugoslavia is not similar to Weimar Germany, but the third force, should it appear, would probably be nationalistic and oriented to the East, while trying to appear apolitical. But this only time can tell.

What lesson can be drawn for the attack on Yugoslavia by NATO, regarding the peaceful resolution of conflicts? The Albanians and the Serbs lived in Kosovo peacefully for many years; both had schools in their own languages. And until 1945 the Albanians had even school books in the Arabic alphabet, adapted to their own language. What happened in the last few years? What led the Albanians to start a secession movement, limited to Kosovo, which then resulted its clamping down by Yugoslavia, and to the escalation which resulted in the war of March-June 1999? It is my firm belief, after all I have seen in the region, that it was foreign interference achieved through the injection of money in the separatist circles. Sure, a separatist movement certainly existed in the region, but by drying its money and weapons supply, by sticking to legality, much could have been avoided. This, I think, is the main lesson we should learn from the war against Yugoslavia: violence does not solve conflicts; it might just postpone an inevitable crisis for a while. What does solve conflicts of this kind is to dry the supply of means of violence to those who are prepared to use them. And what is essential is a political will to do so. When government are, on the contrary, trying to intensify the conflict, no well-meaning peaceful resolution of a conflict will occur: violent means will be perceived as a fast way to achieve one's goals.

I also believe the Kosovo situation is not solved and was not meant to be solved by the war. An unstable Yugoslavia, a volatile Kosovo, all help to confirm the necessity of NATO at a time when the 'end of history', the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, were making people question its very existence. Now there is something which, to the eyes of the uninformed public, warrants the existence of an aggressive military organization, just when it was beginning to seem anachronistic.

1. This article has no bibliographic references. Everything, unless stated otherwise, was based on direct testimony

2. Here it should be noted, that the Parliament of Yugoslavia did have a vote on an 'imminent state of war', and then on an actual state of war.

C. Clermont is a pseudonym. The author is a diplomat in a Westen nation.

OJPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution is published by the Tabula Rasa Institute, www.trinstitute.org.