Among the many half-successes, pretend-successes and outright failures, until last week the Empire could still plausibly claim that it had scored a victory in the Balkans. Hashim Thaci's little adventure in northern Kosovo, which started on July 26, threatens to upset the validity of that claim.
Nearly two decades of efforts to dismantle Yugoslavia and install pliant governments in its arbitrarily arranged shards, seemed to have been crowned with a triumph last fall, when the quisling regime in Belgrade capitulated at the UN General Assembly. Last year, leaked cables confirmed the suspicions that the government of President Tadic – an unelected coalition thrown together by Imperial ambassadors and operatives – spoke of defending the integrity of Serbia only for domestic public consumption, while working behind the scenes to recognize in practice the “Independent state of Kosovo” carved out of its occupied southern province. To that end, Belgrade engaged in “negotiations” with the ethnic Albanian regime in Kosovo, under EU supervision. After an agreement earlier this month giving all sorts of concessions to Pristina, the talks were inexplicably adjourned by the EU envoy. Then the Albanians struck.
Banditry on the Border - On July 26, heavily armed Albanian “special police” attempted to take over two checkpoints on the former administrative border between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia. The two posts are located in a sliver of territory in the north of the province, where local Serbs successfully opposed the Albanian takeover in 1999; as a result, Serbs still live there in relative security, while the few that have survived a decade of pogroms in the rest of Kosovo live in ghettos surrounded by barbed wire and NATO tanks.
The “government” of KLA boss Hashim Thaci, now calling himself Prime Minister, is determined to assert authority over the entire province, brazenly accusing the Serbs in the north of smuggling and organized crime. In mid-July, Thaci tried to ban trade with Serbia, seeking to pressure Belgrade into recognizing the customs stamps of the “Republic of Kosovo.” Taking over the checkpoints would enable the Albanians to enforce the ban in the Serb-inhabited north.
At first, everything went according to plan: Belgrade was mewling about international law and pleading to KFOR, EULEX and the UN (which fell on deaf ears), while the habitually hapless Tadic swore Serbia “would not fight” but only negotiate. He did so from Prague, where the Empire was honoring his sycophancy with an award. Meanwhile, the Serbian military was preoccupied with a NATO exercise in western Ukraine, presumably aimed at protecting, uh, something from someone - but not Serbia, in any case. Yet by July 27, Thaci’s police have been sent packing by the local Serbs and one of the posts had been torched. NATO’s KFOR troops, commanded by German General Erhard Bühler, have stepped in – not to protect the civilians, but to assist Thaci’s “police,” ferrying them in helicopters and declaring the checkpoints “live-fire” zones. Endorsement of Thaci’s actions also came from several NATO governments and the Western media.
Shifting the Blame - In 2004, when Albanian mobs rampaged across the province for days, the Western press described the pogrom as “clashes.” The word was in use once again this week, shifting responsibility from the heavily armed Albanians backed by NATO armor to their Serb targets. Voice of America - an official mouthpiece of the U.S. government – said not a word about the Albanian takeover ploy, instead blaming the “Serb mob” which was “not loyal to Kosovo,” and sought to depict this as a deliberate Serb provocation of NATO, “already stretched by wars in Afghanistan and Libya.”
An example of more sedate reporting was the BBC, which also blamed the violence on “Serbian nationalists” and made much of the torching of the checkpoint, but managed to mention that EU and the US have criticized Thaci’s action as “provocative” – albeit at the very end of the story.
For his part, Thaci claims the takeover attempt was a “law and order” mission, seeking to protect the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo.” He also argues that the ban on goods from Serbia is a response to a Serbian ban – enacted when Thaci declared an independent state in 2008 - and that the Serbs in the north are engaging in smuggling and organized crime. That last bit is particularly facetious, since Thaci himself is accused by European investigators of running a “mafia state”.
Empire’s envoy Peter Feith initially endorsed Thaci’s actions, arguing that “every sovereign and internationally recognized state had the right to control its territory.” Except Serbia, apparently. But by July 28, he was condemning “any act of violence or intimidation from any side.”
Why the sudden change of tone? Perhaps because neither the Albanians nor the Empire expected the local Serbs to offer stiff resistance, and that is precisely what happened. Thaci’s very special police were withdrawn after one of them was shot by a sniper and died. The torching of the Jarinje checkpoint came later, when KFOR attempted to bring in regular Albanian police to man the post. Silent or approving when Thaci’s takeover began, the Empire quickly cried foul when the locals refused to submit. The EU is now calling on both sides to “reduce tensions” and refrain from violence…
Outlaws - It is easy to forget that the original mission of NATO’s troops in Kosovo (KFOR) was to occupy the province on behalf of the Albanian KLA and protect them from the Serbian army and police; much of KFOR’s efforts since June 1999 have been directed at protecting the Serbs in the province from the KLA, with questionable success.
Former U.S. official in Kosovo Gerald Galucci, who has cautioned for years against a military takeover of the north even as he supported an independent Kosovo, did not mince words this week. “EULEX is at the least asleep on the job or perhaps quietly complicit,” he blogged on the 26th. “KFOR is no better. It is supposed to prevent security problems and contain or reverse provocations such as Pristina’s police ploy.”
Both EULEX and KFOR have forgotten that “they are in Kosovo as peacekeepers under UN mandate”, reminded Galucci the following day. By Thursday, he was openly calling for the removal of General Bühler. KFOR, Galucci wrote, “has clearly stepped outside its UN Security Council mandate in deciding to enforce the requirements of the institutions in Pristina.” NATO, he pointed out, had no political role in Kosovo under UNSCR 1244, yet was now “acting politically to support a ‘state’ that not even all NATO countries recognize.” “When the international peacekeepers act outside international law, they become outlaws,” he concluded.
Losing Serbia - In 2009, military analyst William S. Lind warned that the ongoing Imperial pressure and demands from Belgrade could result in a crisis of legitimacy for the Serbian state, and the rise of elements eager to seek solutions outside the accepted political framework. That crisis of legitimacy has now come.
Between calling for diplomacy and vowing not to resist – while being feted by Americans in Prague – and his police arresting protest marchers and (as was rumored) even volunteers trying to cross into Kosovo to support their kin, Tadic has stirred the already unpleasantly smoldering anger of the Serbian public against his government. In light of Thaci’s brazen challenge and the Empire’s cynical response, Tadic’s policies of appeasement have been exposed as both humiliating and useless.
Stripped of all the external romantic trappings, a state is primarily a protection racket. Its inhabitants consent to being governed and taxed in exchange for a promise of government protection from any other force that could endanger their lives or property. Tadic’s government has not only failed to provide that protection, it has actively abetted the assaults on its citizens’ lives and property – by the KLA, by the Empire, and a variety of oligarchs, tycoons, and regional separatists within Serbia. Since it took power, in July 2008, it has been in a constant state of open warfare against its own people. It is entirely possible this spat over Kosovo might be the proverbial last straw.
What remains puzzling is the why – why risk the overthrow of Tadic, Empire’s loyal sycophant, and Serbia as the linchpin of the region, in order to back the KLA now? Why back Thaci at all, for that matter? Washington insiders have admitted that Serbia was the real prize of the 1999 war – and a way of hurting Russia, no less – while the Albanians were just a convenient means to an end. Could it be that the Empire is still devoted to the project referenced by the late Rep. Lantos, to impress “jihadists of all color and hue” by supporting “another Muslim state” in Europe? If so, it is working out so well…