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THE KOSOVO TRAGEDY: In Perspective

    Paper no. 45

 

         The Indian reaction, official as well as non-official, to the Kosovo tragedy has been inadequate, focussing, as it does, mainly on the inappropriateness and unjustifiability of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia without an equally strong condemnation of the shockingly insensitive handling of the people of Albanian origin, who constitute a numerical minority in the present truncated Yugoslavia as a whole, but are in an overwhelming, or at least were, till recently, majority in the province of Kosovo. 
         Serb insensitivity towards the non-Serb ethnic minorities and the readiness of the Serb-dominated Federal Government at Belgrade to intervene brutally with its security forces in support of the Serb minorities in the non-Serb provinces have been the principal causes of the gradual disintegration of Yugoslavia after the death of Tito. 
         Tito, who himself was of Croatian blood, held the nation together, but his Serb successors, particularly President Slobodan Milosevic, have shown themselves to be incapable of winning the trust and understanding of the non-Serb minorities and restraining the Serb minorities in the non-Serb provinces from taking the law into their own hands in dealing with the increasing assertiveness of the non-Serbs. 
         The Federal Government and its representatives in Kosovo had every right to take counter-insurgency measures against those sections of the Kosovo population which had taken to arms against the Serb minority in the province and against the provincial and federal security forces, but they should have ensured that force was used judiciously to maintain inter-ethnic (people of Albanian origin vs Serbs) and inter-religious (Muslims vs Orthodox Christians) peace and harmony and not to help the Serb (Orthodox Christian)minority of this province to settle scores against the Albanian origin(Muslim) majority. 
         Yugoslavia has had a long history of friendly relations with India and it could have benefited from a study of how India has been dealing with those provinces (the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir) where ethnic and/or religious groups, which are in a minority in India as a whole, are in a numerical majority. 
         The founding fathers of the Republic of India had taken a series of constitutional and other measures to ensure that the majority component of the population from the rest of India doesn’t infringe on the property and other rights of the people of these provinces and that the Federal powers and forces are not misused in these areas. A worthy example of India’s handling of such situations is the tremendous restraint exercised by the Indian political leadership, policy-makers, security forces and public opinion, when some Muslim extremist groups, at the instigation of Pakistan, carried out an ethnic-cleansing of the minority Hindus from the Kashmir Valley. 
         Even at the risk of unpopularity amongst the Hindus, successive Governments in New Delhi and Srinagar avoided over-reaction to the brutalities inflicted upon the Hindus by the Muslim extremist groups . 
         Because of his inability to exercise such restraint and avoid over-reactions against non-Serbs, Milosevic finds himself isolated today despite the fact that the Serbs were the traditional allies of the West during the first and second World wars and had won the admiration of the Western world by their valiant fight against the Nazis.  Yugoslavia, under Tito, won further admiration in the West by the way it resisted the hegemony of the USSR under Stalin. 
         How isolated Milosevic is today would be evident from the fact that whereas there were some voices of support even for Saddam Hussain in France and other countries of West Europe when the US and the UK, under the cover of the UN Resolution, bombed Iraq in December, there is hardly any support for Milosevic. Even France, which often takes an independent line even inside the NATO and the progressive sections of the French society---even a daily like “Le Monde”—which are generally distrustful and critical of US policies, find it difficult to support Milosevic after what he has done to the Albanians. 
         The sheer magnitude and brutality of the atrocities, as could be seen from the TV visuals, have been so shocking to Western public opinion that even critics of the Clinton administration’s frequent resort to force to enforce its point of view, whether it be in Iraq or in Bosnia or in Kosovo or in Afghanistan, and of its policies on Kosovo before the bombing started have now been advocating the continuance of the bombing till Milosevic stops the atrocities and agrees to take back the refugees and restore to the province its previous autonomy.

         Amongst such critics was Dr. Henry Kissinger. His criticism was based on the following points:

  • No national security interests of the US were involved    in that region and hence, resort to force would be unwise.
  • Any US or Western support for Kosovars’ aspirations for independence could destabilise Macedonia and Greece which had Albanian minorities.
  • Russia had valid interests in that region and hence should have been more actively associated in the search for a political solution instead of creating in its mind feelings of humiliation.

        But after the atrocities, Dr. Kissinger has started saying that the NATO, to maintain its own credibility, should not stop bombing till Milosevic climbs down and that, after all that has happened, the question of re-acceptance of Serb authority over Kosovo would not arise. 
         India and other countries of the third world are justified in condemning NATO’s interference in the internal affairs of Yugoslavia and its bypassing the UN in the search for a political solution to the problem, but they would be weakening their case by failing to condemn equally strongly the Milosevic Government for its insensitive handling of the non-Serb minorities and to come forward to join international efforts to provide relief to the refugees. 
         Having underlined the inadequacies in the policies of India and other third world countries critical of the NATO intervention, it needs to be added that the NATO bombing does not seem to have been preceded by adequate homework and thinking.  On the contrary, wishful thinking that Milosevic would show himself to be amenable to reason after a few days of bombing, as he did in Bosnia in 1995, appears to have influenced the bombing. 
         What seems to have been overlooked is that in Bosnia Serb emotions, ethnic pride and patriotism were not involved to the same extent as they are in Kosovo. Historically, there was a time when the Orthodox Christian Serbs were in a majority in this province, but over the years, they found themselves reduced to a minority by the influx of Muslim Albanians and the greater increase in the rate of growth of the Muslim population. 
         The Serbs regard Kosovo as a cradle of their civilisation and are emotionally attached to the territory.  Thus, whatever might be the unpopularity of Milosevic amongst the Serbs due to the lack of democracy, on the issue of Kosovo they are all behind his resistance to what they look upon as the US-led Western efforts to have this province freed of Serb control. 
         The ruthless bombing of Serbia, including the centre of Belgrade, by mainly American planes and Cruise missiles has only recalled to Serb minds the similar ruthless Nazi bombing to which they were subjected during the second World War and has only steeled their determination to stand behind Milosevic, whatever be the cost. 
         The forces are unequally matched in this undeclared war by the NATO.  The Serb army has been considerably weakened by the economic sanctions and by the arms embargo of recent years imposed at the instance of the NATO powers and does not have the access to the latest weapons and technologies as the US and other Western powers have. The Serbs are defending themselves against this onslaught with weapons and technologies of the 1960s and 1970s vintage. 
         The fact that despite this they have been able to resist the NATO onslaught for over 10 days speaks eloquently of their bravery and morale and of the poor quality of  American military leadership.  And the fact that the CIA seems to have badly failed by under-estimating the Serb valour and patriotism should not be surprising to those who have some knowledge of the mediocre, if not the below-mediocre, quality of its human and intellectual resources. 
         The fight between the NATO and the Serbs is like that between an elephant and an ant.  The ant has so far, through its agility, escaped being crushed by the elephant, but the elephant may still ultimately succeed in crushing the ant, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory— guilt-ridden and not worth celebrating.

B.RAMAN                                                        5-4-99 
  
(The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India and presently Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: corde@vsnl.com ) 
 

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