Published as opinion article "Kosovo - Be Careful Of What You Wish For”, Britić, March 10, 2015
In seeking independence Kosovo’s Albanians failed to heed the “be careful of what you for wish for” rule - the unforeseen and unpleasant result of independence; today that economic reality has come home to roost with a vengeance. Kosovo is now a place to flee, to abandon. Thousands have done so.
This Sunday [March 8, 2015] The New York Times lead article “Kosovars Who Fought for Land Are Now Eager to Leave” culminates two months of reporting on a mass Kosovar migration, a flood of refugees, northward through Serbia and on to Western Europe. “Once, Kosovars were laying down their lives to stay here. Now … we have come to a situation where we leave of our own free will” writes the Times. It then goes on to document political infighting, rampant corruption, crime and non-existent economy – all earmarks of a failed state.
The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal have reported their take on the crisis complete with depressing photographs of the refugees’ plight. It is not a situation that anyone would welcome, but a state of affairs I had anticipated.
Everyone loves, me included, the “I told you so” moment proves your prescience, your intelligence, your standing above all the other animals in the human herd - as Jackie Gleason in his Reggie Van Gleason III mode would say with a knowing smirk “How sweet it is”, when it does happen.
I have never lived in ex-Yugoslavia full time, having only spent the first five years of my life there. All of my information on Yugoslavia and its peoples were third, or at best second hand - conversations, articles, books and the like except for a number of visits. My alienation and distance from the real thing gave me objectivity and perspective, a trait sadly lacking in Serbia and Kosovo.
At dinner one night in 1999 at the Klub Književnika on Francuska Street in Belgrade during the Kosovo War I went head to head with my Serb friends over Kosovo. The argument grew heated, so much so that had there been another glass or two consumed we might have come to blows. Buda, the venerable head waiter came over to our table and with a disapproving frown asked us to keep it down.
The argument, you ask? I said the best way to deal with Kosovo was to partition it, then dump it. Annex the predominantly Serb dominated north around Mitrovica, like Putin and the Crimea, have UNESCO declare Kosovo Polje, the 26 Orthodox monasteries and whatever else strikes your national pride UN protected World Heritage Sites and tell the rest to fuck off, good riddance and goodbye. My reasoning – you will never reverse Albanian demographics and for decades Kosovo had been an unproductive economic drain on ex-Yugoslavia, and now Serbia, a losing proposition.
I later wrote “Serbia could shrug off the burden of financially propping up a failing state and pass it on to the international community thus avoid dealing with a bellicose minority”.
The Serb emotional response was defiant “Kosovo shall remain a part of Serbia forever” ignoring reality with a heartfelt cry that “the Battle of Kosovo defines Serbs and Serbia” with numerous allusions to Kraljević Marko, Miloš Obelić and others that I did not readily recognize – pure sentiment, not a cold rational evaluation of Kosovo’s then economic and ethnic state.
Kosovo’s Albanians were then just as emotional, delusional and irrational. They wanted independence, their own state, self determination at any cost ignoring that their very existence had been predicated on the largess of the other Republics of ex-Yugoslavia.
Today Kosovo is a de facto if not yet de jure state – some question its recognized independent status. Since 1999 it has received over €4.5 billion [US$5.85 billion] in direct international aid with indirect costs paid for by the EU, UN and NATO yet to be calculated – the war cost ₤30.1 billion [US$49.6 billion] – yet poverty, deprivation, unemployment hovering at 35.1% [56% for those under 25] prevailing. Kosovo is a disaster waiting to take a turn for the worse.
Serbia may well adopt my smug and stupid “be careful of what you wish for” attitude and revel in the unforeseen and unpleasant consequences that have befallen Kosovo. But Serbia beware - the “be careful of what you wish for” rule is a double edged sword – does Serbia want a failed nation state full of ethnic hatred on its southern border? My advice – lend a hand, try to find a solution.