The conflict in the Balkans is interesting because for years, reporters and politicians have touted it as being the result of ancient ethnic hatred. The first phase of Yugoslavian disintegration can be attributed to the conditions of the people living in Kosovo, an autonomous province of Yugoslavia. In 1981, the socioeconomic conditions in Kosovo were far worse than those in the other republics of Yugoslavia. Poverty was rampant and unemployment was around twenty percent as compared to about two percent in Slovenia that same year.
The standard of living in Kosovo was deplorable and whatever aid was given to the province by the federal government was mismanaged. Another significant problem with this particular province was that while the Serbs claimed the province as the “Cradle of Serbian Empire” because of a legendary battle and defeat that happened at Kosovo in 1389. The Albanians constituted approximately eighty percent of the population of Kosovo. In reality, Kosovo could be claimed more by the Albanian majority than by the Serb minority.
Many of the valiant warriors who fought and died at the Battle of Kosovo were in fact Albanian warriors, a fact seldom acknowledged by the Serb leadership. The “Serb Empire” was not as grand and powerful as modern Serbia would contend. Relations between Albanians and Serbs were good in the Middle Ages. Under independent rule, the region was able to make available an Albanian curriculum and Albanian culture grew in importance. Economically, however, Kosovo was still suffering since whatever gains the economy made were outdone by the gains in population made by the Albanian Muslims.
The power in Kosovo was vested in a small group of elite Albanians who did well at advancing national identity and improving education and other public works but who were poor at managing and maintaining a functional economy. Whenever federal funds were given to the province, those elites at the top either wasted the money on grandiose projects and ornate buildings or on their new and privileged lifestyles. In the late 1980’s, Slobodan Milosevic came to power in Serbia. His first actions were directed against Kosovo Albanian dominance in the province.
He removed virtually all of the Albanian’s rights, their leadership role in government, their party, and their parliament. He further removed their control of their Albanian-language library and the administration of their school system. This was the classic case of human rights violations. Milosevic took away their right to govern themselves and as a result, he gained the attention of the United States Congress. Annual human rights reports submitted to the White House by the Department of State read like a prison record when it came to Serbian abuses of the people of Kosovo.
Unfortunately, Congress was not in agreement with how to treat the reports of the abuses in Kosovo. The Bush Sr. administration was more interested in keeping Yugoslavia together and concerned more about the breakup of the Soviet Union and the potential tragedy that such a thing might cause. The problems of Kosovo were not viewed as important or of any interest to the national security or economic prosperity of the United States therefore no action was needed. The State Department catalogued massive human rights violations by the Serbian leadership in Kosovo yet the Bush Sr.
Administration did nothing. Little was said about what was going on in the region and the American press because of the instability in the former Soviet Union said even less. The Central Intelligence Agency was the first to predict the breakup of Yugoslavia in September of 1990. This breakup, as examined by experts in the embassy in Belgrade and in Washington, was certainly seen as potentially violent and leading to war. Milosevic attempted to cripple the economy of Slovenia by boycotting Slovenian goods and services in Serbia, Vojvodina, and Kosovo.
What Milosevic managed to do was not to punish Slovenes for their insurrection but instead punish the Serbs who were dependent on Slovene goods and services. The economy of Serbia was in a downward spiral. Hopeful to raise a billion dollars in investments, Milosevic asked Serbs from all over the globe to contribute to his reconstruction and revitalization fund. Out of the billion dollars that he was expecting and counting on, Milosevic managed to get twenty-five million dollars. That is hardly enough to solve the economic woes that inflation, poor quality, and over employment were causing (Bennett, 108).
Obviously, Milosevic was killing himself and Serbia with these sanctions and other economic activities. In his zeal for a nationalist movement, Milosevic managed to forget that one needs an economy for a nation to exist and he was systematically destroying his. In Kosovo alone, police operations costs amounted to about half of all of Yugoslavia’s military budget and Milosevic’s refusal to let anyone outside of Serbia to handle the situation further crippled any hope for a unified Yugoslavia. Serbia’s actions in Kosovo were one of the key factors in Slovenia, and shortly thereafter, Croatia’s decision to leave Yugoslavia.
On June 27, 1991, Slovenia declared independence. Slovenia’s discontent with the rest of the Yugoslav federation can be traced back to the 1970’s when during the oil crisis that took the entire world by storm, Slovenians returned home from their then non-existent Western European jobs. Slovenia’s per capita income was twice that of the rest of Yugoslavia with zero unemployment making the republic a popular place for migrant Serbs and Albanians from Kosovo. What arose from this stage of the game was the beginnings of an intense nationalism would later propel Slovenia out of the Yugoslav federation and into an independence movement.
As a result of this tension between what apparently had become Milosevic (in control of Serbia, Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Montenegro) and Kucan of Slovenia, the Slovene people made their way toward independence. As it stood, however, the Serbs had seemingly made it clear that no Yugoslavia would exist without a Serb holding the reigns. Therefore, Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the federal government. Slovenia was scheduled to declare independence on June 26, 1991 but late in the afternoon on the previous day, Croatia declared independence from federal Yugoslavia.
Croatia had seceded without tackling one, very critical question. What was the status of Serbs living in Croatia? Throughout history, Serbs had been moved into the Krijina region of southern Croatia to defend the Austro-Hungarian Empire against the Ottomans to the south. By the time that Croatia declared it’s independence, however, Serbs had lived in those regions for generations and came to think of it as their homeland. The Croats, however, failed to recognize the Serbs and give them citizenship in the new Croatian State.
Serbs on Croatia had considered themselves equal to Croats living next door yet it appeared that every chance Franjo Tudjman got, he took the opportunity to elevate the Croat while lowing the status of the Serb. The Croat flag was altered so that the checkerboard, a long time symbol of Croats and, unfortunately, of the Ustasha, was emblazoned onto the flag. The Ustasha was a World War II government composed of members of the Fascist Croat Ustasha political movement, headed by Ante Pavelic, was proclaimed a protectorate of Italy in May 1941, and was in fact supported throughout World War II by both Italian and German occupation forces.
Allied forces leader Allen Dulles’ wartime OSS Mission in Bern, Switzerland did attempt to monitor the activities of the Ustasha. Aware the Ustasha were persecuting the Jews, Serbs, and Sinti-Romani, Dulles sought to maintain contact with anti-Fascist elements in Croatian territory. British intelligence sought for a time to maintain contact with high-ranking officials of the puppet Croatian government, but the contact ended after Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic recognized that the Allies intended to support the Partisans. (http://www. usis. usemb. se/nazigold/ustasha. ml) Serb travel had been restricted, Serb participation in government was becoming limited and the military began taking strategic positions with Serb majority areas. Clearly, with so many tanks, guns, and soldiers, the stage was set for armed conflict. The armed conflict in these Serb pockets of population came to a head in Knin, where Croats were a minority while Serbs maintained a majority. Milosevic saw these Serbs as an opportunity to, if not save Yugoslavia as it was, then to at least expand what remained of Yugoslavia as much as possible.
Milosevic, with the help of Jovan Raskovic, began to stir trouble in the city of Knin. They reminded the Serbs living in Croatia of the atrocities that the Ustasha inflicted upon the Serbs who had lived there during the Second World War and that the same thing was happening again to the Serbs at the hands of Croat fascists. Serb media told tales of the new nationalist regime in Croatia coming to wipe out anything not Croat. Theoretically, the Croats should have been able to quell the rebellion.
This was not the case because when the Croatian police sent three helicopters to the area to take control and stop the protests, they were met with two MiG aircraft from the JNA and threatened to be shot down if they failed to turn around (Bennett, 129-131). Obviously, at this point, the situation is getting tenuous enough for the international community to take an interest in what is going on. Two, armed aircraft from the Yugoslav Army confronted three helicopters from Croatia.
By this time, the international community had recognized the independence of Slovenia and Croatia upon the lead from Germany but they were still allowing the remainder of Yugoslavia, essentially the Serbs, to engage in warfare with Croatia. So, why didn’t the United States intervene at this point? Several answers are viable. The first and foremost reason for a lack of intervention has to do with our newly emerging relationship with Russia. Russians had been closely aligned with Serbs during World War II and this relationship continues onward even until today.
Telling the Serbs that the United States was going to enter Yugoslavia and stop the violence was to say that the United States was going to go into Yugoslavia and crush the Serbs, who controlled the government and the JNA. We were trying desperately to form close, personal ties with Russia to support their efforts toward a market economy and democracy to prevent the Russian government and their nuclear weapons to fall into the wrong hands. To offend the Serbs, and thus the Russians, would have been political suicide. Second, what exactly did Yugoslavia mean to the United States?
As stated above, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Cold War was over. We no longer needed to nurture ties between Eastern European states in order to head off the spread of Communism. Yugoslavia didn’t have an impressive economy where American business interested could invest and reap massive dividends. Much like most of the Eastern and especially Southeastern European nations, the economy was lackluster and uninviting to foreign investment. The third reason that the United States chose not to interfere and perhaps the most important is that intervening would imply a long-term commitment of men, equipment, and supplies.
The recent Gulf War had devoured many of the resources that would have been needed to complete an operation in Yugoslavia. Furthermore, the terrain of the area was as inhospitable as Viet Nam’s was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Engaging the military in an operation in Yugoslavia would offer the same challenges that Vietnam offered. There was no popular support for either side of the conflict in the United States. What monetary or economic gain could be made by intervention? The fighting was primarily in Croatia, not in Greece, not in Hungary, and not in Italy.
Perhaps the Executive branch of the United States considered this to be a rather internal problem and not the concern of the international community. Germany didn’t help matters either by jumping the gun and recognizing Croatia before it met the standards set by the European Community. Under the EC plan, Croatia would have to make a constitutional provision recognizing Serbs living in Croatia as citizens of Croatia and protecting them with equal status. Germany, eager to stop the armed conflicts within Croatia, officially recognized Croatia’s independence and thus, forced the rest of the EC to do so as well
The third phase of the disintegration of Yugoslavia is marked by a decidedly different approach to the Balkans by the international community. The European Community, lead almost unwillingly by Germany, offers to recognize Croatia and Slovenia as independent in January of 1992. By March of 1992, Bosnia itself had attained the standards that the EC set for recognition of independence. Sixty-four percent of the population voted in a referendum for independence while most of the Serbs abstained. By this time as well, it had become apparent that Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic had planned to take over about two-thirds of Bosnia.
The United States and other allies considered recognizing the sovereignty of Bosnia as a way to avert the impending military action. In March of 1992, the United States pushed for the independence of all four of the breakaway republics (Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Macedonia). On April 6 and 7, the United States recognized Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia (Macedonia was left off the list due to pressure from Greece. ) This recognition of sovereignty was a few days too late. Several days earlier, the Serbs had begun their attacks. They were better equipped, better trained, and in better position.
The Bosnian army had been overwhelmed (Zimmerman, 9). What was the United States’ position on the Serb attacks? The American government announced that it intended to withdraw its ambassador from Belgrade. This was merely symbolic since the embassy itself was still intact and under the control of a charge daffier. On May 30, the United Nations, at the request of the United States imposed an economic embargo against Serbia. This embargo was similar to that imposed upon Iraq during and after the Gulf War. President Bush, however, refused to use military force in the region
The first reason Bush refused was matter how small the initial action, a continued, expanded operation was expected. Much like Vietnam, the Bosnian conflict offered obstacles to a quick, speedy, and painless process. The second reason is that there were no clear objectives in the region and no commitment to leaving. The problems that caused the conflict would not have gone away by simply rolling a tank down Main Street of Sarajevo. Finally, the third reason — politics. Had Bush committed troops to the war in Bosnia, a wave of potentially unpopular criticism may have taken the sails out of his campaign.
How would Bush have explained to his electorate that he was responsible for sending young American boys to their death? He couldn’t take the chance. So, the war in Bosnia continued. The United States and other allies toyed with the idea of airlifting food and medical supplies to the regions cut off from direct aid coming in to Sarajevo but the military, without clear objectives and a plan of attack, failed to support those missions as well. Bush lost the election in 1992 and left office. Clinton entered the situation late and because of it, was left with Bush’s legacy of inaction.
The Serbs had taken control of over seventy percent of Bosnia (Zimmerman, 11) and had consolidated their control of the region before Clinton could find his way to the bathroom in the White House. Eventually, the Clinton Administration did raise a stronger voice but this was short lived because of the Europeans’ unwillingness to cooperate in a plan to lift the arms embargo and to hit Serb strongholds with air strikes. After this plan failed to win popular support in Europe, the United States continued on it’s course of rhetoric and apathy.
Why did the Clinton administration choose to abandon such an aggressive posture? Clinton could not disagree with the Pentagon for various reasons. He had no military record and was seen as a draft dodger to most of the brass at the Department of Defense who had more than likely served in Vietnam. There is no clear majority in Bosnia therefore; the government would be in a constant state of gridlock with nothing getting accomplished because each canton could be voting along ethnic lines. However, the Serbs had control of most of the country.
While in control, they sought to consolidate their hold on lands in eastern Bosnia as well as a section of northwestern Bosnia where large Serb populations lived. The also selected as their target a narrow corridor of land that connected the two regions of Bosnia that they controlled. Once in control, they began campaigns to rid their targeted regions of other ethnic groups. Murder and assault were some of the options but the Serbs also relied on rape as a means of ethnic cleansing (Donia and Fine, 247). On a personal note, I interviewed a person I know very well.
He is my boss from my job at home in Derby. He runs a small pizza place there with his brother. His name is Musah Cosaj, or Mikey, as we affectionately call him, and he is an Albanian. I conducted my interview with him while we were working on Friday and Saturday nights. I questioned the life of both him and his brother. His brother’s name is Arsian Cosovic, or Alex, for short. Alex also works in the shop with us but he does not speak English well enough to communicate. Do to this fact, Mikey answered questions for both of them, translating for his brother.
They are both from Montenegro. Mikey has spent his entire life there prior to coming to this country. Alex moved to Kosovo and spent 15 years of his life there. Alex owned and maintained a store in Kosovo while he lived there. Mikey owned and operated a larger restaurant in Montenegro. I have worked with Mikey for more than a year now. His brother has been with us for at least 10 months. As I said, I believed that I knew Mikey very well, but I came to learn that there was more there then meets the eye. The insane and unreal stories that came from his mouth proved me to be wrong.
I was not prepared to hear some of the stories that he told me about what life has been like for him and his brother. Mikey explained that Montenegro is really not too bad of a place to be an Albanian, both now and when he lived there. For the most part the Serbian police will leave you alone if you are of the common people. However, Mikey was not one of the lucky ones that were left alone. Problems arose for him due to the fact that he was a “gangster” there. He chose not to go into detail about why he was considered a “gangster and I did not want to intrude on this seemingly secretive life.
Mikey, being a man of few words, merely referred to himself as a big shot. I would assume this was do to the fact that he did have his own business and many women in his life. Because of his status, many Serbs were jealous of his lifestyle. In one incident a Serb took action on his feelings and tried to set fire to Mikey’s long curly hair. Mikey’s reaction left the man in the hospital for three months with a few broken ribs and other injuries. This incident pinned Mikey as a marked man. From that point on his troubles with the police started.
At the time, about 1992, the Serbian police would randomly come to his house at any given time and put a gun to his head. With gun in hand pointed at Mikey, the police would force him to tell everything that he had done in the course of his day. While taking walks, Mikey would be stopped and patted down. Any money that the police found, they would take. One particular night Mikey found himself in jail because of possession of a kitchen knife. He was carrying it to protect himself from wolves on the walk home from his mother’s house. The story was unbelieved by the police. Once in jail, Mikey’s head was shaved.
To become a United States Citizen, Mikey married a woman of Albanian descent but was born in America. After the marriage he spent thirteen months working in New York City, at the end of that time period he moved to Seymour, CT where he now resides. After hearing the story of Mikey’s reasoning for immigrating out of his country, I though that was the worst I could hear. However, Alex’s story set me back a few more steps then Mikey’s did. “The Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and Serbian special police forces are committing violations of humanitarian law in Kosovo, Human Rights Watch stated today.
Attacks on civilians and the systematic destruction of villages have effectively cleansed Kosovo’s western region of ethnic Albanians. Human Rights Watch has strong evidence of summary executions and rape. ” (Human Rights Watch) Alex was a storeowner in Kosovo. There, troubles were much worse because he had to deal with the Serbian army not just the police. Alex was forced to do anything they asked of him, or the penalty was death on the spot. He spent fifteen years of his life in Kosovo before moving to Montenegro. After two weeks he went to Albania and then to Italy after six months.
Later he went on to live in both Switzerland and France. After a month in France, Alex flew in to Kennedy International airport. Mikey spent 27,000 dollars to get his brother to this destination. Sadly, once he departed the plain, Alex was arrested because he had a Slovenian passport. He spent the next four months in immigration jail, in Queens awaiting his court date. He was able to enter the country on asylum with the help of his brother and a lawyer. Referring back to the introduction of Mikey and Alex, it is noticed that they have different last names, despite the fact that they are brothers.
Mikey offered a simple explanation. The Serbian army changes Alex’s last name in Kosovo to a Serbian last name. He did not give any reasoning for this except that they said he had to. Seeing how citizens were treated throughout the other stories, there was no reason for more of an explanation. They only thing that didn’t make sense was why the brothers didn’t fight back. Mikey’s simply stated that citizens did not have the weapons to, because their handguns were no match for the Serb’s firepower. You may never realize the inner depths of someone until you draw it out of them.
Everyone has a secret life that can not be seen on the outside. In Mikey and Alex’s case, this life was shocking. By looking at their success now, one could never tell they went through such hardships to get this far. Listening to these stories and seeing the anger in their eyes as they were told, taught me why anyone would want to leave Albania. To be in a country were one doesn’t have to worry about being beat for any good reason other then their status, is a dream for many of them. It was a realization of everything ever read in a textbook.
Their strength is something to be envied for making it this far. The things that go on in Albania, is enough reason for anyone to want to immigrate. It is almost unbearable to live in such a life of hate and injustice. The path of getting to the United States is the same from any country. One needs to fight for the right to have their own freedom. Some people make it through and others get caught out. It is a mere example of survival of the fittest. Some immigrants travel to other countries before arriving at their destination while others try to make a straight line to a their new home.
No matter what their path is to the USA, they travel in constant fear of being found by the police and brought back to their homeland. Becoming an actually United States Citizen is the easy part once a way over is found. The easiest way it that of Mikey, to just marry a citizen and gain your own. Others can apply for their green card and receive it within a few years. Although this seems like a long time, it is well worth the wait to those who do not want to live in the circumstances of their own countries.
The police force and army have taken it upon themselves to rule everyone and everything they feel the need to. One things could be resolved would be for a larger country, such as the United States, to go in and take over. A war would most likely start and things would get worse before they would get better. However, if the USA won the battle things would be easier to bear with. Things would be like they are in our country. Everyone would be an equal and they wouldn’t be harassed for their way of living. War is never a good answer for anything, but it seems to be the only way that things would change in Albania.
If their country was like ours, then people wouldn’t immigrate, eliminating problems of over crowding for us and lack of citizens in Albania. America is a leading country for a reason. Apparently we have a good way of living that people flock too. If we could just get through to other countries, they could live at peace. On a less harsh note, a counseling center could be set up to help out those effected by the wraths of the police and army. Citizens can go and speak to someone about the problems they face and what can be done about it. If enough people seek out this help, something could be done against the police and army.
The citizens could be taught to take a stand and protect themselves in a non-violent way. Having the knowledge that how you are living is not wrong and that the action by higher authority is not right, can make strength grow. The bottom line is that something needs to be done about the way citizens are treated in Albania. Maybe it isn’t the place for the USA to step in, but on the other hand we could help them. In the near future things need to change over there but it is going to be a feat to get through to them. Nothing is ever a guarantee but every try is worth it to the citizens.