Boris Tadic, the president of the Republic of Serbia, is thought by some to be a voice of moderation in Belgrade. Nevertheless he continues to proclaim his country’s unalterable opposition to establishment of an independent Republic of Kosovo and insists the international community reject Kosovo’s February 2008 unilateral declaration of independence. I do not consider his view either moderate or reasonable.
Mr. Tadic argues, as he did in a Feb. 17 article in these pages, that Serbia’s position “sets a new standard” for the Balkans with its refusal to accept the secession, or the reality that independence represents the will of 90 percent of Kosovo’s population. I agree Belgrade’s policy does set a new standard, one of total disregard for truth and objectivity in describing what it meant to be a Kosovar of Albanian ethnicity under Belgrade’s control, and what it would mean to place Kosovar Albanians once again under Serbian authority.
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Mr. Tadic might believe that what happened in Kosovo in 1998-9 was due solely to the corrupt and totalitarian regime of the late Slobodan Milosevic. I beg to differ. The rhetoric, the actions of each successive regime in Belgrade since Milosevic was forcibly removed from office and sent to The Hague for trial, have continued with the same inflammatory nationalistic claims made by Milosevic to justify a policy of repression, of ethnic cleansing, of systemic rape, pillage and murder, not seen in Europe since the worse days of World War II.
I served as the head of the Kosovo Verification Mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe during the six months prior to NATO’s 1999 campaign to stop Serbia’s systemic policy of repression and atrocity.
I arrived in late 1998, as did 1,400 internationals from 34 European nations. We were determined to be neutral. That turned out to be impossible. While conspiracy theorists and Belgrade continue to deny that the Serb army and special police units were doing anything other than policing up a “separatist terrorist” movement, one only has to read the OSCE’s human-rights report, the trial record from the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, the Ahtisaari report to the U.N. Security Council, to accept that what Serbia inflicted on 2 million civilian Albanians was nothing short of a massive and unrelenting policy of ethnic cleansing.
Was there an armed Albanian force, the KLA? There was. In the mid-1990s a tiny group of Albanians - tired of seeing their villages attacked, looted, burned to the ground; their men and boys jailed, tortured and executed; their access to education, health care and other public services cut off by Belgrade - took up arms and attempted to defend their villages, their families.
The government responded by unleashing its army and special police units. Both were equipped with all the tools of modern warfare. They were joined by paramilitary units composed of local Serbs, who joined gleefully in the unspeakable crimes that followed.
Thus on one side was a tiny band attempting to stem the tide of violence inflicted by the government. On the other were the representatives of that government, tens of thousands of soldiers, police and locals who used every advantage a government has to force not only the KLA, but every Kosovar of Albanian ethnicity, to their knees.
President Tadic mentions none of this. Instead he describes the damage done to Serbian “democracy” if Kosovo’s secession is allowed to succeed, and the need to delink the Kosovo issue from Serbia’s desire to join the European Union.
Belgrade had ample opportunity to show the citizens of Kosovo the benefits of being a citizen of “democratic” Serbia-Montenegro. Instead it revealed, in the most brutal fashion, how Belgrade viewed its citizens of Albanian ethnicity.
One million Kosovar Albanians were routed from their homes, from their villages, transported in cattle cars or forced to walk into exile. On the way they were beaten, robbed, raped and degraded in every possible way. Is it any wonder that they want nothing further to do with Belgrade and will never willingly submit to any form of control by those who had violated every tenet of civilized behavior?
Boris Tadic calls for a “judicial approach” to Kosovo, and respect for United Nations mandates. Where was this commitment to the rule of law when U.N. standards of decency regarding the treatment of a nation’s citizens were totally ignored and violated by the regime in Belgrade?
Serbia now loudly defends the human and civil rights of the Serb minority in Kosovo. As do I and the overwhelming majority of Albanians, including those who suffered denial of those very rights by their Serb neighbors. Where was Belgrade, where was Boris Tadic, when the rights of the majority were being trampled on?
From Mr. Tadic’s words, it is apparent that he, the supposed moderate, and the regime in Belgrade remain in total denial of what Serbia was responsible for, and of the impossibility that Kosovo will ever again be joined with Serbia except - hopefully - as a peaceful Balkan neighbor.
William G. Walker is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer. He was U.S. ambassador to El Salvador in 1988-92. His final assignments were in the Balkans, first as head of mission of the United Nations administration of Eastern Slavonia and Croatia and as head of the Kosovo Verification Mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 1998-99.