Articles on the Kosovo Conflict


By Sonja Biserko
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
March 5, 2008

Originally published in Serbian

The Belgrade protest rally against declaration of "the false state" of Kosovo was the most recent manifestation of lethal, nationalistic autism and rejection of reality. The rhetorical defense of Kosovo served Vojislav Kostunica to impose Kosovo "as a fundamental state and national issue" in a bid to cover up his political defeat, and to foil Democratic Party and Boris Tadic of prevailing in so-called democratic camp.

The Kosovo myth played a major role in the creation of a modern Serb state in the 19th century. Since the Balkan war in 1913 the Vidovdan cult (the day on which the Kosovo battle was allegedly lost) was glorified as the day of "a heroic feat and victory over the evil." It also became a symbol of a bloody, all-out retaliation against all things "Turk," and Muslim, in general. According to Radomir Lukic liberation of Kosovo and the Kosovo oath of allegiance became "the central point of the Serb history, for the Serbs have never forgotten their banishment from the country representing a treasure-trove of their most precious historic creations." He also noted that for them "liberation of Kosovo and Metohija in 1912 -1913 was a fact the return to their previously wrested homeland."

Such a position on the Kosovo myth was deftly exploited to engineer political homogenization of the Serb people in the early 80's, when the reality on the ground, in Kosovo, had long been changed. Nonetheless the Kosovo myth served to "transpose the conflict from the sphere of politics, economy and history to an extra-temporal sphere of myth." In the early 70's Miodrag Popović hinted at misuse of the Kosovo myth in the following text: "Vidovdan cult, which mixed historical reality with a mythical one, the real struggle with pagan-style hallmarks (retaliation, blood tribute, slaughtering, victimization, and revival of a heroic order), within itself has a destructive potential typical of milieus with unbridled mythical impulses. As a phase in development of the national thinking it was historically necessary, but as a lasting spiritual state, that the Vidovdan cult may ultimately turn against those who are unable to free themselves from its pseudo-mythical and pseudo-historical tentacles. Inversely, by remaining in the grip of those tentacles, contemporary line of thinking, the man's spirit, may experience a new Kosovo, that is, an intellectual and ethical rout."

The Kosovo myth, that is the loss of Kosovo, this time around serves for staging an "internal aggression" and showdown with the liberal-minded camp in Serbia. In parallel Vojislav Koštunica uses the Kosovo issue to ensure his own political future and to obstruct pro-European current in Serbia. His message to Europe is: "We want to join the EU, but the EU should say whether it wants within its ranks a whole or amputated Serbia".

In the shadow of Kosovo, Kostunica tried to declare null and void the presidential elections results. The aforementioned rally should have been the occasion to de-legitimize Boris Tadic as President of Serbia. Even in the runoff Vojislav Koštunica did not back his coalition partner. In fact the Kosovo reality closed the ranks of conservative camp and clearly indicated its rejection of even a possibility of a changeover in Serbia, and especially of changes leading up to Serbia's integration in the European processes. Tomislav Nikolić was the favorite of that camp, for he was tipped to take over the presidential scepter from Tadic. Regardless of his current status of loser (for the second time in a presidential race he was beaten by Tadic), Nikolic acts as Co-President of Serbia. He manifested that power of his in organization of the Belgrade rally. That rally was a venue from which clear messages were sent to the world and domestic public. The principal message was that Serbia did not recognize any rules. Threats to the world and domestic traitors were voiced too.

The fact that the rally was scheduled for the late afternoon hours was an indicator per se that para formations [
informal groups of provocateurs and promoters of violent actions for political means- common in that semi-fascist setting, like the brownshirts of 1930s Germany - Editor] would act more easily in the post-rally chaos and inflict more damage in the dusk. In contrast to "a dignified nature of the rally" underscored by Kostunica, TV cameras clearly evidenced that para formations had specific targets. The CIA made it clear that it considered "the Serb government responsible for recent events in the streets of Belgrade." That Action Plan (if that was its name) partly failed, because the crowd was not as critically numerous as expected. The Serb Radical Party collected citizens from the whole Serbia (they were ferried to Belgrade by buses, trains and trucks), however the majority of denizens of Belgrade stayed at home, and after the Belgrade fiasco there was no large-scale, subsequent spill-over into further protests and street violence.

Thus it became evident that citizens were more mature and that they instinctively shunned the violence. Despite the Radical Party announcement of new protests, they are not likely to materialize due to lack of more massive support. The foregoing however indicates that a serious political drama is unfolding behind-the-scenes. Added to that Velja Ilić pointed an accusing finger at the Liberal Democratic Party by cynically explaining to the Serb general public that "LDP is directly responsible for violence in the streets, as it backs independence of Kosovo".

Non-transparency of the political scene additionally scares Serbia's citizens, for Serbia's true direction is still uncertain. It is clear that the Serb nationalism and radicalism has run its course, and that at play is self-destruction of Serbia. Inability for the facing process, has closed the net, and isolated Serbia from all, and even from its own citizens. Selfishness and narrow interests of the political elite made Serbia reach the verge of economic collapse. A looming hyper-inflation would annul all the recovery cum betterment-geared efforts made by some domestic and international actors in recent years. Vojislav Koštunica's attempt to destabilize Serbia by fanning unrest and provoking the political alternative have not yet been successful.

A renewed attempt to thwart the holding of Peščanik program panel discussion in Pančevo failed, for citizens and speakers put up a strong resistance to hacklers, members of "Sabor srpskih dveri". In Sombor an anonymous group of citizens staged the free distribution of bread action, in order to prevent citizens from buying bread from Albanian bakers. Added to that the police tried to prevent the students' action, "Europe is without Alternative".

Essentially at play is a logical epilogue of the late 20th and early 21st century Serb drama, resulting from Milosevic legacy and stubborn adherence to the national program. Although Serbia did not suffer a military defeat, it was defeated internally. The whole period from 5 October 2000 onwards shed the light on the role and ideological leanings of Milosevic's opposition. Today it is difficult to turn the tide, because the Milosevic era opposition tried to finalize the project by dint of diplomatic means, by oft-invoking democratic legitimacy. The international community's conduct, particularly after Djindjić's assassination (his attempts to map out and implement a different strategy and policy were thus brutally stopped) almost played into their hands. Hence the importance of Nicholas Burns' warning to the Serb government and Foreign Secretary Vuk Jeremic that it is "hypocritical" to forget the history of crimes committed in the Balkans in the 90's.

Part of the government still sticks to its "chaos-generating" strategy. One can ever hear commentaries by the state-controlled media that that "thin red line" was crossed. One commentary even indicated that "the local anti-European front is not only composed of the new patriotic Right, impassioned clerics and Russophiles… in fact it enjoys a strong, rearguard backing of all those who find that the chaos suitable, namely, tycoons, and corruptible bureaucrats fearing order and regulations."

As Serbia threatens to destabilize anew the whole region, the "salvaging Serbia" operation must be put in place. The CIA director also predicts that independence of Kosovo "may have a negative impact on inter-ethnic relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina." The international community must adjust its strategy to the new circumstances. It must primarily acknowledge the fact that Serbia does not have the energy for changes. It is most likely that Russia, which recently helped boost the Serb fantasies, shall soon start looking for the way-out of the "trap" in which it was lured by Serbia. Added to that Serbia no longer has room or time for persisting with its own lies and fabrications. The general emotional mood – according to all kinds of polls 70% of citizens still want to join EU – is propitious for setting up the "Coalition of Citizens for Europe", meaning a coalition of all segments of society interested in such a direction: civil-minded organizations and citizens, small- and medium-scale enterprises, mass media, youth and student organizations, various professional associations, trade-unions, etc.


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