Terrorists and Freedom Fighters in the Balkans
By: Sam Vaknin
"Unbounded" morality ultimately becomes counterproductive even in terms of the same moral principles being sought.
The law of diminishing returns applies to morality.
-- Thomas Sowell
There's a story about Robespierre that has the preeminent rabble-rouser of the French Revolution
leaping up from his chair as soon as he saw a mob assembling outside.
"I must see which way the crowd is headed," he is reputed to have said: "For I am their leader."
( http://www.salon.com/tech/books/1999/11/04/new_optimism/ )
People who exercise violence in the pursuit of what they hold to be just causes are alternately known as "terrorists" or "freedom fighters".
They all share a few common characteristics:
(1) A hard core of idealists adopt a cause (in most cases, the freedom of a group of people). They base their claims on history - real or hastily concocted, on a common heritage, on a language shared by the members of the group and, most important, on hate and contempt directed at an "enemy". The latter is, almost invariably, the physical or cultural occupier of space the idealists claim as their own.
(2) The loyalties and alliances of these people shift effortlessly as ever escalating means justify an ever shrinking cause. The initial burst of grandiosity inherent in every such undertaking gives way to cynical and bitter pragmatism as both enemy and people tire of the conflict.
(3) An inevitable result of the realpolitik of terrorism is the collaboration with the less savoury elements of society. Relegated to the fringes by the inexorable march of common sense, the freedom fighters naturally gravitate towards like minded non-conformists and outcasts. The organization is criminalized. Drug dealing, bank robbing and other manner of organized and contumacious criminality become integral extensions of the struggle. A criminal corporatism emerges, structured but volatile and given to internecine donnybrooks.
(4) Very often an un-holy co-dependence develops between the organization and its prey. It is the interest of the freedom fighters to have a contemptible and tyrannical regime as their opponent. If not prone to suppression and convulsive massacres by nature - acts of terror will deliberately provoke even the most benign rule to abhorrent ebullition.
(5) The terrorist organization will tend to emulate the very characteristics of its enemy it fulminates against the most. Thus, all such groups are rebarbatively authoritarian, execrably violent, devoid of human empathy or emotions, suppressive, ostentatious, trenchant and often murderous.
(6) It is often the freedom fighters who compromise their freedom and the freedom of their people in the most egregious manner. This is usually done either by collaborating with the derided enemy against another, competing set of freedom fighters - or by inviting a foreign power to arbiter. Thus, they often catalyse the replacement of one regime of oppressive horror with another, more terrible and entrenched.
(7) Most freedom fighters are assimilated and digested by the very establishment they fought against or as the founders of new, privileged nomenklaturas. It is then that their true nature is exposed, mired in gulosity and superciliousness as they become. Inveterate violators of basic human rights, they often transform into the very demons they helped to exorcise.
Most freedom fighters are disgruntled members of the middle classes or the intelligentsia. They bring to their affairs the merciless ruthlessness of sheltered lives. Mistaking compassion for weakness, they show none as they unscrupulously pursue their self-aggrandizement, the ego trip of sending others to their death. They are the stuff martyrs are made of. Borne on the crests of circumstantial waves, they lever their unbalanced personalities and project them to great effect. They are the footnotes of history that assume the role of text. And they rarely enjoy the unmitigated support of the very people they proffer to liberate. Even the most harangued and subjugated people find it hard to follow or accept the vicissitudinal behaviour of their self-appointed liberators, their shifting friendships and enmities and their pasilaly of violence.
In this series of articles, I will attempt to study four such groups which operated in the tortured region of the Balkans. I will start with the IMRO (VMRO) in Macedonia and Bulgaria, proceed to Serbia and its union with death ("Union or Death" aka the Black Hand), study the Ustasha in detail and end with the current mutation of Balkan spasms, the KLA (UCK).
"Macedonia to the Macedonians"
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
"Two hundred and forty five bands were in the mountains.
Serbian and Bulgarian comitadjis, Greek andartes, Albanians and Vlachs... all waging a terrorist war"
(Leon Sciaky in "Farewell to Salonica: Portrait of an Era")
"(Goce Delcev died) cloak flung over his left shoulder, his white fez, wrapped in a bluish scarf, pulled down and his gun slung across his left elbow"
(Mihail Chakov, who was nearby Delcev at the moment of his death, quoted in "Balkan Ghosts" by Robert D. Kaplan)
"I will try and tell this story coldly, calmly, dispassionately ...
one must tone the horrors down, for in their nakedness, they are unprintable..."
(A.G. Hales reporting about the Illinden Uprising in the London "Daily News" of October 21, 1903)
"The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization directs its eyes neither to the West,
nor to the East,nor to anywhere else; it relies primarily on its own powers,
does not turn into anybody's weapon,
and will not allow anybody to use its name and prestige for personal and other purposes.
It has demonstrated till now and will prove in the future that it establishes its activities on the interests
and works for the ideals of struggling Macedonia and the Bulgarian race."
The Leader of the IMRO from 1911 to 1924
The Treaty of Berlin killed Peter Lazov. A Turkish soldier first gouged his eyes out, some say with a spoon, others insist it was a knife. As the scream-imbued blood trickled down his face, the Turk cut both his ears and the entirety of his nose with his sword. Thus maimed and in debilitating agony, he was left to die for a few days. When he failed to do so, the Turks disembowelled him to death and decapitated the writhing rump.
The Ottomans granted independence to Bulgaria in the 1878 Treaty of San Stefano unwillingly, following a terminal defeat at the hands of a wrathful Russian army. The newly re-invented nation incorporated a huge swathe of Macedonia, not including Thessaloniki and the Chalcidice Peninsula. Another treaty followed, in Berlin, restoring the "balance" by returning Macedonia to Turkish rule. Turkey obligingly accepted a "one country, two systems" approach by agreeing to a Christian administration of the region and by permitting education in foreign languages, by foreign powers in foreign-run and owned schools. Then they set about a typical infandous Ottoman orgy of shredded entrails, gang raped corpses of young girls and maiming and decapitation. The horrors this time transcended anything before. In Ohrid, they buried people in pigsty mud for "not paying taxes". Joined by Turks who escaped the advancing Russian armies in North Bulgaria and by Bosnian Moslems, who fled the pincer movement of the forces of Austro-Hungary, they embarked on the faithful recreation of a Bosch-like hell. Feeble attempts at resistance (really, self defence) - such as the one organized by Natanail, the Bishop of Ohrid - ended in the ever escalating ferocity of the occupiers. A collaboration emerged between the Church and the less than holy members of society. Natanail himself provided "Chetis" (guerilla bands) with weapons and supplies. In October 1878, an uprising took place in Kresna. It was duly suppressed by the Turks, though with some difficulty. It was not the first one, having been preceded by the Razlovci uprising in 1876. But it was more well organized and explicit in its goals.
But no one - with the exception of the Turks - was content with the situation and even they were paranoid and anxious. The flip-flop policies of the Great Powers turned Macedonia into the focus of shattered national aspirations grounded in some historical precedent of at least three nations: the Greeks, the Bulgarians, and the Serbs. Each invoked ethnicity and history and all conjured up the apparition of the defunct Treaty of San Stefano. Serbia colluded with the Habsburgs: Bosnia to the latter in return for a free hand in Macedonia to the former. The wily Austro-Hungarians regarded the Serbs as cannon fodder in the attrition war against the Russians and the Turks. In 1885, Bulgaria was at last united - north and formerly Turk-occupied south - under the Kremlin's pressure. The Turks switched sides and allied with the Serbs against the spectre of a Great Bulgaria. Again, the battleground was Macedonia and its Bulgarian-leaning (and to many, pure Bulgarian) inhabitants. Further confusion awaited. In 1897, following the Crete uprising against the Ottoman rule and in favour of Greek enosis (unification), Turkey (to prevent Bulgaria from joining its Greek enemy) encouraged King Ferdinand to help the Serbs fight the Greeks. Thus, the Balkanian kaleidoscope of loyalties, alliances and everlasting friendship was tilted more savagely than ever before by the paranoia and the whims of nationalism gone berserk.
In this world of self reflecting looking glasses, in this bedlam of geopolitics, in this seamless and fluid universe, devoid of any certainty but the certainty of void, an anomie inside an abnormality - a Macedonian self identity, tentative and merely cultural at first, began to emerge. Voivode Gorgija Pulevski published a poem "Macedonian Fairy" in 1878. The Young Macedonian Literary Society was established in 1891 and started publishing "Loza", its journal a year thereafter. Krste Misirkov, Dimitrija Cupovski, the Vardar Society and the Macedonian Club in Belgrade founded the Macedonian Scholarly-Literary Society in 1902 (in Russia). Their "Macedonian National Program" demanded a recognition of a Macedonian nation with its own language and culture. They stopped short of insisting on an independent state, settling instead for an autonomy and an independent church. Misirkov went on to publish his seminal work, "On Macedonian Matters" in 1903 in Sofia. It was a scathing critique of the numbing and off-handed mind games Macedonia was subjected to by the Big Powers. Misirkov believed in culture as an identity preserving force. And the purveyors and conveyors of culture were the teachers.
"So the teacher in Yugoslavia is often a hero and fanatic as well as a servant of the mind; but as they walked along the Belgrade streets it could easily be seen that none of them had quite enough to eat or warm enough clothing or handsome lodgings or all the books they needed" - wrote Dame Rebecca West in her eternal "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" in 1940.
Goce Delcev (Gotse Deltchev) was a teacher. He was born in 1872 in Kukush (the Bulgarian name of the town), north of Thessaloniki (Salonica, Solun, Saloniki). There is no doubt about his cultural background (as opposed to his convictions later in life) - it was Bulgarian to the core. He studied at a Bulgarian gymnasium in Saloniki. He furthered his education at a military academy in Sofia. He was a schoolteacher and a guerilla fighter and in both capacities he operated in the areas that are today North-Central Greece, Southwestern Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia. He felt equally comfortable in all three regions. He was shot to death by the Turks in Banitsa, then a Bulgarian village, today, a Greek one. It was in a spring day in May 1903.
The death of this sad but steely eyed, heavily moustached youth was sufficient to ignite the Illinden uprising three months later. It erupted on the feast of Saint Illiya (Sveti Ilija). Peasants sold their sacrificial bulls - the fruits of months of labour - and bought guns with the proceeds. It started rather innocuously in the hotbed of ethnic unrest, Western Macedonia - telegraph wires were cut, some tax registers incinerated. The IMRO collaborated in this with the pro-Bulgarian organization Vzhovits. In Krusevo (Krushevo) a republic was proclaimed, replete with "Rules of the Macedonian Uprising Committee" (aka the "Constitution of the Uprising"). This document dealt with the liberation of Macedonia and the establishment of a Macedonian State. A special chapter was dedicated to foreign affairs and neighbourly relationships. It was all heart-achingly naive and it lasted 10 bloody days. Crushed by 2000 trained soldiers and horse bound artillery, the outnumbered 1200 rebels surrendered. Forty of them kissed each other goodbye and blew their brains out. The usual raping and blood thick massacres ensued. According to Turkish records, these ill-planned and irresponsible moments of glory and freedom cost the lives of 4,694 civilians, 994 "terrorists". The rape of 3,000 women was not documented. In Northwestern Macedonia, an adolescent girl was raped by 50 soldiers and murdered afterwards. In another village, they cut a girl's arm to secure her bracelets. The more one is exposed to these atrocities, the more one is prone to subscribe to the view that the Ottoman Empire - its halting and half hearted efforts at reform notwithstanding - was the single most important agent of retardation and putrid stagnation in its colonies, a stifling influence of traumatic proportions, the cause of mass mental sickness amongst its subjects.
As is usually the case in the bloodied geopolitical sandbox known as the Balkans, an international peacekeeping force intervened. Yet it was - again, habitually - too late, too little.
What made Delcev, rather his death, the trigger of such an outpouring of emotions was the IMRO (VMRO in Macedonian and in Bulgarian). The Illinden uprising was the funeral of a man who was a hope. It was the ululating grieving of a collective deprived of vengeance or recourse. It was a spasmodic breath taken in the most suffocating of environments. This is not to say that IMRO was monolithic or that Delcev was an Apostle (as some of his hagiographers would have him). It was not and he was far from it. But he and his two comrades, Jane (Yane) Sandanski and Damyan (Dame) Gruev had a vision. They had a dream. The IMRO is the story of a dream turned nightmare, of the absolute corruption of absolute power and of the dangers of inviting the fox to fight the wolf.
The original "Macedonian Revolutionary Organization" (MRO) was established in Sofia. The distinction between being a Macedonian and being a Macedonian-Bulgarian was not sharp, to use a polite understatement. The Bulgarians "proper" regarded the Macedonians as second class, primitive and uncultured Bulgarian relatives who inhabit a part of Bulgaria to the east. The Macedonians themselves were divided. Some wished to be incorporated in Bulgaria, the civilized and advanced society and culture. Others wanted an independent state - though they, too, believed that the salvation of such an entity - both demographic and financial - lies abroad, with the diaspora and benevolent foreign powers. A third group (and Delcev was, for a time, among them) wanted a federation of all states Balkan with an equal standing for a Macedonian polity (autonomy). The original MRO opted for the Bulgarian option and restricted its aims to the liberation and immediate annexation of what they solemnly considered to be a Turkish-occupied Bulgarian territory. To distinguish themselves from this MRO, the 6 founders of the Macedonian version - all members of the intelligentsia - added the word "Internal" to their name. Thus, they became, in November 1893, IMRO.
A measure of the disputatiousness of all matters Balkanian can be found in the widely and wildly differing versions about the circumstances of the establishment of IMRO. Some say it was established in Thessaloniki (this is the official version, thus supporting its "Macedonian"-ness). Others - like Robert Kaplan - say it was in Stip (Shtip) and the Encyclopaedia Britannica claims it was in ... Resen (Resana).
Let it be clear: this author harbours no sympathy towards the Ottoman Empire. The IMRO was fighting for lofty ideals (Balkanian federation) and worthy goals (liberation from asphyxiating Turkish rule). But to many outside observers (with the exception of journalists like John Sonixen or John smith), the IMRO was indistinguishable in its methods of operation from the general landscape of mayhem, crime, disintegration of the social fabric, collapse of authority, social anomie, terror and banditry.
From Steven Sowards' "Twenty Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History, The Balkans in an Age of Nationalism", 1996
available HERE: http://www.lib.msu.edu/sowards/balkan/lect11.htm
"Meanwhile, the Tanzimat reforms remained unfulfilled under Abdul Hamid's reactionary regime. How effective had all these reforms been by the turn of the century? How bad was life for Christian peasants in the Balkans? In a 1904 book called 'Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future', H. N. Brailsford, an English relief worker, describes lawless conditions in Macedonia, the central Balkan district between Greece, Serbia, Albania and Bulgaria. In the areas Brailsford knew, the authorities had little power. He writes:
'An Albanian went by night into a Bulgarian village and fired into the house of a man whom he regarded as an enemy. ... The prefect...endeavored to arrest the murderer, but [his Albanian] village took up his cause, and the gendarmes returned empty-handed. The prefect ... marched upon the offending village at the head of three hundred regular troops. ... The village did not resist, but it still refused to give evidence against the guilty man. The prefect returned to Ochrida with forty or fifty prisoners, kept them in gaol for three or four days, and then released them all. ... To punish a simple outbreak of private passion in which no political element was involved [the prefect] had to mobilize the whole armed force of his district, and even then he failed.'
Robbers and brigands operated with impunity: 'Riding one day upon the high-road ..., I came upon a brigand seated on a boulder ... in the middle of the road, smoking his cigarette, with his rifle across his knees, and calmly levying tribute from all the passers-by."
Extortionists, not police, were in control: "A wise village ... [has] its own resident brigands. ... They are known as rural guards. They are necessary because the Christian population is absolutely unarmed and defenceless. To a certain extent they guarantee the village against robbers from outside, and in return they carry on a licensed and modified robbery of their own.'
Self-defense by Orthodox peasants was dangerous: 'The Government makes its presence felt ... when a 'flying column' saunters out to hunt an elusive rebel band, or ... to punish some flagrant act of defiance. ... The village may have ... resented the violence of the tax-collector ... [or] harboured an armed band of insurgents...; or ...killed a neighbouring civilian Turk who had assaulted some girl of the place. ... At the very least all the men who can be caught will be mercilessly beaten, at the worst the village will be burned and some of its inhabitants massacred.'
It was not surprising that peasants hated their rulers. 'One enters some hovel ... something ... stirs or groans in the gloomiest corner on the floor beneath a filthy blanket. Is it fever, one asks, or smallpox? ... the answer comes ..., 'He is ill with fear.' ... Looking back ... , a procession of ruined minds comes before the memory--an old priest lying beside a burning house speechless with terror ...; a woman who had barked like a dog since the day her village was burned; a maiden who became an imbecile because her mother buried her in a hole under the floor to save her from the soldiers; ... children who flee in terror at the sight of a stranger, crying 'Turks! Turks!' These are the human wreckage of the hurricane which usurps the functions of a Government.'
Four things are worth noting in Brailsford's account as we consider the prospects for a reform solution to Balkan problems. First, revolutionary politics was not the foremost issue for the Christian population: nationalism addressed the immediate problems in their daily lives only indirectly, by promising a potential better state.
Second, loyalties were still local and based on the family and the village, not on abstract national allegiances. If criminal abuses ended, the Ottoman state might yet have invented an Ottoman "nationalism" to compete with Serbian, Greek, Romanian, or Bulgarian nationalism.
Third, villagers did not cry out for new government departments or services, but only for relief from corruption and crime. The creation of new national institutions was not necessary, only the reform of existing institutions.
Fourth, and on the other hand, mistrust and violence between the two sides was habitual. So many decades of reform had failed by this time. The situation was so hopeless and extreme that few people on either side can have thought of reform as a realistic option."
During the 1890s, IMRO's main sources of income were voluntary (and later, less voluntary) taxation of the rural population, bank robberies, train robberies (which won handsome world media coverage) and kidnapping for ransom (like the kidnapping of the American Protestant Missionary Ellen Stone - quite a mysterious affair). The IMRO developed along predictable lines into an authoritarian and secretive organization - a necessity if it were to fight the Turks effectively. It had its own tribunals which exercised - often fatal - authority over civilians who were deemed collaborators with the Turkish enemy. It must be emphasized that this was NOT unusual or unique at that time. This was the modus operandi of all military-organized ideological and political groups. And, taking everything into account, the IMRO was fighting a just war against an abhorrent enemy.
Moreover, to some extent, its war was effective and resulted in reforms imposed on the Sublime Port (the Turkish authorities) by the Great Powers of the day. We mentioned the peacekeeping force which replaced the local gendarmerie. But reforms were also enacted in education, religious rights and tolerance, construction, farm policy and other areas. The intractable and resource-consuming Macedonian question led directly to the reform of Turkey itself by the Macedonia-born officer Ataturk. And it facilitated the disintegration of the Ottoman empire - thus, ironically, leading to the independence of almost everyone except its originators.
The radicalization of IMRO and its transformation into the infamous organization it has come to be known as, started after the Second Balkan war (1913) and, more so, after the First World War (1918). It was then that disillusionment with Big Power politics replaced the naive trust in the inevitable triumph of a just claim. The Macedonians were never worse off politically, having contributed no less - if not more - than any other nation to the re-distribution of the Ottoman Empire. The cynicism, the hypocrisy, the off-handedness, the ignorance, the vile interests, the ulterior motives - all conspired to transform the IMRO from a goal-orientated association to a power hungry mostrosity.
In 1912 Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece - former bitter foes - formed the Balkan League to confront an even more bitter foe, the Ottoman Empire on the thin pretext of an Albanian uprising. The brotherhood strained in the Treaty of London (May 1913) promptly deteriorated into internecine warfare over the spoils of a successful campaign - namely, over Macedonia. Serbs, Greeks, Montenegrins and Romanians subdued Bulgaria sufficiently to force it to sign a treaty in August 1913 in Bucharest. "Aegean Macedonia" went to Greece and "Vardar Macedonia" (today's Republic of Macedonia) went to Serbia. The smaller "Pirin Macedonia" remained Bulgarian. The Bulgarian gamble in World War I went well for a while, as it occupied all three parts of Macedonia. But the ensuing defeat and dismemberment of its allies, led to a re-definition of even "Pirin Macedonia" so as to minimize Bulgaria's share. Vardar Macedonia became part of a new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia).
These political Lego games led to enormous population shifts - the politically correct term for refugees brutally deprived of their land and livelihood. All of them were enshrined in solemn treaties. The Treaty of Lausanne (1923) led to the expulsion of 375,000 Turks from Aegean Macedonia. 640,000 Greek refugees from Turkey replaced them. Each of the actual occupiers and each of the potential ones opened its own schools to indoctrinate the future generations of the populace. Conflicts erupted over ecclesiastical matters, the construction of railways and railway stations. Guerilla fighters soon realized that being pawns on this mad hatter's chessboard could be a profitable vocation. The transformation from freedom fighters to mercenaries with no agenda was swift. And pecuniary considerations bred even more terror and terrorists where there were none before.
In the meantime, Greece enacted a land reform legislation in "Aegean Macedonia" - in effect, the confiscation of arable land by thousands of Greek settlers, refugees from Turkey. Much of the land thus "re-distributed" was owned by Turkish absentees, now refugees themselves. But a lot of land was simply impounded from its rightful, very much present and very Macedonian owners. The Serb authorities coerced the population to speak the Serb language, changed Macedonian names to Serb ones in brutally carried campaigns and imposed a corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy upon the suffering multitudes.
IMRO never gave up its proclaimed goal to liberate both occupied parts of Macedonia - the Aegean and the Vardar ones. But, as time passed and as the nature of its organization and operation evolved, the perfunctoriness of its proclamations became more and more evident. The old idealists - the intellectuals and ideologues, the Goce Delcev types - were removed, died in battle, or left this mutation of their dream. The IMRO insignia - skull and crossbones - linked it firmly to the Italian Balckshirts and the Nazi brown ones. The IMRO has developed into a fascist organization. It traded opium. It hired out the services of its skilled assassins (for 20 dollars a contract). It recruited members among the Macedonian population in the slums of Sofia. Finally, they openly collaborated with the Fascists of Mussolini (who also supported them financially), with the Ustashe (similarly supported by Italy) and with the Nazis (under Ivan Mihailov, who became the nominal quisling ruler of Vardar Macedonia). It was an IMRO man ("Vlado the Chauffeur") who murdered King Alexander of Yugoslavia in 1934.
All this period, the IMRO continued to pursue its original agenda. IMRO terrorists murdered staff and pupils in Yugoslav schools in Vardar Macedonia. In between 1924-34, it killed 1,000 people. Tourists of the period describe the Yugoslav-Bulgarian frontier as the most fortified in Europe with "entanglements, block houses, redoubts and searchlight posts". Throughout the twenties and the thirties, the IMRO maintained a presence in Europe, publishing propaganda incessantly and explaining its position eloquently (though not very convincingly). It was not very well liked by both Bulgarians and Macedonians who got increasingly agitated and exhausted by the extortion of ever increasing taxes and by the seemingly endless violence. But the IMRO was now a force to reckon with: organized, disciplined, lethal. Its influence grew by the day and more than one contemporary describes it as a "state within a state". In Bulgaria it collaborated with Todor Alexandrov in the overthrow and murder of the Prime Minister, Alexandur Stamboliyski (June 1923) and in the appointment of a right wing government headed by Alexandur Tsankov.
Stamboliyski tried to appease Yugoslavia and, in the process, sacrifice inconvenient elements, such as the IMRO, as expediently as he could. He made too many powerful enemies too fast: the army (by cutting their inflated budget), the nationalists (by officially abandoning the goal of military expansion), the professional officers (by making them redundant), the Great Powers (by making THEM redundant as well) and the opposition (by winning the elections handsomely despite all the above). By signing the Treaty of Nis (allowing Serb forces the right of hot pursuit within Bulgarian territory), he in effect sealed his own death warrant. The IMRO teamed up with the Military League (an organization of disgruntled officers, both active duty and reserve) and with the tacit blessing of Tsar Boris and the forming National Alliance (later renamed the Democratic Alliance), they did away with the hated man.
Following the murder, the IMRO was given full control of the region of Petric (Petrich). It used it as a launching pad of its hit and run attacks against Yugoslavia with the full - though clandestine - support of the Bulgarian Ministry of War and Fascist Italy. From Pirin, they attacked Greece as well. These were exactly the kind of international tensions the murdered Prime Minister was keen to terminate and the IMRO no less keen to foster. In the meanwhile, Alexandrov came to an end typical of many a Bulgarian politician and was assassinated only a year after the coup d'etat.
The decade that followed did not smile upon the IMRO. It fragmented and its shreds fought each other in the streets of Sofia, Chicago-style. By 1934, the IMRO was a full-fledged extortionist mafia organization. They ran protection rackets ("protecting" small shop-owners against other gangs and "insuring" them against their own violence). Hotels in Sofia always had free rooms for the IMRO. The tobacco industry paid the IMRO more than a million British pounds of that time in six years of "taxation". Robberies and assassinations were daily occurrences. So were street shoot-outs and outright confiscation of goods. The IMRO had no support left anywhere.
In 1934, it was disbanded (together with other parties) by Colonel Kimron Georgiev, the new Prime Minister of Bulgaria and a senior figure in the Zveno association of disgruntled citizenry. His rule was brief (ended the next year) but the IMRO never recovered. It brought its own demise upon itself. Colonel Velcev (Velchev), the perpetrator of the coup, was swept to power on the promise to end all terrorist activities - a promise which he kept.
The modern Republic of Macedonia is today ruled by a party called VMRO-DPMNE. It is one of a few political parties to carry this name and the biggest and weightiest amongst them by far. It is founded on the vision and ideals of Goce Delcev and has distanced itself from the "Terrorist-IMRO". The picture of Delcev adorns every office in both Macedonia and Bulgaria and he is the closest to a saint a secular regime can have. In 1923, the Greeks transferred his bones to Bulgaria. Stalin, in a last effort to placate Tito, ordered Bulgaria to transfer them to Macedonia. Even in his death he knew no peace. Now he is buried in his final resting place, in the tranquil inner yard of the Church of Sveti Spas (Saint Saviour). A marble slab bearing a simple inscription with his name under a tree, in a Macedonia which now belongs to the Macedonians.
The "Black Hand"
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
"I live and shall die for federalism; it is the sole salvation for the monarchy, if anything can save it."
(Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria)
The IMRO was a populist organization established by intellectuals (as such groups often do) but staffed by peasant, lumpenproletariat and dwellers of the slums formed by Macedonian refugees all over the Balkans and especially in Sofia. Its members swore allegiance on a bible and a gun - two universally potent symbols. The nationalist-terrorist movement which bore the improbable by-name of "The Black Hand" was no such thing. It was elitist - only members of the officer corps and government officials could join. But the two shared an ethos and methods of operation. The IMRO sought to liberate the parts of Macedonia which were under Greek and Serb control - and the Black Hand (official name: "Union or Death") sought to do the same for Serbs under Ottoman or Habsburg rule. The Black Hand was the precursor of the Great Serbia dream. But whereas the IMRO - at least until 1913 - did not enjoy the support of the state and its mechanisms, the Black Hand was, for a long time, the long arm of the Serb government and the Serb state. To the generation of post-Yugoslavia It is a familiar story. In human affairs, the dream of a Greater Serbia is no less a recurrent nightmare than the numerable German Reichs and Serbia erupted upon the world stage no less frequently and regularly than its northern equivalent.
Serbia, Montenegro and Russia fought a war against Turkey in an effort to capitalize on a Serb peasants' revolt in Bosnia in 1875. The latter were mightily and rather inhumanly oppressed by the local Moslem nobility (enmity has long roots in the Balkans). It was a holy war for the protection of holy (Orthodox) mother church. It was this conflict that led to the Turkish capitulation embedded in the San Stefano Treaty of 1878. It was not the first time that Balkan borders were re-drawn but, with the creation of Bulgaria, extending all the way to lake Ohrid, a few taboos were broken. A new state was created, Russia was introduced as a major player and the Sick Man of Europe (the Ottoman Empire) was in death throes. It also generated a new problem, the Macedonian one. The treaty of Berlin sought to restore the balance but to no avail. The inexorable germination of the nationalistic ideal has commenced. When the Treaty placed Bosnia-Herzegovina under Austro-Hungarian administration and allowed Habsburg garrisons to camp inside Serbia (effectively severing it from Montenegro) - the seeds of discontent blossomed into the evil flowers of violence.
No one cared what the local populace had to say. The Austrian brought roads and railways and modern mining and forestry and industry to this hitherto European backwater. Reversing the Ottoman infliction was no mean feat. Yet, the Austrians chose to rule by division, to motivate through hate and to buy the love of their subjects rather than to earn it. They befriended the Moslem landlords and pitted the Serbs against each across a denominational divide. This volatile state of affairs was only aggravated by the abolition in 1881 of the Military Frontier, which brought hundreds of thousands of Serbs into the remit of an increasingly and virulently nationalistic Croatia. The Hungarians used this to their advantage by fanning Croat-Serb hostility. After all, they had a historical account to settle with the Serbs who quashed an Hungarian rebellion not 40 years before (in 1848-9) and were awarded with the half autonomous Duchy of Vojvodina, an integral part of the Kingdom of Hungary.
The Ausgleich of 1867 (which divided the loot between Austria and Hungary) deprived Vojvodina of its autonomy. The Magyars rushed back in with German and Austrian settlers and immediately embarked upon a massive campaign of forced assimilation. Thus, as Vojvodina prospered with roads and railways and large commercial farms ("the breadbasket of the empire") - it became more hate-riven and explosive. In the Balkans, affluence and commerce seem only to encourage envy and belligerence and neighbourly relations are no barrier to mutual slaughter.
A self-appointed "guardian of all Serbs", the Serbian state willingly engaged in agitation and confronted both other ethnicities and the Dual Monarchy in its quest to safeguard the well-being, welfare, prosperity and equal treatment of the Serbs, all noble goals, no doubt. Yet instability is contagious, a lesson not learn by Serb politicians. Even as the Bosnian uprising was in progress, King Milan stuck an Austrian knife unto its back. He agreed to not foment rebellion in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in return for a free hand in Macedonia and some export concessions for some agricultural produce. In 1885, he acted upon his grandiosity to disastrous outcome. Four years later, he abdicated in disgrace. Not till 1893 was order restored in the person of King Alexander whose most important act was marrying his concubine, Draga Masin in 1900. They were both massacred in June 1903 by disgruntled officers in their own palace and that was the end of one dynasty (the Obrenovic's) and the beginning of another (the Karadjordjevic's). A young officer, a member of the general staff of the army, by the name of Dragutin Dimitrijevic ("Apis" - the "Holy Bull" was his endearing nickname, or, perhaps, the bee, from the Latin root, as Petrovic, the attache to the Serbia legation in London has it in "Black Hand Over Europe" by Heneri Pozzi) planned it all in 1901. Remember this name, his role in our history has only just begun.
As is usually the case, the honeymoon looked both passionate and auspicious. The new King was of the reforming kind and keen on economic progress and wealth formation. Regretfully, his implementation fell short of his intentions. Serbian agriculture lagged behind its more commercialized and industrialized competitors, the population grew relentlessly and rural debts buried the semi-feudal rustic peasantry under its increasing burden.
It is against this background of mounting and mercurial discontent that the "Black Hand" was formed. Attesting to the spreading of the rot throughout the Karadjordjevicean state, was its cancerous metastasis through all levels of the army and the government. Apis the regicide was appointed chief of intelligence of the general staff, no less. He later confessed to planning the murders of King Nicholas of Montenegro, King Constantine of Greece, the German Kaiser and King Ferdinand of Bulgaria. How much of it was Balkan delusions and how much reality is still open to debate - but the man relished death and firmly believed in its transforming and catalysing powers. The Black Hand became a state within a state (a feat later emulated by the IMRO). Those bureaucrats and politicians not already members of the shady outfit, obeyed its express or perceived wishes out of terror, more imagined than exercised. The army was entirely in thrall. The accelerated advance of Dimitrijevic through the ranks serves proof of the growing influence of his cankerous outfit. He became professor of tactics at the Military Academy where he taught subversion and terror more than military strategy. By 1913, he was chief of intelligence, as we mentioned and by 1916 he was attained the rank of colonel at the age of 40.
Though formally established only in 1911- the Black Hand cast its shadow long before. It engaged mostly in propaganda and in the seeding of armed bands in Macedonia prior to the two Balkan wars. Its biggest achievement was probably the inception of numerous revolutionary cells among the Serbs of Bosnia.
The longer and more thorough the meddling, the more the languid relationship between Austria and Serbia deteriorated. The former imposed tariffs on the exports of the latter in an aptly named "Pig War". As Serb subversion intensified in Bosnia, Austria annexed it and Herzegovina outright discarding the pretence of autonomy it has maintained. Stymied in one border - the Serbs reverted to another. The Illinden uprising ignited Slav imagination. Serbia has long hungered after its slice of a dismembered Macedonia and Thrace in a banquet attended by both Bulgaria and Greece. But the fresh atrocities - not devoid of religious and ethnic dimensions - endowed the whole endeavour with an aura of a holy war. This delirium was further stoked by the apparent disintegration of the Ottoman Empire following the revolution of the Young Turks in 1908. Yet, in its drang nach suden, Serbia found itself once more entangled with the Austrians who had their own designs on Macedonia and Novi Pazar. The risk of losing Kosovo and Metohija was very real and the conflict assumed the robes of a crusade, both cultural and religious. To the Serbs the very maintenance of their self-identity and civilization was at stake.
This was the background to the onslaught of the Balkan Wars.
Serbia collaborated with the more potent of its potential enemies (Greece, Bulgaria) in the Balkan League. To cleanse the Balkans of all Turks was the explicit goals of hush-hush treaties and clandestine encounters. The hidden agenda bespoke of Austria. The initial triumphs against the Turkish army (reversing a trend three centuries old) lent an air of inevitable invincibility and divine justice to the whole endeavour. It is interesting to mention that it was little Montenegro which was the first to declare war in almost all Balkan conflicts. Whether as Serbian proxies or because of the contentious nature of the Montenegrins remains unclear. Whatever the case may be, a second war among the winners of the first left Serbia with its agenda fulfilled and with its territory almost doubled. It gained part of the Sandzak, all Kosovo and Metohija and the bulk of Macedonia. Its tax paying population increased by half as much in less than two years. Had it not been for Austria's minacious insistence, Albania would have never been born on Serb occupied territory. The creation of this (artificial, so the Serbs felt) Albanian state deprived Serbia - alone among the victors - from access to the sea. It had another cause for paranoid delusions and deepening sense of victimization at the hands of vast conspiracies. Relegated to the geopolitical sidelines, denuded of their conquests, coerced by a Big Power, the Serbs felt humiliated, stabbed in the back, discriminated against, inferior and wrathful. Frustration breeds aggression we are taught and this true lesson was never more oft-repeated than in the Balkans.
The raging rivalry between an eastward-bound Austria and a defiant Serbia was bound to boil over. The Black Hand was there to provoke the parties into a final test of strengths and willpower. Dame Rebecca West voices her doubts regarding the true intent of the Black Handers in their involvement (which she does not dispute) in the events that followed. Based on all manner of circumstantial evidence and the testimonies of mysterious friends of furtive conspirators she reaches the conclusion that they did not believe in the conspiracy to which they lent their support. The Black Hand went along with the planning and execution of the assassination of Archduke, heir to the throne Franz (Francis) Ferdinand in 1914, disbelieving all the way both the skills and the commitment of the youthful would be assassins.
Perhaps so. Yet there can be little doubt and, indeed, there is no dispute that The Black Hand was introduced to a cabal of plotters called "Mlada Bosna" (Young Bosnia), headed by one Illich and that this introduction was effected by the 22 year old influential Bosnian revolutionary Gacinovic (Gachinovich) who lived in Lausanne in Switzerland. The Black Hander Ciganovic (Tsiganovitch) made contact with one Gavrilo Princip and Chabrinovich and together with another Bosnian, Tankosic (Tankosich). The latter - a self proclaimed sharpshooter - immediately set about testing the sniping skills of his co-schemers in a secluded wood. With the mild exception of Princip, they were no good. Despite this disheartening display of incompetence (Princip claimed at his trial to have aimed at a general sitting next to the Archduke), the Black Hand equipped them with bombs (of the wrong kind, points West correctly), pistols and suicidal Prussic acid (which didn't work). They were smuggled to Sarajevo by two collaborating border guards. As opposed to rumours, Gavrilo Princip was not a member of the Black Hand, nor was the Black Hand involved in his training. Moreover, the connection between Mlada Bosna and Crna Ruka (Black Hand) was made only a short time before the eventful June 28, 1914.
It was a challenge and on Serbia's national day at that. The Austrians were elated having been handed the excuse to educate Serbia and cut it to size. They issued an ultimatum and the rest is the history of the first truly global conflict, the First World War.
In 1917, in a surprising turn of events, Alexander, the Commander in Chief of the Expatriate Serbian Army in collusion with the Serb premier, Nikola Pasic, arrested Apis and 200 of his collaborators, thus shattering the Black Hand irreversibly. It is always surprising how really brittle and vulnerable these apparently invincible organizations of terror are. The IMRO, after having terrorized Bulgaria for decades and decimated its political elite, was reduced to rubble, bloodlessly, in a matter of a few weeks in 1934. The same happened with the omnipotent and all-pervasive Black Hand. It vanished in a whimper. In May 1917, Dragutin Dimitrijevic (Apis) was executed together with 2 or 6 of his Black Hand colleagues. Finally it was death, not union that caught up with them. The trial was closed to the public, opaque and hurried. The King apparently believed - or claimed he did - that the prisoners conspired on his life. West testifies in her great opus "Black Lamb Grey Falcon" that transcripts of the trial were banned and that it was forbidden to mention the mere historic fact either in speech or in print. The members of the Black Hand lived secretly and dies mysteriously and meaninglessly.
But the Black Hand - like the IMRO - was a child of the times. The Balkans was perceived to be the gate to the crumbling Ottoman Empire, The coveted prizes were not dirt poor Macedonia or Albania. It was the stepping stone and the springboard that they represented to much vaster territories, to the riches of the orient, to the exotic realms of Asia. All Big Powers and would be Big Powers engaged in the pugilistics of self-positioning. The demise of the Ottomans was imminent and this imminence exerted subtle but verifiable pressure on all the participant in this grubby grabbing game. Additionally, in this fin de siecle, all involved felt doomed. The rumblings of counter-revolutionary Russia, the drang nach Osten of Austria - all were attempts at self re-definition and self-preservation. Perhaps this explains the outlandish and disproportionate reaction of Austria to the needling of Bosnian terrorism. assertive minorities constituted a direct threat to the very cohesion of Empire. And Serbia blocked the hitherto unhindered path to eastern territories - depriving Austria of lebensraum and raison d'etre. Faced with a limiting event horizon, Austria imploded like a black hole, unto itself.
The driving force behind it all was really Austria and its growing existential angst. It struck a modus vivendi of mutual paralysis in the Balkan with Russia as early as 1897. It lasted ten years in which only Austria and Russia stood still but history defied them both. To its horror, Austria discovered that in its pursuit of glorious and condescending isolation, it was left only with Germany as an ally, the very Germany whose Weltpolitik put it on a clear collusion course with the moribund Sublime Port. Russia, on the other hand, teamed up with a rising power, with Britain, at least implicitly. The abrupt and involuntary departure of the pliable and easily corruptible Obrenovic's in Serbia bode ill to the checks and balances Austria so cultivated in its relationship with the recalcitrant Serbs. Karageorgevic was much less enamoured with Austrian shenanigans. The final nail in the ever more crowded coffin of Austrian foreign policy was hammered in in 1908 when the Young Turks effectively re-opened the question of the administration of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria. These territories were always under Turkish sovereignty, the Austrians "discovered" to growing alarm. One solution was to annex the administered units, as Austria's Minister of Foreign affairs suggested. He further offered a trade-off: recognition of Russia's rights of passage through the Dardanelles. The Russians accepted only to be abandoned by the Austrians in the crucial vote. Austria annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina unilaterally - but Russia was still prevented from crossing into the warm waters, its ambition and obsession. Russia learned a lesson: always back your client (Serbia), never back down.
Elsewhere, tensions between the Big Powers were growing and eroded their capability to institute a system of efficacious self-regulation. Armed conflict erupted between Germany and France in Morocco more than once. Britain and Germany were engaged in a naval arms race which depleted the coffers and the social cohesion of both. Italy declared war on Turkey in 1911 and even invaded the Dardanelles. Serbia and Bulgaria struck a bargain to expel the Ottomans from Europe (see above, the Balkan Wars). Thus, with the field narrowing and getting more crowded, an Austrian-Serb Armageddon was all but inevitable.
The irony of it all is that Austria presented the only viable solution to the problem of multi-ethnicity and muti-culturalism. The history of the Balkans in the 20th century can be effectively summed up in terms of the contest between the Serb and Hungarian model of co-existence and its Austrian anathema. The Serbs and Hungarians aspired to ethnically and culturally homogenous states and were willing to apply violence towards the achievement of this goal either by forced assimilation of minorities or by their expulsion or worse. The Austrians proposed federalism. They envisaged a federation of politically, culturally and religiously autonomous entities. This peaceful vision constituted a direct threat on the likes of the Black Hand. Peaceful, content citizens do not good rebels make. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says: "Such is the logic of terrorism: Its greatest enemies are the peacemakers".
The Black Hand did not operate in empty space and was not alone. In 1908 Serbia formed "The National Defence". Its main function was to agitate against the Austrians and to conduct propaganda for the Serb cause. There were other organizations but all of them were contemptuously labelled "intellectual" by Apis, who craved violence.
Ironically, one of the original band of conspirators against King Alexander in 1901-3 was Petar Zivkovic (Zhivkovitch). But he soon separated himself from the Black Hand and joined the White Hand, another group of officers, more moderate, though no less authoritarian. Another King Alexander (who was also murdered but in 1934), King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed "Yugoslavia"), appointed him Commander of the Palace Guards in 1921 and Prime Minister eight years thereafter. Zivkovic lost no time in disbanding all political parties and (elected) municipalities. He embarked upon an endless string of show trials of opponents of his dictatorship, communists and anti-monarchists. He introduced a one-party, government-controlled electoral system.
Thus, in an ironic twist of history, the Black Hand came to its own, after all. One of its former members a Prime Minister, a dictator, under a king installed by its slaughterous coup. Black Hand or White Hand - the means disputed, the ends were always in consensus. A Great Serbia for the Great Serbian people.
The Insurgents and the Swastika
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
"Even going back ten years it was easy to see something gripping Yugoslavia by the throat.
But in the years since then the grip has been tightened, and tightened in my opinion by the dictatorship established by King Alexander Karageorgevitch.
This dictatorship, however much it may claim a temporary success, must inevitably have the effect of poisoning all the Yugoslav organism. Whether the poisoning is incurable or not is the question for which I have sought an answer during two months in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and central Europe."
("Black Hand over Europe" by Henri Pozzi, 1935)
Yugoslavia was born in sin and in sin it perished. The King of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Alexander I, a freshly self-proclaimed dictator, declared it on October 1929. It was a union of East and West, the Orthodox and the Catholic, Ottoman residues with Austro-Hungarian structures, the heart and the mind. Inevitably, it stood no chance. The Croats and the Slovenes - formerly fiery proponents of a Yugo (Southern) Slav federation - were mortified to find themselves in a Serb-dominated "Third World", Byzantine polity. This was especially galling to the Croats who fiercely denied both their geography and their race to cling to the delusion of being a part of "Europe" rather than the "Balkans". To this very day, they hold all things Eastern (Serbs, the Orthodox version of Christianity, Belgrade, the Ottoman Empire, Macedonia) with unmitigated contempt dipped in an all-pervasive feeling of superiority. This is a well known defence mechanism in nations peripheral. Many a suburban folk wish to belong to the city with such heat and conviction, with such ridiculous emulation, that they end up being caricatures of the original.
And what original! The bloated, bureaucracy-saddled, autocratic and sadistic Habsburg empire. Hitler's Germany. Mussolini's Italy. Unable to ignore the common ethnic roots of both Serbs and Croats - one tribe, one language - the Croats chose to believe in a vast conspiracy imposed upon the Serbs by corrupt and manipulative rulers. The gullible and self-delusional Cardinal Stepinac of Zagreb wrote just before the Second World War erupted, in a curious reversal of pan-Serbist beliefs: "If there were more freedom... Serbia would be Catholic in twenty years. The most ideal thing would be for the Serbs to return to the faith of their fathers. That is, to bow the head before Christ's representative, the Holy Father. Then we could at last breathe in this part of Europe, for Byzantium has played a frightful role ... in connection with the Turks."
The same Turks that almost conquered Croatia and, met by fierce and brave resistance of the latter, were confined to Bosnia for 200 years. The Croats came to regard themselves as the last line of defence against an encroaching East - against the manifestations and transmutations of Byzantium, of the Turks, of a vile mix of Orthodoxy and Islam (though they collaborated with their Moslem minority during the Ustashe regime). Besieged by this siege mentality, the back to the literal wall, desperate and phobic, the Croats developed the paranoia typical of all small nations encircled by hostility and impending doom. It was impossible to reconcile their centrifugal tendency in favour of a weak central state in a federation of strong local entities - with the Serb propensity to create a centralist and bureaucratic court. When the Croat delegates of the Peasant Party withdrew from the fragmented Constituent Assembly in 1920 - Serbia and the Moslem members voted for the Vidovdan Constitution (June 1921) which was modelled on the pre-war Serbian one.
While a minority with limited popular appeal, the Ustashe did not materialize ex nihilo. They were the logical and inescapable conclusion of a long and convoluted historical process. They were both its culmination and its mutation. And once formed, they were never exorcised by the Croats, as the Germans exorcised their Nazi demon. In this, again, the Croats, chose the path of unrepentant Austria.
Croat fascism was not an isolated phenomenon. Fascism (and, less so, Nazism) were viable ideological alternatives in the 1930s and 1940s. Variants of fascist ideology sprang all over the world, from Iraq and Egypt to Norway and Britain. Even the Jews in Palestine had their own fascists (the Stern group). And while Croat fascism (such as it was, "tainted" by Catholic religiosity and pagan nationalism) lasted four tumultuous years - it persisted for a quarter of a century in Romania ("infected" by Orthodox clericalism and peasant lores). While both branches of fascism - the Croat and the Romanian - shared a virulent type of anti-Semitism and the constipated morality of the ascetic and the fanatic - Codreanu's was more ambitious, aiming at a wholesale reform of Romanian life and a re-definition of Romanianism. The Iron Guard and the Legion (of the Archangel Michael, no less) were, therefore and in their deranged way, a force for reform founded on blood-thirsty romanticism and masochistic sacrifices for the common good. Moreover, the Legion was crushed in 1941 by a military dictatorship which had nothing to do with fascism. It actually persecuted the fascists who found refuge in Hitler's Germany.
Fascism in Hungary developed similarly. It was based on reactionary ideologies pre-dating fascism by centuries. Miklos Horty, the Austro-Hungarian Admiral was consumed by grandiose fantasies of an Hungarian empire. He had very little in common with the fascists of the "white terror" of 1919 in Budapest (an anti-communist bloodshed). He did his best to tame the Hungarian fascist government of Gyula Gombos (1932). The untimely death of the latter brought about the meteoric rise of Ferenc Szalasi and his brand of blood-pure racism. But all these sub-species of fascism, the Romanian, the Slovakian (Tiso) and the Hungarian (as opposed to the Italian and the Bulgarian) were atavistic, pagan, primal and romanticist - as was the Croat. These were natural - though nefarious - reactions to dislocation, globalization, economic crisis and cultural pluralism. A set of compensatory mechanisms and reactions to impossible, humiliating and degrading circumstances of wrathful helplessness and frustration. "Native fascism" attributed a divine mission or divine plan to the political unit of the nation, a part of a grand design. The leader was the embodiment, the conveyor, the conduit, the exclusive interpreter and the manifestation of this design (the Fuhrerprinzip). Proof of the existence of such a transcendental plan was the glorious past of the nation, its qualities and conduct (hence the tedious moralizing and historical nitpicking). The definition of the nation relied heavily of the existence of a demonized and dehumanized enemy (Marxists, Jews, Serbs, Gypsies, homosexuals, Hungarians in Romania, etc.). Means justified the end and the end was stability and eternity ("the thousand years Reich"). Thus, as opposed to the original blueprint, these mutants of fascism were inert and aspired to a state of rest, to an equilibrium after a spurt of cleansing and restoration of the rightful balance.
When Serb domination (Serb ubiquitous military, Serbs in all senior government positions even in Croatia) mushroomed into the "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes", it was only natural for dissenting and dissident Croats to turn to their "roots". Unable to differentiate themselves from the hated Serbs racially - they appealed to religious heterogeneity. Immediately after the political hybrid was formed, the Croats expressed their discontent by handing election victories to the "Croatian Peasant Party" headed by Radic. The latter was a dour and devout anti-Yugoslav. He openly agitated for an independent - rustic and pastoral - Croatia. But Radic was a pragmatist. He learned his lesson when - having boycotted the Constituent Assembly in Belgrade - he facilitated the imposition of a pro-Serb, pro-central government constitution. Radic moderated his demands, if not his rhetoric. The goal was now a federated Yugoslavia with Croat autonomy within it. There is poetic justice in that his death - at the hand of a Montenegrin deputy on the floor of the Skupstina in 1928 - brought about the dictatorship that was to give rise to Macek and the Sporazum (Croat autonomy). The irony is that a peasant-favouring land reform was being seriously implemented when a deadlock between peasant parties led to King Alexander's fateful decision to abolish the parliamentary system.
King Alexander I was a good and worthy man forced by circumstances into the role of an abhorrent tyrant. He was a great believer in the power of symbols and education. He changed the name of his loose confederacy into a stricter "Yugoslavia". In an attempt to defuse internal divisions, he appealed to natural features (like rivers and mountains) as internal borders. Croatia vanished as a political entity, replaced by naturally-bounded districts and provinces. The majority of Croats still believed in a federal solution, albeit less Serb-biased. They believed in reform from the inside. The Ustashe and Pavelic were always a minority, the Bolsheviks of Croatia. But King Alexander's authoritarian rule was hard to ignore: the torture of political opponents and their execution, the closure of patriotic sports societies, the flagrant interference in the work of the ostensibly independent judiciary, the censorship. There was bad blood growing between the King and more of his subjects by the day. The Croats were not the only "minority" to be thus maltreated. The Serbs maintained an armed presence in Macedonia, Kosovo, the Sandzak and even in Slovenia. They deported thousands of "Turks" (actually, all manner of Muslims) under the guise of a "re-patriation" scheme. They confiscated land from religious institutions, from the deportees, from big landowners, from the Magyars in Vojvodina and "re-distributed" it to the Serbs. Ethnic homogenization (later to become known as "ethnic cleansing") was common practise in that era. The Turks, the Bulgars, the Germans, the Greeks were all busily purifying the ethnic composition of their lands. But it made the King and the Serbs no friends.
The Serbs seemed to have been bent on isolating themselves from within and on transforming their Yugo Slav brethren into sworn adversaries. This was true in the economic sphere as well as in the political realm. Serbia declared a "Danubian orientation" (in lieu of the "Adriatic orientation") which benefited the economies of central and northern Serbia at the expense of Croatia and Slovenia. While Serbia was being industrialized and its agriculture reformed, Croatia and Slovenia did not share in the spoils of war, the reparations that Yugoslavia received from the Central Powers. Yugoslavia was protectionist which went against the interest of its trading compatriots. When war reparations ceased (1931) and Germany's economy evaporated, Yugoslavia was hurled into the economic crisis the world has been experiencing since 1929. The Nazi induced recovery of Germany drew in Yugoslavia and its firms. It was granted favourable export conditions by Hitler's Germany and many of its companies participated in cartels established by German corporate giants.
King Alexander I must have known he would be assassinated. Someone tried to kill him as he was taking the oath to uphold the constitution on June 28, 1921. For 8 long years he had to endure a kaleidoscope of governments, a revolving door of ministers, violence in the Assembly and ever-escalating Croat demands for autonomy. After the hideous slaughter on the floor of parliament, all its remaining Croat members withdrew. They refused to go back and parliament had to be dissolved. Alexander went further, taking advantage of the constitutional crisis. He abolished the constitution of 1921, outlawed all ethnically, religiously or nationally based political parties (which basically meant most political parties, especially the Croat ones), re-organized the state administration, standardized the legal system, school syllabi and curricula and the national holidays. He was moulding a nation single handedly, carving it from the slab of mutual hatred and animosity. The Croats regarded all this as yet another Serb ploy, proof of Serb power-madness and insatiable desire to dominate. In an effort to placate the bulk of his constituency, the peasantry, King Alexander established rural credit unions and provided credit lines to small farmers and rural processing plants. To no avail. The insecurity of this hastily foisted regime was felt, its hesitation, the cruelty that is the outcome of fear. The scavengers were gathering.
It was this basic shakiness that led the King to look for sustenance from neighbours. In rapid succession, he made his state a friend of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania (the last two in the frame of the Little Entente). Another Entente followed (the Balkan one) with Greece, Turkey and Romania. The King was frantically seeking to neutralize his enemies from without while ignoring the dangers from within. His death lurked in Zagreb but he was travelling to Marseilles to meet it. A vicious secret police, a burgeoning military, a new constitution to legalize his sanguinous regime conspired with a global economic crisis to make him a hated figure, even by Serb Democrats. Days before his death, he earnestly considered to return to a parliamentary form of government. But it was too late and too little for those who sought his end.
The Ustasha movement ("insurgence" or "insurrection", officially the "Croatian Ustasha Movement") was a product of the personal rebellion of Ante Pavelic and like-minded others. Born in Bosnia, he was a member of the Croat minority there, in a Serb-infused environment. He practised as a lawyer in Zagreb and there joined the Nationalist Croatian Party of Rights. He progressed rapidly and by 1920 (at the age of 31), he was alderman of Zagreb City and County. He was a member of the Skupstina when anti-Croat sentiment peaked with the triple murder of the Croat deputies. When Alexander the King dissolved parliament and assumed dictatorial powers, he moved (or fled) to Italy, there to establish a Croat nationalist movement, the Ustasha. Their motto was "Za Dom Spremny" ("Ready for Home" or "Ready for the Fatherland"). Italy the fascist was a natural choice - both because of its ideological affinity and because it opposed Yugoslavia's gradual drift towards Germany. Italy was worried about an ultimate anschluss ("unification or incorporation") between the Reich and Austria - which will have brought Hitler's Germany to Austria's doorstep.
Thus, the Ustasha established training centres (more like refugee camps, as they included the family members of the would be "warriors") in Italy and Hungary (later to be expelled from the latter as a result of Yugoslav pressure). Having mainly engaged in the dissemination of printed propaganda, they failed at provoking a peasant rebellion in north Dalmatia (promised to Italy by the Ustasha). But they did better at assassinating their arch-foe, King Alexander in 1934 (having failed earlier, in 1933). In this the Ustasha was reputed to have collaborated with the fascist IMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) under Ivan Mihailov in Bulgaria. By joining forces with the IMRO, the Ustasha has transformed itself into a link in the chain of terrorist organizations that engulfed the world in blood and flames prior to the onslaught of the greatest terrorist of all, of Hitler. While some versions of the unholy alliance between the Bulgarian-Macedonian outfit and the Croats are unsubstantiated (to put it gently), it is clear that some assistance was provided by both lower Italian ranks and the IMRO. The actual murderer of the King was Mihailov's Macedonian chauffeur, Vlado Georgiev-Kerin. The Ustasha was also known for blowing trains and for attempting to do so on more than one occasion both in Croatia and in Slovenia. King Alexander seemed to have ordered the systematic annihilation of the Ustasha just before his own untimely Ustasha-assisted annihilation. Lt. Colonel Stevo Duitch "committed suicide" in Karlsbad and there were attempts - some successful, some less - on Pavelic in Munich, Percevic in Vienna, Servaci (Servatsi) in Fiume and Percec in Budapest. It was made abundantly clear to the Ustasha that it was an all-out war with no prisoners taken. The King had to go.
It was a strange movement, the Ustashe. Claiming the continuous "rights of state" of the Great Croatian Kingdom under Peter Kresimir and Zvonimir in the 11th century - they nonetheless gave up Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to Italy and, later, accepted a German occupation of eastern Croatia. Composed of frugal ascetics and avaricious operators, merciless romanticists and hard nosed pragmatists, murderous sadists and refined intellectuals, nationalist Croats and Serb-haters who had no coherent national agenda bar the mass slaughter of the Serbs. Thus, it was a social movement of the dispossessed, a cesspool of discontent and rage, of aggression too long suppressed but never sublimated, of justified social and political grievances irradiated by racism, national chauvinism, militarism and sadism. A grassroots reaction turned cancerous, led by a second hand, third rate Hitler-clone. A terrorist organization displaying the trappings of a state in the making. This is not to say that it lacked popular support. Tensions ran so high between Serbs and Croats that daily brawls broke in pubs and restaurants, trains and public places between Serb soldiers and Croat citizens in Croatia. The Ustashe fed on real friction, were charged by escalating tensions, mushroomed on growing violence.
Prince Paul, who acted as regent for 12 years old Peter II, permitted the operation of political parties but did not reinstate parliament. All this time, a Yugoslav opposition of democratic forces included Croat as well as Serb intellectuals and wannabe politicians. Vladko Macek himself - later, the epitome of Croat separatism and the most successful promoter of this cause - was a member. In the 1938 elections, his party - the Peasant Party - won an astounding 80% of the votes in Croatia. The regent, now much humbled by years of strife and paralysis - bowed to popular opinion so eloquently and convincingly expressed. He backed negotiations with Macek which led to a declaration of Croat independence in everything but name. The Sporazum of August 1939, a few days before the outbreak of World War II, granted Croatia self-government except in matters of national defence and foreign affairs. The Serbs were now disgruntled. The Serb Democrats felt abandoned and betrayed by Macek and his Faustian deal with the dictatorship. All other Serbs felt humiliated by what they regarded as a capitulation to irredentism, bound to have a disintegrative domino effect on the rest of Serbia's possessions. It is a surrealistic thing, to read the transcripts of these vehement and sincere arguments just four days before the world as all the conversants knew it, came to a shrieking end.
When German planes were pulverizing Warsaw, Yugoslavia declared its mock-neutrality. Everybody knew that Paul was pro-German. Even King Alexander before him signed a few secret pacts with the rising, ignore at your peril, Central European force. The Austrian national socialists who were implicated in the murder of the Austrian prime minister, Dolfus, in July 1934, escaped to Yugoslavia and resided openly (though disarmed by the Yugoslav police) in army barracks in Varadzin. In 1935, a fascist movement was established in Serbia ("Zbor"). Fascism and Nazism were not without their attractions to Serbs and Croats alike.
This is the great theatre of the absurd called the Balkans. Pavelic and the Ustasha were actually closer in geopolitical orientation to the Yugoslav monarchy (until Paul was deposed by the Yugoslav army) - than to Mussolini's fascist Italy. They were worried by the latter's tendency to block German designs on Austria. In a region known for its indefinite historical memory and lack of statute of limitations, they recalled how the Italians treated Montenegrin refugees in 1923 (returning them to Yugoslavia in cattle cars). They wondered if the precedent might be repeated, this time with Croat passengers. The Italians did, after all, arrest "Longin" (Kvaternik), Jelic and others in Torino following the assassination of the King. In the paranoid twilight zone of European Big Power sponsored terrorism, these half hearted actions and dim memories were enough to cast a pall of suspicion and of guilt over the Italian regime. Mussolini called Pavelic his "Balkan Pawn" but in that he was mistaken. There are good reasons to believe that he was shocked by the murder of King Alexander. In any event, the free movement of Pavelic and the Ustasha was afterwards severely restricted.
On March 1941, the Crown Council of Yugoslavia decided to accede to the Tripartite Pact of the Axis, though in a watered down form. Yugoslavia maintained the prerogative to refuse the right of passage in its territory to foreign powers. Yet, no one believed this would be the case if confronted with such a predicament. This decision - to give up Yugoslavia's main asset and only protection - its neutrality - was taken under pressure from the Croats in power at the time. The Pact was already joined by Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Two days after the Yugoslav Prime Minister (Dragisa Cvetkovic) and his foreign minister signed the Pact in Vienna - they were deposed together with the Regent Paul. The precocious Peter was made King of Yugoslavia by the rebellious officers, headed by General Dusan Simovic. The generals now in charge reverted to Yugoslavia's neutrality and refused to join the British-Greek naval treaty, for example. But what appeared to be spontaneous demonstrations in favour of the conspirators and against the Tripartite Pact erupted all over Serbia. It was a challenge to Germany which it could not ignore. The Supreme Command of the Wehrmact (OKW) issued "Undertaking 25" (against Yugoslavia) and "Case Marita" (against Greece). The Yugoslavs mobilized (albeit with a surprising procrastination), the Germans invaded (on April 6, 1941) and, within 10 days it was all over. The Croats did their best to assist the new forces of occupation, disrupting and sabotaging the best they could army operations as well as civilian defence. It was clear that many of them (though by no means the majority) regarded the Serbs as the real occupiers and the Germans as long awaited liberators.
On April 10, 1941, six days into the invasion, the Germans declared the Independent State of Croatia (NDH, after the initials of its name in Croatian - Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska). Vladimir Mecak, leader of the Peasant Party and Deputy Prime Minister of Yugoslavia called on the people to collaborate with the new government. Overnight, a fringe terrorist organization, (erroneously) considered to be more a puppet of Italy that a true expression of Croat nationalism, found itself at the helm of government in circumstances complicated by internecine rivalries, inter-ethnic tensions, an history of hate and mutual resentment, a paranoia stoked by sporadic violence. The Serbs were evidently a fifth column and so were the Jews. Indeed, Croatia's Serbs wasted no time in joining resistance movements against the Nazis and the NDH. Anyhow, the vacuum created by Macek's surprising passivity and by the Church's abstention - was filled by the Ustashe. The new state included a part of Dalmatia (the rest went to Italy), the region of Srem and the entirety of Bosnia Herzegovina. It was the closest Croatia ever got to re-creating Great Croatia of a millennium ago. Fearful of Croat encroachment, the Slovenes hurried to discuss the declaration of their own state modelled after the NDH - only to discover that their country was split between Italy and Germany. In Zagreb, the enthusiasm was great. The 200 nor so returning Ustashe were greeted back even by their political rivals. People thronged the streets, throwing flowers and rice at the advancing former terrorist and German convoys.
The NDH existed for four years. It had 7 governments - only 5 of which were headed by Ante Pavelic. As opposed to popular opinion, the Ustashe were not a puppet regime, far from it. Both the Italians and the Germans express their continued frustration at being unable to control and manipulate the Ustashe. Despite their military presence and economic support - both Axis powers lacked real leverage over the ever more frantic activities of the Ustashe. Even when it was clear that the Croat NDH - in its genocidal activities - is alienating the Serbs and adding to the ranks of resistance movements throughout Yugoslavia, there was precious little the Germans or Italians could do. They held polite and less polite talks with the top echelons of their own creation but like the fabled Dr. Frankenstein found that the NDH had a life very much of its own and an agenda it pursued with vigour and conviction.
It is impossible - nor is it desirable - to avoid the issue of the mass killings of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. Some Croats claim that "only" 60-70,000 were killed in Jasenovac and other camps. The very use of the word "only" in this context ought to send a frisson of repulsion down the spines of civilized men. The Serbs, Jewish scholars and many international scholars claim the number was between 300-600,000 people. The reason for the disparity in numbers is that - despite their "German" pretensions, the Croats acted like the least of the barbarous Balkanians in their mass slaughters. This was no industrial affairs, replete with bureaucracy and statistics. The massacres were atavistic, primitive, the call of blood and guts and scattered brains. It was an orgy, not an operation.
There is nothing much to tell about the NDH. The regime was busy enacting laws against deadly sins and minor vices (such as pornography). The collaboration with the Catholic Church proceeded smoothly. Laws were passed against the Jews. The NDH army fought the partisans and the Allied Forces. When it tried to surrender to the British army in 1945 - it refused to accept their capitulation and turned them over to the partisans. In a series of death marches army soldiers and civilian collaborators with the Ustashe were deliberately exterminated. The Balkans knows no mercy. Victims become butchers and butchers victims in nauseating turns. By 1944, the NDH lost half its territory either to the Germans or to the partisans. The rump state survived somehow, its leaders deserting in droves. Pavelic himself escaped to Austria, from there to Italy and Argentina. He survived an attempt on his life in 1957 and then fled to Paraguay and Spain where he died in 1959.
"After all, if the Croat state wishes to be strong, a nationally intolerant policy must be pursued for fifty years, because too much tolerance on such issues
can only do harm."
(Adolf Hitler to Ante Pavelic in their meeting, June 6, 1941)
"For the rest - Serbs, Jews and Gypsies - we have three million bullets. We shall kill one third of all Serbs. We shall deport another third, and the rest of them will be forced to become Roman Catholic."
(Mile Budak, Minister of Education of Croatia, July 22, 1941)
"There are limits even to love... (It is) stupid and unworthy of Christ's disciples to think that the struggle against evil could be waged in a noble way and with gloves on."
(Archbishop of Sarajevo, Ivan Saric, 1941)
"Croats no longer think that German troops are present merely to provide peace and security, but that they are here to support the Ustasha regime [...] The Ustashas promote the impression that they act not only in agreement with German instances, but actually on their orders. [...] There is here today a deep mistrust of Germany, because it is supporting a regime that has no moral or political right to exist, which is regarded as the greatest calamity that could have happened to the Croat people. That regime is based entirely on the recognition by the Axis powers, it has no popular roots, and depends on the bayonets of robbers who do more evil in a day than the Serbian regime had done in twenty years."
(Captain Haffner to General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, Plenipotentiary of the Wehrmacht in Zagreb, Croatia, 1941)
"Our troops have to be mute witnesses of such events; it does not reflect well on their otherwise high reputation... I am frequently told that German occupation troops would finally have to intervene against Ustasha crimes.
This may happen eventually. Right now, with the available forces, I could not ask for such action Ad hoc intervention in individual cases could make the German Army look responsible for countless crimes which it could not prevent in the past."
(General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau to the OKW, July 10, 1941)
"The horrors that the Ustashi have committed over the Serbian small girls is beyond all words. There are hundreds of photographs confirming these deeds because those of them who have survived the torture: bayonet stabs, pulling of tongues and teeth, nails and breast tips - all this after they were raped. Survivors were taken in by our officers and transported to Italian hospitals where these documents and facts were gathered."
(Commander of the Italian Sassari Division in Croatia, 1941)
"Increased activity of the bands is chiefly due to atrocities carried out by Ustasha units in Croatia against the Orthodox population. The Ustashas committed their deeds in a bestial manner not only against males of conscript age, but especially against helpless old people, women and children. The number of the Orthodox that the Croats have massacred and sadistically tortured to death is about three hundred thousand."
(Report to Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler from the Geheime Staatspolizei - GESTAPO - dated February 17, 1942)
"From the founding [of the NDH] until now the persecution of Serbs has not stopped, and even cautious estimates indicate that at least several hundred thousand people have been killed. The irresponsible elements have committed such atrocities that could be expected only from a rabid Bolshevik horde."
(German foreign ministry plenipotentiary representative in Belgrade Felix Benzler to Joachim von Ribbentrop, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Reich)
" (In Croatia under the Ustasha) ...over half a million [Serbs] were murdered, about a quarter of a million were expelled from the country, and another quarter
of a million were forced to convert to Catholicism."
(Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust)
(All quotes from "The Real Genocide in Yugoslavia: Independent Croatia of 1941 Revisited" by: Srdja Trifkovic, published in: www.rockfordinstitute.org and in: www.antiwar.com )
KLA - The Army of Liberation
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
"(There is a growing tendency among foreign observers) to identify the criminal with the honest, the vandal with the civilized, the mafiosi with the nation.''
(Former Albanian President Sali Berisha)
"They were terrorists in 1998 and now, because of politics, they're freedom fighters"
(Jerry Seper, quoting an anonymous "top drug official" who refers to a 1998 State Department report, in the article "KLA Finances War with Heroin Sales", Washington Times, May 3, 1999)
"The Albanian villages are much better, much richer than the Serbian ones. The Serbs, even the rich ones, don't build fine houses in villages where there are Albanians. If a Serb has a two-story house he refrains from painting it so that it shan't look better than the Albanian houses."
(Leon Trotsky, War Correspondent for "Pravda", reporting from the Balkan Wars, 1912-3)
"When spring comes, we will manure the plains of Kosovo with the bones of Serbs, for we, Albanians, have suffered too much to forget."
(Isa Boletini, leaving the Ambassadors Conference in London, 1913)
"Instead of using their authority and impartiality to restrain terrorist gangs of Albanian extremists, we face the situation in which the terrorism is taking place under their auspices, and even being financed by United Nations means"
(Milosevic, March 2000)
"Getting history wrong is an essential part of being a nation."
(Ernest Renan, French historian)
"We spent the 1990's worrying about a Greater Serbia. That's finished.
We are going to spend time well into the next century worrying about a Greater Albania."
(Christopher Hill, Ambassador to Macedonia, 1999)
"There is no excuse for that, even if the Serbs in Kosovo are very angry. I accept responsibility.
One of the most important tasks of a democracy is to protect its minorities."
(Milosevic to Ambassador Hill who reported to him about atrocities in Kosovo)
"I am like a candle. I am melting away slowly, but I light the way for others."
(Adem Demaci, political representative of the KLA)
The founding fathers of the KLA were Ibrahim Rugova, the pacifist president of the self-proclaimed "Kosovo Republic", established in 1991 - and Slobodan Milosevic, his belligerent Yugoslav counterpart. The abysmal failure of the Gandhiesque policies of the former to shelter his people from the recrudescently violent actions of the latter - revived the fledging KLA outfit. Contrary to typically shallow information in the media, the KLA has been known to have operated in Kosovo as early as the attack on policemen in Glogovac in May 1993. Its epiphany, in the form of magnificently uniformed fighters, occurred only on November 28, 1997 (in the funeral of a teacher, a victim of Serb zealousness) - but it existed long before. Perhaps as long as the People's Movement of Kosovo, founded in 1982.
The historical and cultural roots of the conflict in Kosovo were described elsewhere ("The Bad Blood of Kosovo").
Reading that article is essential as this one assumes prior acquaintance with it.
Kosovo is a land of great mineral wealth and commensurate agricultural poverty. It has always languished with decrepit infrastructure and irrelevant industry. Kosovo's mineral riches were looted by Yugoslavia for decades and both Macedonia and Kosovo were the poor relatives in the Yugoslav Federation. In Kosovo, more than 31% of all those over 10 years of age were illiterate (in 1979) and its per capita income was less than 30% of the national average. Infant mortality was 6 times that in Slovenia. Kosovo was an African enclave in an otherwise Europe-aspiring country. Caught in the pernicious spiral of declining commodity prices, Kosovo relied on transfers from Yugoslavia and from abroad for more than 90% of its income. Inevitably, unemployment tripled from 19% in 1971 to 57% in 1989.
As a result, the Federal government had to quell 3-months long, paralysing riots in 1981. Riots were nothing new to Kosovo - the demonstrations of 1968 were arguably worse (and led to constitutional changes granting autonomy to Kosovo in 1974). But this time, the authorities, reacted with tanks in scenes reminiscent of China's Tiananmen Square 8 years later. The hotbed of hotheads was, as usual, the University in Pristina. Students there were more concerned with pedestrian issues such the quality of their food and the lack of facilities than with any eternal revolutionary or national truths. These mundane protests were hijacked by comrades with higher class consciousness and loftier motives of self-determination. Such hijacking, though, would have petered out had the cesspool of rage and indignation not been festering so ebulliently. Serb insensitivity backed by indiscriminate brutality led to escalation. As the years passed, calls for the restoration of the 1974 constitution (under which Kosovo was granted political, financial, legal and cultural autonomy and institutions) - merged into a sonorous agenda of "Great Albania" and a "Kosovo Republic". The Kosovar crowd was never above beatings, looting and burning. The hate was strong.
Yugoslavia's ruling party - the League of Communists - was in the throes of its own transformation. With Tito's demise and the implosion of the Soviet Bloc, the Communists lacked both compass and leader. His natural successors were purged by Tito in the 1960s and 1970s. The party wasn't sure whether to turn to Gorbachev's East or to America's West. The Communists panicked and embarked on a rampage of imprisonment, unjust dismissals of Albanians (mainly of teachers, journalists, policemen and judges) and the occasional torture or murder. Serb intellectuals regarded this as no more than the rectification of Tito's anti-Serb policies. Serbia was the only Republic within the Federation, who was dismembered into autonomous regions (Kosovo and Vojvodina). "Getting back at Tito" was a strong motive, commensurate with Serb "the world is against us" paranoia and siege mentality. Milosevic, visibly ill at ease, surfed this tide of religion-tinged nationalism straight into Kosovo, the historical heartland of Serb-ism.
Oppression breeds resistance and Serb oppression served only to streamline the stochastic nationalist movement into a compartmentalized, though factious, underground organization with roots wherever Albanians resided: Germany, Switzerland, the USA, Canada and Australia. The ideology was an improbable mix of Stalinism (Enver Hoxha-inspired), Maoism and Albanian chauvinism. This was before Albania opened up to reveal its decrepitude and desolation to its Kosovar visitors. All delusions of an Albania-backed armed rebellion evaporated in the languor of Albania proper. Thus, the activities of the Nationalists were more innocuous than their concocted doctrines. They defaced government buildings, shattered gravestones in Serb cemeteries and overturned heroic monuments. The distribution of subversive (and fairly bromide) "literature" was rarely accompanied by acts of terror, either in Kosovo or in Europe.
Nationalism is refuge from uncertainty. As the old Yugoslavia was crumbling, each of its constituents developed its own brand of escapism, replete with revenant nationalist leaders, mostly fictional "history", a newly discovered language and a pledge to fate to reconstitute a lost empire at its apex. Thus, Kosovar nationalism was qualitatively the kin and kith of the Serb or Croat sub-species. Paradoxically, though rather predictably, they fed on each other. Milosevic was as much a creation of Kosovar nationalism as Thaci was the outcome of Milosevic's policies. The KLA's Stalinist-Maoist inspiration was in emulation of the paranoid and omphaloskeptic regime in Albania - but it owed its existence to Belgrade's intransigence. The love-hate relationship between the Kosovars and the Albanians is explored elsewhere ("The Myths of Great Albania -Part I"). The Serbs, in other words, were as terrified of Kosovar irredentism as the Kosovars were of Serb dominion. Their ever more pressing and menacing appeals to Belgrade gave the regime the pretext it needed to intervene and Milosevic the context he sought in which to flourish.
In February 1989, armed with a new constitution which abolished Kosovo's autonomy (and, a year later, its stunned government), Milosevic quelled a miners' hunger strike and proceeded to institute measures of discrimination against the Albanians in the province. Discrimination was nothing new to Kosovo. The Albanians themselves initiated such anti-Serb measures following their new gained constitutional autonomy in 1974. Now the tide has turned and thousands of Albanians who refused to sign new-fangled "loyalty vows" were summarily sacked and lost their pension rights (the most sacred possession of "Homo Socialismus"). Albanian media were shuttered and schools vacated when teacher after teacher refused to abide by the Serb curriculum. After a while, The Serbs re-opened primary schools and re-hired Albanian teachers, allowing them to teach in Albanian. But secondary schools and universities remained closed.
These acts of persecution did not meet with universal disapproval. Greece, for instance, regarded the Albanians as natural allies of the Turks and, bonded by common enmity, of the Macedonians and Bulgarians. Itself comprised of lands claimed by Albania, Greece favoured a harsh and final resolution of the Albanian question. There can be little doubt that Macedonia - feeling besieged by its Albanian minority - regarded Milosevic as the perfect antidote. Macedonia actively assisted Yugoslavia to break the embargo imposed on it by the Western powers. Milosevic was not, therefore, a pariah, as retroactive history would have it. Rather, he was the only obstacle to a "Great Albania".
Within less than a year, in 1990, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was able to claim a membership of 700,000 members. Hashim Thaci ("Snake"), Sulejman Selimi ("Sultan") and other leaders of the KLA were then 20 years of age. Years of Swiss education notwithstanding, they witnessed first hand Kosovo's tumultuous transformation into the engine of disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation. It was a valuable lesson in the dialectic of history, later to be applied brilliantly.
The leader of the LDK, the forever silk scarfed and mellifluous Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, compared himself openly and blushlessly to Vaclav Havel and the Kosovar struggle to the Velvet Revolution. This turgid and risible analogy deteriorated further as the Kosovar Velvet was stained by the blood of innocents. Dr. Rugova was an unfazed dreamer in a land of harsh nightmares. The Sorbonne was never a good preparatory school to the academy of Balkan reality. Rugova's ideals were good and noble - Gandhi-like passive resistance, market economics, constructive (though uncompromising and limited to the authorities) dialogue with the enemy. They might still prevail. And during the early 1990s he was all the rage and the darling of the West. But he failed to translate his convictions into tangible achievements. His biggest failure might have been his inability to ally himself with a "Big Power" - as did the Croats, the Slovenes and the Bosnians. This became painfully evident with the signature of the Dayton Accord in 1995 which almost completely ignored Kosovo and the Kosovars. True, the West conditioned the total removal of sanctions against Yugoslavia on its humane treatment of its Albanian citizens and encouraged the Albanians, though circumspectly, to stand for their rights. But there was no explicit support even for the re-instatement of Kosovo's 1974 status, let alone for the Albanians' dreams of statehood. In the absence of such support - financial and diplomatic - Kosovo remained an internal problem of Yugoslavia, a renegade province, a colony of terror and drug trafficking. The Kosovars felt betrayed as they have after the Congress of Berlin and the Balkan Wars. Perhaps securing such a sponsor was a lost cause to start with (though the KLA succeeded where Rugova failed) - but then Rugova misled his people into sanguinous devastation by declaring the "Kosovo Republic" prematurely. His choice of pacifism may have been dictated by the sobering sights from the killing fields of Bosnia - and proved his pragmatism. But his decision to declare a "Republic" was pre-mature, self-aggrandizing and in vacuo. The emergence of a political alternative - tough, realistic, methodical and structured - was not only a question of time but a welcome development. There is no desolation like the one inflicted by sincere idealists.
In 1991, Rugova set about organizing a Republic from a shabby office building and the opposite "Cafe Mimoza". His government constructed makeshift schools and hospitals, parallel networks of services staffed by the Serb-dispossessed, capitalizing on a sweeping wave of volunteerism. Albania recognized this nascent state immediately and international negotiators (such as Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance) conferred with its self-important figurehead (for instance, in September 1992). Successive American administrations funnelled money into the province and warnings against "ethnic cleansing" were flung at Yugoslavia as early as 1993. Internally, Serb extremists in both Belgrade and Pristina prevented Serb moderates (like then Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic) from re-opening the schools of Kosovo and reducing the massive, Northern-Ireland-like Serb military presence in it. An agreement signed in 1997 by both Rugova and Milosevic to abolish the parallel Albanian education system and re-open all the educational facilities in Kosovo was thus frustrated. Kosovo fractured along ethnic lines with complete segregation of the Serbs and the Albanians. To avoid contact with the Serbs was an unwritten rule, breached only by prominent intellectuals. The "Kosovo Republic" was far from advocating ethnic cleansing or even outright independence (there were powerful voices in favour of a federal solution within Yugoslavia) - but not far from re-inventing an inverted version of apartheid. It faced the ubiquitous problem of all the other republics of former Yugoslavia - not one of them was ethnically "pure". To achieve a tolerable level of homogeneity, they had to resort to force. Rugova advocated the measured application of the insidious powers of discrimination and segregation. But, once the theme was set, variations were bound to arise.
Though dominant for some years, Rugova and the LDK did not monopolize the Kosovar political landscape. Following a poll in 1998, boycotted by all other political parties, which resulted in the re-election of Rugova as president - the disenchanted and disillusioned had plenty of choice. Some joined the KLA, many more joined Rexhep Qosaj's (Qosje) United Democratic Movement (LBD). The political scene in Kosovo in the 1980s and early 1990s was vibrant and kaleidoscopic. Adem Demaci - the Marxist ideologue of the KLA, a long time political prisoner and the founder of the "revolutionary Movement for the Merger of Albanians" in 1964 - established the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo (PPK) before he handed it over to Bajram Kosumi, a dissident and another venerable political prisoner. The PPK was co-founded by Veton Surroi, the English-speaking, US-educated, son of a Yugoslav diplomat and editor of Koha Ditore, the Albanian language daily. The Albanians are not a devout lot, but even Islam had its political manifestations in Kosovo.
The 1981 demonstrations gave rise to the Popular Movement for Kosovo (LPK). Apparently, it gave rise to the KLA, probably in 1993, possibly in Pristina. Whatever the circumstances, the KLA congregated in Decani, the region surrounding Pristina. Two years after the Golgovac attack - it tackled a Serb border patrol (April) and a Serb Police Station (August) in 1995. Light weapons and a crude bomb were used. The Serbs were not impressed - but they were provoked into an escalating series of ever more hideous massacres of Albanian villagers (the turning point might have been the slaughter by the Serbs of the Jashari clan in Prekaz). Machiavellian analysts ascribe to the KLA a devilish plot to provoke the Serbs into the ethnic cleansing that finally introduced the West to tortured Kosovo. The author of this article, aware of the Balkan's lack of propensity for long term planning and predilection for self-defeating vengeance - believes that, to the KLA, it was all a serendipitous turn of events. Whatever the case may be, the KLA became sufficiently self-assured and popular to advertise itself on the BBC as responsible for some of the clashes - a rite of passage common to all self-respecting freedom fighters.
The selection of targets by the KLA is very telling. At first it concentrated its fiery intentions only upon military and law and order personnel. Its reluctance to effect civilians was meritorious. A subtle shift occurred when the Serbs began to re-populate Kosovo with Serbs displaced from the Krajina region. Alarmed by the intent - if not by the execution (only 10,000 Serbs or so were settled in Kosovo) - the KLA reacted with a major drive to arm itself and by attacking Serb settlements in Klina, Decani and Djakovica and a refugee camp in Baboloc. The KLA attacks were militarily sophisticated and co-ordinated. Serb policemen were ambushed on the road between Glogovac and Srbica. The Serb counter-offensive resulted in dozens of Albanian victims - civilians, men, women and children (the "Drenica Massacre"). The KLA tried to defend villages aligned along a Pec-Djakovica line and thus disrupt the communications and logistics of Serb Military Police and Special (Ministry of Interior) Police units. The main arena of fighting was a recurrent one - in the 1920s, Albanian guerillas, based in the hills, attacked the Serbs in Drenica.
What finally transformed the KLA from a wannabe IRA into the fighting force that it has become was the disintegration of Albania. History is the annals of irony. The break-up of the KLA'a role model - led to the resurgence of its intellectual progeny. The KLA absorbed thousands of weapons from the looted armouries of the Albanian military and police. Angry mobs attacked these ordnances following the collapse of pyramid investment schemes that robbed one third of the population of all their savings. The arms ended up in the trigger-happy hands of drug lords, mafiosi, pimps, smugglers and freedom fighters from Tetovo in Macedonia to Durres in Albania and from Pristina in Kosovo to the Sandzak in Serbia. The KLA was so ill-equipped to cope with this fortuitous cornucopia - that it began to trade weapons, a gainful avocation it found hard to dislodge ever since. The convulsive dissolution of Albania led to changes in high places. Sali Berisha was deposed and replaced by Rexhep Mejdani, an even more sympathetic ear to separatist demands. Berisha himself later allowed the KLA to use his property (around Tropoja) as staging grounds and supported the cause (though not the "Marxist-Leninist" KLA or its self-appointed government) unequivocally. At a certain stage, he even accused Fatos Nano, his rival and the Prime Minister of Albania of being the enemy of the Albanian people for not displaying the same unmitigated loyalty to the idea of an independent Kosovo, under Rugova and Bujar Bukoshi, Rugova's money man (and Prime Minister in exile). The KLA was able to expand its presence in Albania, mainly in its training and operations centres near Kukes, Ljabinot (near Tirana) and Bajram Curi. Albania had a growing say in the affairs of the KLA as it recomposed itself - it was instrumental in summoning the KLA to Rambouillet, for instance.
This armed revelry coupled with the rising fortunes of separatism, led Robert Gelbard, the senior US envoy to the Balkan to label the KLA - "a terrorist organization". The Serbs took this to mean a licence to kill, which they exercised dutifully in Drenica. Promptly, the USA changed course and the indomitable Madeleine Albright switched parties, saying: "We are not going to stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with in Bosnia". This stern consistency was followed by a tightening of the embargo against Yugoslavia and by a threat of unilateral action. For the first time in history, the Kosovars finally had a sponsor - and what a sponsor! The mightiest of all. As for Milosevic, he felt nauseatingly betrayed. Not only was he not rewarded for his role as the Dayton peacemaker - he was faced with new sanctions, an ultimatum and a direct threat on the very perpetuation of his regime.
The KLA mushroomed not because it attacked Serbs (very sporadically and to a minuscule effect). It ballooned because it delivered where Rugova didn't even promise. It delivered an alliance with the USA against the hated Serbs. It delivered weapons. It delivered hope and a plan. It delivered vengeance, the self-expression of the downtrodden. It was joined by near and far and, by its own reckoning, its ranks swelled to 50,000 warriors. More objective experts put the figure of active fighters at one fourth this number. Still, it is an impressive number in a population of 1.7 million Albanians. During the war, it was joined by 400 overweight suburbanites from North America, Albanian volunteers within an "Atlantic Brigade". It also absorbed Albanians with rich military experience from Serbia and Croatia as well as foreign mercenaries and possibly "Afghanis" (the devout Moslem veterans of the wars in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Bosnia).
The influx of volunteers put pressure on the leadership - both organizational and pecuniary. The KLA - an entrepreneurial start up of insurgency - had matured into a national brand of guerilla. It revamped itself, creating directorates, offices and officers, codes and procedures, a radio station and a news agency, an electronic communications interception unit, a word of mouth messenger service and a general military staff, headed since February 1999 by "Sultan" and divided to seven operational zones. In short, it reacted to changing fortunes by creating a bureaucracy. Concurrently, it armed itself to its teeth with more sophisticated weapons than ever before (though it was still short of medical supplies, ammunition and communications equipment). The KLA now had shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket launchers (like the German "Armburst"), mortars, recoilless rifles, anti-aircraft machine-guns and automatic assault rifles. Some of the weapons were even bought from Serb army officers or imported through Hungary. All this required a financial phase transition. That the KLA has benefited, directly and knowingly, from money tainted by drug trafficking and smuggling of both goods and people across borders - can be in little doubt. But I find the proposition that the KLA itself has traded in drugs unlikely. The long-established Albanian clans which control the "Balkan Route" - the same clans that faced down the fearsome Turkish gangs on their own turf - would have never let an upstart such as the KLA take over any of their territory and its incumbent profits. The KLA might have traded weapons. It might have dabbled in smuggling. It might have received donations from drug lords. In this, it is no different from all major modern guerilla movements. But it did not peddle drugs - not because of moral scruples but because of the lethal competition it would have encountered. That the KLA had to resort to such condemnable methods of financing is not surprising. Rugova refused to share with it the funds abroad managed by Bujar Bukoshi on behalf of the "Kosovar People". It had no other means of income and, as opposed to Rugova, it could act only clandestinely and surreptitiously. The West was no great help either - contrary to the myth spun by the Serbs.
Another source of income was the 3% "War Tax" levied on 500,000 Kosovar Albanians and their businesses in the diaspora (though most of it ended up under Bukoshi's and Rugova's control). Officially collected by the People's Movement of Kosovo, the ultimate use of the proceeds was the sustenance of the shadow republic. The KLA made use of the voluntary and not so voluntary donations to the Swiss-based fund "Homeland Calls" (or "Motherland is Calling").
The USA - the pragmatic superpower that it is - began to divert its attention from the bumbling and hapless Rugova to the emerging KLA. The likes of Gelbard and, his senior, Richard Holbrooke, held talks with its youthful political director, Hashim Thaci - suave, togged up and earnest, he was just what the doctor ordered. To discern that a showdown in Kosovo was near required no prophetic powers. The KLA might come handy to espy the land and to divert the Serb forces should the need arise.
"The Clinton administration has diligently put everything in place for intervention. In fact, by mid-July US-NATO planners had completed contingency plans for intervention, including air strikes and the deployment of ground troops. All that was missing was a sufficiently brutal or tragic event to trigger the process. As a senior Defence Department official told reporters on July 15, 'If some levels of atrocities were reached that would be intolerable, that would probably be a trigger.'" - wrote Gary Dempsey from the Cato Institute in October 1998. The author of this article published another one in the "Middle East Times" in August 1998 in which the Kosovo conflict was delineated in reasonably accurate detail ("The Plight of the Kosovar"). The article was written in April 1998 - by which time the outline of things to come was plain.
All along, the KLA prepared itself to be a provisional government in-waiting. It occupied regions of Kosovo, established roadblocks, administration, welfare offices. Its members operated nocturnally. The Serb reaction got ever harsher until finally it threatened not only to wipe the KLA out of existence but also to depopulate the parts of the province controlled by it. In September 1998, NATO threatened air strikes against Serbia, following reports of a massacre of women and children in the village of Gornje Obrinje. This led to the October 20th agreement with Belgrade, which postulated a reduction in the levels of Yugoslav troops in the province.
The KLA was all but ignored in these events. Rugova was not. He was often consulted by the American negotiators and treated like a head of state. The message was deafeningly clear: the KLA was a pawn on the chessboard of war. It had no place where the civilized and the responsible tread. It had no raison d'etre in peacetime. It reacted by hitting a number of "Serb collaborators" (mostly of Gorani extract - Muslim Slavs who speak a dialect of Serb mixed with Macedonian). One of the disposed was Enver Maloku, Rugova's close associate.
On January 15, 1999, in the village of Racak, someone murdered scores of people and dumped them by the roadside. The KLA blamed the Serbs. The Serbs blamed the KLA and William Walker, the head of the OSCE observer team. The media reports were inconclusive. While everyone was fighting over the smouldering bodies, NATO was preparing to attack and Walker withdrew his observer team from Kosovo into an increasingly reluctant and enraged Macedonia. Faced with sovereignty-infringing and regime-destabilizing demands at Rambouillet, the Serbs declined. Under pressure and after days of consultations, the Albanian delegation accepted the dictated draft agreement hesitatingly. In the absence of the predicted Serb capitulation, "Operation Allied Forces" commenced.
Rambouillet was a turning point for the KLA. Evidently on the verge of war, the USA reverted to its preferences of yore. The KLA, a more useful ally on the ground in battle, took over from the LDK as the US favourite. At the behest of the United States, KLA representatives not only were present, but headed the Kosovar negotiating team. Thaci took some convincing and shuttling between Rambouillet, Switzerland and Kosovo - but finally, in March, he accepted the terms of the agreement with a sombre Rugova in tow. These public acts of statesmanship: negotiating, bargaining and, finally, accepting graciously - cemented the role and image of the KLA as not only a military outfit but also a political organization with the talent and wherewithal to lead the Kosovars. Rugova's position was never more negligible and marginal.
"The KLA will transform in many directions, not just a military guard. One part will become part of the police,
one part will become civil administration, one part will become the Army of Kosovo, as a defence force.
Finally, a part will form a political party."
(Agim Ceku, KLA CDR)
The Western media hit a nadir of bias and unprofessional sycophancy during the Kosovo crisis. It, therefore, remains unclear who pulled whose strings. The KLA was seen to be more adept at spin doctoring than hubris-infested NATO. It started the war as an outcast and ended it as an ally of NATO on the ground and the real government of a future Kosovo. It capitalized ingeniously on Rugova's mysterious disappearance and then on his, even less comprehensible, refusal to visit the refugee camps and to return to liberated Kosovo. It interfaced marvellously with both youthful prime ministers - Albania's Pandeli Majko and Macedonia's Ljubco Georgievski. This new-found camaraderie ended in a summit with the latter, organized by Arben Xhaferi (Dzaferi), an influential Albanian coalition partner in Macedonia (and, many say, Thaci's business partner in Kosovo). Georgievski, who did more for Macedonia's regional integration and amicable relationships with its neighbours than all the previous governments of Macedonia combined - did not hesitate to shake the hand of the political leader of an organization still decried by his own Interior Ministry as "terrorist". It was a gamble - bold and, in hindsight, farsighted - but still, a gamble. Rugova himself was not accorded such an honour when he finally passed through Macedonia, on his way to his demolished homeland.
During the war, the KLA absorbed new recruits from Macedonia (many Macedonian Albanians died in battle in the fields of Kosovo), from Germany, Switzerland, the USA, Australia and some Moslem countries. In other words, it was internationalized. It was equipped (though only niggardly) by the West. And it coped with the double task of diplomacy (Thaci's famous televised discussions with Madeleine Albright, for instance) and political organization. It was engaged in field guerilla warfare and reconnaissance without the proper training for either. Add to this tactical military co-ordination and the need to integrate a second, Rugova and Berisha sponsored Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo (FARK) and the KLA seems to have been taxed to its breaking point. Cracks began to appear and it was downhill ever since. Never before was such an enormous political capital wasted so thoroughly in so short a time by so few.
One must not forget that victory was not assured until the last moment. The West's reluctance to commit ground troops to the escalating conflict - as mass expulsions cum sporadic massacres of the indigenous population by the Serbs were taking place - was considered by many KLA fighters to have been a violation of a "Besa" (the sacred Albanian vow) given to them by NATO. Opinions regarding the grand strategy of conducting the war differed strongly. The agreement with Milosevic that ended the war did not mention any transition period at the end of which the Kosovars will decide their fate in a referendum. It felt like betrayal. At the beginning, there was strong, grassroots resistance to disarmament. Many Kosovars felt that the advantage obtained should be pressed to the point of independence or at least, a transition period.
Then, when the dust settled, the spoils of war served to widen the rifts. Internecine fighting erupted and is still afoot. The occasional murder served to delineate the territories of each commander and faction within the strained KLA. Everything was and is subject to fluid arrangements of power and profit sharing - from soft drink licences, through cigarette smuggling and weapons dealing and down to the allocation of funds (some of them still of dubious sources). The situation was further compounded by the invasion of criminal elements from Albania proper. The Kosovar crime clans were effected by the war (though their activities never really ceased) and into the vacuum gushed Albanian organized and ruthless crime.
But contrary to media-fostered popular images - crime was but one thread in the emerging tapestry of the new Kosovo.
Other, no less critical issues were and are demilitarization and self-government.
Albanians and Serbs have more in common than they care to admit. Scattered among various political entities, both nations came up with a grandiose game plan - Milosevic's "Great Serbia" and the KLA's "Great Albania". The idea, in both cases, was to create an ethnically homogeneous state by shifting existing borders, incorporating hitherto excluded parts of the nation and excluding hitherto included minorities. Whereas Milosevic had at his disposal the might of the Yugoslav army (or, so he thought) - the Albanians had only impoverished and decomposing Albania to back them. Still, the emotional bond that formed, fostered by a common vision and shared hope - is intact. Albanian flags fly over Albanian municipalities in Kosovo and in Macedonia.
The possession of weapons and self-government have always been emblematic of the anticipated statehood of Kosovo. Being disarmed and deprived of self-governance was, to the Albanians, a humiliating and enraging experience, evocative of earlier, Serb-inflicted, injuries. Moreover, it was indicative of the perplexed muddle the West is mired in - officially, Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia. But it is also occupied by foreign forces and has its own customs, currency, bank licensing, entry visas and other insignia of sovereignty (shortly, even an internet domain, KO).
This quandary is a typically anodyne European compromise which is bound to ferment into atrabilious discourse and worse. The Kosovars - understandably - will never accept Serb sovereignty or even Serb propinquity willingly. Ignoring the inevitable, tergiversating and equivocating have too often characterized the policies of the Big Powers - the kind of behaviour that turned the Balkan into the morass that it is today.
It is, therefore, inconceivable that the KLA has disbanded and disarmed or transformed itself into the ill-conceived and ill-defined "Kosovo Protection Corps" (headed by former KLA commander and decorated Croat Lieutenant General, Agim Ceku and charged with fire fighting, rescue missions and the like). Thousands of KLA members found jobs (or scholarships, or seed money) through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). But, in all likelihood, the KLA still maintains clandestine arms depots (intermittently raided by KFOR), strewn throughout Kosovo and beyond. Its chain of command, organizational structure, directorates, operational and assembly zones and general staff are all viable. I have no doubt - though little proof - that it still trains and prepares for war. It would be mad not to in this state of utter mayhem. The emergence of the "Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac" (all towns beyond Kosovo's borders, in Serbia, but with an Albanian majority) is a harbinger. Its soldiers even wear badges in the red, black and yellow KLA colours. The enemies are numerous: the Serbs (should Kosovo ever be returned to them), NATO and KFOR (should they be charged with the task of reintegrating Serbia), perhaps more moderate Albanians with lesser national zeal or Serb-collaborators (like Zemail Mustafi, the Albanian vice president of the Bujanovac branch of President Slobodan Milosevic's ruling Socialist Party, who was assassinated three months ago). Moreover, the very borders of Kosovo are in dispute. The territory known to its inhabitants as "Eastern Kosovo" now comprises 70,000 Albanians, captives in a hostile Serbia. Yet, "Eastern Kosovo" was never part of the administrative province of Kosovo. The war is far from over.
In the meantime, life is gradually returning to normal in Kosovo itself. Former KLA fighters engage in all manner of odd jobs - from shovelling snow in winter to burning bushes in summer. Even the impossible Joint Administrative Council (Serbs, Albanians and peacekeepers) with its 19 departments, convenes from time to time. The periodic resignation of the overweening Bernard Kouchner aside, things are going well. A bank has been established, another one is on its way. Electricity is being gradually restored and so are medical services and internet connections. Downtown Pristina is reconstructed by Albanians from Switzerland.
Such normalization can prove lethal to an organization like the KLA, founded on strife and crisis as it is. If it does not transform itself into a political organization in a convincing manner - it might lose its members to the more alluring pastures of statecraft. The local and general elections so laboriously (and expensively) organized in Kosovo are the KLA's first real chance at transformation. It failed at its initial effort to establish a government (together with Qosaj's Democratic Union Movement, an umbrella organization of parties in opposition to Rugova and with Hashim Thaci as its Prime Minister). Overruled by UNMIK (United Nations Mission In Kosovo), opposed by Berisha's Democratic Party, recognized only by Albania and the main Albanian party in Macedonia and bereft of finances, it was unable to imbue structure with content and provide the public goods a government is all about. The KLA was so starved for cash that it was unable even to pay the salaries of its own personnel. Many criminals caught in the act claimed to be KLA members in dire financial straits. Ineptitude and insolvency led to a dramatic resurgence in the popularity of the hitherto discarded Rugova. The KLA then failed to infiltrate existing structures of governance erected by the West (like the Executive Council) - or to duplicate them. Thaci's quest to become deputy-Kouchner was brusquely rebuffed. The ballot box seems now to be the KLA's only exit strategy. The risk is that electoral loss will lead to alienation and thuggery if not to outright criminality. It is a fine balancing act between the virtuous ideals of democracy and the harsh constraints of realpolitik.
At this stage and with elections looming, Hashim Thaci sounds conciliatory tones. He is talking about a common (Albanian and Serb) resolution of the division of Mitrovica and the problem of missing persons. But even he knows that multi-ethnicity is dead and that the best that can be hoped for is tolerant co-existence. His words are, therefore, intended to curry favour with the West out of the misguided and naive belief that the key to Kosovo's future lies there rather than in the will of the Kosovar people. Western aid is habit forming and creates dependence and the KLA consumed a lot of it. Politically, the KLA has not yet pupated. Recently, it has embarked on a spate of coalition-forming, initially with Bardhyl Mahmuti of the Democratic Progressive Party of Kosovo (PPDK) - the former KLA representative in Western Europe. It seeks to marry its dwindling funds and seat at the West's banquet with the reputation and clout of the PPDK's local dignitaries.
This coveted and negotiable access to Western structures of government bears some elaboration. Kosovar parties and individuals present at the Rambouillet talks were entitled, according to the Rambouillet Agreement and UN General Resolution 1244, to serve, together with UNMIK delegates, on a Kosovo Transitional Council (KTC).
Thus, when KTC was formed in the wake of Operation Allied Force, it was made of Rugova's LDK, Thaci's KLA, and Rexhep Qosaj's (Qosje) Democratic Union League. There was a token Serb and two independents - the aforementioned Veton Surroi and Blerim Shala, editor-in-chief of the Pristina weekly Zeri.
Many newly-formed political parties, such as Mahmuti's were left out of the KTC and the Executive Council (which is made of one representative of each of the four largest Kosovar political parties plus four representatives from UNMIK). This - a seat at the cherished table - seems to be the only tangible asset of the KLA. But it came at a dear price. The Executive Council virtually paralysed Thaci's self-proclaimed and self-appointed government, absorbing many of its ministers and officials with lucrative offers of salaries and budgets. Thaci himself had to give up a part of the plethora of his self-bestowed titles. This move again proves Thaci's simplistic perception that to win elections in Kosovo one needs to be seen to be a friend of the West. I have no doubt that this photo-opportunity brand of politics will backfire. The KLA's popularity among the potential electorate is at a nadir and it is being accused of venality, incompetence and outright crime. A lasting transformation of such an image cannot be attained by terpsichorean supineness. To regain its position, the KLA must regenerate itself and revert to its grassroots. It must dedicate equal time to diplomacy and to politics. It must identify its true constituency - and it is by no means UNMIK. Above all, it must hone its skills of collaboration and compromise. Politics - as opposed to warfare - are never a zero sum game. The operative principle is "live and let live" rather than "shoot first or die". A mental transformation is required, an adjustment of codes of conduct and principles of thought. Should the KLA find in itself the flexibility and intellectual resources - rare commodities in ideological movements - needed to achieve this transition, it might still compose the first government of an independent Kosovo. If it were to remain intransigent and peevish - it is likely to end up being barely a bloody footnote in history.
More about this topic here: