Under the Radar
The closing chapters of a now-forgotten story are coming to a close. The BBC reports the remaining Serbs in Kosovo have decided to cut ties with the United Nations.
Serbs in northern Kosovo say they will cut ties with the UN and provincial authorities because of a series of attacks against them. Officials in four towns have declared a "state of emergency" in response to violence they blame on ethnic Albanians.
Reuters says the UN Governor doubts such moves are authorized by Belgrade and played them down.
The U.N. governor in Kosovo on Tuesday played down Serb talk of cutting cooperation with the province's ethnic Albanian institutions but promised to step up security in the tense north where most Serbs live. In a fresh sign of resistance as the 90-percent Albanian majority pushes for independence from Serbia, Serb leaders in the north said this week they had cut contact with the capital over a spate of attacks they blame on ethnic Albanians.
U.N. mission chief Soren Jessen-Petersen said he was not aware of any concrete action and suggested the move did not have the backing of the Serbian authorities in Belgrade. "I'm not aware of any decision taken," the Danish diplomat told reporters. "I don't think Belgrade is even aware of any decision taken." He said the U.N. was looking at how to "enhance security measures and reassure the Serbs that everything is being done." Diplomats see a risk that resistance among the 50,000 Serbs in the north -- which runs adjacent to central Serbia -- could escalate into a unilateral bid to partition Kosovo if it wins independence in U.N.-led talks expected to end within the year.
Although the UN had affirmed its "determination to address actively the justified concerns of the Kosovo Serbs and other communities in Kosovo... Non-discriminatory treatment for all the citizens represents the basis for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural Kosovo" the UN-administered territory proved no exception to the adage that there are winners and losers in war. And the Serbs have lost. One might debate whether or not the Serbs deserved it, the take the side of one ethnic group, religion or point of view or the other. But there's no denying that the Serbs have lost. Wikipedia notes:
With the arrival of NATO, a large number of Serbs fled the region, estimated at 100,000 by the UNHCR. Around 120,000 remain in Kosovo and oppose any rule by Albanians. Many Serbs fear to return to their homes since they perceive not to be safe for them, even with UNMIK protection, notably the unrest in 2004, when 900 Serbian houses were burned and other property destroyed while the Serbian populace was closed into enclaves and had to concentrate to the north of Kosovo until today, causing a wave of 3,500 Serbian refugees. Among the numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites destroyed by the Albanian para-military forces is King Stefan Milutin's grave, Our Lady of Ljeviš Orthodox Cathedral from the 12th century in Prizren. In total, 156 Orthodox Serb Churches and Monasteries were destroyed during the unrest in Kosovo. Many of the Churches and Monasteries were dating back to the 12th, 13th and 14th century.
Human Rights Watch describes the process.
In March 2004, the United Nations-administered province of Kosovo returned to the international agenda. Two days of widespread riots—the worst violence since 1999—revealed the precarious situation of the province’s minority population, the weakness of security structures, and the frustration of the majority population at the international institutions that govern Kosovo. Lack of security for minorities, coupled with a continuing accountability gap and uncertainty regarding the province’s political status, limit the return of internally displaced and refugee Kosovars to their homes. The impact of Kosovo’s inadequately functioning judicial institutions is felt by majority and minority populations alike. October elections for Kosovo’s legislative assembly were free of violence, but most Serbs did not participate.
The March 17-19 riots shattered the illusion of security for Kosovo’s minority communities. At least thirty-three major riots took place across the province, involving an estimated 51,000 predominantly ethnic Albanian participants. The violence—directed at international organisations as well as minorities—left twenty-one people dead, more than 950 wounded, and some 4,100 people displaced, almost all of them Serbs, Roma, Ashkali, or other non-Albanian minorities. At least 730 minority-owned homes—including some belonging to recent returnees—and twenty-seven Orthodox churches and monasteries were burned and looted, together with at least ten public buildings providing services to minorities, including a hospital, two schools, and a post office.
During the riots, the security organizations in Kosovo—the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), U.N. international civilian police, and the local Kosovo Police Service (KPS)—almost completely lost control. In too many cases, minorities under attack were left entirely unprotected. Poor inter-agency coordination, limitations on deployment in individual KFOR contingents (so-called “caveats”), and lack of riot-control training and equipment for KPS, U.N. police, and KFOR, provide part of the explanation.
Beyond the destruction of homes, and the displacement of more than four thousand people, the violence reinforced existing concerns among minorities about their personal safety, fuelled by routine—and frequently unreported—ethnically-motivated harassment and intimidation, verbal abuse, property defacement, and stone-throwing. Minorities also face persistent discrimination in the provision of education, social welfare, and health services, and limited access to administrative offices and courts. There has been little progress in implementing the new anti-discrimination law.
Parenthetically, the troubles engulfed not only the Serbs but that other traditional pariah group in Europe, the Rom, otherwise known as the Gypsies.
It is now more than six years since the summer of 1999, when, in the wake of the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, the entry of NATO troops into the province, and the establishment of UN administration there, ethnic Albanians chased Serbs and Roma from their homes in Kosovo, using methods including torture in impromptu detention, rape, arson, targeted killings, and pervasive threats of mass violence. NATO troops looked on as mobs took to pieces Romani settlements in many cases several hundreds of years old, and plundered the possessions of the inhabitants wholesale. ...
NATO action against the former Yugoslavia was justified by human rights reasons; it was feared that, in undertaking “Operation Horseshoe” in Kosovo, Serbian forces aimed at a repeat of the massacres and other extreme abuses carried out by the Milosevic regime and its allies in Bosnia. Today, Kosovo is again under discussion, but not for human rights reasons. Rather, whispers of “final status” are heard in the halls of power. Other priorities around the globe have come to take precedent over resolving the very serious problems there. Where Roma, Ashkalia, Egyptians, and others regarded as “Gypsies” are concerned, Kosovo is a human rights vacuum. Roma and others regarded as “Gypsies” were a late human rights priority of the international community, and have never been viewed as meriting action on the scale of previous human rights actions in Kosovo. Justice in matters related to the ethnic cleansing and other serious human rights violations affecting these groups has been denied and/or severely delayed.
In one particularly interesting incident, Gypsies hounded from their homes were forced to squat on a site contaminated by toxic mine tailings. But since Kosovo, as the Reuters story quoted above notes, is run by a UN Governor and the UN is the world guardian of the environment, why then didn't the Rom seek redress from the United Nations? We discover the little known fact that the United Nations is immune from prosecution. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
The above matters have been significantly complicated by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the fact of immunity from prosecution – and therefore for true accountability – for members of the administration. These issues are evident in the matters leading to ERRC filing, on September 2 of this year, a request for criminal investigation into the long-term exposure to lead poisoning of hundreds of displaced Roma in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica: In June and July 1999, while NATO units looked on, mobs of ethnic Albanians destroyed the Romani quarter on the south side of the River Ibar in Mitrovica, chased out local inhabitants, and stole massive quantities of their possessions. Those Roma who did not flee Kosovo to other countries were placed in camps for internally displaced persons in Northern Mitrovica, called Chesmin Lug, Kablare and Zitkovac respectively. At the time, this arrangement was purportedly supposed to last for 45 days. It was known that these camps were in highly toxic areas, situated near the tailings of the Trepca mine complex. In the intervening years, security concerns – meaning the failure by any authority to guarantee that persons returning to the quarter would not be violently attacked – precluded return to the Romani quarter. There have been persistent rumours that the mayor of Mitrovica desired to develop the property and had no intention of assisting with the return of the Roma to their homes. Evidently, no action by any authority has garnered sufficient energy to see the Roma return to their homes in safety and dignity, and to see those homes rebuilt. Today, more than 6 years later, the Roma are still living at the contaminated sites.
The end of the Serbs in Kosovo may or may not have been the inevitable consequence of their ethnic empire building in Balkans. Their removal may even be desirable in the long run of history. But Kosovo provides useful context in examining the media coverage of that far more difficult problem, Iraq. Iraq was also the outcome of empire-building of Britain and France in the post-World War 1 years. But Kosovo, unlike Iraq, has flown under the media radar. One may even say that Iraq has made it possible for Kosovo to remain invisible. Useful service that. Those who see the ethnic re-alignment in the Balkans as necessary for long term peace may rejoice; but they cannot rejoice honestly. The campaign to stop the Serbs from ethnically cleansing the areas it sought to dominate was the moral justification for NATO intervention in the Balkans. That was the societal WMD that it had come to find and extirpate. Find it, it did; extirpate it, it did not. But they sent in the United Nations, whose motto I think should be, "count on us to let you down".