CRISIS IN KOSOVO
March 9, 1998
In the Serbian province of Kosovo, clashes between ethnic Albanians and Serbian authorities have left scores dead and many more wounded. In the provincial capital Pristina today, an estimated 50,000 people protested the killings in a peaceful rally. Following a background report, Margaret Warner and guests discuss the recent violence and the future of the region.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
March 9, 1998
A background report on the recent violence in Kosovo.
March 3, 1998
Bosnian President Ejup Ganic talks about the chance for peace in Bosnia.
April 1, 1997
Civil war spreads over Albania
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Bosnia, and Europe.
The Albanian home page.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, two views on all this. Former Foreign Service Officer Warren Zimmerman was the last U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1989 to 1992. He's now a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. And John Fox was a member of the State Department's policy planning staff from 1989 to 1993. He is now director of the Open Society Institute created by international financier George Soros to promote independent media, education, and the rule of law in Central and Eastern Europe. Amb. Zimmerman, why are we seeing the situation erupt into bloodshed now?
WARREN ZIMMERMAN: We had a kind of a frozen situation for nine years, Margaret, after Milosevic took away all the political and cultural autonomy of the Albanians in 1989. I don't think either Milosevic or the Albanian leadership, the moderate Albanian leadership, wanted trouble. And that's why things held on for so long in this non-violent tension. But it became inevitable because the Serbs made no concessions to the Albanians that moderate Albanian leadership would be challenged by a more radical group. And that's what we've seen.
MARGARET WARNER: And then, one, do you agree with that, and why do you think Milosevic responded with such a hard crackdown?
JOHN FOX: I do agree with that. I think the ground on which the moderates have tried to stand in Kosovo has been cut away, not least by the international community, which failed to deal with Kosovo during the Dayton peace negotiations, has really neglected the issue since we've seen the rise of this insurgency, the Kosovo Liberation Army, since Dayton, and I think it's important to note that. I think also Milosevic, himself, and the regime in Belgrade has been paradoxically weaker and yet, more--seeking more--still more control in Kosovo. And it's the last card really that Milosevic has to play on the international scene. He has a clear history of starting wars and then playing the peacemaker with the international community, and I think we're seeing a repeat of that now.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you explain the crackdown on the part of the Serbs? Do you agree with that?
Mr. Zimmerman: "Kosovo is the founding myth of Serbs and Serbia. It's the battle of Kosovo 1389, in which the Serbs believed they defended Europe."
WARREN ZIMMERMAN: Yes, I do. I think it's important to remember the role that Kosovo has for all Serbs, not just Serbian nationalists, but all Serbs. Kosovo is the founding myth of Serbs and Serbia. It's the battle of Kosovo 1389, in which the Serbs believed they defended Europe. It was the betrayal at that battle. Serbs are always betrayed. There's that myth. There's the myth that Serbs are always betrayed. There's that myth. There's the myth that Serbs are always victims. There's the myth that Serbs are and ought to be the dominant power in the Balkans. All of those myths come back to Kosovo. So when Milosevic comes to power on the Kosovo issue in the late 1980's and when he uses power, as he has in the last few days, there is at least reason to think that he will have a lot of people in Serbia, and, as I say, not just nationalists, in support of him. This makes it very different from Bosnia, which was an adventure for the Serbs. This is right at the heart of Serbian essence and integrity.
MARGARET WARNER: But here Serbia was just beginning to come out from under some of the international sanctions. Why would Milosevic risk all that to crack down so hard against this KLA and what's going on in Kosovo?
JOHN FOX: Well, his position really has weakened in the last year, six months, quite a bit. He has essentially lost control of Montenegro, the other constituent republic of Yugoslavia, to a multiethnic reform government, which wants to do many of the things that the international community would like to see. His--I think he, I'm sure, recognizes that the KLA is gaining strength as this--in the absence of any real political track. They are--there's no question that the Kosovars, themselves, the Albanian Kosovars, are being radicalized. And I think he also may have gotten the idea that the international community's red line in Kosovo that was drawn by President Bush and reiterated early in the term of President Clinton has eroded.
MARGARET WARNER: Let's just remind people, President Bush actually sent a letter to Milosevic in the end of 1992, saying the U.S. was prepared to intervene militarily if he went in militarily in Kosovo. Do you think Milosevic doesn't believe that's true anymore?
Mr. Fox: "These actions were not a surprise to the U.S. government. Indeed, we've learned in recent days that there were very clear warnings provided by the intelligence community."
JOHN FOX: Well, I think that the credibility of that red line is very much in doubt by the time that these actions took place. These actions were not a surprise to the U.S. government. Indeed, we've learned in recent days that there were very clear warnings provided by the intelligence community, as, indeed, there had been on Croatia and Bosnia and the other fronts that have been opened in years past about the nature of the crackdown, the kind of forces that would be used, the fact that paramilitaries and special forces that were used in other parts of the region to commit really heinous war crimes against civilians that they, indeed, would be used again. So this should not have been a surprise to the administration. I think, in fact, they were well down a blind alley of their own when this took place. They were--really were confident that there would be a breakthrough on incremental measures toward--on a political track.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean, some reforms or some--
JOHN FOX: Some concessions putting Albanian students back in the schools in which they had been expelled and so forth in years past, and it was a grand deception, really, by Belgrade of the type that we have seen before. And I think it--Washington, in particular, was badly misled here.
MARGARET WARNER: What is the U.S. interest in this conflict?
WARREN ZIMMERMAN: Well, the U.S. interest I think, first of all, is to--is to support the victims of repression, and that's the Albanians. But in a larger sense I think the U.S. has every interest in trying to see some sort of reconciliation of these two very contradictory principles that apply in Kosovo. There's a Serbian principle that we have been there forever since the Middle Ages, Kosovo has always been ours, it's our heartland, and there's the Albanian principle where 90 percent of the people of Kosovo--it's not unlike the West Bank in Jerusalem, the Arab--the Israeli and the Palestinian issue--and we have to hope that a way can be found to reconcile these principles perhaps by having an umbrella of Yugoslavia over a Kosovo, which is in it, but which--in which the Albanians have virtually total autonomy to run their own affairs. If we can't get that kind of solution through mediation or any other way, then I think chaos is going to break out.
JOHN FOX: I think the situation has been much more radicalized just in the past 10 days than when these actions began. We've had something close to 100 people killed in Kosovo, 90 percent of them Albanians, most of those civilians in really savage ways. One cannot expect politics now to resume, or to begin.
MARGARET WARNER: So, you mean--let me interrupt you for a second--but the so-called "contact" group called on both sides to negotiate. Do you think are prospects for that?
JOHN FOX: Well, I think that the international effort that's required now to prevent the broadening of this conflict is much greater than it would have been two weeks ago, two months ago, much less two years ago. And so the cost, as we have seen all the way through these crises in the Balkans, the cost to the international community, and most particularly the U.S., which will have to take a lead, and I fear a military lead in this, in this area again, is far greater.
MARGARET WARNER: Why? What is the danger of this broadening or widening?
WARREN ZIMMERMAN: Well, Bosnia was, for all its blood-letting, was a contained situation. It didn't spill beyond the borders of Bosnia. If real violence comes to Kosovo, a lot of people are killed, then you will almost certainly get a spill over into Macedonia, the neighboring republic, a very fragile and democratic government, which has to contend with an Albanian minority of 30 or 35 percent who are watching the Kosovo issue very carefully. You've got Albania--40 million Albanians--next to Kosovo, who are obviously watching very carefully as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying that the Albanians or Albanians, Macedonia, might come in themselves and intervene, get involved in that conflict, or that somehow the conflict spreads?
WARREN ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think the greater probability would be a lot of refugees from Kosovo fleeing into Macedonia, the Macedonian Albanians becoming radicalized by a situation of brutality, perpetrated by the Serbs, and that in itself could de-stabilize an already fragile government in Macedonia. That brings an interest from Greece, which has been very negative about the existence of Macedonia at all. It brings in the problem of Bulgaria, which has never recognized the Macedonians as a separate nation. You get what we used to call in the Vietnam era a real domino effect.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree?
Mr. Fox: "I think you essentially get a Lebanon in the middle of Southeastern Europe in a proxy situation where outside powers are drawn in...."
JOHN FOX: I do agree. I think you essentially get a Lebanon in the middle of Southeastern Europe in a proxy situation where outside powers are drawn in first with the immediate neighbors that Amb. Zimmerman describes, and you get a very divisive and rather rapid split in NATO, itself, Greece on one side, Turkey on the other, and divisions which are already emerging, even in the last couple of weeks in the international community on how to deal with Kosovo. That is all the more reason why the crisis in Kosovo has to be dealt with persuasively at the very start.
MARGARET WARNER: And you're saying that can only be militarily?
JOHN FOX: Well, I'm afraid that this is really now, what's been done in London today is a noble form of diplomatic catch-up, but they have drawn--they've attempted now, having I think allowed the red line to erode, they've now tried to draw a diplomatic line in the sand, which says get the security forces out, get the paramilitaries out, don't take any more actions against civilians or else. But the "or else" is not all that strong.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, very briefly, that diplomatic can't work?
WARREN ZIMMERMAN: I think diplomatic must work because, unlike Bosnia, I'm not sure that force is going to work on the part of the West in this case. Air strikes against Serbia could very well unite the Serbs behind Milosevic because they feel so strongly about Kosovo. They didn't about Bosnia. That's the danger, I think.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both very much.