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The Other Enemy, Still There...

Kosovo faces Russia and radical Islam.

11:00 PM, Dec 2, 2008 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Pristina, Kosovo

WHILE THE WORLD REACTS in horror to the atrocities in Mumbai, Balkan Muslims and Albanians (the latter both Muslim and Christian) understandably have their eyes on an older but equally feral enemy: Russian imperialism, acting through its Serbian pawn. Kosovar Albanians, in particular, are anxious about the future, repeatedly asking me, during a visit at the end of November, what President Barack Obama would do if Serbia, encouraged by Vladimir Putin, makes an armed attempt to regain full control over Kosovo. One can offer them little comfort, especially since the efforts of the Bush administration to reintroduce the entry of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO have been met by indignant repudiation by our European allies -- with the Germans in the forefront of the reaction.


The problem of Serbian intentions is present in Bosnia-Herzegovina no less than in Kosovo. The Dayton Accords of 1995, which Democrats tend to acclaim as a great diplomatic achievement, left almost half of Bosnia in the hands of the mafia statelet known as the "Republic of Srpska" or "R.S." International legitimization of this enclave, rather than recognition of the independent Kosovo Republic last February, provided the precedent for Russia's theft of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the Georgians. A united Bosnia-Herzegovina with a Muslim plurality, a single Kosovo with an overwhelming Albanian majority, are based in historical and cultural realities and recognized continuities. By contrast, the so-called "R.S.,' Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the looming inevitability of a system of special Serbian zones in Kosovo represent mere enclaves, erected to satisfy the aggressive demands of unfriendly neighbors.


Kosovo may be the only place in the world where the majority of ordinary folk express undiluted affection for George W. Bush and John McCain. It is also perhaps unique in that locals are inclined to drop everything and closely watch United Nations General Assembly debates live on television, most recently on November 27 when U.N. general secretary Ban Ki Moon delivered a report endorsing a so-called "six point plan" originating in Serbia. The six points would maintain a separate status for Kosovo Serbs in policing and other governmental functions, as well as a highly controversial provision for establishment of "special protected zones" around Serbian Orthodox churches, in which religious authorities would exercise an ethnic-based political control. The six points further imply an open border between northern Kosovo and Serbia.


Kosovar Albanians call this partition on the Bosnian model, supported by Europe and the UN, but opposed by the United Sates under Bush. Foreign administration of Kosovo, in line with the six points, would be conducted by a so-called "law and order" mission known as EULEX--but to emphasize, as the proposal is conceived by Ban Ki Moon, the Kosovo Serbs would be allowed an exemption from EULEX jurisdiction.


Remarkably, the government of Kosovo's neighbor, Montenegro--which historically defined itself as more Serbian than Serbia itself because of Montenegrin autonomy under the Ottomans--supports Kosovo in opposing the six points. Montenegro was forcibly wedded to Serbia for most of the period from the end of the first world war to 2006, lastly in a "country" known by the revealing acronym of "S&M"--as in Serbian sadism and Montenegrin masochism. But Montenegrin prime minister Milo Djukanovic has joined Albanian premier Sali Berisha and the Kosovar Albanian politicians in warning that the six points would bring partition and new instability, if not bloodshed, to the Balkans. Still, Serbia is holding out for its demands.


In visits to Kosovo's main cities last week, I heard eloquent statements verging on stark fear of events to come. In the historic city of Gjakova, a leading Sufi teacher, Baba Mumin Lama, told me, "If the West is simply going to hand us back to the Serbs, let us all be killed at once, because the liberation struggle of the late 1990s will have proven useless." Other Albanian religious and intellectual leaders voiced similar sentiments. Many believe that Kosovo has been propelled back to the uncertain status of 1997, when Serbia threatened Albanian survival and the West acted indecisively.