Hopes of Coexistence Dashed

The prospect of people of different nationalities and religion living together again has been destroyed.

Hopes of Coexistence Dashed

The prospect of people of different nationalities and religion living together again has been destroyed.

Friday, 24 March, 2000

After 24 March, 1999, the situation in Serbia and Kosovo can never the same again.

Nor can the world be as it used to be, because those who chose to use force to resolve the Kosovo crisis will do so again.

Proof of this is the continued presence of large numbers of KFOR troops in Kosovo and their current military manoeuvres.

Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo have long had problems, but these have been further complicated by the new Balkan power brokers, the US and NATO.

The new political forces have tended to follow their predecessors - the great empires and regimes - in making one mistake after another in the region.

But, Washington and the 18 members of NATO on the 24 March, 1999, committed the error that has ended all hope of a mediated resolution of the Kosovo crisis.

I am not the only one with this opinion. Many Western officials share it. The former US State Secretary, Henry Kissinger said, for example, that diplomacy and pressure would have been preferable to military intervention.

If we look at the reports of various international organisations, be it the UN, the OSCE, or Human Rights Watch, one can conclude that all that might have been achieved in terms of human rights, peace, and stability before 24 March, is certainly no longer achievable now.

Conditions today are worse than a year ago, worse than ever.

In Serbia, in Kosovo, and elsewhere in the Balkans, not only are houses and churches ruined, but the prospect of people of different nationalities and religions living together again has been destroyed.

Numerous powers have ruled the Balkan, but not one of them have done as much spiritual and material damage as Washington's lords of war and death.

Those who didn't fund the bombing of Yugoslavia are now arguing over who should shoulder the burden of reconstruction.

An illustration of their incompetence is the 6,000 policemen who have yet to arrive in Kosovo - just under half of whom are retired officers - and the refugees who may never return.

Those who talk about peace and stability are not prepared to pay for it. There was enough money for breaking up a country, but now there is no money for that county's reconstruction.

Jiri Dinstbir, UN envoy for human rights, is the man most competent to talk about what is happening. His reports are very credible and detailed, but nobody seems to be paying them any attention. Dinstbir says the state of affairs in Kosovo is now worse than it was in October. One would have expected at least some improvement.

The reports speak of clashes between Albanians - clashes that soon nobody will be able to control. This is destroying the fabric of Kosovo's mostly Albanian society. Conditions are worse than they were under the Turks, several centuries ago.

The Head of UNMIK, the man who is most responsible for protecting the rights of all Kosovo's civilians, Bernard Kouchner, now suddenly claims that multi-ethnic life in Kosovo was never possible.

The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was saying the same thing before he took up his job. According to the present American administration, the fewer the Serbs the easier the Kosovo conflict is to resolve. We have already seen that in other parts of former Yugoslavia.

Kouchner is supporting a new concept: peaceful coexistence. But where can such a policy be implemented. There are no Serbs left in the big towns.

Only in Mitrovica do the communities still live together. The town could serve as some kind of model for coexistence, but little is being done there to promote this. In my opinion, it is only possible if Serbs and Albanians live separately until trust is restored.

At the same time, Kouchner is committed to elections in Kosovo. They can have, let us not fool ourselves, only one function - to legitimize ethnic cleansing. This would be disastrous for the Serbs.

No matter how hard and difficult the situation in Kosovo is for the Serbs, common sense tells them not to enter Kouchner's Interim Administrative Council. It's only worth thinking about once the international community can show that things have changed for the better.

It would be devastating for Serb interests to participate in the work of such provisional institutions before Serbs refugees return, as this would freeze the status quo.

In the report submitted to the Security Council some time ago, Kouchner called for a provisional constitution for Kosovo, saying its status should be made clearer. What he means is that Kosovo should be independent.

This means further destabilisation, as it will encourage Albanians in the southern part of Serbia proper, in Macedonia, and Montenegro to make similar demands. The representatives of the Montenegrin Albanians have already called for special status.

The NATO intervention brought violence and ignorance to Kosovo, but has also worsened the situation in Serbia proper.

At this moment, the regime is making life difficult for people. Yet the West keeps up its sanctions while new ones targeting companies with links to the regime are being imposed.

These are big firms employing many people who are completely unconnected to the regime. Commerce in Serbia is based on these companies. The livelihood of many families depend on them.

With all these pressures and the threat of more western aggression, both the US and unfortunate Europe have overlooked one important point - Serbia has long had a pro-western orientation.

Yet as Milosevic looks to develop allies among undeveloped countries in the Far East, the West pushes Serbia further away.

Dr Vojislav Kostunica is the President of the opposition Serbian Democratic Party

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