Options for Kosovo (III) A Case Against Partition and the
Question of a Religious War for a Greater Albania

April 20, 1999

Comment: #264

Discussion Thread:  #263

In Comment #263, Richard Haass argued that a mismatch exists between NATO's limited strategy (air bombardment) and its unlimited ends in Kosovo (a return of all refugees to Kosovo under NATO protection). He then proposed that NATO should reduce its strategic aim in Kosovo to a partition strategy that recognizes some Serb interests and sets up a protected Kosovar enclave. He defended this proposal by arguing the U.S. could use other foreign policy tools (sanctions , covert action, etc.) to work over the long term for the larger goal of Milosevic's ouster, return of all refugees, and the establishment of a democratic Yugoslavia. I argued that his proposal seemed to have two serious drawbacks: first, its formula is similar to our failed policy of punishing the Iraqi people to get at Saddam Hussein; second, by producing a Gaza-like enclave, it would insert a new hotbed of frustration, discontent, and rage into an already unstable region.

Herbert Fenster, a lawyer with wide experience in defense matters, responded to Comment #263 with the following email.

-----[begin Fenster's email]----

While I agree with Haass' premises, I also agree with your conclusions: Partition and separation of warring parties is not a viable objective.

There are some very clear reasons for this: Chief among them are: (a) the mobility of populations; (b) the economic disparities among the partitioned populations; (c) the perpetuation of hatreds by organized forces; (d) the disparities in reproduction; (e) the impact of mass communications and (f) the growing egalitarian attitudes among western nations. All this you may regard as too subtle and too esoteric for consideration. However, it is just these factors that actually drive the conduct of these neo-nations. True, they drive conduct much slower in medieval nations such as the former Yugoslavia, but they control events none the less.

It is quite remarkable to me how little is made of the fundamentals of this controversy: We liberally use the term "ethnic" when referring to the warring parties. The term is not completely descriptive of the separation of the parties, however. There are at least three major (and MANY minor) ethnic groups involved. But they are more then "ethnic" in character. What binds together the members of these "ethnic" groups is ORGANIZED RELIGION. (When I refer to "organized forces" above, I am referring to the three major established church denominations in the region.) What keeps alive the hatreds among them is the profoundly parochial teachings of their separate religions; this, more then any other single factor, undergirds the present strife and insures that it will last many generations into the future.

When these facts are coupled with the demographic nature of the region including the presence of "pockets" of one or more of the three groups, existing as minorities within all of the nation states of the region your conclusion that partition will not work is unquestionably accurate.

The long term solution MUST include a rather radical addressing of the so-called "ethnic" problems themselves. In turn, this cannot succeed unless the three major religions "operating" in the region are themselves brought under control. This is indeed a terrible and dangerous condemnation of the three largest religious bodies existing at the border of the "Western World," but to continue to ignore the subject in the name of ultimate diplomacy is to buy another century of strife much worse then we are seeing now.

The Rt. Rev William Swing, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of California, has been struggling to create a "United Nations of Religions" for about ten years now. While it gets little media attention, its ultimate importance in the dissolution of these conflicts is no less then the conduct of military affairs.

----------[end Fenster email]------------

Fenster's comment raises an issue that has been muted in the Kosovo debate the role of religion in this conflict and in its resolution. Is he overstating this role, or is he talking about something everyone wants to avoid?

There is one thing about the Kosovo conflict that goes beyond religion, I think namely the fact that Albanians are not Slavs. Their origin is unknown, but it seems to be the consensus belief is that they are descended from the Illyrians. Many of the Albanians openly collaborated with the Turks, and Kosovo was part of the Albanian administrative regions in the Ottoman empire. There are Orthodox and Catholic Albanians (maybe 10-20% total), but religious preference does not seem to be a major issue in Albania. Tribal affiliations are very important, however. So, a big part of this fight seems to be about hatred of Albanians and Serbs for each other as opposed to a Orthodox vs. Muslim confrontation.

Fenster agrees with these comments but says, "it is clear (if anything in that region is clear) that the religious issues and the "ethnic" issues are not identical: In fact, there is just the division among the so-called "ethnic Albanians" that you describe. It is one of the reasons why it is impossible to treat them (as "Kosovars") as a monolith, assuming that to support them would be to resist the Serbs. Today's reality is that, while the vast majority of "ethnic Albanians" as Muslim, depending in part on where they live, some may also be Eastern or Roman. They are probably united (ethnically) in their hatred of the Serbs.

When the nation state of Albania is considered, however, the issues do appear to be Serb (Orthodox) vs Albanian (Muslim) and in this perspective, the ethnic and religious conflicts are indeed very much the same."

If Fenster is correct in his assessment, then NATO's growing alliance with the Kosovo Liberation Army (the State Department branded the KLA as a terrorist organization only a few years ago) and Albania may be sucking the United States into a larger ethno-religious war for a "Greater Albania, which would include almost all of Kosovo, a good chunk of Western Macedonia, and a smaller chunk of Montenegro. If this is perceived to the case by slavs and/or orthodox co-religionists in Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Russia, or the Islamic co-religionists in Turkey (or greater Turkestan?) and Russia, then NATO may stirring up the ingredients of a much wider struggle than anyone realizes.

It is indeed ironic that the United States is now enmeshed in two conflicts Kosovo and Iraq that have roots in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and Woodrow Wilson's failed idealism when he got down on knees to redraw the map of the Balkans at the real Versailles.

Chuck Spinney

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