Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Battle of Kosovo

Battle of Kosovo

Kosovo's aspiration for independence has come face to face with the very same forces that bloodily denied it to Bosnia

Anna Di Lellio

In her fascinating memoir, Paix et Châtiment , Florence Hartmann writes that so long as the survivors are denied justice, "the dead of Srebrenica will haunt the Old Continent like ghosts". From 2000 to 2007 Hartmann was spokesperson for Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia. Hers is a passionate, but bitter j'accuse against western powers, not just Europe, but also the United States. They have traded justice for security, Hartmann says. As diplomats, intelligence services and even peacekeepers, they have impeded the arrest of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic (indicted for the Srebrenica massacre), in a quiet conspiracy with the nationalist Serbian leadership that continues to shelter the two war criminals.

What makes this book urgent reading is that the riveting story of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia is more than a morality play on the role of international justice and human rights in post-conflict. It is a tale of what the near future might look like in the region, especially now that Kosovo's aspiration for independence must face, once again, the very same forces that bloodily denied Bosnia its own.

Hartmann sifts through key documents that the tribunal was refused for long time, among them, the minutes of the meetings of the Supreme Defence Council of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, still unavailable for public viewing. She reconstructs how Milosevic and other Serbian authorities orchestrated and co-authored the criminal war of Bosnia, while pretending to be disengaged from it; how they dissimulated their involvement, by adding to local Bosnian military units their special units under the interior ministry; and how they funded and protected Mladic and Karadzic from the time of their indictment until today.

This is a claim that warrants close attention. There is nobody among the post-Milosevic leadership, with the notable exception of prime minister Zoran Djindjic, who deviated from Milosevic's policies. Djindjic delivered Milosevic to The Hague and even tried to turn in Mladic, but was assassinated in March 2003. Kostunica succeeded him as prime minister of Serbia. As president he had opposed Milosevic's arrest and only reluctantly retired Mladic from the Serbian army as late as May 2002. It is under his government that Karadzic and Mladic have lived free in Serbia for years, often visiting Bosnia.

Kostunica is now getting ready to fight the battle of Kosovo, as he likes to say. He is not alone. As the new Kosovo parliament is preparing to declare independence from Serbia, a united Belgrade delivered a message of defiance: Serbia will defend Kosovo at all costs. Minister of foreign affairs Vuk Jeremic incessantly repeats that this does not mean that Serbia will go to war. Speaking to military forces at a facility near the border with Kosovo, President Tadic recently assured: "Serbia's armed forces will act in compliance with domestic and international laws."

If there is no threat of war, why talk about it so much? The truth is, as in Bosnia, special forces are already on the ground. When Kosovo declares independence, they will join Serb police currently part of the Kosovo Police Service to seize control of any municipality with a Serb majority. They will make sure that these areas will be free of Albanians. And Belgrade will blame any violence on extremist elements, unknown to the government. The major blame of course will be pinned down on the US and any other country that unilaterally decides to recognise Kosovo independence.

Although nothing happens exactly in the same way, this looks a lot like a replay of Bosnia. What is astounding is the willingness of western powers to see it happen again. As Hartman reveals in excruciating detail, in Bosnia they had enough information to foresee the tragedy of Srebrenica, as well as Sarajevo and many other massacres. They knew the architects of ethnic cleansing were in Belgrade. In wiretappings obtained by the tribunal, Hartmann hears a giddy Milosevic congratulate Mladic for the victory of Srebrenica, disbelieving that the west let them gain a territory where Serbs had never lived before.

Western powers put a stamp on ethnic cleansing, divided Bosnia, and forfeited justice for security. They never had any intention of risking their peacekeepers in Bosnia in order to bring Mladic and Karadzic to justice. Although they always knew exactly where these criminals were hiding, they pretended not to. They even tried, as Hartmann angrily claims, to shield Milosevic from the indictment of genocide. Local extremists, as the argument went, were responsible for the Bosnian genocide, not Belgrade.

They thought they could contain the crisis. It spread to Kosovo, where the survivors have not been yet granted the simple right to choose, with a referendum, freedom from Serbia. Serbian nationalism, briefly subdued after the fall of Milosevic, is back in full force with its old tactics. Momir Stojanovic, the former director of the Serbian Army's intelligence, recently told Glas Javnosti that Albanian civilians are planning a pogrom of Serbs in Kosovo. This is the same propaganda that prepared the arming of Serb militias and led to the war in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. It is an ominous signal for the region, and a reminder that without justice there will be no security.

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