For most of the people of Kosovo, getting through the winter was as good a start to the year as anyone could have hoped for. With tens of thousands of houses destroyed, families from newborn babies to aged grandmothers lived under plastic or in tents and spent the cold months doing the best they could on high protein food from foreign aid agencies.
Their comfort was planning how they would rebuild once the spring came. That so few died in such conditions—there were no reports of an above average death toll for a Kosovo winter—was one of the major successes of the Kosovars and their new UN administration.
There was still plenty to worry about, however. The continued expulsion of those Serbs who had decided to stay in their homes, and the random murder of some of them, brought constant complaints from NGOs and the world's press that not enough was being done to preserve the multiethnic character of the province, the stated aim of the NATO intervention and the imposition of international administration.
It must be admitted that most of that criticism came from those who bore no responsibility for implementing the latest phase in one of the most difficult diplomatic projects in modern history—supervising a series of wars in the former Yugoslavia.
While in the past, settlements in the Balkans have generally followed a fight to the finish and outright defeat for one side or the other, the latest idea of "humanitarian intervention," an international principle that can only be said to be in its very early stages of development, requires that no side should expect victory or even justice.
The rules for that kind of disengagement are still being written, in unhelpfully vague Security Council resolutions and in the daily, arbitrary decisions of a new generation of international administrators, who will one day be good at it but for now are often floundering.
If anyone can claim to know what "humanitarian" means, it is the man appointed to be Kosovo's interim ruler, UN Secretary General's Special Representative Bernard Kouchner. It was as a minister in the Mitterand government that he helped establish the idea that conflicts no longer take place in "far away lands of which we know little," because suffering in wars anywhere in Europe damages the prospects of social and political integration everywhere.
Kouchner's suggestion was that doctors be sent to bring comfort to conflict zones, and Médicins Sans Frontieres was the result. In Kosovo, his reputation was rather tarnished, however, and he has just been replaced. The Albanians saw him seen as unsympathetic, even racist in the way he tried to bully and scold them into following his rules. To the Serbs, he was a weak and indecisive figure who failed to provide for their protection. He himself said of the Serbs, "We didn't come because they were angels..."
To many of the foreign civil servants and police personnel trying to bring some order to the damaged province, he was just confusing. He changed the basis of applicable laws on two occasions, firstly insisting that the existing Serbian law should stand, then re-instating pre-1989 laws modified by French or English legal patterns, or just "Kouchner's law" if all else failed.
No wonder traffic cops from the American Mid-West found themselves trying to enforce regulations no one knew about in a language they didn't understand on roads where few of the cars had number plates. The task of rebuilding institutions in Kosovo remains largely for Kouchner's successor, Hans Haekkerup.
A difficult peace
The difficulty of maintaining peace in the province has been highlighted in recent days by a decision on the part of the British Ministry of Defence to send three paratroopers to court martial on charges of shooting two men during Albanian's victory celebrations in July 1999. Eyewitnesses claim that not enough warning was given before the paratroopers opened fire on a car carrying armed Albanians.
One part of the Kosovo project has made progress. Elections to municipal posts were held in October, in conditions that were largely free and fair, bearing in mind where it is we are talking about. There was some violence, and plenty of intimidation, mostly between different Albanian parties in districts where power and wealth were seen as worth fighting over.
The good news from the UN's point of view was that the party representing the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), was heavily defeated by the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), led by Ibrahim Rugova. It had been expected that Rugova's long and unsuccessful non-violent campaign to restore Albanian rights in Kosovo, and his uncomfortable appearance on television alongside Slobodan Milošević during the NATO bombing campaign had ended his chances of leading his people.
But Kosovars apparently had enough fighting and thought Rugova could unite them as they struggle to rebuild. They may also have calculated that the West is much more likely to support autonomy for Kosovo with Rugova in charge than with PDK leader Hashim Thaqi, known as "the snake," during his time as one of the KLA's chiefs.
The Kosovo-wide elections that would hand the province's security over to Kosovars instead of Kentuckians are still a distant dream. In theory, they might take place in 2001, but the changes in Serbia mean that there is a real prospect of meaningful negotiations on the legal status of Kosovo within Yugoslavia. That has caused great despondency in Kosovo itself; with Milošević, you knew where you were, and you knew the West would never let him back in. With Koštunica, with the West giving all those "a man we can do business with" signals, the prospects of true independence are receding. To make things worse, from an Albanian point of view, the new Yugoslav president is using the UN's own resolution, SC 1244, to insist on the right of Serb soldiers and police to return to Kosovo to protect the heritage sites and local populations.
Many people drew the cynical conclusion that the onset of improving relations between Yugoslavia and NATO nations was a direct cause of increased fighting in the Preševo valley in October and November. The Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac (UCPMB), apparently using KLA equipment, pushed several kilometres inside southern Serbia before being pushed back to the borderline by Serb police units backed by armoured cars and military units.
President Koštunica demanded that NATO act more robustly—KFOR has electronic surveillance systems all along the border, installed to monitor Serb compliance with the pull-out agreement last year. Not only Serbs are asking why so little could be done by the thousands of NATO troops in the area to stop the incursion. That part of the border is under US Army control.
As usual, conspiracy theories abound: "The US wants to discredit the Albanians; the US wants to force Serbia to concede more territory; it's a fight over profits from smuggling." The losers are the villagers, mostly Albanian, who have been forced to flee just as so many others have before them. The danger from the Albanian point of view is that if the KLA's intention is to seize Albanian majority areas of Serbia, partition of Kosovo is put squarely on the agenda.
In Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, divided between Serbs and Albanians separated by a KFOR controlled bridge, partition is the minimum demand of Serb militias, reportedly backed by Yugoslav Army special units infiltrating across the border. During the year they were involved in a series of clashes with Albanians trying to return to their homes, and with KFOR troops trying to maintain the peace.
Will some concessions be made to the idea of redrawing boundaries that in any event are internal administrative borders that some jurists believe have nothing to do with international law? That's one of the many questions for the coming year.
Digging in the past
Meanwhile, the ghastly task of raking up the past goes on. Forensic teams from Britain and Scandinavia have been searching unmarked graves and piecing together the evidence of the last hours of thousands of Albanians, apparently murdered by Serb soldiers and militias in 1998 and 1999. In smaller numbers than had been feared, but with no less brutality, men, women and children were shot at pointblank range, mowed down with machine guns or burned in their homes.
Many of the bodies are men of fighting age, but few are in uniform. There was a flurry of press comment around the world when the number of corpses dug up from Kosovo's soil proved to be smaller than the tens of thousands of victims being claimed by NATO spokespeople during the bombing campaign.
Did the fact that apparently less than ten thousand died during the forced expulsion of a half million Kosovar Albanians mean the whole NATO action was based on a hoax? That kind of numbers game can obscure the obvious fact that some dreadful things were done in the name of ethnic purity by men who had a choice and who looked their unarmed victims in the eye before they killed them.
Kosovo will probably go on struggling with its history and its future for many more years, and 2000 may yet be seen as a golden time when there was more hope than resignation. As the long, bureaucratic process of redefining the status of the province and establishing working institutions proceeds through future years, the lack of real change—little prosperity, little to stay for—might give those who remain less optimistic times.
Some people will be prosperous. Some of them will do it through hard work; many of them will do it by stealth. While the NATO military establishment spent much of the year analysing its high altitude, low casualty war, one of its greatest embarrassments came from the news that an American conman had relieved around 90 NATO equipment suppliers of USD 50 million.
He did it by claiming he was a NATO liason officer procuring top-secret encryption and communications systems. He showed them forged letters from NATO generals and what he said was NATO equipment damaged in Kosovo to prove that a big supply contract was his to award.
Cynics mused that since the Alliance had failed to spot the difference between a tractor and an armoured car and had apparently missed all but a handful of hundreds of Serb tanks scattered around Kosovo while bombing the cardboard ones many times over, they were hardly likely to know a real secret when they saw one.
Dan Damon, 11 December 2000
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