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Kosovo reassessed?

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 15:37 UK time, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Kosovo has been back on the front pages in recent weeks with lurid allegations against its prime minister and dominant politician, Hashim Thaci, accusing him of involvement in organised crime and even harvesting human organs for sale for profit. Mr Thaci has denied the allegations.

Hashim Thaci

The prime minister has also been in the news as his party was accused of vote rigging in last month's parliamentary elections which were the first organised by the Kosovo government. This week, the vote had to be rerun in some of Mr Thaci's strongholds and a new government should be formed in the next few weeks.

Why is this interesting to people who don't follow affairs in south east Europe closely?

This is a question I have been asked given The World Tonight has followed the Kosovo story more consistently than many other news outlets.

The answer I give is that Kosovo is unfinished business which has implications that range far wider than this small territory in the former Yugoslavia.

The European Union has its largest ever civilian mission in Kosovo. Known as Eulex, it is a police and justice mission designed to help build the rule of law there as Kosovo is blighted by corruption and organised crime and a major source of trafficking in drugs, people and arms into the EU. EU officials will tell you off the record that the mission is needed so the drugs gangs can be tackled on the streets of Kosovo, rather than the streets of Paris, London or Berlin.

In addition to paying for this mission, European taxpayers have also funded a huge aid programme totalling several billion euros over the past decade aimed at reconstructing Kosovo after the conflict between Serbian Security Forces and the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army in the late 90s and Nato's intervention in 1999.

Another reason Kosovo matters is that its declaration of independence from Serbia three years ago - encouraged by the United States, Britain, France and Germany - highlighted the tension between self-determination and territorial integrity in world affairs that is at the root of several conflicts around the world. In addition to the Kosovo conflict, these competing ideas helped cause the short war between Russia and Georgia in 2008 and the long running civil war in Sudan which this week's referendum there is aimed at settling peacefully.

Kosovo is also important precisely because it is unfinished business. The EU is attempting to supervise the development of a functioning state along European lines, but despite the support of the US and leading EU countries, Kosovo as an independent state has struggled to achieve international acceptance. To date 73 countries have recognised Kosovo, but the rest of the world's 192 UN members still regard Kosovo as part of Serbia, including the world's major emerging countries from China to Brazil to South Africa.

The luridness of the allegations against Mr Thaci provoked a renewed focus on Kosovo in the media and a slew of articles have appeared in Britain and the US in recent weeks questioning Nato's intervention in 1999 and the wisdom of the supporting Kosovo independence and Mr Thaci, as one of the leaders of the independence movement, in particular.

The offensive against Serbia in 1999 was presented by western leaders as a humanitarian act to prevent widespread ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's Albanian population by Slobodan Milosevic's forces. This was widely accepted by western commentators at the time and since then reporting of the conflict in western media has been largely been framed as a story of Albanian victims and Serb aggressors. But some of the recent commentary (you can read examples here and here) has challenged this account and questioned whether the intervention and support for independence were misguided.

Like most conflicts, Kosovo has never been black and white. Albanians and Serbs have been involved in a struggle for control of Kosovo on and off for well over a century and there have been times when one side or the other had the upper hand and sought to drive the other out of the territory. So when NATO intervened to stop ethnic cleansing in 1999, it was also siding with the Albanians and this culminated in the declaration of independence in 2008 with American and European encouragement (although five out of 27 EU states did not back the move).

On The World Tonight we talked to the former senior UN official Jerry Gallucci, who now writes an informative blog, about whether this unwelcome publicity will damage Kosovo's prospects of achieving full international recognition. His take is that having the criminal allegations and the electoral fraud in the headlines casts Kosovo in a negative light and will probably keep the process of international recognition bogged down and that means the fate of Kosovo remaining unresolved and, for us, newsworthy.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.


  • Comment number 1.

    It is high time that we consider the unilateral proclamation of sovereignty for Kosovo with absolutely dispassionate self-interest. The EU does not need any more mafia-states to worry about than already exist on this planet in these difficult times. You know which one(s) I mean.

    Whoever pays the piper, calls the tune. Time to apply that age-old principle!

    Prosecute all criminals, the most vicious and manifestly corrupt ones first and foremost, wherever they may hide.

    We need a better world and a safer planet than we currently have.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    This is all well and good - a BBC reassessment, potentially at least, of Kosovo, but it comes a bit late. Nevertheless, I hope that the BBC will make a sincere attempt to rectify the havoc it has wrought by being one of the main forces of support behind the NATO campaign in Kosovo with its consistently biased reporting and its enthusiastic participation in the demonization of Serbs for the past 20 years.

    While it may be true that Kosovo has had some conflict between the Albanians there (at least 50% of whom are illegal immigrants which is how the Albanians became the majority) and the indigenous Serbs of Kosovo, it's also true that one of the main conflicts was stirred up by Hitler. Hitler failed, thanks to Serbian resistance, to amputate Kosovo from Serbia, and NATO (i.e. the U.S., Germany, Britain and the other hangers-on) decided to do the deed for him. How charming that the NATO countries should fulfill Hitler's dreams! The only ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was done by the KLA who cleaned out the Serbs, Roma and other minorities. You had only to have gone to Kosovo in earlier years to have seen, for example, every street sign in Albanian as well as in Serbian and a predominance of Albanians in every place of business to know that Yugoslavia bent over backwards to accommodate the Albanians, even at the expense of the Serbs, and that the Albanians were not second class citizens. On the contrary, they had every social amenity and subsidy and the state tolerated their separate Albanian schools, etc. -- all while the KLA was plotting with help from abroad and with criminal funding to bite off the hand that fed them.

    Don't you think it's high time that the West apologized to Serbia, did an about face, and took apart this criminal pretend state and returned Kosovo to its rightful place, officially, as Serbia's province, which it still is in international law? Haven't the Balkans had enough of this lawless land, so lawlessly and violently stolen, which provides the bulk of the heroin in Europe, runs illegal weapons, trafficks sex slaves and kills people for their organs? Or have too many of our own politicians profited from these criminal enterprises for anyone to speak up?

  • Comment number 5.

    Some us predicted that this heavy handed intervention in a civil war would bring disaster.

    Certainly there were atrocities and certainly these needed to stop but the Holbrook case of choosing someone and then going hell for leather is not an adequate response.

  • Comment number 6.

    Great article. The writer obviously has a great deal of insight into both the general issue of Kosovo and what is whispered between the international community. I remember a few years ago a French diplomat in Pristina said at a dinner; "We helped bring the Albanians back to Kosovo so that they get out of our countries, thereby reducing trafficking in women and drugs in Europe".

  • Comment number 7.

    Hashim Thaci was of course the political leader of the KLA, a group well know for its criminal activities. The UK knew about the KLA's criminality even while it was providing military training for the group prior to the Kosovo crisis.

    Our stance over Kosovo is more about weakening a key Russian ally (Serbia) than any general principle.

  • Comment number 8.

    After more than a decade of it, I've come to expect comments like "of course there were atrocities" or, more commonly, "of course Milosevic was a thug, but...". Such remarks are dropped like bread crumbs on an uncertain path through the woods (even by those who are now against NATO action against Serbia) as nods to assumed common knowledge or as a guard against being called an apologist for the (evil) Serbs. Ordinary bloggers do it, commentators do it, and, what is even more egregious, most professional journalists do it routinely. They throw this out without ever mentioning the alleged atrocities in question or what Milosevic is supposed to have done to the Albanians that merited international intervention. It's a pretty good tactic, to throw out vague allegations on a continual basis so that they cannot be counteracted with the simple facts, while planting the fixed idea in the public that there were deliberate official atrocities. There were certainly individual atrocities on both sides -- the KLA instigated attacks on innocent people and the JNA eventually retaliated to their terrorist insurrection. What country would have acted differently? In fact, Milosevic showed remarkable restraint and waited a long time before taking any military action. The KLA had a policy of drawing the JNA to areas with women and children and then hiding behind them, which made the victimization of innocents much more likely. But if anyone means Racak, which used as the initial excuse by Clinton for going into Kosovo and was proven subsequently to have been a staged massacre to make the Serbs look bad, or if they are referring to the Albanian "exodus" after the bombing, another stage-managed event that gave the media days and weeks of fodder, following which the Albanians came back into Kosovo, then I would appreciate more honest comments in the future that had a basis in fact.

  • Comment number 9.

    Important to reassess this falsehood: "... So when NATO intervened to stop ethnic cleansing in 1999 ..." Let it be known from now forward that US-led NATO 'intervened in 1999' for the sole purpose of having yet another huge military base on foreign occupied land, i.e. Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. In order to build the base near Urosevac, US-NATO seized farmland from Serb farmers. In the process, NATO reinvented itself to became the attacking air force for Muslim extremists/terrorists in Kosovo.

    For sure, Kosovo is in a very 'negative light', and has been for a long time, in no small part due to the machinations of those in the West who are most untruthful about the real reasons behind Kosovo being occupied by USA-NATO. And, so far, we're hearing very little in the main media about the 'lurid' goings-on of the organ snatchers of Kosovo and Albania. Let's hear more on that front. The truth has been trying to dig itself out for so long. Let's give the truth our collective help.

  • Comment number 10.

    Ongoing investigations..,

    It would be lovely if we could have reassessment of Camp Bondsteel, in the end and when facts (truth, if you will) comes to light some may conclude that there was/is little moral difference between KLA and hear no evil see no evil KFOR.

    Condoleezza Rice Visits CIA's Europe

    Some may find that underlying interests are way too close to one that led US and 'special relatives' to Afghanistan and Iraq, something that we'll reassess again on 21 January when we'll see, yet and again, that we have hard time coping with such reality in which 'Saddam can launch WMD within 45 minutes'.

    Is there something that we can do to such reality? For if we're helpless in dealing with it in places that cherish democracy, how can we expect it in places where democracy is scarce?

    Underlying interests… Say, did you folks know that there are huge electromagnetic and geochemical anomalies recorded in Kosovo?

    All things allegedly, of course.

  • Comment number 11.

    From my point of view the biggest problem is that Western intelligence agencies warned that Hashim Thaci ran an organised crime network in the late 1990s, they knew the KLA were criminals running the drug, slave, and weapons rackets throughout Europe. KLA's transformation from Organized Crime-/terrorist group to freedom fighters was an amazing media victory which guaranteed the occupation and later capturing of Kosovo for OC-Clans.

    In my opinion EU should start to distance itself from U.S. cowboy policy. Now many Europeans realize they were hoodwinked into recognizing Kosovo’s independence on the pretence it would resolve problems and bring peace – it didn’t happen; a new approach is needed.

    Few month ago it looked like now it would be possible to have real talks first time between local relevant authorities; the events on December have put this optimism in question. The PACE report gives new (for western powers, mainstream media and public) view to justification of the Nato's attack on Serbia, it products evidence and argumentation for suspected joint venture of organized crime and political elite in Kosovo before “humanitarian intervention, after that and now: the report casts shadow to western political leadership as their own intelligence services had all relevant information at their disposal.

    I would like to point out that now after PACE report the West can not any more escape reality, facts can not be ignored any longer. The report could be start for reassessment of Kosovo status and operations/presence of international community there.
    (More about case in article “Captured Pseudo-State Kosovo” in )

  • Comment number 12.

    Ari, they are doing their utmost to ignore it, to hope it will fade away. The journalists are still following orders, too, and seldom mention it. The Serbian government is under the thumb of the U.S. and isn't saying a whole lot either - to Tadic's shame! I suspect that former government officials like Bernard Kouchner, not to mention the late Holbrooke and others in the Clinton Administration knew all about it and that some of them profitted from the KLA's criminal escapades, even if only indirectly. It's not in the interests of the powers that be to expose this and do anything about it. If there were any justice, they would apologize to Serbia, throw the KLA out and return Kosovo to its rightful status, which is the the status of province of Serbia, as acknowledged by international law.

  • Comment number 13.

    This time I have some optimism now that contact group could apply new approach, for example Russia's weight in it is much bigger than just after bombing: China, Brazil, South Africa, India etc are backing alternative approach compared earlier US/UK lead one truth policy.

    In my opinion western traditional mainstream media is not so interested about in-deep critical analysis or investigations which are thread for advertising money or other publishers interests. However situation is now different than e.g. ten years ago: Internet has become excellent media for alternative critical citizen journalism and even investigative journalism. Speaking about today's whistleblowers – most famous Wikileaks – it may be the only media where these kind of actions are possible. Citizen journalism can challenge now much easier fabrication of events and news about them, e.g it did not take long time to show manipulation of (reuters) photographs during Georgia/Russia war where the same man acted as dead, outside observer, wounded civilian and soldier to create drama. Also today the public does not any more buy the official propaganda of Nato or military-industrial-complex – this happened especially after Iraq WMD. I think that also mainstream media is now more critical towards official information because if they are not so public and citizen journalism will replace them as opinion leaders.

  • Comment number 14.

    Well, I am not sure if this was a fulfilment of Hitler's dream, but definitly the Ottoman empire w. Albania's dream.

    "Eventually, the Serbian Despotate would, on numerous occasions, attempt to defeat the Ottomans in conjunction with the Hungarians until its final defeat in 1459 and again in 1540."

    I hope Hungary will never again have to fight meaninglessly for the Christian West.
    We shed our blood for centuries so that a guy from Brussel can draw the borders?

  • Comment number 15.

    Thank you, Mr Burnett. Please keep up the good work

  • Comment number 16.

    Balkans… Just the other day I've read that CIA is building regional HQ in Belgrade. I find it remarkable, the amount of foreign interest… just before he moved on, Dennis Blair said that events in Balkan threat the stability of Europe in this brand New Year. Report pinpointed Kosovo and Bosnia as sources of turbulence… interesting read, since it comes from administrate with deep insight.

    To be honest, apart from meek yet vivid efforts in Croatia where government managed to defy logic and somehow made possible syllogism which implies that 'corrupted people can fight corruption' the east is truly the wild west of Europe.

    We have criminal syndicates running states whether we talk about Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Monte Negro… we have chiefs of regional tribes in Bosnia that cling to the power with astonishing persistence, utterly moved by personal interests… no wonder that reports coming from enclaves are indeed similar to those we've read in run up to war.

    Then again, we have the very same thing in Italy, perhaps on more subtle level…

    What a mess… and in that mess Kosovo holds a very special space, it represents particular solution, as said before, and imo, as ever… there we can examine interest of another kind of syndicate… incorporated in 'things related or not'.

    Foreign interests… I remember how some folks were stunned by the number of hyperactive MI6 agents whose names were disclosed after British government tried to embed its intelligence service within local apparatuses.

    Eavesdropping in far away lands, drawing borders for corporate gain…

    This is a good thread.

  • Comment number 17.

    Some posters here have pointed out the BBC's following of the standard official narrative on Kosovo. Western governments decided that the KLA were the good guys (in fact they decided that well before any crisis) and the media dutifully followed suit. So much so that the KLA guerilla force were routinely referred to as soldiers by the BBC.


    "KLA soldiers had control in parts of Kosovo"

    "KLA soldiers on the streets of Prizren in June 1999"

    "The course for war had been set and within a few weeks, uniformed KLA soldiers began appearing in Kosovo"

    "Half of KLA soldiers disarmed"

    "Kosovo Albanians have been welcoming the return of armed KLA soldiers to Kosovo's second largest city"

    "A wounded KLA soldier after returning from the front line "

    "KLA soldiers patrol the area"

    "Separatist KLA soldiers - fight for total independence"

    "Reports say five KLA soldiers were killed last week"

    "A KLA soldier during a training exercise on Friday"

    "A KLA soldier guards the road""

    A while back the BBC Editor's blog had the following post about BBC impartiality.

    "Impartiality is in our genes"

    If indeed impartiality is "in your genes", why then are guerilla fighters backed by the west referred to as soldiers, whereas virtually every other group e.g. Hamas are referred to as militants?

    Perhaps you would argue it is because the KLA wore uniforms. Well so do Hamas.

    Perhaps you would argue that Hamas commits crimes so can't be called soldiers, but the KLA's crimes are widely documented.

    The simple truth is that the BBC is very far from impartial. It follows the narrative laid down by the British/US government and everything that follows is framed within that standard narrative. The terminology used by BBC journalists is tightly controlled. For example, you won't find the term "Hamas Soldiers" anywhere on the BBC News Website.

    It is for the same reason that the Taliban spread "propaganda" whereas western forces merely try to "win hearts and minds". Words have power.

  • Comment number 18.

    During the breakup of Yugoslavia, I was always more sympathetic to the Serbia and the Serbs than was usual in the UK and the West.

    The reason was largely historical. Serbia/Montenegro and the Serbs fought the Turkish expansion into the Balkans and refused to knuckle down to occupation and eventually threw off the Turkish oppression and rule.

    Serbia was our ally in WW1 and fought bravely against the Central Powers. In WW2, the Serbs were steadfast in their opposition to Nazi occupation and to the puppet fascist Govt of Croatia. The Croatian fascist Government systematically carried out ethnic cleansing of the Serb population from their areas. Their aim was to convert to Catholicism, kill or drive out the entire Serbian population from their fascist state. These crimes are not widely known in the West. The Croatian fascists had time to ensure there were no survivors from their death camps. After the war, the Yugoslav Govt rightly convicted the Roman Catholic Bishop of war crimes for his role in the forced conversion of Orthodox serbs.

    I blame the West for extent and ferocity of the civil wars that broke out in the Balkans in the 1990s. We created Yugoslavia but made no effort whatsoever to preserve it by brokering a much looser federation. Instead, Germany recognised Croatia and others in the EU followed suit, so provoking war. I have heard that John Major followed suit when Germany agreed to back British opt outs on the Maastrict treaty.

    We in the West also allowed Bosnia to vote and accepted a vote for idependence when the Serb minority boycotted the vote. Again, we knew this would cause war. And in Kosovo, we allowed ourselves to become the puppets of the terrorist KLA and danced to their tune by bombing and killing civilia targets in Serbia.

    I would say that our support for the KLA in 1999 was not simply misguided but criminal.

  • Comment number 19.

    To Steve #17
    Just to clarify, which do you regard as most impartial:

    1) KLA soldiers, Hamas militants
    2) KLA militants, Hamas soldiers
    3) KLA militants, Hamas militants
    4) KLA soldiers, Hamas soldiers

    a) Taliban spread propaganda, Western forces try to win hearts and minds
    b) Western forces spread propaganda, Taliban try to win hearts and minds
    c) Western forces spread propaganda, Taliban spread propaganda
    d) Taliban try to win hearts and minds, Western forces try to win hearts and minds

    If there was a standard official definition of terrorism, would you have any difficulty in labelling certain actions by Western forces as terrorism?

  • Comment number 20.

    @_marko #19

    Impartiality is about basing things on objective criteria rather than bias. People may disagree on your objective criteria/rules but as long as they are applied universally, you can be said to be impartial.

    For example. One definition of the term militant is that it refers to fighters who are not part of the military of an established government. If we apply that criteria to both the KLA and Hamas, we find that Hamas fighters are not militants since Hamas clearly is an established government. In contrast, the KLA was not part of the military of an established government.

    Clearly you could argue over the definition of the terms militant and soldier, but whatever rule-set you arrive at, it must be applied consistently. You can't have one criteria for western-backed fighters and another for groups the west oppose.

    The same is true for your other question about the terms "propaganda" and "wining hearts and minds". The criteria must be applied universally. However, I would argue that both of those terms really amount to the same thing. One is just a euphemism. There are all kinds of euphemisms you could come up with for the term Propaganda , but I think it is really best to stick to the simple terms.

    The constraint of impartiality is satisfied if both Hamas and NATO are reported as carrying out a propaganda campaign or that they are both carrying out a "hearts and minds" campaign. I don't like to see such euphemisms in articles, but that is a separate issue to the one of impartiality.

    Clearly the BBC do have fairly well-defined rule-sets in operation, since terminology often seems to be quite consistent. These rule-sets are clearly not applied impartially though. There seems to be one set of rules for allies and another for official enemies. This is a problem right across the media though.

    "If there was a standard official definition of terrorism, would you have any difficulty in labelling certain actions by Western forces as terrorism?"

    The lack of a standard definition of terrorism, accepted by governments, is precisely due to the issue of impartiality. If you have a reasonable definition of terrorism and you apply it universally, many acts of western countries would fall under that definition.

  • Comment number 21.


    When talking about the propaganda issue, I should have been writing "Taliban" rather than "Hamas".

  • Comment number 22.

    Alistair, I agree the issue of Kosovo is an interesting one - not least because of the enormous funding received from the EU. There are certainly ripple effects from SE Europe into the rest of Europe and any instability in the region because of the 'unfinished business' as you put it, is newsworthy.

    To make it more relevant for readers/ viewers though it would be great if the BBC provided more information on what these knock-on impacts might be - even if it is just explaining how much of the tax their pay is being spent trying to resolve issues in the region. What would the consequences of not spending this money be?

    Anna (Social Issues blogger)

  • Comment number 23.

    Having acted as uncritical cheerleaders for Nato's destruction of Yugoslavia, the BBC is particularly badly placed to pontificate on the consequences of that destruction. Consequences which were entirely predictable.

    And just as an aside, when, oh when, will the English learn to keep their noses out of other countries' affairs? The answer, of course, is never. They are simply incapable of minding their own business. Their victims pay the price in blood, but do the English care? Not a bit.

  • Comment number 24.

    There's not much more to add. The BBC weren't impartial, I remember the Serbs who had to flee were discribed as 'the least pitiable refugees' ,Mark Laity of course 'got it wrong' was in Nato's favour then waltzed off to a job with them after.
    There are peoples in the world who do deserve their own state, take for instance Cabinda. The Albanians of Kosovo I would say not.
    I knew at the time that the KLA had opened up the first gas oven for people since Hitler.
    I'm sure Tony Blair knew what the KLA were up to. There should be a Kosovo enquiry.
    The Kosovo attack totally ended any faith I had in the BBC, it is not impartial and now I watch BBC, Sky, Russia Today and Al Jazeera to get something near the truth.
    I pay the licence fee so I should get a fair service, but of course I don't.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    All this with Libya is a major crime AMERICA !!!!! Aggression, to be kidnapped Libyan oil - and that is the whole philosophy. What protection of civilians, any freedom, the struggle for a democracy there - ALWAYS THE SAME LIES THE WEST!! Bear up LIBYA!! Do not give up Gaddafi !!!!!!! SERBIA IS TO LIBYA !!!!!!! TO VICTORY !!!!!


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