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Understanding The Construct Behind The Kosovo Conflict Politics Essay

Kosovo is an area south of the Republic of Serbia. It lies between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Montenegro and shares international borders with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the south and Albania to the west and south-west. Kosovo is an 11,000 square kilometer land inhabited by about two million people (Katsirdakis, 1998).

The major ethnic groups—the Serbs and Albanians have clashed resulting to ethnic tensions. Secession and occasional riots were common during the ethnic and nationalistic Kosovo conflict. In 1998, organized and violent ethnic conflict erupted from what used to be peaceful struggle of ethnic Albanians to secure sovereignty from the Serbs. The conflict became more salient the continuing Serbian oppression and a lack of international commitment to remedy the situation resulted to acts of violence against Serbs and Serbian security forces by Albanians (Katsirdakis, 1998).

Following the aftermath of the break of the old Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the separations of the resident ethnic groups started to proliferate into the general discussion about the legitimacy of nation state status, and the conversations about functional multiculturalism. One can arguably attribute a good majority of the problems within the either region to perceive or actual ethnic differences between the Serbs and the Albanians.

The paper highlights the ethic disparities between the Kosovo nation’s members. It determines the various constructs of ethnicity and nationalism that challenge the formation, arbitrary nature and need for strict national borderlines. It will include reflections on national importance and how this reflects the issues that multiple nations face to date with ethnic, religious and nationalist differences.

II. Various constructs of ethnicity and nationalism that challenge the formation, arbitrary nature and need for strict national borderlines

Tensions between the Serbian and Kosovo communities began when the Socialist government of Josip Broz Tito repressed nationalist manifestations throughout Yugoslavia. This was to ensure that no Yugoslav republic or nationality gained dominance over others. Serbia, the largest and most populous republic in Yugoslavia was suppressed in terms of political and social dominance by the establishment of autonomous governments in the province of Kosovo in the south. Although, the borders of Kosova did not precisely cover much of the ethnic Albanian settlement in Yugoslavia, their numbers grew considerably (Matic, 2003).

In 1974, Kosovo's political status went higher when a new Yugoslav constitution expanded its political rights. Kosovo was declared a province and were granted political sovereignty equal to that of a republic. It gained a seat on the federal presidency and acquired an assembly, police force, and national bank. Although, the Communist Party remained dominant, it was left mainly in the hands of ethnic Albanian communists. When Tito's died in 1980, a long period of political instability erupted and worsened largely due to the growing economic crisis and nationalist unrest (Matic, 2003).

Prior to acquiring independence and isolation from the rest of Serbia, the Albanian Kosovos were oppressed due to lack of formal education. By the 1970’s, the Albanians received formal education. The University of Pristina became one of the largest higher education institutions in Yugoslavia, which catered Albanian Kosovos. Many Albanians from Macedonia and Montenegro studied there as well which slowly built connections and unified the Albanians in the area. After Tito’s death, the call to grant formal status of a republic to Kosovo grew stronger. It was large demand by the Kosovo Albanians. This is an action, which initiated the reawakening of Serbian nationalism. Slobodan Milosevic slowly rose to power as nationalism grew among Kosovo Albanians. Milosevic promised to protect Serbs in Kosovo and to unite Serbia once again. During this time, public opinion among both Serbs and Kosovo Albanians became more radical (Matic, 2003).

There is no unified political platform of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and all attempts to create one have met personal and political rivalries. Ibrahim Rugova was the unchallenged leader of the ethnic Albanians’ peaceful resistance to Serbian policy in the province until the mid-1990s. There seemed to be a widespread determination among the existing political parties of Kosovo Albanians to prevent political differences from hindering the completion of a joint political agenda. The 1974 constitutional regulations finally granted the upgrading of Kosovo to a republic and of ethnic Albanians to one of the constituent peoples of the Yugoslav state. However, a new conflict erupted as Serbian repression and covert ethnic cleansing soon made Rugova and his party demand independence (Moore, 1997).

When the Kosovo autonomy was revoke in 1989, Kosovo Albanian institutions went underground. Two parallel states came in the forefront. There was an official state, which controlled by Serbia, and there was an Albanian state with separate political institutions, education and health systems and even unemployment compensation. The Albanian state was finance by contributions of Albanian working abroad. It was a time of coexistence though it was filled with tensions and human right violations. Although, there was tension, there was also relatively minimal violence until the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and Serbian security forces took extreme measures. Passive resistance was replaced by armed rebellion. Milosevic’s responded in a forceful manner which only galvanized popular support for the KLA and marginalized non-violence. Ibrahim Rugova, long time Kosovo undisputed leader, was able to keep the province from becoming a battleground between Croatia and Bosnia. However, he failed to move towards Kosovo independence either directly or through obtaining support from the international community (Matic, 2003).

In approaching the politics of ethnicity and nationalism, the first impression that comes to most people's minds is one of extremism and bitter conflict. Even where violence is absent, ethnic and nationalist politics is thought to be characterized by endemic instability, unpredictability and acute passions. At the same time, many people are aware of the obverse: the way in which ethnicity and nationalism create solidarity, their role in state-malung, and the basis they provide for popular participation in politics (Smith, 1996). The Kosovo conflict can clearly be traced back to the issue of ethnicity and nationalism. It is clearly between the battle of who has more ethnic rights between the Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs.

Presidential and parliamentary elections in 1992 and 1998 confirmed Rugova’s claim to the presidency of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo. While Rugova obtained the democratic legitimacy of political leadership, he has hardly any real power. At an internal level, this has become apparent by the rejection of his authority by the KLA and by his difficulties to form a negotiation team including a broad coalition of ethnic Albanian political parties. Externally, in his relations with Serbia and the FRY, Rugova has not been able to secure any substantial concessions from Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic that would justify continued support of his role as Kosovo’s president among ethnic Albanians (Moore, 1997)

III. Ethic disparities between the Kosovo nation’s members

Serbs are more severely deprived than Albanians in Kosovo. The ethnic conflict has various economic implications. In 2001, the incidence of poverty was higher among Serb households than among Albanian households. A study of the living standards for Serbian and Albanian households suggests that, in keeping with the popular wisdom about Kosovo’s political economy, economic variables largely favor Serb households. The lower incidence of poverty among Albanian households is because of private transfers received by Albanian households, possibly from children living abroad. However, much of the difference in the average living standards between these two groups is due to non-economic factors such as better educational background providing better employment status (Bhaumik, Gang & Yun, 2006).

There is a clear distinction concerning the ethnic situation in Kosovo and the distinction lies between poor and non-poor households. Living standards in Kosovo are complicated by grey market activities, by smuggling and other illegal activities due to non-existent law enforcement, and by the policies of the international community, which has been persistent in Kosovo since 1999. Moreover, Serbs continued to move into enclaves making it difficult for them to generate high returns on their skills. In part, this retreat was out of fear of retribution but it may also have been the outcome of continued financial subsidies by the Milosevic government to the Serb community in Kosovo (Bhaumik et al, 2006).

Albanian autonomy from 1974 to 1989 and the consequences of UNMIK policies in post-civil war Kosovo may have been partially responsible for the economic disparities between the Albanians and Serbs. Irrespective of the exact reason for the favorable impact of non-economic (or unobserved) factors on the living standards of Albanian households, the incongruity between the favorable characteristics and coefficients effects for the Serbs and the higher average living standards of the Albanians poses a challenge for bringing political normalcy back to Kosovo, as a precursor to economic prosperity. Both the Serbian and the Albanian communities must feel that they are equals both on economic and political terms for political normalcy to return to Kosovo. Any debate about future economic policies in Kosovo will have to overcome the inhibitions associated with political correctness. It should also be accompanied by a full discussion of the data associated with differences in living standards of the two ethnic groups that have long been at war with each other (Bhaumik et al, 2006).

IV. Effects of media and personal reflections

The Kosovo conflict erupted when Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic launched an offensive against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority. Serb forces attacked civilian populations, destroyed villages, and drove hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians from their homes. In October of 1998, under threat of NATO air strikes, Milosevic signed a cease fire agreement. Western diplomats had hoped that the cessation of hostilities would give them an opportunity to press the Serbs and representatives of the Kosovo Liberation Army into a settlement, but the negotiations failed. Serbian forces had withdrawn completely with the aid of the United Nations. With UN Security approval, a contingent of international peacekeepers moved into Kosovo and remains there today (Berinksy and Kinder, 2006).

The Kosovo conflict received much attention in the United States. American foreign policy was reconsidered. Although the events occurred miles away far from the everyday concerns of most ordinary Americans, it was a prominent international issue. Berinsky and Kinder (2006) demonstrates that subtle changes in the presentation of information can change the structure of understanding and move opinion toward a particular side in a controversy. Frames therefore do not need to present strong arguments for one side or another in order to change public opinion. “Small and subtle differences in the presentation of information can sometimes do the trick” (Berinksy and Kinder, 2006). Given the heterogeneity in the presentation styles of the vast choices of the modern media, this result carries important implications for general political understanding. The same story covered in subtly different ways by different media outlets can lead to very different understandings of important political events (Berinksy and Kinder, 2006).

V. International intervention

The Kosovo Albanian political leadership, while claiming to want reintegration of Serbs, has consistently failed to do what is necessary to achieve this goal. In June of 1999, as NATO forces entered Kosovo, followed immediately by Albanian refugees, Serbs were leaving for fear of revenge or because of violence against them and their religious sites. The Kosovo Liberation Army, which took control of many municipalities south of the Ibar River, made no secret of its desire to see the Serbs leave. The Kosovo Albanian leadership, scattered between Pristina and refugee camps, failed then and since to counteract acts of violence and crimes committed against Serbs remaining in Kosovo. Even with the election of the first Kosovo government in 2001, Kosovo Albanians failed to appreciate the need to welcome Serbs back to their homes. In March 2004, when violence escalated in Kosovo, the Albanian leadership was in disarray, with some trying to benefit politically from the violence (Serwer and Bajraktari, 2006).

For the Albanian Kosovars, the realization that their saviors from Serb atrocities,

NATO and the UN, became their protectors is both welcomed and frustrating. While the Albanians are the dominant population in number, their political associations neither have the legitimacy or resources to be masters of their own fate (Orlin, 2001).

Although, the international intervention has been able to suppress the violent conflict, the battle for great ethnicity persists. It is difficult for Kosovar Albanians to forgive former Serb who they blame for the death of many of their people and the destruction of their homes. The large numbers of Albanians whose homes were destroyed during the conflict complicated the international intervention towards achieving peace in the region. With no place to be housed in the destroyed villages, large numbers moved to the urban centers, only to discover that Serbs remain in apartments. The pragmatic need for accommodation combined with a sense of Albanian victory over a Serb aggressor, along with the anger of being forced to seek refuge, gave many Albanian Kosovars a sense of justice that supports their striking out against Kosovar Serbs. Reason often has given way to an innate sense that the recent history allows for self-help in the name of justice (Orlin, 2001).

VI. The nature of nationalism and how Kosovo plays off other identities

Works such as that by Downes (2006) framed the ideas behind partitioning countries as a valid solution to ethnic conflicts around the world, and the means it can have to solve civil war issues related to claims for country rights. Downes (2006) demonstrates the difficulties in finding a short-term solution through intervention, and points out its initial failure in Kosovo. Tying into this I will promote discussion over other ethnic conflicts that hold similarities with the Kosovo incident, and will look at for example Iraq as the next site which would require the reconsiderations partitioning brings about as a possible solution for ethnicity –based conflicts.

The failure of Kosovo Albanian political leaders to offer a pragmatic plan for reintegration of Serbs into Kosovo and its new institutions is a major factor in the current situation. Pristina has done next to nothing to guarantee that Serbs can use their own language, worship freely, and preserve their cultural and religious sites. This has driven the Kosovo Serbs into the arms of Belgrade, encouraged them to create separate institutions, and further marginalized them politically. In the past seven years, only one Kosovo prime minister has sought even to visit northern Kosovo. The current Prime Minister, Agim Ceku, expressed intention to reintegrated Serbs. However, his government has done little so far to make that process safe and attractive (Serwer and Bajraktari, 2006).

Radical elements in Kosovo Albanian society would like to see Kosovo partitioned in order to ensure its ethnic purity. They believe that integrating Serbs largely controlled by Belgrade could block further development or serve as a Trojan horse, compromising Kosovo’s independence in the future. The extremists also view partition as an opportunity to seek return of the Presevo Valley (in southern Serbia), which was once part of Kosovo, or compensation in western Macedonia, predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians. Moreover, extreme nationalists view partition at the Ibar as justification to expel the remaining Kosovo Serb population scattered south of the river, where two-thirds of Kosovo’s remaining Serbs live. Only the promise of final status negotiations has put extremist efforts on hold (Serwer and Bajraktari, 2006).

Serbia’s decentralization plan envisions the creation of ethnically pure municipalities that would welcome Serbs displaced from all over Kosovo. These communities are already connected to the rest of the world through the Serbian telephone system rather than the Kosovo system. Sandra Ilic-Raskovic, Serbia’s coordinator for Kosovo, has called on Kosovo Serbs to give up salaries received from Kosovo institutions and remain exclusively on Serbia’s payroll (Serwer and Bajraktari, 2006).

Conclusion

The international community has failed so far to reintegrate Serbs into Kosovo. Freedom of movement is insufficient, Serbs returning to their homes in Albanian-majority areas are minimal, Kosovo’s governing institutions lack Serb representation, and Belgrade has tightened its grip on Serbs living in the north and in enclaves elsewhere. Serbia aims to govern the Serbs of Kosovo directly from Belgrade on clearly defined territory and without reference to Pristina. This is precisely the kind of ethnoterritorial separation that will cause trouble throughout the region. The Kosovo Albanian leadership has failed to improve the living conditions of Serbs living in Albanian-majority areas. If the status talks lead to territorial separation in Kosovo due to ethnic disparities, serious instability could also take place in other parts of Serbia.


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