In a prospect essay published during the Kosovo war (Divide and Survive, May 1999), I advocated partition of the region as the only solution to its ethnic hatreds. After everything that had happened, it was simply inconceivable that Serbs and Albanians could ever again live together peacefully. If Nato wanted to preserve even the appearance of a “multi-ethnic Kosovo,” it would have to maintain large numbers of troops there indefinitely.
One year on, the essay’s predictions have come depressingly true. Nato was unable to stop the vengeful Albanians from ethnically cleansing the Serbian minority from nine-tenths of the region. More than 100 Serbs were killed, and two thirds of the Serbian population fled. Across most of Kosovo, the only remaining Serbs are a few monks in monasteries under Nato guard. As with Muslim mosques in the Serbian-controlled areas of Bosnia, most unprotected Serbian orthodox churches have been vandalised.
Nato’s inability to protect the Serbs was not its fault. As General Mike Jackson pointed out, it is impossible to send soldiers with every Serbian grandmother going to do her shopping. And politics dictates that Nato cannot go after the people behind the killings, as this would risk provoking an Albanian revolt against Nato.
As for partition-de facto this has already come about. The only remaining concentration of Serbs is in the far north-west of the region, along the Serbian border, where Serbian refugees huddle and from which the Albanian minority has been ethnically cleansed.
The two populations are now divided along clear-cut geographical lines. Historically speaking, these lines are hardly fair to the Serbs, who made up more than a third of Kosovo’s population a few decades ago. Further, the Serbian enclave does not contain the main Orthodox religious centres of Kosovo. But the Serbian nation bears a heavy burden of responsibility for what has happened in Kosovo; no partition can ever be wholly fair to both sides; and at least the present situation leaves the remaining Serbs with an area in which they can feel safe, while confirming the Albanian majority in its possession of the great bulk of Kosovo.
The problem, of course, is that while this partition is as complete de facto as could be desired, it is completely unrecognised de jure. Formally and legally, Nato remains nailed to the proposition that Kosovo can be turned into a multi-ethnic democracy, and then either re-incorporated into some new, democratic Yugoslav Federation, or-more likely-given independence.
If this approach continues, there can be only three results. One is that Nato troops will indeed remain for all foreseeable time. Alternatively, we will eventually give independence to a united Kosovo under Nato military protection, at which point the Albanians will drive out the remaining Serbs. This outcome would infuriate Russia. Many of Nato’s own citizens would also be utterly disgusted.
Moreover, by giving Nato protection to an independent Kosovo, we would risk giving cover to moves within Kosovo to destabilise Serbia, Macedonia, or both, in the name of liberating the Albanians of those countries. But this Nato guarantee would also have to be open-ended, because otherwise a future Serbia would feel free to attack such a Kosovo.
A third possibility is that-if relations between Nato and the Albanian majority become bad enough-we will simply scuttle, as we scuttled from so many late-colonial imbroglios. This would leave the two sides to fight it out again and, quite possibly, allow Serbia to reconquer all or part of the region.
The one outcome which is not possible is a united, multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo. It is conceivable that the appearance of one could be maintained for just long enough to allow Nato to run away with dignity, as with the British grant of independence to Cyprus. But, as on Cyprus, this set-up would be doomed.
For the problem in Kosovo (and elsewhere) is not just ethnic hatred; it is the combination of this with violent and predatory local traditions, Serb and Albanian. In these traditions, the bandit appears as an ethnic leader, defender and avenger. The murder, plundering or rape of people of other ethnic groups has always received a certain sanction from the different communities.
In addition, the state and its laws have been seen as alien and illegitimate-all the more so when imposed by foreign powers. Nato representatives have portrayed Kosovo as being in a state of lawlessness; but it might be equally true to say that certain social laws are at work here which predate the Roman Empire.
Some critics have laid the blame for what has happened in Kosovo on the failure of Nato countries to provide rapid reconstruction aid or an international police force. But such a force would be like sending a group of non-English-speaking South Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and Filipino policemen to take over the policing of Detroit, using local inner-city blacks as interpreters, and with the further proviso that they are allowed to use only very limited force and are to risk no casualties. Such a force would be a bad joke.
How on earth will we ever extricate ourselves from this mess? I do not know-which is one reason why I was so sceptical about Nato’s intervention when it began in 1998. But what is obvious is that any peaceful, lasting solution will have to involve a recognition of what has actually happened, which is the ethnic partition of the region.