Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Kosovo - the other "quagmire" 

Last night, when reading the latest copy of a Polish magazine "Przekroj" (31 October 2004), which my grandmother dutifully mails me every week, a chanced upon an article by Jakub Mielnik titled "Democracy and Prostitution" about the situation in Kosovo. Mielnik, who recently angered the authorities over his unflattering portrayal of the Polish army contingent in Iraq, will not make the internationalist left happy either with his conclusion: "After five years of the UN rule, Kosovo today is a European center of sex and narcotics trafficking and a potential flashpoint of another Balkan conflict."

The article is not available online, and it's not available in English, so I thought it useful to translate some key paragraphs:

"In the five years following the air campaign which ended the persecution of Kosovo's Albanians, only one thing has changed in the province: now, it's the Albanians who persecute the Serbs. Serbian schools and hospitals are frequent targets of attacks. In five years, and under the watchful eye of international peacekeeping forces, over 120 Orthodox places of worship and monasteries were burned down...

"Torn from under the Serbian rule, Kosovo is now formally administered by a several thousand-strong contingent of United Nations officials and 20 thousand soldiers of the international peacekeeping force. To cater to their needs, in the capital Pristina, over 200 brothels have sprung up right under the noses of international police and UN administrators. Women from all over the Balkans, as well as Romania, Ukraine, and Moldavia are marshaled into the brothels.

"Non-Government Organisations are accusing soldiers from France, United Kingdom, the United States, Russia and Pakistan of powering the illegal sex trade and even profiting from it. So far, not one person has been charged over the whole enterprise, as peacekeeping forces remain outside the jurisdiction of Kosovar courts.

"And as if that wasn't enough, Kosovo has now become a prime exporter in the flesh trade. Britain's Scotland Yard estimates that Albanian organised crime controls some 75 per cent of brothels in the United Kingdom.

"Kosovar economy is booming, but only in its illegal sphere... The whole business is in the hands of anti-Serbian guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who have formed one of the biggest crime syndicates in Europe. Thanks to contacts with Afghan mudjahedin who in the 1990s were financing the war with Serbia, the Albanians have now monopolised the smuggling of Afghan heroin into Europe.

"Unemployment in Kosovo hovers around 60 percent. Gangs of young idle Albanians often start anti-Serb riots. With increasing frequency they also attack multinational forces, accusing them of dragging feet over the transfer of power to province's residents. The UN is still promoting the concept of Kosovo as a multi-ethnic state, a solution that neither the Serbs nor the Albanians want."
Nothing that Mielnik writes is new or necessarily unknown in the West, although Kosovo has been off the media radar for the past four years and finding out what's going on in that forgotten corner the Balkans nowadays is not easy. Maybe if it wasn't Clinton but a Republican warmonger who stepped in to stop the ethnic cleansing, and maybe if Kosovo today was a United States and not a United Nations protectorate we would be hearing more from the mainstream media about this Balkan "quagmire" with its hopeless domestic situation and no "exit strategy" for the "occupying powers."

Still, the stories of
reverse ethnic cleansing by Kosovar Albanians, the growing criminal reach of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the complicity of international peacekeepers in sex trade and the chaotic political situation within the enclave do surface in the media from time to time, even if they only capture the attention of Balkan aficionados.

I'm not bringing up the sorry state of affairs in Kosovo just for the sake of political titillation. I don't celebrate bad news because it makes a political point to my liking. Far too many of our self-proclaimed moral and intellectual betters do so in the context of Iraq. They are ready, willing and able to fight the nefarious American involvement to the last Iraqi, and as they gloat over every single setback to stabilisation and reconstruction they seem to forget that for every pinch that the United States gets, ten Iraqis suffer a broken leg and a concussion. Or as
Michael Young recently wrote in Beirut's "Daily Star":

"[F]or many people, especially in the Middle East, the war in Iraq is not about Iraqis or democracy at all; it's about watching America stumble... There is no withdrawal option in Iraq today that would truly benefit the Iraqis... [S]ome might want to consider that applauding American setbacks is tantamount to wishing Iraq the very worst."
No, just like Iraqis - and indeed everyone else around the world - Kosovars deserve a chance to live in peace and make the most of their lives. The point I make is directed at those who hope against hope that a "multilateral solution" is a magic wand, which when pointed at Mesopotamia while reciting the UN Convention on Human Rights as a good luck spell will erase the American mistakes and solve all the problems.

In reality, the record of the "international community" and the United Nations at "making things better" in trouble spots around the world ranges from average to dismal. If Rwanda is dismal, then Kosovo, at best, is average, and the UN average in Kosovo after five years is on no account better than the American attempt to remake Iraq so far.

The UN choice for Iraq is Kosovo at best and Rwanda at worst. Iraq deserves better than that. And Kosovo deserves better than Kosovo, too.


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