Kosovo Serbs in a Trap

15:00 23.09.2011 • Anna Filimonova , a senior research fellow at the Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Science, PhD (History)



Since the end of the 78-day long 1999 campaign of NATO air raids against Yugoslavia, Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija remain locked in a ghetto, with no defense from their own statehood. The withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers – the only force in the province that could realistically be expected to guarantee the security of the local Serbian community and other minorities – killed the Kosovo Serbs' last hope for any kind of on-site protection. These days they find themselves living in a NATO trap built by KFOR and the Albanian separatist “administration” backed Eulex whose only goal is to strengthen the institutions of the “independent” Kosovo.

The northern part of Kosovo, where the population is predominantly Serbian, emerged as a bastion of the Serbs' resistance to the illegitimate Pristina authorities. Serbs in Kosovo have to live under de facto war-time conditions, permanently struggling for survival and lacking elementary guarantees of personal safety and rights to their property. In the summer of 2011, at the same time Gadhafi's regime was being  uprooted in Libya, Albanian separatists supported by KFOR provoked a new round of tensions in Kosovo. As the temperature of the conflict was rising, NATO outrageously overstepped the limits set by UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and launched an offensive which clearly fit into the alliance's eastbound expansion strategy.

At the first phase of the offensive, the Albanian Rosu special forces attempted to seize the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings in the northern part of Kosovo, but their attack was repelled. Though Kosovo started to maintain a unified customs zone back in 2000, the two crossings retained a special status. Eulex staff ran the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings since the establishment of the mission. The UN Secretary General's six-point plan approved by the UN Security Council gave exclusive control over the two checkpoints to an internationally operated customs service.

In July, 2011, Pristina tried to break the rules, but Serbs made the Rosu special forces retreat and blocked the crossings' roads. Having taken control over the crossings, NATO declared them restricted military areas and threatened to use lethal force in case they came under attack. As a result, the NATO blockade cut the Kosovo Serbs off the rest of Serbia, and Pristina imposed an embargo on supplies coming from the Serbian mainland, putting the Serbian population residing in the north of Kosovo on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

The West shows no signs of reaction to the threat of genocide facing a whole population. The blockade which already counts six weeks has also caused considerable financial damage to Serbia. The Serbian community's only functioning supply inlets at the moment are the so-called alternative crossings via which the people bring in food and medications, which is the only reason why disaster could be averted so far. Therefore, it is currently of great importance to prevent NATO and KFOR from having the alternative crossings sealed. Another Serbian community's problem that takes the cooperation of Belgrade to resolve is fuel shortage, but the administration of Serbia seems unwilling to organize an adequate fuel supply.

The official Belgrade's involvement is limited to wasteful talks about search for compromise and negotiations with Pristina during which the administration of Serbia has already made a series of completely unwarranted concessions. The readiness of the Kosovo Serbs to safeguard the northern part of the breakaway province, however, came as a shock to both Belgrade and the West, and the situation stayed in a frozen condition for over a month. Propelled to power due to the Western diplomatic support,  Serbia's ruling political group which used to capitulate on essentially every occasion now has to at least imitate eagerness to side with the Kosovo Serbs. Even that proved to be a serious challenge as the West keeps Belgrade under pressure and has no intention to allow it to save face. So far the negotiations produced a deal by which KFOR would be delivering “border policemen” and “Kosovo customs officers” to the crossings in the north of Kosovo by KFOR copters. In other words, NATO is as usual helping Kosovo separatists convert an administrative border into one between countries, which promises the Kosovo Serbs further isolation.

In late August – early September, 2011, the Kosovo police service, NATO (KFOR), and Eulex carried out searches in the north of Kosovo which allegedly led to confiscations of large arsenals. Based on the dubious evidence, Albanians bluntly claim that whatever concerns Kosovo has to be regarded as their “domestic” affair and whatever they do in coordination with the international community is up to them, while Kosovo “premier” H. Thaci's propaganda portrays the leaders of the Kosovo Serbian community as criminal elements. Thaci even threatened that Pristina would issue international arrest warrants for those whom it suspects of inciting riots, thus referring to the leaders who are defending Serbia's statehood in Kosovo and Metohija. In the meantime B. Tadic's administration, in line with its strategy of surrendering Kosovo without much ado, stays out of the game and lets the architects of the new world order have their way.

Germany's Angela Merkel woke up the Serbian administration by pushing for a de facto escalation of the conflict and demanding to eliminate the “parallel institutions” in the north of Kosovo, which is the West's cynical term for what remained of the Kosovo Serbian self-government and Serbia's statehood in the province. The emboldened Albanians are teaching Belgrade how it should abdicate from the Serbs of northern Kosovo. Kosovo “minister of the internal” Bajram Rexhepi said the Albanian administration did not expect Belgrade to take the step voluntarily but still expected it to stop supporting the Kosovo Serbs financially, and would take drastic measures otherwise. He indicated that  elections would be held after which the Kosovo administration would be dealing with “legitimate partners”. A new round of talks, with Borko Stefanovic at the helm on Serbia's side, produced curious results: as of November 1, documents and car license plates issued in Serbia would become invalid in Kosovo and all Kosovo residents would have to obtain “independent” Kosovo IDs. All Serbian institutions in Kosovo would lose legitimacy as a part of the package.

An agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on customs stamps was penned on September 2, 2011. In the process, Serbia's administration clumsily pretended that, due to the absence of the title “The Republic of Kosovo” on the stamps, the deal was not tantamount to a recognition of the Kosovo customs authority.  Kosovo Serbs' leader Marko Jaksic remarked sarcastically on the occasion that even putting on the stamps a portrait of Serbia's King Dusan the Mighty would not obscure the fact that their very existence invites being interpreted as a confirmation of the Kosovo independence. He stressed that since 1999 the Kosovo Serbs felt that they could count on S. Milosevic, V. Kostunica, and even the pro-Western Z. Dindic, but never on B. Tadic who readily takes commands from Eulex and KFOR and ignores the calls from his own people locked in a ghetto in Kosovo and Metohija.

Serbia's deputy premier and minister of internal affairs I. Dacic explains that the pledge to never recognize Kosovo is all talk which actually translates as the intention to recognize anything short of the Kosovo independence. “Leader of the pseudopatriotic Serbian Progressive Party T. Nikolic says the EU will not set the recognition of Kosovo as a prerequisite for Serbia's admission. It certainly will not – rather, it will demand that we abolish our institutions in Kosovo, consent to customs control, etc., which is practically the same”, says  Dacic who demands that Serbia's politicians tell the nation honestly what is happening.

KFOR plans to use military force to remove barricades in Kosovo and to reign in the occasionally violent mass protests. The German army sent two armored bulldozers to remove the improvised fortifications built by Serbs on the roads to Kosovska Mitrovica. The German forces and a reserve German-Austrian battalion are quartered in Novo Selo. On September 19, German and Austrian servicemen attempted to install a checkpoint on the Kosovska Mitrovica – Zubin Potok road but were blocked by heavily loaded Serbian trucks and eventually had to retreat. The same day KFOR showered Kosovo and Metohija with leaflets saying that building barricades and blocking roads were illegal, and Eulex chief Xavier de Marnhac demanded that the Serb's barricades be bulldozed. Water canons for dispersing protesters will be delivered to Kosovo by early October.

The continuation of the NATO expansion and separatist Pristina's impunity, combined with Belgrade's servility and betrayal of national interests, reached such proportions that Russian ambassador to Serbia A.V. Konuzin urged Belgrade in a strongly worded statement at the Serbian Security Forum to provide protection for Kosovo and Metohija at a level adequate to the threats stemming from the current developments. Konuzin spoke in response to the criticism voiced during the debate according to which Russia contributed a destabilizing influence and, siding with Serbia, acted exclusively in keeping with its own interests.

It should be noted in the context that Serbia hosts a total of around 1,600 (!) NGOs which draw funding from the West and target audiences in all segments of the country's society. The  agendas of the NGOs mandatorily include a mix of negative portrayal of Russia and aggressive marketing of the Anglo-Saxon culture. Konuzin said that Russia would continue to stand by Serbia's side regardless of the interests of those Serbs who want to see the country put under foreign control and stressed that speakers at the Forum avoided mentioning the fact that right as the debate was going on NATO and KFOR were violating the UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Konuzin's comment reflected with utmost clarity the position officially held by Moscow. He remarked a number of times previously that the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 had been trampled underfoot by the Pristina administration and that its steps undermined the security of the residents of Kosovo and the broader Balkan region along with the international security as a whole. The message delivered by Konuzin at the Belgrade Security Forum  resonated with Serbia's society. As a Serbian media outlet wrote, “There is no real Serb who does not want Konuzin, the man who in a concise statement taught the Serbian administration a lesson on properly defending Serbdom, to be his friend or a guest at his home”. As Russia's UN ambassador V. Churkin stated unequivocally at the September 16 UN Security Council meeting, the worst part of the problem at the moment is that KFOR and Eulex are overstepping the bounds set by their mandates, their anti-Serbian operations in Kosovo are unacceptable, and Pristina's plans create serious risks and can lead to fighting and bloodshed.

The Serbs of Kosovo and Metohija are determined to stand by their northern Kosovo homeland, and Russia is prepared to keep supporting them internationally. Belgrade's position, however, is at the heart of the problem. The Serbian society deems unacceptable the administration's neglect for its constitutional obligations to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, and, by the way, even Albanians are wary of Belgrade conduct when it enters into agreements with them and immediately  moves on to present the deals as something different from what they really are.

It should be noted as a final remark that, acting along the whole “instability line” and staying involved in a variety of manageable local and regional conflicts, since the late 1990ies – early 2000ies NATO has been launching both major missions like bombing campaigns against sovereign countries and relatively limited-scale operations. In Kosovo, NATO maintains Camp Bondsteel, a powerful infrastructure for future serious strategic initiatives, which is currently used to give protection to the global drug trafficking flows traversing Kosovo, to separatist groups, and to the renamed but still not disarmed Kosovo Liberation Army which turned the province, with the exception of its northern part, into an ethnically cleansed territory. NATO is the muscle behind the separation of Kosovo from Serbia, and its presence in the province is tantamount to the occupation of a part of a sovereign country. Besides, NATO is the catalyst for a pan-European crisis and a threat to the physical survival of Serbs in the north of Kosovo and Metohija. The recent developments in the region, moreover, erode the positions of Russia and create conditions ever more conductive to NATO seizures of territories and resources belonging to sovereign countries



The opinion of the author may not coincide with the position of editorial


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