Is Kosovo really an independent country?

Taylor, Scott

When travelling through Kosovo it would be easy for someone to mistakenly believe this region has just become the 51st U.S. state - rather than a self-proclaimed independent country. On most homes the American stars and stripes are fluttering alongside the Albanian flag - even on many public institutions.

Prior to their February 17 unilateral declaration of independence, the U.S. had designed a new yellow on blue special Kosovo flag. Thousands of these flags were produced and distributed for free in the hope that they would be a proud visual symbol of the new and distinct state of Kosovo. Unfortunately for the planners in the U.S. State Department, the Albanians living in Kosovo do not regard themselves as a separate Kosovar nation. Instead of flying the new flag, they continue to display the black double-headed eagle on a red background - the official flag of the neighbouring Republic of Albania. They are unrepentant, proud Albanians, and they fly the American flag in recognition of the fact that only through a decade of U.S. military aid and political pressure have they wrested control of a province that is Serbian sovereign territory and proclaimed it as their own.

In addition to the flags, the Albanians pay fawning tribute to former U.S. President Bill Clinton in the form of 70-foot high posters of him hanging in Pristina, the Kosovo capital. It was Clinton who pressured NATO into supporting the separatist Albanian guerrilla force known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in their struggle against Serbian security forces in 1999. Ironically, it was only the year before that the U.S. State Department listed the KLA as a terrorist organization due to their tactics of targeting innocent Serb civilians in order to provoke retaliatory measures from Serbian troops.

However, once NATO air power entered the equation, the tables were turned firmly in favour of the Albanians, and they now have no qualms about publicly showing their appreciation. At the southern end of Pristina, a scale model statue of liberty sits atop the Victory Hotel and even Hillary Clinton has a street in the Kosovo capital named in her honour.

Strangely enough, the U.S. scheme to create an independent Kosovo has not garnered much support from Muslim countries. With the exception of Turkey and Afghanistan, the Islamic republics have refused to recognize Kosovo for the reason that they see it as an American puppet state. Go figure.

Although the 1998 U.S. assessment of the KLA as terrorists was an accurate one, that is not how they are being depicted in Kosovo these days. In the course of the 18-month-long insurgency and NATO offensive, the KLA did not win a single standup engagement over the Serbs. Their dubious martial accomplishments include the widespread murder of Serbian civilians and Albanian collaborators after NATO entered the province and became responsible for security.

Nevertheless, there are innumerable monuments erected all over Kosovo to revere these "heroes" and "martyrs." Given that this conflict in Kosovo was a bloody inter-ethnic civil war, and the fact that the original NATO mandate was to provide a safe environment for all Kovoso minorities, many international observers recognize that these monuments to KLA fighters only serve to intimidate non-Albanians.

In the entirely ethnic Serbian enclave of Strpce in southern Kosovo, the Albanians built a massive monument in honour of their KLA fighters who died trying to capture this same village. Realizing that the Serbs in this enclave may not be too enamoured with a statue of their erstwhile enemies erected in their midst, NATO troops must provide a security detachment to prevent any vandalism. Thus far the newly constructed KLA monument remains unscathed. In comparison, over the past nine years the Albanians have managed to destroy more than 150 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries - despite the fact that NATO's mandate includes protection of religious sites.

Kosovo was admittedly dependant on the U.S. for its creation, remains independent upon NATO troops for security and protection, requires massive amounts of foreign aid to survive and the Albanian majority openly rejoice in the fact they now live in greater Albania. One has to wonder just what the hell Prime Minister Stephen Harper was thinking when he decided to include Canada among the handful of countries that recognize this "independent" Kosovo.

One can only hope that at the UN general assembly meeting in September, Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence is declared illegal. Canada can then use the opportunity to reverse Harper's decision and uphold the UN charter.

(Scott Taylor is publisher and editor of Esprit de Corps Books & Magazine in Ottawa, and a member of the Osprey Writers Group)

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