THE LASTING DAMAGE OF
THE KOSOVO WAR
The ninety-day air war over Kosovo is over, at least for the time being.
The unprecedented war of Western democratic nations against Kosovo, one that was at odds with international law, has created a new situation for the 21st century. It has laid bare political and social problem areas and tension lines that had accumulated in more than fifty years of post-war paralysis and ten years of post-communist euphoria. For hundreds of thousands of Albanian refugees in Kosovo, in the host countries and in the rest of Yugoslavia it was a disaster that certainly was already looming large.
The violation of basic democratic and humanitarian rights in Yugoslavia was to be ended at the price of a violation of international war law, the rupture of the UN-charter, an evasion of NATO-intervention conditions and infringements of the constitutions of many of the participating democratic nations.
The air strikes and the rocket operations of the United States and its NATO-allies have come to end without Western ground troops ever having to be deployed. The consequences of such an escalation would have been completely beyond control. The victorious powers have established an international protectorate over Kosovo and divided it into occupation zones. In a symbolic sense they are at loggerheads with Russian militaries and thinkers of prestige who like the honest broker Bismarck are claiming their share of the bounty.
Both parties are declaring that they are the victors. The Goliath who was successful in a military sense has forgotten his noble goals which (allegedly) guided his actions at the outset: protection of the Albanians in Kosovo, saving them from being killed, raped and expelled, putting an end to ethnic cleansing, overthrowing Milo&Mac255;sevi´c and his regime, minimizing damage to the civilian population, with as few casualties as possible.
Yet what was strongly redolent of a new version of the brisk and cheerful war of the German and Austrian militaries in the period before 1914 has largely floundered, as self-critical NATO-politicians and an ever greater number of people in Western democracies concede. The war has not just not prevented the grievances it was opposing, it has even exacerbated them.
Milo&Mac255;sevi´c continues to be in power. Serbian, chiliastic nationalism feels humiliated, once again sanctified and born out by a sacrifice and sees itself as having emerged victorious, since it was able to resist a conspiracy of (almost) the entire West. It is at least now more difficult for the democratic opposition within Yugoslavia to advocate (Western) democratic and civil ideals in a population that has been bombed back decades not just in economic terms but also in political ones in line with Yugoslavian president.
Large parts of Kosovo have been destroyed, contaminated, depopulated. Those for whose support this sort of humanitarian action was undertaken have usually been crowded into refugee camps, hundreds of thousands of them, or scattered over all of Europe. Only a small fraction of them will be able to return to their homes in a foreseeable future, hardly any time before fall or winter. The immediate neighboring countries of Macedonia, Albania and the remaining Yugoslavian republic of Montenegro are destabilized. The whole region seems to be even more insecure politically than it was beforehand. The cultural, ethnic and social conflicts in all of the Balkans have not been decreased. On the contrary, in the areas ravaged by war and cleansing they are now more virulent for decades to come. A division of Kosovo has moved closer than ever before, its neighbors could follow. New conflicts within the country and between neighboring states are predictable,
literally calling for new interventions and a new order in the patchwork of small states.
The economic, traffic-related and political situation has also seriously deteriorated in the other southeastern European countries. It is not difficult to see that the economic aid offered by the West will not be sufficient and will be bound to social and economic-political hegemonic conditions. It seems that all of Western Europe is being asked to foot the bill, while the USA is able to concentrate on investing in new military equipment.
The Russian nationalism and its military arm see themselves provoked. If the NATO had perhaps wanted to prevent, had it conducted the war for Kosovo as a war for checking and discouraging the expansion of its hegemonies on southeastern Europe, has actually happened. Moscow has come back into the play of international powers, it was indispensable as a mediator of peace. The West will not get around seeking Chinas agreement on a UN-conform Balkan solution.
The war in the European region has come to an end, at least for the time being. Given the inner logic of the war preceding it, peace here is a precarious one. However, it is to be feared that the civilizational destruction on a European or even international scale will only be consummated in a post-war. Four aspects that became visible and reinforced during the war for Kosovo are particularly disquieting:
The USA and the NATO have disregarded the international legal framework of the UN Security Council which they helped create and supported for a long time and weakened the United Nations. The latter had, for better or worse, represented a certain, sometimes final mechanism of conciliation and peace in times of conflict in the Cold War over a period of forty years. A world police without a legal basis becomes suspicious as an imperialist hegemonic power. Such an odium would no doubt be unworthy of an old democracy as the USA.
For the first time since 1945 war has once again been depicted as a legitimate means of politics on a large scale by a political public, which is largely unified, even if in many countries it is still reluctant to fully back it. The social democrats and greens of many governments have aligned themselves to this position, without any discontinuity and sometimes even outdoing the conservatives. What had been achieved via a number of arduous attempts made by pacifist utopians and diplomatic practitioners since the beginning of the 20th century to learn from the bitter lessons of World War I and the threat of Nazism now seems to have been erased. To allow this state of war legitimization to continue to exist amounts to a repeated attempt to solve problems through war and to pave the way both theoretically and practically for its expansion to other humanitarian actions.
The memory of the ghastly genocide of the Jews by the Nazis and their followers, which included not just Germans but also Austrians, the begun and attempted execution of ethnic and cultural groups in the Balkans and in the eastern part of the Third Reich has been cashed in on by many politicians and media people of all parities and fractions. With a historically false and seemingly demagogic recourse to the most horrible historical crime, infringements of the law and the use of force are being legitimated. What worked once will be attempted again, if no measures are taken to counter those who distort historical facts and play down the Holocaust.
Even after the bombings have stopped journalists and some politicians are avidly trying to reinterpret the failed strategy as a struggle for a definitive order in the Balkans, in the last war. This is how the argument went already before and during the war for Kosovo. Precisely the use of the worst force was described as its application for the last time, as the last solution for making later the use of force superfluous, even as a final solution. In 1999 such a line of argumentation might not just be a rehashing of the inane talk of an end of history. Before the millennium it is also indicative of the continuation of that dangerous chiliasm, of religious nationalisms and political religions that has not just afflicted southeastern and Central Europe even in the 20th century with the worst consequences. This is accompanied by what historians of religion and ideology have described as the thousand-year Manichaeanism in Europe: the absolute evil is present in the world, and any means is justified to counteract it. Oppositions thus can no longer be overcome, conflicts cannot be resolved, compromises cannot be achieved without losing ones credibility. The Cold War of ideologies and super powers has at times been influenced by this pattern. The explanations and strategies of both sides in the Kosovo war could serve as a lesson for what consequences this thinking in terms of black and white has, i. e., the slipping into a (probably) unjustified and unsuccessful war, the difficulties in achieving peace and a lasting human compromise.
It is a topical issue for scholars of all fields, artists of all genres and media, intellectuals who evade the temptations of the media forced to into conformity (even in Western democracies). They must try even after the war to join forces in the INITIATIVE EQUIDISTANCE whose program has been described as follows by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu: Let us work collectively!, knowing full well this is very difficult. Each of us has his own ideas and contradictory thoughts, and often we just prefer to be silent, sometimes even out of modesty. But working collectively in a network will at the very least permit us to combine our competences.1
For the 21st century should not be defined by the undermining of the UNO, by justified wars, frivolous Holocaust comparisons and chiliastic and Manichaean thinking in the area of politics.
1 Pierre Bourdieu, The Intellectuals and the War, 18. 05. 1999, firstname.lastname@example.org (by the way of t byfield, <tbfield@p>)