The Future of Southeast Europe in the Aftermath of the Kosovo Crisis
His Excellency Pandeli Majko
Prime Minister of Albania
On the first day that NATO troops began entering Kosovo, I saw a small Kosovo Albanian boy holding a sign that read NATO my gold. Those words are a tribute to the values of the Alliance and its nations. They express gratitude to those brave men and women who risked their lives in the skies over Kosovo in order to bring about a positive outcome to the conflict.
Those sincere words, though written with the naiveté of a child, contain a great truth: indeed NATO has proved to be a treasure both during and after the Cold War, particularly during the Kosovo conflict. The Alliance was able to adapt itself to the changes in international circumstances and add to its values.
The conflict in Kosovo was by all means a conflict of values. It was a conflict between progress, democracy, and human rights on one side and the most awful blend of communism, nationalism, and Mafia-style economic interests on the other. It showed that the Euro-Atlantic community is committed to defending the common values that have contributed so much to peace, democracy, well-being, and stability in the western part of Europe. Those values are now embraced more and more by other nations in our region, and more than ever we are certain of the road we have chosen.
ALBANIAN CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE KOSOVO EFFORT
It is too early to draw detailed conclusions and lessons from the Kosovo crisis, but I would like to comment briefly on the conflict and on the future of our region from an Albanian perspective.
After the crisis worsened last year, Albania promised to back and support NATOs policy and course of action regarding Kosovo, and has delivered on its pledges. We offered unlimited use of our military infrastructure to NATO troops, including our ports, airports, territorial waters, and airspace. We also received and hosted almost 500,000 Albanian Kosovo deportees. Our relationship was a true partnership and it proved successful for the outcome of the conflict.
WITHSTANDING THE MILOSEVIC AGGRESSION
During the early days of NATOs operations over Kosovo and the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, a tremendous river of humanity flowed from Kosovo to Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This eviction by Belgrade was a well-calculated action aimed at creating a humanitarian bomb that would lead to:
- The ethnic cleansing of Kosovo
- An attempt to destabilize the neighboring countries in order to divert attention as well as hinder NATOs action
Mr. Milosevic was perfectly aware throughout the crisis that his was a race against time. He knew that he could not win against the Alliance but questioned how long NATOs unity would hold and how long the neighboring countries would hold in the face of the humanitarian catastrophe he threw at them. That neither NATOs unity nor the neighboring countries determination broke is due to the policies, actions, and leadership of the Alliance, in particular the U.S. and the U.K. It is also due to the fact that NATO member-countries share common values that lead towards democracy and keep democracies from waging war against each other. We in our region must all try to make even faster progress towards holding those values, and keep from repeating the mistakes of the past.
Now that the end of the crisis is in sight, it is easy to criticize and say that ground troops should not have been excluded or that air strikes should have been more intensive from the very beginning. Some critics have even gone so far as to express their sorrow for the distress of the animals in the Belgrade Zoo during the strikes. I can confirm to you that the Kosovo Albanian deportees, who suffered directly from the scientifically-planned horror policies and actions of Mr. Milosevics thugs, never expressed any doubts about the rightfulness of Alliance action. Throughout the crisis they asked us to convey to NATO their hopes that the air strikes would continue until the five conditions of the Alliance were met. This was also the firm position of my government. I am proud to tell you that in spite of the enormous difficulties caused by the humanitarian crisis in Albania, the task of my government was made easier because of the publics almost 100% backing of the air strikes, the deployment of NATO troops in Albania, and the readiness my government expressed to receive any number of deportees from Kosovo.
REBUILDING KOSOVO AND THE POST-MILOSEVIC LEADERSHIP
The NATO troops that have been deployed in Kosovo will face a most challenging task. Some kind of security will need to be established in the region, but this probably will not be as difficult as the rebuilding of Kosovo by the international community. Such rebuilding will have immense financial costs as it will cover the entire fabric of Kosovo society, which was systematically destroyed by the policies of Mr. Milosevic. Archives, justice and police departments, administration offices, the press, central and local power, etc. will all take time to be restored based on democratic principles. The work will require the good will and engagement of the international community as well as the full engagement of the Albanian political class in Kosovo.
While rebuilding efforts are about to begin, one problem is that Mr. Milosevic still remains in power. To be frank I am not very worried about him. He will have to go sooner or later. But my greatest worry is about who will replace him. What kind of leadership will be provided? While I do not want to prejudice you against Serbia and its people, I sincerely believe that there is something wrong with that society and its attitude towards Albanians.
It is true that most dictators are able to distort and manipulate the feelings of their people at the early and midterm stages of their power. But in Serbia this has gone too far. I have never heard from Serbs or their organizations or so-called opposition parties, either in Serbia or abroad, a single word of compassion or regret, let alone condemnation, about the medieval terror their government waged against the Albanians of Kosovo. While Mr. Milosevic is only one person surrounded by loyal leaders, the tens of thousands of Serbian military MUP and paramilitary that destroyed more than 75% of the houses in Kosovo, killed tens of thousands of civilians, and deported more than 1.5 million Kosovo Albanians had the blessing of the majority of Serbian society. Also the Serbian Orthodox Church in its so-called stand against Mr. Milosevic never referred to his barbaric actions against the Slovenians, Croats, Bosnians, or Albanians. Instead the church blasted the International Tribunal for Crimes in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia as instrumentalized and only requested Mr. Milosevics resignation in order that he be replaced with someone who is acceptable to the world. All of this is more than wrong, and it will have to be addressed because it will have an impact on the future of Serbia and consequently on the future of the region as well.
Since Mr. Milosevic has been in power, he has had enough time to create and consolidate his Mafia-style inner circle that, along with politics and privatization, holds the economic keys to the country. It is very likely that when he goes he will be replaced by someone from his inner circle. This would be like putting old wine in a new bottle. Continuation of Mr. Milosevics policies by such a new face would keep his vision intact. For example, Serb opposition leader, Mr. Draskovic would have a Kosovo with two political systems: One for Serbs with Christian values and the other for Albanians, based on Shariah. This kind of vision leads nowhere; either Mr. Draskovic has understood nothing about the conflict in Kosovo, or he intends to continue the same policies as Mr. Milosevics. The conflict in Kosovo was not a religious one. It was a conflict about human values, and it was won by those who defend those values.
Given the recent conflicts impact on the region, I believe it is necessary to define policies and measures that will make it impossible for Serbia to harm its neighbors again. Among them I would suggest the following:
- While damage was done to the Serbian military machine during NATO air strikes, Serbia must be put under strict sanctions that would limit its military capabilities, thus keeping Kosovo and its neighbors out of harms way for the years to come.
- No economic assistance should be given to Serbia until Mr. Milosevic is gone and the new leadership has provided tangible proof that it has done away with the past completely and really means to move to democracy.
- The perpetrators of the horrible massacres must be brought to justice, starting with Mr. Milosevic.
- Serbia should pay compensation for the damages done and for the massacres of the civilian population in Kosovo. Preferably this should be done with the personal bank accounts and assets of Mr. Milosevic and his inner circle.
But what about the future of Kosovo? To be frank, at this moment as well as in the foreseeable future, I cannot see Kosovo within Serbia. After the terror the Serbs unleashed in Kosovo, it is impossible for Albanians to live under them. It is also difficult to find any moral justification for asking Kosovo Albanians to remain governed by Belgrade. I see the future of Kosovo as an integral part of the developments in the region and Europe. Already an area of close cooperation is being defined among Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Montenegro. Kosovo should be looked on as part of this area and eligible to benefit from financial assistance offered by the international community.
POSITIVE TRENDS IN SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
Southeastern Europe has a reputation for being an uneasy area, to say the least. The recent crisis only added to this reputation. However, one should not overlook the positive trends that are present in the region. The relations between my country and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and others are already more positive and provide a solid basis for the future of the region. Italy, which is geographically close and has a similar history, also has good relations with all the above-mentioned nations, adding to the prospects for further cooperation and integration in the region. I also believe that the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe is laying a solid foundation for a better future. In many respects our situation reminds me of Western Europe after World War II, when its nations worked toward greater cooperation and integration and the United States played a large role in assisting and preserving that process.
I believe that NATO has an important role to play in our part of Europe. We strongly believe that the Alliance must remain engaged in the region for a long time to come, not only in political terms but also through the continued presence of its troops in our countries. This presence would generate internal stability and build on the stability and progress of the region. Except for Serbia, almost all the nations of Southeastern Europe aspire to membership in the Alliance and want NATO to play a significant role in our efforts at development. After all, because of NATO, our region for the first time in history has a solid and safe perspective. Indeed, Southeastern Europe has a future. We will look to the past, but we must not let history dictate the policies of the future.