Articles on the Kosovo Conflict


How Long Must Kosovo Suffer?
By Peter Lippman
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 5, 1998

During a visit in March to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, I attended a university English class, held in a storefront because the university buildings have been closed to the Albanians for eight years. The students expressed the desire to solve their conflict with the Serbian regime peacefully, but one of them said, "If Serbian policemen come into my house and hurt my father or my mother, I will have to fight."

My guess is that if that young man is not fighting in the woods now, he will be soon.

Western governments bear responsibility for the increasing suffering of Kosovar Albanians. When Western nations treat Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as a statesman instead of the principal instigator of chaos and genocide in the former Yugoslavia that he is it only encourages him to wreak destruction in Serbia's southern province.

Nearly three years after the massacres at Srebrenica, mass graves are appearing in the west of Kosovo. With the Albanian refugee count fast approaching 100,000, European diplomats' solemn assertions that "we will not allow a repeat of Bosnia" are sounding increasingly disingenuous.

The international community seems more concerned with regional stability in the former Yugoslavia than with alleviating the Kosovar Albanians' misery. They don't want a new influx of refugees to add to the half a million Albanians already living in western Europe. And NATO's nightmare scenario involves the development of a regional war with two of its members, Greece and Turkey, participating on opposite sides.

The international community's answer to Serbian military offensives against Kosovo has been a lowest-common-denominator policy. Denounce Serbia, threaten military action, but do nothing to antagonize Russia, Serbia's ally.

Repeated expressions of "grave concern" and on-again, off-again sanctions have done nothing to deter the slaughter.

The Albanian Telegraphic Agency reports that the Serbians have caused more than $500 million worth of damage in Kosovo this year. They have burned thousands of houses, making tens of thousands of people homeless. A food blockade on the province has left shelves bare in city stores, and large quantities of aid destined for relief organizations have been confiscated. Medical and human-rights workers, as well as journalists, are prevented from reaching the hardest-hit locations.

Milosevic's scorched-earth tactics are helping to turn the Kosovo Liberation Army's disorganized guerrilla bands into a serious fighting force. The KLA will not accept Western formulas of compromise with Milosevic, and it will not disappear.

A British foreign service official recently advocated making Milosevic grant full autonomy to Kosovo. At this point, the autonomy proposal is a fantasy.

NATO is studying plans to respond to the Kosovo conflict. Among those options are various forms of containment and limited intervention. Containment, involving the stationing of troops in Albania and Macedonia, would be NATO's preferred option. But it would most likely serve to further Milosevic's goal of isolating the KLA without diminishing the violence done to the Kosovar Albanians.

More effective action will be taken only, as in Bosnia, when the destruction has become so vast that domestic opinion supports intervention.

President Clinton states, "I am determined to do all that I can to stop a repeat of the human carnage in Bosnia." And British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announces that "this is Milosevic's last warning." But Milosevic knows that it is the last warning until the next warning.

Slobodan Milosevic's regime is the continuing source of instability and violence in the former Yugoslavia. Cook himself acknowledged this when he said that there can be no solution in Kosovo without democracy in Serbia.

It is time for the international community to focus on supporting democratic elements in Serbian society and hastening Milosevic's departure from the scene.


Peter Lippman is a carpenter and human rights activist from Seattle. He has been working as a translator and refugee-relief worker in Bosnia since the fall of 1997.


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