Jackson Allers - 7/29/2005
KOSOVO. It is a regular sight in the Ferizai/Urosevac municipality of Kosovo - some 50 kilometers north of the Macedonian capital of Skopje - to see U.S. servicemen parking their Humvees in front of small cafes during their regular “security” details. M-16’s strapped across their torsos, the troops snack on kebabs, washing them down with Coca-Cola, and ogle the local Albanian girls.
These GIs are part of an occupying NATO force, known as KFOR, Kosovo Protection Forces, and they are expected to be present in Kosovo for a long time to come.
The so-called Contact Group countries – United States, United Kingdom France, Italy, Russia and Germany * most involved in deciding the future of this southern province of Serbia, tout 2005 as the “year of decision” for the status of Kosovo. Six years after the United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 designated Kosovo a U.N. protectorate the beleaguered U.N. Mission administering the province is looking to exit as quickly as possible despite the fact that the U.N.-appointed envoy to the region, Norwegian Ambassador Kai Eide, says the security and freedom of non-Albanian communities is at risk.
At the forefront of this push to resolve Kosovo’s status are representatives of two U.S. presidential administrations.
During a July trip to Kosovo as the head of the Washington D.C.-based (and CIA funded) National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright commented, “I know Kosovans have a dream and people are entitled to have their dreams fulfilled.”
This sentiment is backed by Venhar Nushi, a spokesperson for the Pristina-based political think-tank, Kosovo Action for Civic Initiatives, KACI, who said, “We all know what the United States actually did for Kosovo. From my point of view, I think the U.S. came here for a task, and that’s to make Kosovo independent. Definitely.”
But, any claim by the U.S. to "resolve" the situation in Kosovo is hobbled by the legacy of former President Bill Clinton’s decision to lead NATO in a 78-day bombing campaign of Serbia in violation of the U.N. charter. Diplomats and analysts point out that the bombing was illegal by international standards and its repercussions have been felt widely, including its invocation by the Bush administration to justify its own illegal invasion and occupation against Iraq.
What is clear, however, is that the United States has no plans of abandoning Camp Bondsteel, the 955-acre military installation described on the Camp's official homepage as being “located on rolling hills and farmland” in south-eastern Kosovo. The Pentagon has paid Halliburton subsidiary KBR more than $2 billion to construct the camp – an amount, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, that was one-sixth of the money spent by the Pentagon on Balkan operations from 1995 to 2000.
During a visit to Kosovo in June, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns said, “The U.S. is going to remain centrally involved in Kosovo, leading the diplomatic process [to resolve status],” adding, “we will certainly maintain a military presence here, with KFOR, as a symbol of our commitment for a secure and peaceful Kosovo.”
Few ethnic Albanians question the presence of the U.S. military. The U.S. support of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the same group branded by the U.S. State Department in 1998 as a "terrorist organization," showed clearly to all ethnic groups in the disputed region that the U.S. favors the Albanians.
Political commentator, Dukagjin Gorani, Senior Editor of the Kosovo daily paper, the Express, admits, “Kosovars are not very prompt to understand the geopolitics of conspiracies. To Kosovars the existence of Bondsteel, which is now the biggest U.S. military base in Europe, is and will probably remain a sign of political stability for Albanians. In fact to most of us it is a sign that Kosovo will never again go back under the umbrella of Serbia and Montenegro.”
Gorani also suggests that the average Kosovo Albanian sees "allowing" the U.S. military presence on Kosovo soil as their contribution to the U.S. “war on terror.’
But ordinary Kosovo Serbs see the United States and the international community suggesting the province move towards independence, as stealing, by military force, the cradle of Serbian civilization.
Zoran Zdravkovic is a kindergarten teacher in the main central Serbian enclave, Gracanica, who traces his family roots in Kosovo back 600 years. He says that none of his friends can imagine living under Albanian rule.
"My son graduated faculty [university]. What work can he get here now? Nothing. My daughter is about to go to faculty. What then? My youngest daughter is 11, and what schools will she attend in an independent Kosovo?"
Official statistics put the unemployment rate at 60 percent among ethnic Albanians; numbers are much higher in the ghettoized Serbian communities. Serbian schools are precariously maintained in a de facto parallel system of governance. And while the United States, the international community and the Albanian-led government all talk about ensuring the security and human rights of Kosovo's minority communities, Zdravkovic, like many Serbs, says there is little practical evidence of this.
"If we want to move anywhere in Kosovo outside of our village to village routes, we have to request NATO escorts," Zdravkovic says, adding, "if Kosovo gets independence, no matter how bad our economic conditions could be in Serbia, we will leave because we want to have peace for our children * freedom to move around and, just live.”
Belgrade's political leadership is very clear that independence is off the table as a condition of future status. The line coming from Belgrade: "Less than independence, more than autonomy."
But, as the Serbian leadership has acquiesced to earlier U.S. demands to hand over suspected war criminals to the International Court of the Former Yugoslavia in exchange for financial aid, many Kosovo Serbs are afraid that they will forgotten by Belgrade's leadership in future dealings.
Framed in a larger political context, analysts like Gorani see the resolution of status in a Muslim-dominated province as something that the Bush administration would love to put as a "positive example" of U.S. foreign policy that would allow it to continue the unilateral imposition of what it calls "democracy and human rights" through military means. But, he concedes that the verdict is still technically out as to what the future status of Kosovo will be.
Jackson Allers is the Balkan Correspondent for Pacifica Radio's Free Speech Radio News. In August, he will assume the International Media Advisor role with Kosovo's top legal watchdog, the former Polish Solidarity movement lawyer and internationally appointed Ombudsperson, Marek Antoni Nowicki. He has been published in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Indypendent in New York City (www.indypendent.org), Relief Web, Urb Magazine, and have won or been nominated for three national awards as a radio journalist/producer/documentary audiophile. Most notably with the National Federation of Community Broadcasting's Gold Reel Awards. From July of '04 until April/May of 05', Mr. Allers was the Chief of Radio for the UN Mission in Kosovo (Unmik).