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Kosovo and Its Historical Antecedents

On the night of February 21, 2008, (four days after Kosovo unilaterally declared independence) angry Serbs broke into the US Embassy and set fire to an office within the embassy (a burnt and charred body was later discovered there) as rioters rampaged through Belgrade’s streets, putting an exclamation point of violence to a day of mass protest against Western support for an independent Kosovo. At least 150,000 people rallied in Belgrade, waving Serbian flags and signs proclaiming ”Stop USA terror,” to denounce the bid by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian (and mostly Muslim) majority to create their own state out of what Serbs consider the ancient heartland of their culture. The Serbian Police stood by and did absolutely nothing while Serbs sacked and set the US Embassy on fire. Please read various accounts of the Belgrade attack on the US Embassy here and here.

Meanwhile, this is what happened on February 23:

Serbian prosecutors said Saturday they were hunting rioters who targeted the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade leaving one person dead while a senior Serbian minister reportedly blamed Washington for the violence triggered by Kosovo’s breakaway. Authorities said they had arrested nearly 200 rioters who took part in the violence on Thursday that prompted the United States to evacuate non-essential embassy staff and warn Serbia it would be held responsible. "We are collecting evidence and are identifying the culprits," Slobodan Radovanovic said in a statement, according to The Associated Press. Serbia’s Kosovo minister Slobodan Samardzic said Saturday that the U.S. — which backed Kosovo’s breakaway and was among the first countries to recognize its "seccession" (SIP: secession) — was the "main culprit" for the violence, AP reported.

What brought (what’s bringing) all this about? How did we get to this point that Serbs are sacking the US Embassy in Belgrade, protesting the declaration of independence by Kosovo, a UN protectorate-country that had been more or less independent from Serbia?

And so once again as we did with Afghanistan a little while ago, we need to take a quick cruise through the history of Kosovo, Serbia, and the old Yugoslavia, and briefly analyze the background of US involvement in both Serbia and the defunct Yugoslavia, directly routed through the policies of the Bill Clinton Administration and indirectly through the involvement a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) intervention led by Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000.

First off: Serbs in the old Yugoslavia have often regarded Kosovo as their historical "homeland." And this myth of foundational origins is precisely the metanarrative (or master narrative) that informed/informs all Serbian (both governments and citizens) actions toward (and reactions against) Kosovo (both the provisional government and citizens). Following is some historical background.

The old Yugoslavia comprised the seven provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.

In 1946: The country was renamed Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (FPRY), with parliamentary democracy suspended and a communist state established, led by Josip Broz Tito as prime minister. All the provinces enjoyed a great degree of autonomy under Tito.

In 1953: Tito was elected president.

In 1963: The country was renamed again asthe Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), and again, all the provinces continued to be more or less autonomous.

In 1974: Tito became President for life after a new Constitution was passed for the country.

In 1980: Tito died, ushering a long period of political instability, worsened by growing economic crisis and nationalist unrest. In the province of Kosovo, growing Albanian nationalism and separatism in response to persecution led to growing ethnic tensions between Serbs and Albanians.

In 1989: Slobodan Miloševi? became President of Serbia and announced an "anti-bureaucratic revolution" in Kosovo and Vojvodina, curtailing their autonomy. Miloševi? and his government claimed that the constitutional changes were necessary to protect Kosovo’s remaining Serbs against harassment from the Albanian majority.

In 1990: Milosevic led Serbia’s Socialist Party which was founded that same year.

In 1991: The Yugoslav province of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared sovereignty.

In 1992: The breakaway province held a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia that was boycotted by the great majority of Bosnian Serbs. The turnout in the independence referendum was 63.7 percent, and 99.4 percent voted for independence. Controversy then resulted because the referendum failed to surpass the constitutional two-third required majority. But Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in any case. Following a tense period of escalating tensions and sporadic military incidents, open warfare began in Sarajevo.

From 1992 to 2003: The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) became a federation comprising the two republics of Serbia (including the province of Vojvodina, Kosovo) and Montenegro.

From 1996–1999: Conflict began between Serbian and Yugoslav security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group. The US then held an "outer wall of sanctions" on Yugoslavia which had been tied to a series of issues, Kosovo being one of them. These were maintained despite the Dayton Agreement to end all sanctions. The Clinton Administration claimed that Dayton bound Yugoslavia to hold discussions with Ibraham Rugova (the President of Kosovo) over Kosovo.

In 1997: Milosevic became President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In 1999: War began between Yugoslavia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and ended that same year after NATO’s heavy aerial bombardment of Belgrade. The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia took place during the Kosovo War. Its legality and legitimacy was and is highly disputed. The legitimacy of NATO’s bombing campaign in Kosovo has been the subject of much debate. NATO did not have the backing of the United Nations Security Council because the war was opposed by permanent members, China and, in particular Russia, who had threatened to veto any resolution authorizing force. NATO argued that their defiance of the Security Council was justified based on the claims of an "international humanitarian emergency."

Following the Kosovo War, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 placed Kosovo under the authority of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), with security provided by the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), and legally reaffirmed Serbia’s sovereignty over the region and committed the UN Member States to its territorial integrity.

In 2000: Milosovic resigned the Yugoslav presidency amid demonstrations, following a disputed presidential election in September 24, 2000.

In 2001: Milosovic surrendered to the JSO special operations unit in time to avoid forced arrest. This put Serbia in compliance with an American deadline; he had to be arrested on April 1 for aid monies to be released. The warrant had previously been made on suspicion of corruption, abuse of power, and embezzlement. These were domestic charges. The Serbian investigation into Miloševi? faltered for lack of hard evidence, prompting the Serbian Prime Minister Zoran ?in?i? to send him to The Hague to stand trial for alleged war crimes instead.

Also in 2001: The Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG: the local administrative bodies in Kosovo) was established by the (‘UNMIK’) in Kosovo under the terms of UNSCR 1244. That resolution, which ended the Kosovo conflict of 1999, provided for an interim international administration for Kosovo that would establish and oversee the development of ‘provisional, democratic self-governing institutions.

(Meanwhile, between 2001 and 2008, while the United Nations was doing all this for Kosovo, the two-term Bush Administration did practically next to nothing to help Kosovo, distracted by the War on Terror and the [useless] War in Iraq. If the Bush administration had helped Kosovo achieve independence sooner, then this might have been prevented:

In 2004: In March, Kosovo experienced its worst inter-ethnic violence since the Kosovo War. The unrest in 2004 was sparked by a series of minor events that soon cascaded into large-scale riots.)

In 2008: The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX KOSOVO, a deployment of European Union (EU) police and civilian resources to Kosovo, established a mission foreseen under the Ahtisaari Plan: a rule of law mission that is a continuation of international civil presence in Kosovo envisaged by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. The mission includes 2000 police and judicial personnel, and began a four-month deployment process beginning February 16 2008.

In 2008: After UN-sponsored negotiations failed to reach a consensus on an acceptable constitutional status, Kosovo’s provisional government unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on February 17.

Which brings us to the present point.

And this is what happened February 24:

Filed at 7:32 a.m. ET

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The U.S. Ambassador is warning Serbia’s leaders to prevent future violence against diplomatic missions.

Ambassador Cameron Munter says he’s angry about riots that damaged the U.S. Embassy last week. He has told The Associated Press in a Sunday interview that he expects the government to make certain it doesn’t happen again.

So now that Kosovo has declared unilateral independence: Now what happens from here on end?

In spite of the delay and distraction we pointed out above–although US support, going back to Wesley Clark during the Clinton Administration, has never really been in doubt–the Bush Administration quickly recognized Kosovo as an independent state. George W. Bush said: "The Kosovars are now independent."

Most European Union members have also recognized Kosovo, not surprising since the EU in general has been mainly responsible for setting up guidelines for how Kosovo should govern itself, guidelines that Kosovo has accepted–the EULEX KOSOVO and the Ahtisaari Plan mentioned above in 2008.

But there are are a few holdouts among some EU members: Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia–and Spain, perhaps thinking of its own separatist Basque movement.

Russia has always opposed independence for Kosovo, saying that there should be an agreement with Serbia before independence–but also perhaps thinking of Chechnya.

And China also has always opposed independence: again not surprising, perhaps given its irredentist claims over Taiwan.

Meanwhile, Taiwan favors independence for Kosovo–not surprising there, perhaps thinking of its own independence from mainland China.

Perhaps one would notice a pattern among all these countries opposing independence for Kosovo: each is thinking of its own ethnic minority group (like the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo): Allowing independence for Kosovo (ethnic Albanians) would set a precedent that might then comeback to haunt–even bite–them…

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Biodun Iginla

Biodun Iginla

Biodun Iginla has published nine novels, including LOVE IN THIS TIME OF SILICON, A CYBER ROMANCE I-V, a series of five novels, THE SEX DIARY OF A PROFESSOR, and one nonfiction book, THE REGIMES OF CAPITAL AND TECHNOLOGY, and is also an online full-time senior news analyst for BBC out of London, UK, and a freelance writer, editor, and political blogger who divides his time between Minneapolis, London, and Paris. He writes mostly about (international) politics, capitalism, globalization, technology, and culture--and can be reached at He also freelances full-time for BBC News World Servce. Please visit his political blog at to see his cross-posts on the BBC News website: He is currently working on another novel, RAMBLINGS OF SOMEONE AT THE EDGE.