Perspective: What lessons could Tamils draw from the Kosovo experience? 

By: Dr. S. Sathananthan
Courtesy: NorthEastern Monthly 



Recently Tamils – mainly expatriates – have shown heightened interest in
developments in Kosovo. They are encouraged by the international community’s
self-proclaimed and apparently altruistic support for the independence of
Kosovo from Serbia. They are particularly impressed by the seeming
willingness of the United States to endorse the idea. 

Kosovo is a province of Serbia and Kosovo Albanians are distinct from
Albanians in the neighbouring Republic of Albania. They possess a distinct
language (Albanian), are mostly Muslims (about 5% are Catholics) while
Serbians speak Serbo-Croatian and follow the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Although Albanians are an overwhelming majority (92%) in Kosovo, they are a
vulnerable minority (23%) within the Republic of Serbia in which Serbians
constitute 65% (out of 9,715,001). Besides within Kosovo there is small
minority of Serbians (6.5%). This has interesting parallels with the
position of Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese
minority within that region. 

The Serbians view Kosovo Albanians as remnants of the Ottoman Empire, which
overran Kosovo in AD 1389, although the majority of Albanians are Serbs who
converted to Islam. Ottoman invasion, repression of the Serbian nation and
the destruction of its cities and places of worship are sharply etched in
the Serbian collective memory today. 

President Josip Broz Tito granted Kosovo inner autonomy in 1960 and later,
under the 1974 Constitution, the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo
acquired greater autonomy but remained within the Socialist Republic of

The economic crisis in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the
early 1970s was a product of unrestrained borrowing in the international
capital markets that led to a debt problem. The crisis compelled the country
to accept IMF conditionality. Kosovo, the most backward region in Yugoslavia
was most affected by the recession. 

Popular protests by Kosovo Albanians against having to shoulder the
disproportionate burden of economic decline were swiftly put down by hostile
Serbian forces. Albanian nationalists hit back by demanding Kosovo be
recognised as a republic on par with Serbia within Yugoslavia. The more
radical Albanians pushed for full independence. Albanian students launched
protests in March 1981 once again calling for republic status for Kosovo.
Serbian forces savagely repressed the agitation. In 1989, Belgrade
unilaterally reduced Kosovo’s special autonomous status within Serbia. 

Kosovo Albanians launched a non-violent liberation movement for independence
led by the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), headed their moderate leader
Ibrahim Rugova. Not surprisingly the movement went nowhere. 

As repression intensified, the LDK set up parallel schools and political
institutions; in July 1990 its unofficial parliament declared Kosovo’s
independence and two years later it held a referendum, which saw a 80% voter
turnout of which 98% voted for independence. 

Through 1991 and 1992 the Yugoslav Republics of Slovenia, Croatia,
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The
rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia formed in April 1992 was composed of the
remaining Republics of Serbia and Montenegro. They too went their separate
ways when Montenegro declared independence in June 2006. 

Frustrated by the impotence of ‘non-violent’ resistance, radical Kosovo
Albanians formed the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and took up armed
resistance in 1996. Belgrade denounced it as a ‘terrorist’ organisation and
the US put the KLA on its ‘terrorists list.’ Serbia deployed more armed
forces in Kosovo. Predictably this boosted the credibility of the fledgling
KLA among Kosovo Albanians. 

Early sporadic attacks by KLA metamorphosed into a full-fledged armed
struggle by the late 1990s. As the movement for independence gathered
momentum, in 1998 the Serbian government unleashed unprecedented repression,
which decimated large sections of the KLA. This galvanised Kosovo Albanian
expatriates. Many of them returned to join the KLA; and the Organisation
raised substantial funds abroad and further re-armed itself; it also
reorganised its command structure and introduced a political wing led by
activist Hashim Thaci. 

The international community represented by the six-member Contact Group (the
US, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) intervened
forcefully. The Americans alleged Kosovo is a legitimate part of the
Republic of Serbia and Kosovo Albanians must seek a political settlement
without violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia. 

This knee-jerk reaction against KLA’s demand for independence was rooted not
only in the general, conservative opposition to liberation movements. More
importantly, it was also a pre-emptive response to the negative
geo-political implications that the Contact Group feared would flow when
Kosovo would emerge as an independent Muslim-majority country (in addition
to Albania) in Christian Europe. 

Russia too at first supported a settlement that would preserve the
territorial border of the pro-Russian Serbian Republic. It would ensure
Belgrade’s continued loyalty to Moscow and keep the Kosovo Province under
Serbian control and by extension within Russian sphere of influence.
Moscow’s geo-strategic objective has been to recapture its pre-eminent
position in the Balkans, lost in the post-Soviet era. 

The initial knee-jerk American reaction, however, soon gave way to a sober
assessment of the ground situation in the face of an assertive Russia.
Hobbling the KLA would strengthen Serbia’s hand and stabilise Russian
influence in the region. 

The US swiftly took the KLA off the ‘terrorists list’ in February 1998 and
reportedly provided military training to KLA cadres to pressurise Serbia to
agree to ‘meaningful autonomy’ for Kosovo. The Contact Group engineered a
ceasefire agreement, under which observers from the Organisation for
Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) moved into Kosovo to monitor the
ceasefire while Yugoslav military forces partly pulled out of Kosovo. 

But the ceasefire failed and violence surged: forty-five Albanians were
massacred in the village of Racak and the OSCE monitors blamed the incident
on the Serbian forces. 

As the ceasefire crumbled the Contact Group organised the conference in
Rambouillet, France in early 1999 under the joint co-chairmanship of British
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine. The
Group formulated the draft Rambouillet Accords and gave the two warring
sides 21 days – starting from 6 February – to negotiate on the basis of the
Accords and reach agreement. 

The Accords were to allow NATO to deploy a peacekeeping force to compel the
withdrawal of all Serbian forces from Kosovo and to disarm the KLA.
Thereafter NATO was to oversee an interim administration for three years in
Kosovo, at the end of which period an international conference was to be
convened to make a final determination of Kosovo’s status. 

The objectives were to ensure the smooth functioning of the proposed interim
administration, to engineer a transition to an autonomous Kosovo Province,
to prevent KLA continuing the campaign for an independent State and
simultaneously to put an end to Serbian repression, which had fuelled the
Kosovo Liberation Movement. In this way the US schemed to bring Kosovo
within its sphere of influence and use it as a Trojan horse to project NATO
into the Balkans up to the doorstep of Russia. 

These Machiavellian manoeuvres were of course dressed up as the altruistic
search for peace! 

Sensing danger, Moscow prevailed upon Belgrade to reject the Rambouillet
Accords. Almost immediately after the failed Rambouillet conference the US
unleashed the 78-day aerial bombardment of Serbia. The war was conducted
under the guise of protecting Kosovo Albanians. But, in fact, it was more a
warning to Russia not to exploit the Kosovo issue to further its
geopolitical objectives. 

During the 78-day war Serbian forces tried to wipe out all Albanian culture
and traditions; they destroyed among other things the Prizren League Museum
and the Hadum Mosque complex in Gjakova. In June 1999 Belgrade caved in and
withdrew most of its forces from Kosovo. 

When the war ended, NATO and Serbian leaders agreed to a peace settlement
that would see Kosovo governed by the United Nations with the KLA being
disarmed. The KLA was, however, not a signatory to the peace accords; but it
was induced to disarm in return for participation in the Provisional
Institutions of Self-Government (PISG). 

The 1999 UN Security Council Resolution 1244 placed Kosovo under the
transitional UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The
Resolution authorised the deployment of NATO-led Kosovo Peace Keeping Force
(KFOR). UNMIK introduced a constitution and, under it, set up the PISG. The
principal institutions were the elected assembly, posts of President and
Prime Minister, Kosovo-wide elections and a multi-ethnic police force. 

In November 2001, the OSCE supervised the first elections for the Kosovo
Assembly. The LDK, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) led by former KLA
leader Hashim Thaci and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) led by
former KLA commander Ramush Haradinaj contested the elections. After that
election, Kosovo’s political parties formed an all-party unity coalition and
elected Ibrahim Rugova as President and Bajram Rexhepi (PDK) as Prime

Violence flared up in 2004 and continued till 2006. Kosovo Albanians
attacked the Serbians within Kosovo and a Serbian Minister Rasim Ljajiæ,
himself a Muslim, said “what is now happening in Kosovo confirms two things:
that this is a collapse of the international mission, and a total defeat of
the international community.” 

And Thaci insisted that the complete independence of Kosovo is the necessary
precondition for stability in the region. 

The UN-led Kosovo Status Process began in 2005 under the UN Special Envoy
Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland. In February 2007 he came up
with a draft status settlement proposal to both parties. The proposal gave
Kosovo extensive autonomy that appeared to border on independence while
including provisions to protect the rights of Serbian and non-Albanian
minorities in Kosovo. In turn Kosovo was to remain a province of Serbia. 

Several consultations were held culminating in the 10 March meeting between
the respective presidents and prime ministers. Both sides rejected the
settlement proposal. Kosovo Albanians refused to accept anything less than
full independence; they correctly interpreted the recommended extensive
autonomy to Kosovo as a subterfuge to wean Albanians away from the Kosovo
Liberation Movement. 

The Serbians insisted on sovereignty over Kosovo and saw the same autonomy
as an ultimatum: either agree to Kosovo as an autonomous province within
Serbia or lose the Province altogether. Moscow promptly weighed in on the
side of Belgrade. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned in September 2006
Russia may veto a UN Security Council proposal on Kosovo’s final status that
deviates from the stand international community took against the
‘separatist’ Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In short, the
Contact Group is manoeuvring to undermine the political base of the Kosovo
Liberation Movement and needs Belgrade to cooperate by offering extensive
autonomy to Kosovo to buy the support of Kosovo Albanians. The US is
manipulating Kosovo to extend NATO’s influence in the Balkans. Belgrade
suspects that Kosovo would exploit the autonomy as the first step towards
independence. Moscow views the autonomy offered to Kosovo by the Contact
Group as a ploy to entrench American power in Kosovo, weaken Serbia and
reduce Russia’s sphere of influence in the Balkans. 

It remains to be seen how the Kosovo Liberation Movement could take
advantage of the competing interests of different stakeholders in its
pursuit of independence. 

In a deceptive move, Ahtisaari has written to the UN Secretary General
urging that “independence is the only option for a politically stable and
economically viable Kosovo.” But his advocacy of independence is not sheer
altruism; nor was it guided by the validity of Albanians’ case on moral
grounds. Ahtisaari’s intervention is designed to send a clear but so far
misleading message to the Kosovo Albanians that the international community
– not the Kosovo Liberation Movement – could engineer Kosovo’s independence.
The intention is to discourage them from supporting the Movement, make a
return to arms struggle superfluous and inveigle the Movement not to
unilaterally declare independence, which is a political nightmare and
dangerous legal precedence the international community seeks to avoid at all

Moreover, to hobble the Kosovo Liberation Movement Ahtisaari underlined that
his recommendation for independence is “conditioned on the willingness of
Kosovo’s leaders to implement reforms, including one that would ensure the
protection of Kosovo’s Serbian minority, which has been the target of
violence.” This conditionality allows the international community to reject
Kosovo’s demand for independence on grounds that the non-Albanian minorities
are not adequately protected. And the disarmed Kosovo Liberation Movement is
in no position to enforce its will. The international community has, for the
time being, effectively neutralised the Movement. 

What does all this have to do with peace for the people of Kosovo? What
lessons could the Tamil National Movement draw from the Kosovo experience? 

Published: May 19, 2007 20:40:46 GMT

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