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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Understanding Kosovo

31 October 1998

"...Russia remains one of the few friends of Serbia... A leader of the Russian Liberal Party, proclaimed on a recent visit to Serbia, the brotherhood of the Slavs, and declared, in a rhetorical flourish,  that he would rest content only when the Slav people ruled a contiguous land stretching from Russia, through Bulgaria to Serbia.  One message that is being conveyed by the ‘international community’ may be that the Balkans is not an area within the Russian circle of influence and that it is time that the Serbs recognised this reality. That is not to say that there may not be other messages as well. The spill over effect on Albanians in adjoining Macedonia and Albania, the destabilising influx of refugees to other parts of the European Union, and the support that may be given to Muslim Kosovo by the Muslim world,  may be other matters of concern..."

Similarities...
Need to look below the surface....
Kosovo deeply embedded in psyche of the Serb people...
There was no Albanian state before 1912...
International community quick to ‘demonise’ the Serb leader...
Instructive to explore some elements of the geo political frame...
Present day Albanian nationalists not unaware of the history of 'international' support...

[see also Nato, Kosovo and Tamil Eelam - Nadesan Satyendra April 1999]


Similarities...

It is perhaps only natural that the conflict in Kosovo should have attracted comparisons with the struggle in Tamil Eelam.

The Kosovo Albanians are a majority in Kosovo but a minority in Serbia. The Kosovo Albanians are Muslims and the Serbs are Christians. The Albanians speak a different language to that of the Serbs. And adjoining Kosovo itself, lies Albania with ethnic links to the Albanians in Kosovo.

The parallels to the situation of the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka, with a majority in the North and East whilst being a minority in the whole island, and with ethnic links to the Tamils in nearby Tamil Nadu, may seem obvious.

The point is then made that whilst the ‘international community’ has voiced support for the Albanians in Kosovo, no such support has been forthcoming for the people of Tamil Eelam who are facing what many non governmental organisations have recognised as a ‘genocidal’ situation.

And, Tamil voices are raised to plead for ‘justice’ and ‘equality of treatment’, encouraging the belief  that the ‘international community’ is actually engaged in the business of dispensing ‘justice’ and ‘equality’.

Again, it may be that Tamil voices are raised simply to render it more difficult for those who may be pretending to be asleep, whilst Chemmanis multiply, to continue their slumber with any degree of credibility.


0upS.gif (883 bytes) Need to look below the surface similarities...

However, be that all as it may, there may be a need to look below the surface similarities, and try to understand the significance of Kosovo - both to the Serbs and to the ‘international community’.

Some 600 years ago, on June 15, 1389 the Serbs confronted the Turkish invader of their homeland in the two week Battle of Kosovo. The Serb army was led by Prince Lazar, who fought resolutely to the end. He was wounded, taken prisoner and was beheaded on the orders of the Turkish conqueror.

"... the Serbs were allowed to pick up the severed head of their leader, and carry it together with the body to the Church of Vaznesenje Hristovo in Prishtina (the main city of Kosovo). Later the remains were moved to the Monastery Ravanitsa, which Lazar had built. The Serbian Church proclaimed Prince Lazar a saint and holy martyr. The mutilated body of the Saint Prince could not however rest long in his native land. As the Turks moved to the North, his remains were carried to Frushka Gora in Srem...

The wandering bones had to be moved a fourth time, when in 1941, the Croatian Ustashi began pillaging Serbian holy places in the newly created Axis satellite, the Independent State of Croatia. ..Lazar’s relics were taken to Belgrade and now rest in front of the altar of the main Orthodox Cathedral..." (The Saga of Kosovo : Focus on Serbian-Albanian Relations - East European Monographs, No 170 by Alex N.Dragnich and Slavko Todorovitch, distributed by Columbia University Press, New York, 1984)

The defeat at Kosovo signalled the end of the Serbian state for more than five hundred years afterwards. However, during those 500 years and more the spirit of Serb nationalism was kept alive by the memory of Kosovo.

There were several Serbian insurrections against the occupying forces of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, but they failed. After the failure of a major insurrection in 1690, a good part of the Serbian population left Kosovo to escape murder and enslavement by the Turks.

"The great migration of the Serbs in 1690 constitutes one of the gravest and most decisive events in Serbian history." (Cirkovic, Kosovo and Metohija in Serbian History quoted in Kosovo - In the Heart of the Powder Keg, Compiled and Edited by Robert Elsie, East European Monographs, Boulder distributed by the Columbia University Press, 1997)

Another insurrection that failed resulted in another wave of Serbian emigration in 1735-39. It was in this way that the ethnic composition of Kosovo changed. Albanians settled in the abandoned villages and towns. In time, they adopted the religion of their conquerors and became Muslims. A significant number of Albanians rose to high rank in the Turkish administration and some served as Grand Viziers or Prime Ministers in the Ottoman Empire.


0upS.gif (883 bytes) Kosovo deeply embedded in psyche of the Serb people...

Kosovo is deeply embedded in psyche of the Serb people.

"For the Serbs, Kosovo became a symbol of steadfast courage and sacrifice for honour ... where the Serbs lost their whole nation... it would be ‘remembered’ and avenged ... Kosovo is many diverse things to different living Serbs, but they all have it in their blood. They are born with it..." (The Saga of Kosovo, Alex N.Dragnich and Slavko Todorovitch, Eastern European Monographs, Boulder, Columbia University Press, New York, 1984)

The ballads of Kosovo (and about the later resistance of the Serbs to Turkish occupation) have been sung by children in Serbia for several centuries.

"I was ten years old when I first read these heroic ballads. It was during one of the bleak post war winters in Yugoslavia. There was not much to eat and little money to heat our apartment properly. I went to bed as soon as I got home from school, to keep warm. Then I would listen to the radio and read. Among the books that my father left was a thick anthology of ‘Serbian Folk Poems’. That’s what they were called. In the next few years I read the whole volume and some of the poems in it at least a dozen times. Even today I can still recite passages from my favourite ballads. None of this of course is in any way unusual. Every Serbian loves these poems... I first fell in love with the ballads that describe the adventures and heroic feats of various rebels during Turkish occupation...." (Charles Smic, Preface to the Battle of Kosovo, translated by John Maththias and Vladeta Vuckovic, Ohio University Press, 1987)

However, "the significance of Kosovo in the national conscience of the Serbs does not rest exclusively on the Battle of Kosovo.... This fertile land in the South of Serbia was the heart of the feudal Serbian state in the Middle Ages... Kosovo was also the bread basket and economic heart of the Serbian Empire... The Trepcha mines north of Prishtina produced silver, lead and iron ore. The mines at Novoberda south of the capital yielded not only silver but precious gold..." ( Kosovo - The Gordian Knot of the Balkans - translated from the German by Robert Elsie in  Kosovo : In the Heart of the Powder Keg  - East European Monographs, No 478 - compiled and edited by Robert Elsie, distributed by the Columbia University Press, 1997)

It was after the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 that the Serbs finally drove the Turks out of southern Serbia and regained control of Kosovo. Later, the First World War and the eventual collapse of the Turkish Ottoman Empire consolidated that Serb victory.

Again, during the Second World war, Italy conquered Albania - and Kosovo (which at that time was a part of Yugoslavia) was made a part of Albania. Under Italian protection, the Albanians did not delay in expelling as many Serbs as they could from Kosovo.

At the same time, Croatia which was conquered by Germany and had become an independent state, collaborated with the Axis powers.

It was the Serbs of Yugoslavia who led the resistance against both German and Italian rule. And, at the end of the Second World War, Kosovo reverted back to Yugoslavia.

Given this history, it is not perhaps surprising that nine years ago, on 28 June 1989, more than a million Serbs gathered in Kosovo to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the battle for Kosovo, and remember those Serbs who had given their lives for the freedom of the Serb nation. The Serbian leader, President Slobadan Milosevic declared:

"Today, six hundred years later, we are fighting once again. New battles lie ahead of us. They are not military battles, although we cannot exclude such a possibility...."


0upS.gif (883 bytes) There was no Albanian state before 1912...

As for Albania itself, the views expressed by Alain Ducellier in Studies of Kosovo are of some relevance:

"In this context, the case of Albania may seem astonishing, since this country was the only national entity to emerge from Byzantium which.... never succeeded in pouring her strong ethnic, linguistic and cultural identity into the mould of a political structure. As is known, this failure persisted well beyond the Middle Ages, since there was no Albanian state before 1912." (Alain Ducellier in Studies of Kosovo, edited by Arshi Pipa and Sami Rephisti, Easter European Monographs, Boulder, distributed by Columbia University Press, 1984)

Today, the Kosovo Albanians appear divided as to what they want - an independent state, autonomy or union with Albania. But it is put out that their ‘right to self determination’ will be protected for three years in the sense that it will be kept in ‘abeyance’. Meanwhile, the ‘international community’ wants to secure effective ‘autonomy’ for the Kosovo Albanians within the framework of the Serbian state.


0upS.gif (883 bytes) International community quick to ‘demonise’ the Serb leader...

At the same time, sections of the international community are quick to ‘demonise’ the Serb leader President Slobadan Milosevic. These same sections were, equally quick to praise President Pinochet of Chile, President Suharto of Indonesia and President Marcos of the Phillipines - and hail President J.R.Jayawardene’s Sri Lanka in 1984 as a ‘an open, working, multiparty democracy’. It was ‘an open, working, multiparty democracy’ in which according to a recent statement by  Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga,   J.R.Jayawardene used violence against all the people in Sri Lanka. She cheerfully admitted in a TV interview in South Africa in October 1998:

"Mr. J. R. Jayawardene ... believed that he could use violence against the Tamil people and solve the problem in the same way he used violence continuously against our people, Sinhala people and all other Sri Lankan people as a solution to all political problems. The Tamil people were attacked 4 times between 77 and 83, physically attacked, bodily attacked, their properties destroyed. 1983 was of course, the high water mark of this anti-Tamil violence practised by the UNP - horrendous crimes were committed against the Tamil people."

And today, despite the well documented record of the genocidal war launched by Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the charges of murder and intimidation made by the Sinhala opposition party against Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance, the US State Department continues to insist that ‘Sri Lanka is a longstanding democratic republic with an active multiparty system’.

Perhaps, ten years from now, yet another Sinhala political leader will admit to President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s responsibility for the actions of those under her command, including the Chemmani mass graves and confess that Sri Lanka, after all, was not much of a democracy under her rule.

It will be naive therefore, to assume that today’s international criticisms of the Serb leader President Slobadan Milosevic have much to do with concerns about war crimes or genocide. These criticisms may have more to do with geo politics than with human rights.


0upS.gif (883 bytes) Instructive to explore some elements of the geo political frame...

In the 1960s, the Shah of Iran supported the Kurds to pressure Iraq and no sooner Iran and Iraq settled their differences, the Kurd leader was told to pack up and go home - and he ended up in the US. In the 1980s, India extended support to the Tamil Eelam struggle until Sri Lanka recognised India’s geo political interests in the Annexures to the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka Accord.

In the case of the support extended by the 'international community'   to the Kosovo Albanians, it may be instructive to explore some elements of the geo political frame.

Some insights may be obtained from an earlier involvement by the U.S. and the United Kingdom in Albania. Nicholas Bethell, wrote in 1984, in the ‘The Great Betrayal’:

"Hardly anyone knows that the United States and Britain chose to make Albania, Europe's poorest country, a secret battleground between West and East, and the central point of their efforts to regain the initiative in the Cold War that began the previous year in 1948....

The Albanian affair was conceived by American and British officials at a meeting in Washington, then approved by government leaders. It was a carefully considered act of policy based on the idea that Stalin would be impressed by a Western decision to act against him militarily even on a small scale and in an outpost of his empire.

It would make him think twice before launching further aggressive enterprises. It might also, incidentally, detach Albania from the Soviet orbit, ... and allowing the emergence of a kinder and less anti-Western government...

The military side began in October 1949 when the first teams of armed British-trained agents were landed on Albanian territory. It ended in the last days of 1953 when the failure of an important American-sponsored mission was publicly revealed..." (Nicholas BethellThe Great Betrayal - Hodder and Stoughton, 1984, London)

Albanian exiles were recruited to ‘fight for Albania’. The Albanian exiles were later to complain -

"(They) complain that their innocence and trust were exploited by the secret services of two powerful and sophisticated countries. They were recruited, they say, on the understanding that the United States and Britain wanted to liberate Albania from communism. And on this basis they were happy to agree. They would fight and they would sacrifice lives, not only their own, but also those of their brothers. wives and children.

They were ready to fight for Albania but for no other cause. And this is why, they say. the truth was kept from them. They were not told of the many other reasons why the operation was taking place, about the need to relieve communist pressure on Greece in the civil war. about the decision to retaliate against Stalin's aggressive moves... They were not advised that the conspiracy against communist Albania was no more than a single move in a great game of geopolitical chess and that they, the 'little men’, were the pawns most likely to be taken.

... American and British intelligence men who took part in the conspiracy point out in reply .... (that) even though the liberation of Albania was not achieved, the United States and Britain did succeed in giving Stalin an effective demonstration of the West's will to retaliate, thereby saving other countries. If the West had faltered, Stalin would have resurrected the Greek civil war, snuffed out Tito's rebellion and boosted the Italian communists. Democracy in western Europe would not have survived this onslaught.

They concede that the Albanian exiles were not told the full truth. But, they say, Western intelligence services cannot always observe the rules of fair play when fighting the Soviet adversary. The Albanian exiles who fought under their auspices were all enthusiastic volunteers, men who from the outset begged to be given the dignity of fighting men rather than being left to rot in refugee camps. They knew the risks they were running.

... In battle it is sometimes necessary to give up a platoon so as to facilitate a battalion's withdrawal. If 'pawns' have to be 'sacrificed' in order to deter an adversary from aggression, then so be it, it must be done. And in extreme cases, when vital interests are truly at risk, the victims must be deceived."(Nicholas BethellThe Great Betrayal - Hodder and Stoughton, 1984, London)

Today, 50 years later, President Yeltzin’s Russia remains one of the few friends of Serbia’s President Slobadan Milosevic. A leader of the Russian Liberal Party, proclaimed on a recent visit to Serbia, the brotherhood of the Slavs, and declared, in a rhetorical flourish,  that he would rest content only when the Slav people ruled a contiguous land stretching from Russia, through Bulgaria to Serbia.

One message that is being conveyed by the ‘international community’ may be that the Balkans is not an area within the Russian circle of influence and that it is time that the Serbs recognised this reality. That is not to say that there may not be other messages as well. The spill over effect on Albanians in adjoining Macedonia and Albania, the destabilising influx of refugees to other parts of the European Union, and the support that may be given to Muslim Kosovo by the Muslim world,  may be other matters of concern. There is also the importance that Germany attaches to its relations with  Croatia on the western border of Serbia.   Indeed, it was German recognition of Croatia which hastened the collapse of the earlier Yugoslavia.


0upS.gif (883 bytes) Present day Albanian nationalists not unaware of the history of 'international' support...

Present day Albanian nationalists are not unaware of the nature of the support extended to them by the ‘international community’. Professor Qosja who, in recent years has become a father figure of the Albanian nation, remarked in a recent interview:

"The international community, the European Union and the United States, still think they can solve the question of Kosovo by ensuring human rights and autonomy within Serbia. This shows that they do not understand the issue involved and approach the problem of Kosovo in a superficial manner.

If they understand the essence of the issue, they would realise that public order, peace and justice can never be established in Kosovo until it is united with Albania.

The attitude of the international community towards the Kosovo problem has been disappointing, but history has taught us that we can expect little from it. Just as disappointing, however, has been our own attitude towards ourselves." (Interview with Rexhep Qosja quoted in Kosovo : In the Heart of the Powder Keg  - East European Monographs, No 478 - compiled and Edited by Robert Elsie, distributed by the Columbia University Press, 1997)

Rexhep Qosja's disappointment with "our own attitude towards ourselves" was not without significance. Though the Kosovo Albanians declared a so called Republic of Kosovo in 1992, no government, not even the Albanian government has recognised it.  Neither has the Albanian government  had the political will  to support the demand that Kosovo should be united with Albania. Again, significantly, the 'seat' of the Government of the Republic of Kosovo is stated to be in Bonn in Germany. Qosja's comments are caustic:

"How can I recognise a national 'government' which calls itself a government while under Serbian occupation?... How can I recognise a (Kosovan)   President, a Member of parliament or a Minister who travels through the country carrying a Serbian I.D., who crosses the border of Kosovo using a Serbian Passport and who fulfills all his duties as a citizen of Serbia?... It is a tragi-comedy staged in order to smother resistance..." (Interview with Rexhep Qosja quoted in Kosovo : In the Heart of the Powder Keg  - East European Monographs, No 478 - compiled and Edited by Robert Elsie, distributed by the Columbia University Press, 1997)

Eelam Tamils may see some parallels with the tragi-comedy played out by the TULF leader, Appapillai Amirthalingam, whilst being a guest of the Government of India in 1980s.

Yes, there may be many similarities between the Tamil Eelam struggle and the conflict in Kosovo - but there may be a need to look beyond that which appears on the surface.

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