Cut My State Into Pieces
Should Serbia Say Goodbye to Kosovo?
“First of all, it was agreed that all the Macedonians and Illyrians should be free. In this way it would be evident to all peoples that the military might of the Roman people did not bring servitude to the free, but rather freedom to the enslaved, and it would be clear to those peoples who were free that their freedom would be preserved for them forever under the protection of the Roman people.” - Livy [VL.18]
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Introduction: Facing a Final Indignity
It is reported that Serbia’s President Aleksander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti have reached an EU-brokered deal to move towards normalizing relations almost 25 years after the end of the Kosovo War of the late 1990s. Vucic faces intense internal opposition from nationalist groups and finds himself and his country in a difficult situation. Kosovo is seen as the cradle of Serbia, and Serbia was once the seat of the great state of Yugoslavia, which unified the majority of the west Balkans. Serbia is surrounded, isolated, impoverished, and reviled by the West. Blamed for the Yugoslav Wars following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the United States destroyed the country with brutal air strikes, and over the years added former Yugoslav Republics into NATO. Many in Serbia, including the President, maintain hostility towards NATO, which still frames the war as preventing a genocide.
Many Serbians have an affinity towards their traditional ally Russia, but due to distance, Russia cannot protect Serbia. Vucic is stuck between his own sentiment, a large and angry segment of the public, grinding poverty, and widespread hatred for Russia across Europe. The only chance for safety and prosperity appears to be to move towards the EU, which contains the great majority of NATO countries. Vucic is in the same situation as a defeated Philip V of Macedon, who was given this advice following the Second Macedonian War,
“Since he had now gained his peace accord…send a deputation to Rome to ask for an alliance and a treaty of friendship. Otherwise…should Antiochus make a move, Philip could be thought to have simply been biding his time, on the look-out for suitable occasions to resume the war” [Livy, XXXIII.35.]
In fact, Vucic has been accused of attempting this exact thing:
[Note: Twitter inexplicably doesn’t translate Latin script Serbian, and never has. The Serbian language is written in both Latin and Cyrillic, and Twitter translates Cyrillic Serbian.]
Making the necessary concessions regarding Kosovo in order to have peace and perhaps join the EU is going to make Vucic very unpopular with many in his country, but the humiliation may be the only option besides the ultimate death of Serbia. Alternately, by showing weakness and avoiding war, Vucic may be dooming himself, as Machiavelli wrote,
“A prince must never give up anything willingly, if he wishes to give it up honourably…when the matter has come to the point that you cannot give up a possession in the manner just described, to allow it to be taken from you by force rather than the fear of force. Thus if you allow it to be taken through fear, you do so to avoid a war, and in most instances you will not avoid it, because the person to whom you have conceded this possession through obvious cowardice will not stand still but will want to deprive you of other possessions, and, esteeming you less, he will be incited to act against you, and among those who support you, you will find your defenders lukewarm, since they will feel that you are either weak or cowardly.” [Discourses, II.14]
All options are bad for both Vucic and Serbia. If he can push this through, only time will tell if he can survive- politically and mortally- and if it will save Serbia or if Serbia will face death and we will see the neighboring countries pick apart the corpse of the last remnant of Yugoslavia.
Background: The Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia
The history of this region is complex enough that a 1000 page text would hardly do it justice, so I will do my best to keep to the necessary context. The Balkans have always been rough and unstable, and Serbia, where the mountains turn to plains, is the heart of its western portion. Wild and mountainous, the region was a haven for pirates and raiders in early antiquity. The earliest recorded tribes were known as Illyrians. The Romans did not conquer the area until they had conquered many lands much farther away. Appian describes Illyrians as “barbarous and warlike peoples, who often plundered the neighboring parts of Italy” [Foreign Wars, IW, 15.] The region became a borderland and battleground between empires. Hard to control and impoverished, many political divisions developed in a geographically small area. The terrain is hard to traverse, and thus has many natural borders. On top of all of that, the history of empire has created religious divisions, with some groups being Christian and other groups being Muslim.
In the early 19th century, as the Ottoman Empire was beginning to weaken, an independent Serbia arose following a lengthy revolt. The Principality of Serbia expanded over time and ultimately declared itself a kingdom. However, the upstart state was wedged between two aging empires, the Ottomans and Austria-Hungary. At this time Kosovo came to be known as “the cradle of Serbia,” based on a decisive battle fought there in 1389. This became a key component of Serbian nationalism. I don’t like this sort of ancient historical argument- with so much currency in this region- but suffice to say the modern Serbs care a great deal about Kosovo as a key part of their country.1 The problem is that Kosovo is primarily occupied by ethnic-Albanian Muslims. Starting in 1913 there was a short war known as the Balkan Wars where the independent states of the Balkans combined to expel the Ottomans from most of their European territories. In 1914 a young Bosnian Serb nationalist assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the dual monarchy, in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, the capital of Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia. This caused Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia, which set off the chain of events that caused the First World War. After the war, with the collapse of both nearby empires, the Serbian Monarchy consolidated power, taking in Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia and becoming the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia [Land of the South Slavs.]
During the Second World War the western Balkans were invaded by the Germans, and the Yugoslav Army rapidly collapsed. The region was divided among the Axis Powers [which many forget, initially included Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania.] An ethnic Croat named Josip Tito led an effective communist resistance group known as the Yugoslav Partisans. After the war, Tito formed the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, comprised of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia; later two autonomous provinces were created within Serbia, Vojvodina and Kosovo. The federation had 7 major ethnic groups, with Serbs being a plurality at just over a 1/3rd of the population in 1991, almost twice as populous as the second place Croats. Tito worked to keep a balance in all things, and the individual republics had a good deal of autonomy under his leadership. Further, he kept the country neutral and was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement as well as its first Secretary-General. Due to Tito’s policy of neutrality, Yugoslavia was not culturally or economically isolated from the Western or Eastern bloc, and he proved that even a communist country in Europe could simply choose to not do the Cold War. Over time, especially after Tito’s death in 1980, tensions increased within Yugoslavia, with Serbia wanting more centralized government [the federal capital was Serbia’s capital of Belgrade] and the other republics wanting more autonomy. With the collapse of communism in Europe, Yugoslavia also collapsed.
The disintegration of Yugoslavia was severe enough that the term “Balkanization” has entered the English lexicon to mean anything breaking apart into small, weak, mutually hostile groups. The breakup of Yugoslavia began when Slovenia and Croatia declared independence following referendums in June of 1991, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. In 1992, Serbia and Montenegro declared themselves the successor to the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It was the FRY’s position that it was still the FPRY for the purposes of international treaties, such as how Russia [by mutual agreement of the former Soviet states] became the successor to the USSR. However, the United States considered the FPRY abolished and the FRY a new entity, and refused to recognize it as a state. Other nations followed course, and the FRY was left isolated. This meant Serbia was not protected by any agreements which Yugoslavia had entered into as a key non-aligned state.
A New Suzerain For an Ancient Region
The western Balkans are of absolutely no geopolitical importance to any major power. However, the United States needed to re-position itself with the end of competing Soviet power. There was no better way to do this than showing concern for problems of a far-flung country. Following the Second World War, the United States and Soviet Union were simultaneously controlling and contesting the power of global war and peace. However, after the Soviet Union collapsed the United States needed to show that it had the sole power over global war and peace. This is known as American Unipolarity, an era which lasted until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thus, an unstable region, especially in Europe, could not be outside of US involvement.
While there is a virtue to self-government, and it is not wrong to support an “underdog” who wants freedom. the problem in this situation is that the “international community” is usually obsessed with pre-existing borders. This means that ethnostates are declared and then border adjustments based on who actually lives where are not allowed. In this situation, large groups of Serbs were left minorities in other ethnostates, and border adjustments were off the table. It is clear, to me at least, that when a federation state such as Yugoslavia is broken into independent ethnostates border adjustments may be necessary for lasting peace. Instead, the previously dominant ethnic group, in this case the Serbs, was demonized as the enemy of America’s new “end of history” “rules-based world order.”
The fiercest civil war of what are known as the Yugoslav Wars was the Bosnian War. Bosnia and Herzegovina has the largest Serb population of any of the Yugoslav states besides Serbia, and further, the Bosniaks are Muslims which adds a religious element [Bosniak more means “Muslim from former Yugoslavia” than being its own ethnicity in the traditional sense.] The war went from 1992 to 1995, with lightly armed and ineffective UN “peacekeeping” troops entering the region early in the war. The conflict pitted the army of Bosnia and Herzegovina against the Bosnians Serbs within their country, who had declared the Republika Srpska. The Bosnian Serbs were supported by the army of Yugoslavia, at this point a Serbian force, as well as a wide array of paramilitary groups. Bosnian Croats revolted, hoping to rejoin Croatia. At same time Croatian Serbs had rebelled and proclaimed the autonomous Serb Region of Krajina, which they controlled for five years. They were driven out by a large Croat army in 1995.
Through all of this, the outside powers remained set on maintaining the historic borders which the population had previously freely moved between. Before the war, 1/3rd of marriages in Bosnia and Herzegovina were mixed-ethnicity, meaning most residents had friends and loved ones now on other sides of the newly potent ethnic divides. However, this complexity did not work for Western media and nations who needed to show their newfound power over human affairs and sell involvement to a simple public. Thus, the Serbs were made the bad guys, and FRY leader Slobodan Milosevic became the “Monster of the Week,” one in a seemingly infinite line of “next Hitlers.” Ultimately, after years of propaganda on the newly popular 24 hours news, featuring the same ghouls who would go on to push the United States into war after war, the Clinton Administration ultimately “intervened,” with vengeance.
In the years leading up to 1995 the Clinton Administration had been launching a series of small strikes on Serbian targets. At the time, this sort of “humanitarian” bombing campaign was a new innovation in US policy. However, a mortar strike on a market in Sarajevo which became known as the “Sarajevo Market Massacre” compelled Clinton to show the world that bombing people into compliance was not an acceptable policy tool by bombing the Serbs into compliance. On Wednesday, September 6th, 1995, NATO launched a massive bombing campaign against the Serbs, known as “Operation Deliberate Force” [the guy who comes up with names was on the John.] It was described as “The largest combat operation in its [NATO’s] history.” The way this was discussed by the scribbling classes at the time is incredible. Legendary warmonger Charles Krauthammer wrote a column for The Washington Post titled, “Keep Pressing the Serbs…” where he opined the following gems,
“NATO bombing is a useful adjunct for concentrating Serb minds on the wisdom of compromise…There is a chance now, however, because U.S. policy on Bosnia is finally on track. Its most important feature is an end to the moralism that had characterized it since Clinton's inauguration…A couple of years ago, the administration would have objected to such high-handed Realpolitik -- expulsions, in effect -- on "moral" grounds. No longer. The other element of the new Clinton policy is its apparent recognition of the futility of diplomacy not backed by force…Which is why it should continue until (a) the Serbs have made concessions at the bargaining table that we deem significant enough to make a deal possible or (b) we run out of serious targets…The Sarajevo market massacre was the excuse. The real reason was to make the newly pliable Serbs even more pliable at the bargaining table. The purpose of bombing is not to express moral outrage but to achieve strategic goals. The goal here is to end the fighting. That would be the highest moral achievement of all.”
I’m as a realist as anyone, but it seems there is an enthymeme here I am not getting. Or else he just likes bombing things. He makes good arguments that moralism is not a viable foreign policy, but then proceeds to say the only goal of any of this is a moral achievement. I also love the aspect where they weren’t interested in a relatively straightforward peace based on land belonging to the ethnostate of the dominant ethnicity but instead did all of this to end fighting with the original international borders remaining intact. The only purpose of such a policy is to keep states and peoples weak and divided, or Balkanized, as we now call it.
The infamous Time Magazine cover, “Bringing the Serbs to Heel: A Massive Bombing Campaign Opens the Door to Peace” is perhaps an even more clear example of how depraved the US scribbling and policy classes were in the post-Cold War era. It’s incredible that they would discuss an entire ethnic group as a hive-mind which needs to be tamed like a dog, though one does understanding the phrasing since they weren’t just dealing with the Republic of Serbia but with ethnic Serbs in multiple states. This line in the article throws up a red flag for any pattern-noticer: “Earlier in the summer the Western allies had warned unequivocally that a Serb attack like the one last Monday would provoke a massive response.” It’s funny how the War Party always get the provocations it needs to launch such wars. The Serbs buckled under the weight of overwhelming outside power and a peace was signed known as the Dayton Accords. Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into two erratically designed sections, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska [but with the country’s international name remaining Bosnia and Herzegovina.] The Bosnian Serbs have a great deal of autonomy; the unique and redundant system of government has hindered economic development and left constant division in the country. One very much wonders how this is better than letting the Serb areas join Serbia.
The Yugoslav Wars were brutal, especially in this earlier phase. Leaders on all sides were ultimately found guilty of war crimes in a United Nations court known as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, though by far the most Serbs were indicted and convicted. For its problems, the state of Yugoslavia had ethnic harmony, but as ethnicities who had formerly lived in peace in a multi-ethnic state began fighting for territory in individual ethnostates, things turned extremely violent with massacres, ethnic cleansing, and concentration camps. This has been the problem with modern ethnostates since Woodrow Wilson tried to reshape the world following the First World War.
The role of the United States in this conflict was nearly identical to the role of the Romans in the Second Macedonian War, where the Greek cities were granted “freedom.” Livy writes of the response to the announcement of Greek liberty,
“There was, then, a nation on earth that waged war for the freedom of others, at its own expense and itself facing the hardship and danger; and it did this not for its neighbours or for people geographically close or on the same land-mass, but actually crossed seas to prevent an unjust empire existing anywhere in the world and to assure the primacy of rectitude, divine justice, and the law of man.” [XXXIII.33]
Wanting to create this belief was the only possible benefit to America of getting involved in the Yugoslav Wars. The Roman Empire, in one form or another, would rule Greece for the next 1500 years. In another 30 years, after one more lost war, the once-great Kingdom of Macedon would be partitioned and gone forever.
The Cradle Ripped from Serbia
In 1996, just a year after the Bosnian War ended, a guerilla group called the Kosovo Liberation Army began a war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, still led by Slobodan Milosevic. A full-scale war between the parties began in 1998 when there was a clash between the police and the KLA which left 20 dead. There were early attempts at outside mediation, but when the FRY did not fully implement a ceasefire agreement the KLA used the time to re-arm and begin further attacks. There were widespread reports of atrocities on both sides. The conflict went on for some time when the domestic problems of the Clintons would spell doom for Serbia and Milosevic himself: Hillary Clinton broke 8 months of silence towards her husband following the Lewinsky Scandal to call him and ask him to bomb Serbia. He started the bombing on March, 24th 1999, less than 24 hours later. It was a brutal air campaign known as Operation Allied Force [it must be possible to come up with better names for these things.] Human Right Watch confirms around 500 civilian deaths, whereas Yugoslavia estimated at least 1200. NATO was accused of deliberately attacking civilian infrastructure.
From the beginning of the bombing the Serbs tried to negotiate knowing they could not withstand NATO’s brutal air power. Many targets both military and civilian were hit during the bombings. Two have become the most infamous. The first is when five bombs hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese nationals. That embassy is sovereign soil of the People’s Republic of China and bombing it is an act of war; the Chinese have not, and will not, forget this. The second is when NATO bombed the Radio-Television building in Belgrade, killing 16. They have received a great deal of criticism for this strike over the years. It is particularly notable as radio provides key public safety information to civilians during wartime.
After dropping 20,000 bombs across Serbia over 72 days and flooding Western audiences with propaganda, a peace deal was put forward following talks including Milosevic, Russia, and the Finns, who were representing the EU. NATO announced it would continue bombing until Serbian troops were fully withdrawn from their own province, though NATO was kind enough to not “highway of death” them as they retreated. 50,000 NATO troops were sent to Kosovo; as of 2023, 3,900 remain. In a way, these troops are a sort of reverse hostages in that if anything bad happens to them very bad things will happen to the Serbs. The Kosovo Liberation Army was not made to agree to anything, and did not lay down its arms. Though it nominally remained the sovereign, Serbia had lost control of Kosovo, the “cradle of its culture and identity.”
On October 6th, 2000 Milosevic was overthrown in what was known as “The Bulldozer Revolution.” The opposition to Milosevic was heavily funded by the United States “National Endowment for Democracy,” an early example of what we now call “Color Revolutions.” Even skeptics of US involvement in such regime changes acknowledge that in this instance not just the NED but also the CIA was involved in funding protests. Milosevic was arrested in January 2001 and transferred to the Netherlands to face international justice in June of that year. “The Next Hitler,” spent five years in the Hague prison, where he died. A decade later, the International Criminal Tribune for the Former Yugoslavia quietly exonerated him, determining that he not only did not take part in a “joint criminal enterprise” to victimize other ethnicities, but that he opposed ethnic cleansing and the worst crimes of the war. Of course, the one person trying to end the madness was made into a villain; most people in America who know anything about the conflict still think he was a monster.
In keeping with international demands, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia changed its name to “Serbia and Montenegro” in 2003. In 2006 Montenegro voted for independence and left the union. The last remnant of Yugoslavia was gone, and Serbia was now on its own as a landlocked state. In 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence. The United States recognized Kosovo as an independent state the next day. Apparently historic borders are not sacred if it is Serbia losing territory.
Selling the Destruction of Serbia to Western Audiences
The bombing of Kosovo is the first major US foreign policy issue that I remember clearly. I was in late elementary school at the time and was disturbed that we were told this man with a funny name, Slobodan Milosevic, in some place I had not heard of was a source of enormous evil from which we must cleanse the world with fire. People seemed to think this was normal, which speaks a great amount to the depravity of power. Even if Americans barely remember the conflict much of the rest of the world has not forgotten. Besides Serbia, especially in Russia, where someone trolled the United States by projecting the Time cover onto the US Embassy in Moscow at the time of the invasion of Ukraine. I explained this in an article about global perceptions of Western power I published last spring:
Justin Raimondo, the late founder of antiwar.com, was deeply passionate about about the American war on Serbia, resistance to it having been what solidified antiwar.com into the website we know today. He describes the Kosovo War as America’s first post-Cold War push eastward. Looking back, in an article from 2016 called “In the Beginning There was Kosovo,” he explained the propaganda of the time, writing,
“Those were the Good Old Days – when the United States could credibly keep up the pretense of being the agency of moral rectitude, the heroes who come over the hill and, at the last minute, save the day from the savagery of the Orcs and the forces of Mordor…Oh yes, we were the Good Guys. Swooping down over a nation once called Yugoslavia, where atrocities were said to be watering the trees with the blood of children. We fought in the name of refugees seeking to reclaim what their Kosovar mythology depicted as their ancient homeland.”
Raimondo died a few years before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but I can only imagine what he would have said about people sincerely calling the Russians “orcs.” It’s understandable how, as a new tool, the “humanitarian bombing” shtick worked on some people at the time, but in this era where the United States has arbitrarily gotten into many country’s internal or external disputes at will it is incredible that there is anyone who can’t see through it. He explains the lack of liberal opposition to the war at the time,
“As far as organized opposition to US intervention was concerned, it was confined to a few far-left groups – but even they were divided. After all, this was a “humanitarian” intervention, the Serbs were “fascists,” and they even sent “aid convoys” in hopes that a “revolutionary” situation would develop.”
Things never change. This situation also in some way mirrors Roman history of the period discussed earlier. Though Rome had said it would guarantee the peace of Greece, the tyrant Nabis of Sparta [a historical figure who, in my opinion, is in many ways unfairly maligned] was holding the city of Argos at the time of the peace. However, Rome decided this was unacceptable and that Nabis must lose this territory, and under this pretense demonstrated that Rome alone could wage war in Greece [Livy, XXXIV.22.] Besides projecting power, the empire managers saw many benefits in elevating a corrupt state which was virtually a fiefdom of Hillary Clinton.
Kosovo: A Mafia State Seeks Legitimacy
Reactions to Kosovo declaring independence were mixed, and largely influenced by if countries were struggling with their own separatist movement. For example, Spain and Azerbaijan opposed, whereas Taiwan recognized Kosovo immediately, and has been one of its strongest supporters. The main Western power brokers, the United States, the UK, France, and Germany rapidly recognized Kosovo. Russia and China, permanent UN Security Council members, opposed; Russia through friendship with Serbia, and China due to Taiwan, and also, presumably, residual anger about their embassy being bombed.
Serbia was, of course, opposed. Reuters quotes the nationalist Prime Minister of the time, Vojislav Kostunika, as saying that Kosovo is, “a false state,” “the brainchild of Washington,” and that the situation shows Washington’s readiness to “violate the international order for its own military interests.” Those are all fundamentally true statements. Serbia’s pro-EU President Boris Tadic was more measured, and avoided attacking the West. The Serb minority in northern Kosovo, separated by a NATO-enforced ethnic partition since the occupation began, also objected. Strangely, what was an internal border in Serbia became a sacred international border. Redrawing the map so ethnic-Serbian north Kosovo could join Serbia has not been on the table for any negotiations about Kosovo independence. The West’s “reverse hostage” strategy with its “peacekeeping” forces is very potent, as we’ve seen in Syria and many other places. A state simply can’t take back land that Western forces occupy unless they are willing to have their entire country destroyed in a massive bombing campaign, as had already been demonstrated on Serbia.
However, diplomatic objections aside, Kosovo has quite a lot of problems which prevent it from joining international organizations. This is the most true of the European Union, which has several requirements about being a functional state. In 2016 Justin Raimondo described the state of Kosovo: “Kosovo today is a fulcrum of terrorism, violence, crime, and virulent nationalism.” This wasn’t an exaggeration. The problem is too bad for even Western soft power organizations, which should be boosting Kosovo, to hide. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace publicized The Council of Europe alleging that then-Prime Minister Hashim Thaci had violent control over the trade in heroin and other narcotics and top politicians occupy important positions in "Kosovo's mafia-like structures of organized crime." It should be noted, that Kosovo isn’t the only country in the region accused of such things, just the most severe. Further, the other countries accused are already recognized states and thus are more protected from such pressure. The Kosovo Liberation Army, who became the government of Kosovo, was described in The Spectator in 2022 as “giving political legitimacy” to the Albanian Mafia. The problem has been there since Kosovo declared independence, the Kosovo Mafia controlled 40% of the European and North America heroin trade in 2000; to be honest it’s very impressive that Kosovo could traffic heroin at a rate that is many thousand times greater than the average county. In 2011, an article from The Global Post, published by an American public broadcaster and funded by prominent Western NGOs, accused the US government of ignoring allegations of organized crime at the highest level of a “new democracy.” Allegations also included the Prime Minister leading an organ trafficking ring. The Western media made out the Serbs to be monsters but an EU inquiry found “indications” that the Kosovars were harvesting them for parts.
Though Kosovo is a sort of protectorate, they are not much easier to control than Serbia. However, the former Prime Minister Thaci, once the protege of the demonic Secretary of State Madelaine Albright, had to resign in 2020 due to an impending arrest. Like so many Serbs, he had to go to an international court and is currently facing trial for crimes against humanity. He was arrested on November 5th, 2020, when all of America was in the grip of the contentious 2020 election, which is definitely not at all suspicious. The US government does not appear to have released a statement on the arrest of their long time satrap, despite that he had to cancel a scheduled visit to the White House due being incarcerated.
As if all of the conventional crime wasn’t enough, Kosovo is also a breeding ground of radical Islamic terrorism. In 2018 The Washington Post described Kosovo as producing more “foreign fighters,” per capita than any other Western nation. Voice of America made an effort to spin Kosovo’s willingness to repatriate its Islamic State members, saying that some experts call it, “unique example with considerable success in facing the dilemma of IS foreign fighters.” They quote David Phillips of Columbia University [which I increasingly think is the source of great evil] as saying,
“Kosovo is a small country with a very well-established social structure. So, there is a system in place for managing their returns. That’s why the government of Kosovo is better suited to accept returns than larger countries in Europe where returnees could simply become absorbed into the local population and commit crimes either in their home countries or go to other battlefields.”
That’s right, they want you to believe that the Kosovo described above is going to be better at tracking and re-integrating terrorists than countries such as France and Germany. Regarding the number of terrorists it produces, in Kosovo’s defense, it is one of three nations in Europe that is majority Muslim [and in Bosnia and Herzegovina Muslims are barely above 50%] so in a way it would be the best place for recruits. However, poverty and dysfunction are major drivers of terrorism, and further, it is generally said that being isolated from Western secular societies is what causes Europeans to join terrorist organizations. It raises red flags, to say the least, that the Kosovo government wanted over 250 terrorists who fought in Syria and their many family members back in their society.
The myriad of problems within Kosovo make many states less interested in recognizing it, though it is also the victim of bigger international political struggles. Kosovo’s chances of joining the UN are limited by a large number of objections from member states. Currently its number of recognitions are disputed, but are somewhere between 115 and 90. The main requirement for UN membership is to be recognized by 2/3rds of of the United Nations’ 193 members, and to be approved by the permanent members of the Security Council, which would require China and Russia changing their position. Kosovo’s EU membership is currently blocked by five members, who are primarily concerned about the precedent set by recognizing Kosovo as an independent state in contravention to all current international laws. Still, Kosovo did formally apply in 2022. Kosovo’s chances for joining the Council of Europe would be more promising, however, Serbia is a member and is working to block it. Kosovo has succeeded in joining the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the International Olympic Committee; it needs to be noted the first two are basically neo-liberal tools for Western capital to permanently control the economy of poor nations. It has been denied membership to UNESCO and INTERPOL due to what is described as Russian and Serbian lobbying. Kosovo actually agreed to not try to join international organizations in the Washington Agreement brokered by President Trump, but is clearly not following that agreement.
Most notable, and certainly most absurd, is that Kosovo hopes to join NATO, which is surely popular among people who want the alliance expand in all directions and include countries that serve no purpose but as tripwires for conflicts. Unfortunately for Kosovo, 4 NATO members do not recognize it at all, and the alliance requires unanimous consent to join. Still, the current President of Kosovo has written Joe Biden a letter asking for help joining. Democrat Congressman Ritchie Torres has lobbied Biden to do the same. It doesn’t appear that membership for Kosovo is gaining any traction, which is good, but that anyone is even talking about it is insane. Kosovo has an army of 3,300 personnel including reserves, and already has what functionally amounts to a permanent security guarantee from NATO. Clearly the only reason they are even trying is to provoke their neighbor into conflict.
All of these things considered, it seems like objections based on the abstract principles of international law aside, Kosovo is not a state with which one wants to share any sort of mutual responsibilities.
Serbia’s Surprising Domestic Politics
Serbia’s reputation in America serves as a sort of litmus test for strong political views. Of course, it is known for crime and corruption, though those things are within the average range of former Yugoslavia, where these problems are severe in every country. However, the mafia is less integrated into the government than Kosovo, where a mafia-affiliated group formed the government. For American liberals, Serbia is a hated country known for genocide, considered extremely hostile to gay rights, and thought to love Russia due to Serbia’s refusal to join the sanctions regime. This got a lot of notice at the Australian Open, when many lost their minds after Serbian tennis star Novak Djokavic’s father was pictured next to a fan holding a Russian flag. Regarding sanctions, it needs to be noted that, as I said with Africa, it is quite a lot harder for a poor country to choose to cut off a major trade partner due to global issues which have nothing to do with them. The hateful Western liberals sometimes mock Serbia’s poverty, of course taking no responsibility for their countries having destroyed Serbia. On the other side, a lot of the conservatives and traditionalists think Serbia is “based” for taking sides with Russia and for things like a large “traditional family march” against a planned gay pride parade. Eastern Orthodoxy has become popular with young men on the internet who seem to primarily know about it from memes, and thus Serbia is admired as a traditionalist country in certain crowds.
Neither of these perceptions of Serbia are true- and it isn’t even particularly poor by regional standards. Incredibly, a study showed that Serbia is the least racist country in Europe…at least regarding black people, I imagine you would get a different response if the question was about Albanians:
In reality, Serbs have a lot of different opinions, including conservative traditionalists, communists, and pro-Western liberal internationalists [of course I mean actual communists, not fat westerners with too many piercings and a bad hairstyle.] Surprisingly, Serbia has partially restored the former royal family, something I only learned when the royals had Hunter Biden lobby for them, but that is a story for a different time. Serbia has been through a lot in the last 30 years, and it is understandable that it would be contentious to decide the best way to move forward. It does need to be noted that after 30 years of separation, the Bosnian Serbs are quite a bit different politically from Serbian nationals. For example, Bosnian Serbs recently gave Putin a Medal Of Honor; similarly, during the Bosnian War, it was the Republika Srpska which was more brutal, though the state of Serbia took much of the blame. This is understandable given the political situation, as an internal separatist government will almost always be less “tamed” than a government which deals with international relations.
Currently, Serbia is ruled by Aleksander Vucic, described as a “former ultranationalist turned liberal.” Vucic was able to unite most of Serbia and won re-election by a landslide in April of 2022. Some criticize him as forming an intense sort of cult of personality. Vucic has been devoted to joining the European Union, though with everyone in power in the West hating him for trying to maintain a neutral course on Russia-Ukraine he has said they are less enthusiastic about joining. However, he has also made it clear he does not want to throw in with their historic enemy, NATO.
I was surprised last April when I saw that Serbia elected a pro-Western leader [and even walking a careful path, wanting to join the EU is inherently pro-Western.] I was even more surprised when I found out his Prime Minister Ana Brnabic is openly lesbian and is Western educated [hilariously, this means Serbia had a lesbian PM 6 years before the United States had a lesbian governor.] I then found out that they had been in power since 2016, and that most Americans, myself included, were holding a nonsensical view of Serbia. Clearly, all of the years of bombing and anti-enemy mania had an impact. Still, as the pro-Ukraine people have a deranged hatred of neutrality, Serbia continues to be hated by much of the West.
To be honest, I suspect that Vucic’s political views have not changed from his days of supporting Milosevic and he simply recognizes the necessity of accepting the reality of Serbia’s situation. He is in a difficult position and one that requires making unpopular decisions. The whole nation holds Kosovo close to their hearts, and they are the remnant of what was a much greater nation that does not want to agree to lose any more. Further, the people have a historic affinity for Russia and close cultural ties. All of these are understandable human impulses. Many Serbians have joined Wagner PMC, and Vucic has had to tell Wagner to stop recruiting in his country to avoid the wrath of outside powers. At the same time, he did criticize the ICC arrest warrant for Putin, saying that it prevents peace, though as a former Milosevic partisan, one assumes he has some other issues with international law being used in this fashion. With how dangerous the world has become Serbia needs to be on closer terms with the countries around it. If the geography was different, Serbia wouldn’t have to accept the indignity of pulling close to the countries which destroyed it, but it is impossible for Russia to protect them. As Machiavelli wrote,
“Alliances concluded with princes who possess neither the ability to assist you because of their distance from you…or for some other cause, offer more fame than real assistance to those who entrust themselves to them.” [Discourses, II.11]
Serbia can stay friends with Russia and rely on them for diplomatic assistance and trade, but in the event of a major war, Russia could never protect Serbia, and they would be attacked from all sides due to their ally. Putin is actually a reasonable person, and if Vucic holds a steady course, Russia is unlikely to become angry with Vucic for doing what he must do to protect his people. The question is if the Serbians will accept moving away from Russia.
A Modest But Difficult Compromise
Kosovo has had almost 20 years of independence, de facto and then declared, wholly as a protectorate of NATO. It cannot protect itself, but Serbia stands no chance against NATO. This leaves Serbia with two choices, which are living in a permanent purgatory until NATO somehow collapses or loses interest, or moving forward without Kosovo. A generation is arising in Serbia which does not remember the Yugoslav Wars, which creates a situation where the men of warfighting age know about the loss and the indignity, but have not seen the horrors of war. Further, it is different than something like the US Civil War, where one side lost a fair fight and that generation, at least, had a degree of mutual respect. Instead, Serbia was “brought to heel” by an overwhelmingly powerful outside force. For some time it was acceptable for Serbia to live in the shadow of Yugoslavia’s collapse, but in an increasingly dangerous world Vucic needs to limit his country’s liabilities, that requires not be a hated pariah in the event of a wider war. He is correct that this is isolating Serbia internationally. It’s a wise impulse, but one that is easier to understand than to implement.
Just last year, Serbia and Kosovo were in yet another dispute that could have erupted into great ethnic strife. At issue, unsurprisingly, was Kosovo’s Serb minority which has never recognized independence. Since Kosovo declared independence Serbs in Kosovo had continued to register their cars in Serbia and use Serbian license plates. Kosovo announced they would stop tolerating this on September 1st, 2022. Bowing to the risk of internal riots and outside pressure, Kosovo repeatedly pushed back this requirement. Serbs in Kosovo quit their state jobs in protest, and Kosovo accused Serbia of sabotaging their state. Barricades went up on local roads, and Serbs ended up exchanging gunfire with Kosovar police. Regional elections in northern Kosovo were postponed. Kosovo shut its main border crossing with Serbia. Serbia PM Brnabic warned that the states were on the brink of armed conflict. Ultimately, after receiving guarantees of immunity for protestors, and that NATOs KFOR force in Kosovo would prevent Kosovo forces from entering the Serbian north, Vucic encouraged protestors to remove the barricades. The protestors ultimately agreed, and tensions were diffused without expanding into a worse conflict.
As it stands, Europe has no patience for conflict between Serbia and Kosovo in the current climate. Allegedly, they are worried that Russia will stoke discontent in the region, but it doesn’t seem that needs any assistance. Both sides are under a great deal of external pressure and will have to come to find a resolution if they want their countries to move forward. No one has the energy, diplomatic or otherwise, for a renewed conflict in Europe’s wild corner, and simultaneously, they can’t be seen to let go of the situation after so long. Still, it will be hard to sell, with Serbian nationalists threatening to riot if relations are improved. There was also a bit of a brawl in Parliament in early February, with nationalists shouting that they would not abandon Kosovo:
Regardless, Vucic has carried on, seeing that things cannot continue this way. On February 27th Vucic and Kosovo PM Albin Kurti met in Brussels to talk about an EU-proposed peace plan. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel claimed the talks were successful, though both leaders blamed the other one for being unwilling to move forward. Serbian nationalists marched against the talks, but not in large numbers. The EU’s stance was that both sides endorsed a peace plan, and that they were hopeful about resuming talks on implementing the plan on March 18th in former Yugoslavian state of North Macedonia.
Going into the talks in March Vucic pledged to not sign anything, and further, after pressure from nationalist groups re-iterated that he would never recognize Kosovo. However, accepting the situation by agreement and not simply by necessity due to NATO’s presence would be big progress. The deal is modest but covers important issues. The biggest issue is what to do with the Serb minority in Kosovo, and of course simply ceding that land to Serbia in exchange for a deal is not on the table. A Serb “ministate” like in Bosnia and Herzegovina is unacceptable to Kurti, which is fair, as that is a terrible system which has been a constant source of problems. However, Kosovo is under pressure to accept an “Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities” which would “coordinate the work of the Serb-dominated municipalities on education, health care, urban and rural planning, and local economic development “to improve the everyday lives of people” according to the Associated Press. This isn’t a bad idea and would not undermine the sovereignty of Kosovo, and in fact in the United States various levels of local government form such associations all the time. Kosovo is under a great deal of pressure from the United States to accept this solution. Serbia and Kosovo would also have to open offices in eachother’s capitals, for the purposes of continuing negotiations. Dave DeCamp at antiwar.com describes the rest of the deal as follows,
“Under the eleven-point deal put forward by the EU, Kosovo and Serbia would agree not to resolve disputes with violence and wouldn’t block each other from joining international organizations…
The deal would also result in a de facto normalization by requiring each country to recognize the other’s national symbols and official documents, including passports, diplomas, license plates, and customs stamps. The EU plan would also allow some degree of autonomy for Kosovo’s ethnic minority Serbs.
The deal calls on both governments “to ensure an appropriate level of self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo and ability for service provision in specific areas, including the possibility for financial support by Serbia.”
If the goal is to move forward this contains several important points. Writing for Al Jazeera, Mersiha Gazo cites analysts who say the deal “fails to address mutual recognition, which essentially means it would fail to achieve real progress.” The deal is further criticized as reducing the chance of conflict nonsense instead of bringing peace, which in my view is nonsense specification. Besides the actual issue of recognition, those are the main things they have been fighting about, and it moves this in a direction where it can be resolved, in one way or another. Beyond which, recognizing another country’s documents as legitimate is one of the main practical things, outside of international treaties, which is impacted by recognition.
Ultimately, neither side signed anything, but they reached what is called a “gentleman’s agreement.” Kurti has said Kosovo is beginning to implement the agreement. The most important part on Serbia’s side is not lobbying against Kosovo joining international organizations, which it seems they will stick to as long as Kosovo implements its side. It will be a long road to lasting peace, but for now it appears to be holding, and both Vucic and Kurti have survived. It remains to be seen if the Serbs will accept what has happened and move forward after decades of violence and indignity.
Conclusion: Alone, Alone, All, All Alone
In the United States, and perhaps elsewhere, there is a common saying, “to go from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond.” This means to be important in a small place, and then become unimportant in a large place. Yugoslavia was never the largest or most powerful country in Europe, but together, the southern Slavs were able to make decent lives for themselves, pursue an independent foreign policy, and have 45 years without war. By leaving Yugoslavia, and tying themselves to the European Union and NATO, this is the fate most of the states of former Yugoslavia have chosen for themselves, and they will never become bigger fish in that pond.
I can’t speak to why the states of the former Yugoslavia made the decisions they did, but under Woodrow Wilson’s flawed direction, this was what was meant to become of Europe after the First World War. Perhaps the rise of nationalism in the 19th century made such a thing inevitable. However, this was delayed in the western Balkans when the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was formed and became Yugoslavia. In some places, the ethnostate was passed over for communism immediately after the war, in Yugoslavia it didn’t happen until after another world war. The people of each ethnicity would surely blame the nationalism of the other ethnicities for Yugoslavia failing, or perhaps CIA propaganda for undermining the state. Most likely, they just got swept away with the tide of history, and many saw the opportunity to be independent, some for the first time in a millennium. It’s not clear, besides propaganda, why the Serbs wanting to save their multi-ethnic federal state was “ultranationalism.” Perhaps they weren’t motivated by that ideological belief and did just want to be the strongest partner in a larger state, perhaps there were too many of their own to be left across national borders. I don’t know that I will ever understand how a belief that borders must be eternal came with ethnonationalism, instead of a belief that borders may need to change to reflect who lives where. It was always a flawed premise, as Woodrow Wilson himself rapidly learned.
As the republics of Yugoslavia peeled away, the Serbs found themselves alone in a hostile world, and their former federation on fire. As Thucydides said of the revolution in Corcyra,
“The sufferings which revolution entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur as long as the nature of mankind remains the same…in peace and prosperity states and individuals have better sentiments…but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants and so proves a rough master that brings most men’s characters to a level with their fortunes. [III.82.2]
During the hard times of the ‘90s, many a Slav’s character was brought to the level of his fortunes. The brutality of the Yugoslav Wars should have been expected, though the prosecution of all sides by outside powers was a new innovation, and I think a bad one. I doubt anyone in the “International Community” was acting out of goodness, and instead just testing on the western Balkans if the nature of mankind could be changed by imposing a concept of “universal justice.”
What I do know is that the big picture reason why NATO had to get involved in the former Yugoslavia, a region having nothing to do with it and presenting no conceivable threat to anyone but itself: with the Cold War over, the American Empire had to show itself as the global guarantor of war and peace. It got involved to show that countries had to follow its rules, or else. Then, with the Kosovo War, the American Empire had to show that the rules do not apply to hegemons, and that it also controls the internal affairs of states. Serbia was victimized to show the world that, as the Athenians once told the Melians, “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must” [Thucydides, V.89.] Of course, it was papered over with language of “human rights,” but that was only for the public, the perceptive, and those who make decisions saw, the score. It was the first use of what later became known as the “Ledeen Doctrine,” “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” That is probably all the average American could tell you about Serbia: it is some crappy little country, but they would think we were noble to throw it against a wall. When 9/11 happened very few made the connection of us bombing other countries to someone bombing us, and all such thinking was suppressed. In the Empire, we make our own reality, and we should never be held to account.
Vucic, I believe, does understand the situation his state finds itself in. I don’t think he wants to accept letting go of Kosovo more than anyone else, he is just unwilling to let sentimentality lead his people to their ultimate destruction, as it has so many before them. All of Serbia knows that, were it not for an outside power, Serbia could raise an army and take back their cradle province, even if they had to go to war with Albania to do it. However, NATO is there, and for the time being has no intention to leave. It takes but a tiny fraction of NATO’s power to leave “peacekeepers” there as a type of hostage, and NATO has already shown it will mercilessly destroy Serbia with airpower if it feels like it. To take back Kosovo through war is national suicide- well, more like “suicide by cop.” There was a time, recently, when Serbia could sputter along on a bad course with its neighbors, but with the world edging towards World War III, that has become incredibly treacherous. Already viewed with suspicion, Serbia, could be invaded from all sides in a major conflict, and sliced into pieces until nothing of Serbia remains.
We shall see if Vucic or his government survives the implementation of this deal. There are deep wounds throughout the Balkans, and with all that the Serbs have been through, it’s easy to see why many would be unwilling to give up more. But accepting this indignity now is perhaps the only way to survive to fight another day, and possibly outlast NATO, and perhaps some day again fight for their beloved Kosovo. But as Machiavelli wrote,
“Where the ultimate safety of one’s country is to be taken, no consideration of what is just or unjust, merciful or cruel, praiseworthy or shameful, should be permitted; on the contrary, putting aside every other reservation, one should follow in its entirety the policy that saves its life and preserves its liberty.”
It may be a long time before we know if Vucic chose that right path by taking the shame of moving towards normalcy with Kosovo, but it appears to me, at least, that he has chosen the safest one. Now to see if the Serbs will accept it.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Justin Raimondo (1951-2019), a tireless defender of Serbia against the US Empire, and an eternal source of information and inspiration to myself and many others.
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I am frequently criticized by people who simply disagree with me for not including personal anecdotes from residents the regions I am writing about. I will have you know, I spoke to a Serb on Twitter who told me, “I am 22 years old and I would die for Kosovo.” I suppose you can judge for yourself if this contributes anything to this piece.