by Eric Margolis
LONDON - The long-feared explosion in Kosova finally occured last week, as this ethnic Albanian region of Serbia erupted in violence.
After attacks by Albanian guerrillas, Serb forces massacred 24 Albanian villagers. Thirty thousand Albanians demonstrated, demanding independence of Kosova. They were savagely beaten by Serb police. Subsequent attacks by Serb forces against `terrorist villages' killed another 50 or more Albanians dead.
Serb leaders have long called for `ethnic cleansing' of Kosova's 2 million Albanians, over 90% of the region's population. The final, and perhaps most dangerous, phase of the Third Balkan War has begun.
Yugoslavia's disintegration began in 1989 when the Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, seeking to create Greater Serbia, sent tanks and troops into the Kosova autonomous region with orders to `crush the Albanians.' Milosevic used the Kosova issue to become dictator of Serbia.
Kosova (Kosovo in Serbian) was put under Serb martial law. All Albanian political, linguistic, educational, cultural institutions were closed. Tens of thousands of Albanians were jailed or `disappeared.' Milosevic then unleashed the Serb army against Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, plunging Yugoslavia into war and mass slaughter.
Kosova's Albanians have endured savage Serb oppression ever since. Thousands are arrested annually and routinely tortured; hundreds are killed. Orthodox Serbs treat the Muslim and Catholic Albanians with special ferocity, calling them `subhumans' and `Turks,' the same terms Serbs used to justify their genocide against Bosnian Muslims.
The Kosova Albanians (Kosovars) set up a parallel government and educational system. `President' Ibrahim Rugova proclaimed a policy of strict non-violence, fearing any resistance would give Serbs a pretext to massacre or expel Albanians from Kosova.
Non-violence failed. Ignoring western warnings, Serb repression and brutality sharply increased, as Milosevic and fellow Serb fascists demanded racial `purification' of Kosova. Notorious Serb war criminal, Arkan, vowed his gangs of murderers would begin `cleansing' Kosova, as they had eastern Croatia, and Bosnia.
Last year, Albanian resistance fighters, the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), began attacking Serb paramilitary police. Based in Switzerland, the KLA is funded by the large Albanian diaspora.
The KLA aims to drive Serb occupation forces from Kosova, and create an independent state. But Kosova is too small and poor to survive alone. KLA militants want to eventually unite with their 3.5 million brothers in neighboring Albania, and Macedonia's 1 million Albanians.
While accepting de facto creation of ruined Greater Serbia, and prosperous Greater Croatia, the US and Europe strongly oppose reunification of the Albanian people which, they fear, will provoke another Balkan firestorm. Last week, US special Balkan envoy Robert Gelbard even stupidly described the Kosova Liberation Army as `terrorists.' Serbs immediately began massacring Albanians. `Terrorists,' it seems, are any group that disturbs the Pax Americana.
Though Serbs are under 10% of Kosova's population, they claim it `holy soil,' the site of their decisive defeat in 1389 by the Ottoman Turks. Serb nationalist-nazi mythology depicts Serbia as eternal crusading champion and bulwark against advancing Islam.
In historical fact, after the fabled battle, subsequent Despots of Serbia, Stephen Lazarevich and George Brankovitch, were close allies of the Turks. Serbs actually joined the Turks in fighting Hungarians and Albanians, who were trying to stem the Ottoman advance. Despot George even became Sultan Murad's II's father- in-law! So much for Serbia's glorious anti-Turk crusade.
This century, Serbs have attempted numerous times to make Kosova `Albanian-frei,' slaughtering 100,000 Albanians alone in post-World War II pogroms. The late Mother Theresa, an Albanian, was driven from Kosova by Serbs.
Albanians are a warlike people, often likened to highland Scots. But until recently, Kosovars had no weapons. After the conservative Albanian government of Sali Berisha collapsed last year, plunging Albania into chaos, some weapons from looted arsenals reached Kosova and Albanian Macedonia.
The west is deeply worried that shaky Macedonia, the strategic heartland of the Balkans, will splinter as Albanians seek unity with their brethren. This could ignite a five-way war between Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Albania and Serbia - the fourth Balkan War this century.
The US keeps a `UN' battalion in Macedonia to seal its border with Albania. Though many Kosovar and Macedonian Albanians aspire to unity with Albania, few want to join ruined, chaotic Albania right now. A pathetic mess, Albania has fallen again under control of the Hoxah communists (now relabled `Socialists') - aided by the Italian Communist Party. Former agents of the dread Stalinist secret police, Sigurimi, are returning to Albania. Albania is in ruins, divided, de facto, betweem largely Tosk communists from Tirana on south; and the anti-communist Gheg mountaineers of Sali Berisha in the wild north.
An Albanian `intifada' in Kosova may well produce widescale massacres of Kosovars by Serb regular and paramilitary forces, who have already demonstrated their bravery and skill in murdering unarmed Bosnian and Croat civilians.
Last week, Washington and London delivered dire warnings to Serbia to refrain from more butchery, threatening to re-impose recently lifted sanctions. Still, the US and Britain continue to treat Serbia's despot, Slobodan Milosevic, a Balkan version of Saddam Hussein - but much smarter - with kid gloves, while threatening to pulverize Iraq, even though Serbia, too has chemical, and, possibly, some germ weapons.
The war Milosevic unleashed in 1989 killed over 350,000 people, and left 3 million refugees, including many Serbs. The west, however, chooses to do business with the devil in Belgrade, but not the one in Baghdad. The US is bribing Milosevic to keep Bosnia quiet. Tragically, Kosova was not even mentioned in the cynical Dayton agreement that ended the fighting in Bosnia.
Time for the west to: warn Milosevic Serbia will be decisively punished if he begins massacres of Kosovars; immediately restore full political and cultural autonomy to Kosova; leading eventually to the UN-sanctified right of self- determination and full independence of this orphaned Albanian nation.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved