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Kosovo's Changing Institutional Fate
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In early 1998, Serbia's empirical rule over Kosovo was weakened by a surprisingly successful guerrilla movement, the Kosova Liberation Army

(KLA). The group had gradually made its presence felt during 1996–97, but became a significant force only in February and March 1998. Until that time, ethnic Albanians favoring armed struggle had been effectively marginalized by Rugova's Democratic League, but as Rugova's policies lost credibility, the radicals gained in strength. Kosovo's transition to frontier-like conditions, in other words, was nourished by Rugova's declining political fortunes and the collapse of his political strategy.

Like many post-Yugoslav parties, the Democratic League was a broadly based nationalist movement comprising both former ethnic Albanian communists and longtime anticommunist dissidents. As Serbian centralization efforts unfolded in the early 1990s, Kosovo's ethnic Albanians closed ranks behind the League, and for some years, the party's political hegemony was uncontested. Its position was weakened in 1995 following the Dayton peace conference, however, which ended the Bosnian war without reference to Kosovo's sovereignty.[42] At the same conference Western powers had recognized the Bosnian Serb region, Republika Srpska, as a non-sovereign entity within Bosnia, signaling to Kosovo Albanians that denials notwithstanding, the West tacitly rewarded violent secessionism, not restraint. Bosnian Serbs had fought and earned partial international recognition, but Kosovo received nothing.

Critics of the LDK had become increasingly vocal in 1994, with some demanding more vigorous (but still nonviolent) action against Serbian authorities.[43] In 1996, Adem Demaçi, a leading ethnic Albanian political figure, proposed combining more aggressive protests against Serbian rule with more limited political demands.[44] Rexhup Qosja, another nationalist iconoclast, also supported greater confrontation, but insisted on remaining committed to full Kosovo independence.[45] Demaçi and Qosja's critiques of the LDK strategy were uncommonly blunt, but they stopped well short of advocating armed insurrection.[46] Splits within the Democratic League itself appeared in 1997, with two key LDK leaders, Hydajet Hyseni and Fehmi Agani, joining Demaçi and Qosja in advocating for more aggressive political activism.[47]

Kosovo was soon to be enveloped in armed struggle, but for a brief moment in 1997, it seemed that the LDK's critics might unleash a more proactive wave of unarmed resistance against Serbia.[48] In September, thousands of ethnic Albanian students defied both the LDK and Western diplomats, demonstrating for the right to attend ethnic Albanian schools, and for the first time in seven years, protesters were back on Kosovo's streets, dramatizing their claims and challenging the Serbian authorities. Serbian police reacted with disproportionate force, but the protests attracted international

attention and raised local morale. The demonstrations continued during the fall, and one particularly brutal police response in December 1997 spurred prominent Serbs, including the Serbian Patriarch himself, to criticize the government's actions. In early 1998, however, student protestors were eclipsed by the rising KLA guerrilla movement.

The Origins of Kosovo's Armed Rebellion

During the early and mid-1990s, there was some indication that at least a handful of Kosovo Albanians were planning armed rebellion. In 1993, Serbian police arrested 100 men, including fifteen former military officers, charging them with creating a clandestine ethnic Albanian defense ministry for the shadow Kosovo state.[49] The authorities said the group was part of Rugova's LDK, but the League's leaders denied the charge. In 1994 and 1995, Serbian forces arrested an additional 400 persons, including dozens of former ethnic Albanian police officers, charging them with membership in a secret police force.[50] Human rights groups said the trials were unfair and relied on coerced information, but there seems to have been some merit to the Serbian claims.[51]

One small but important group was the Popular Movement for Kosova, or LPK, [52] which emerged from a 1993 split within the radical Popular Movement for the Republic of Kosova (LPRK), active since the late 1970s.[53] Supported initially by communist Albania, the LPRK began with a leftist critique of Yugoslav socialism, arguing it had become complacent. The LPRK's most pressing concern was self-determination for Kosovo, however, not social reform. Following the province's 1981 wave of demonstrations, Serbian and Yugoslav authorities arrested or forced into exile most LPRK cadres.[54]

In the early 1990s, a handful of LPRK activists initiated limited training exercises in northern Albania, some of which were reportedly coordinated with LDK official Bujar Bukoshi, then prime minister of Kosovo's Bonn-based government-in-exile.[55] From Europe, Bukoshi had more freedom than his colleagues in Kosovo to explore the potential for armed resistance. These early efforts soon petered out, however, and the training camps were disbanded. The dearth of arms, money, and international support seemed overwhelming. Would-be fighters had few modern weapons, and the Albanian authorities were unwilling to permit arms smuggling. Low-key training in remote mountainous areas was one thing, but weapons acquisition and cross-border infiltration into Kosovo was far too risky.


In 1993, the LPRK split into the Popular Movement for Kosova (LPK), rooted in Europe's Kosovo diaspora, and the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosova (LKCK), based more heavily in Kosovo itself. The Popular Movement seized the initiative, creating the Kosova Liberation Army during a secret 1993 Macedonian meeting.[56] Conditions were still not right for a serious armed effort, however, as the small KLA had few members, modern weapons, and no territorial safe haven alongside Kosovo. Although Albania was a logical platform for crossborder activities, the government remained unsupportive.[57] Albania's politicians were sympathetic to Kosovo's plight, but feared antagonizing Serbia as well as Western powers. Instead, they promoted both human and sovereignty rights for Kosovo in international venues, provided Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League with international connections, and helped open an LDK office in Tirana. In 1992, Albania's sympathies for Kosovo had been briefly bolstered by contributions to Albanian Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha, who won the country's first postcommunist elections. Soon after, however, Berisha backtracked to reassure Western diplomats, and in 1994, Berisha abandoned the notion of Kosovo independence altogether, throwing his support behind a plan for Kosovo's territorial autonomy within Serbia.[58]

Piercing Kosovo's Borders

The Albanian state's ability to block cross-border movements evaporated in spring 1997, however, when the country's popular financial pyramid schemes collapsed amidst accusations of corruption, mismanagement, and fraud.[59] Massive economic losses, coupled with popular disgust with Berisha's rule, sparked waves of antigovernment protest. The machinery of the Albanian state seemed to disappear overnight as crowds stormed municipalities, police stations, and military bases, flooding illegal markets with looted weapons. One estimate calculated 500,000 assault rifles offered at $100 per unit, [60] while another counted a million weapons at under $15.[61] Whatever the true price, Kosova Liberation Army fighters gained unexpected access to massive amounts of cheap, modern arms. Of equal importance, parts of northern Albania slid from central control, becoming an area where "armed gangs with assault rifles … roam freely," and where the "police and officials are corrupt or powerless."[62] Under such conditions, KLA activists could easily reinforce their presence along the Kosovo border.[63] Popular support for the KLA in Albania's north was widespread, as many locals had family

in Kosovo. For the first time, the pieces began to fall in place for the guerrillas: weapons, a secure territorial base, and access to Kosovo's borders.

The KLA Insurgency Begins

Serbia began to move away from ethnic policing only in 1998, when the ethnic Albanian insurgency finally began to disrupt Serbia's iron grip over the province. The KLA had assumed responsibility for attacks on ethnic Serbs as early as April 1996, earning them a "terror group" designation by Serbian and Western officials. Until 1998, however, the fighting did not take on serious proportions. Serbian officials counted thirtynine persons slain by ethnic Albanian guerrillas between 1991 and 1997, with the bulk of those coming in 1996 and 1997.[64] In 1997, the KLA informed Albanian-language papers it was the national liberation movement's "armed wing,"[65] and the organization's first public appearance came on November 28, 1997, at a funeral for an ethnic Albanian slain by Serbian police in a gunfight. Three masked men in military fatigues delivered a short speech favoring independence to 20,000 mourners and then slipped away, sparking widespread enthusiasm.[66] Serbian officials took the KLA threat seriously, jailing dozens for alleged military activities in 1997, but the Democratic League dismissed the group's attacks as Serbian provocations.[67]

Toward the end of 1997, local gunmen claiming KLA ties stepped up attacks in the Drenica region, chipping away at Serbia's monopoly over violence. In late January, Serbian police raided Donji Prekaz village, home to the KLA-affiliated Jashari clan, but were repulsed by gunfire. A larger Serbian force returned in early March, destroying the Jashari compound entirely and killing fifty-eight persons, including twenty-eight women and children.[68] Serbian forces launched similar operations in Likošane and čirez villages, killing twenty-six.[69] In each case, the police shelled residential areas, executed prisoners, and looted valuables. One Serbian officer reportedly acknowledged that security forces had gotten "out of hand," with more killings averted at the last minute by a senior commander.[70]

Serbian intelligence initially assumed the KLA to be a small guerrilla faction whose activities could be easily crushed. Belgrade leaders reportedly debated using specialized units, which would have granted the KLA political significance, or deploying regular forces, which would have played down the group's importance. The government chose the latter, but according to Zoran Kusovac, "The only tactics regular troops

knew was to pound any suspected ‘terrorist resistance' with all means available."[71] The result was a bout of spectacular brutality and, contrary to Serbian expectations, a dramatic upsurge in rebellious sentiment. The KLA had begun with only a few hundred members, drawing on a handful of extended families and activists smuggled from abroad. Once Serbia began killing civilians and combatants alike in early 1998, however, the group's ranks swelled dramatically.[72] This remarkable growth stemmed from a combination of factors. First, the KLA's political colleagues in the LPK had reportedly organized loose networks of supporters in Kosovo since 1993, and these became active once the fighting began. More importantly, the notion of armed rebellion apparently enjoyed considerable support in rural Kosovo, where the urban elite's preference for passive resistance had been discredited.[73] Third, the Drenica killings prompted entire social networks, such as extended families and rural LDK chapters, to enlist en masse. "Once the rebellion erupted," Hedges writes, "local LDK leaders immediately picked up weapons and became commanders of village units," while villages "formed ad hoc militias that, while they identify themselves as KLA, act independently."[74] As a result, intra-KLA coordination became a serious problem as autonomous groups sprang up wholesale throughout the countryside.[75] At the same time, however, the notion of armed struggle remained unconvincing for some key urban intellectuals, as well as some leaders of extended families.[76]

The KLA's initial funding reportedly came from drug trafficking, money laundering, and migrant smuggling, [77] with one source estimating in early 1999 that half the KLA's budget was drug related.[78] In March 1999, British reporters "established that police forces in three Western European countries … are separately investigating growing evidence the drug money is funding the KLA's leap from obscurity to power."[79] Although some of this was speculation based on the growing European prominence of Albanian-speaking drug traders, the Kosovo Liberation Army most likely did draw at least some funds from criminal activities.[80] The Serbian killings in Drenica, however, broadened the KLA's appeal among the large Kosovar Albanian diaspora, making it easier to raise legal funds there.[81] Until then, the 800,000 to 1 million strong community[82] had mostly donated to the LDK's fund-raising agency.[83] With money and arms becoming increasingly available, KLA convoys began infiltrating the Kosovo border from northern Albania, often in columns as large as 200 horses and 1,000 persons.[84] Between January and September 1998, according to the Serbian authorities, border guards killed

90 suspected KLA infiltrators and captured 947 rifles, 161 light machine guns, 33 mortars, 55 mines, 3,295 grenades, and almost 350,000 rounds of ammunition.[85] Serbian control over Kosovo's boundaries was beginning to slip, and a central pillar of Kosovo's ghetto status was crumbling.[86] A second threat to Serbian domination was the decline in its empirical sovereignty in Kosovo itself. Here, the KLA enjoyed some early successes in summer 1998, holding up to 40 percent of rural Kosovo for short periods.[87] At one point, "The asphalt belong[ed] to the Serbian security forces and forest paths to the UCK [KLA]."[88] This established the KLA as a political player to be reckoned with, but civilians paid a heavy price. With Kosovo no longer fully under Serbian control, Serbian forces began to shift from ethnic policing to cleansing.

Partial Ethnic Cleansing

Serbia's effort to retake lost areas began in May 1998 as troops sought to seal Kosovo's border with Albania by forcibly depopulating villages near the boundary line.[89] Some 15,000 civilians fled to Albania, a further 30,000 trekked into Montenegro, and others walked deeper into Kosovo. Serbian forces began a second offensive in late July 1998, assaulting KLA-held regions in the province's interior.[90] They retook Malisevo, one of two towns held by the Kosova Liberation Army, [91] and by mid-August, had recaptured much of the province's territory.[92] The KLA's retreat stemmed from inferior firepower and poor coordination, as the guerrillas were divided into three distinct and often acrimonious groups. As a result of the Serbian offensive, some 300,000 of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians fled into the surrounding hills. Serbian forces perpetrated several massacres, including two late September incidents in Gornje Obrinje and Golubovac.[93] Overall, Serbian forces killed some 2,000 ethnic Albanians, including both combatants and civilians, and destroyed or damaged 43 percent of homes in 210 rural communities.[94]

Most of the targeted areas, however, were suspected guerrilla transit routes or bases.[95] For the most part, Serbian forces did not kill or destroy in areas where they still enjoyed empirical sovereignty, such as Kosovo's cities, attacking chiefly peripheral areas held by the insurgents. Areas of fragmented authority became objects of localized ethnic cleansing or bloody Serbian reprisals, while areas of uncontested Serbian dominance remained objects of ethnic policing. The Kosovo ghetto was collapsing, but not entirely. Serbia still projected infrastructural power

in many heavily populated areas, sticking to ethnic policing rather than cleansing.

The International Human Rights Norm in Action

Following the embarrassment of their Bosnian failures, Western leaders were determined to be more forceful with Serbia over Kosovo.[96] NATO leaders repeatedly argued they must not be humiliated by Serbia, and roundly chastised Serbia for its excessively violent response to the KLA rebellion.[97] The six-country "Contact Group," composed of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain, and the United States, issued increasingly tough warnings, threatening sanctions and even military action if Serbia did not accept mediation and negotiations. For the Contact Group, the preferred solution was an internationally mediated agreement for Kosovo's autonomy within Yugoslavia, which would sideline the KLA, reduce Serbian troop levels, and maintain Serbian juridical sovereignty over the province.

On March 9, 1998, the Contact Group warned Serbia to begin negotiations or face sanctions, but an April 1998 referendum in Serbia supported the government's refusal, triggering limited sanctions. In late March, the UN Security Council imposed a comprehensive arms embargo on Serbia and Montenegro.[98] After Serbia's May 1998 offensive, Western commentators increasingly discussed the possibility of air strikes on Serbian targets, and on June 15, NATO warplanes flew over Albania and Macedonia in a show of force. Western diplomacy intensified in August and September, both threatening and cajoling Serbia to cease military operations. The fate of the internally displaced civilians in Kosovo's hills was high on the international agenda as aid officials warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Serbian representatives periodically signaled their willingness to negotiate, but Serbian ground forces continued their offensive.

In late September 1998, the Security Council ordered Serbia to cease its fire, withdraw troops, and begin negotiations. On October 16, Western threats produced a Serbian agreement to halt its offensive, withdraw some forces, and permit refugee return. Most importantly, Serbia agreed to allow some 2,000 unarmed OSCE representatives to monitor ceasefire compliance and human rights conditions in Kosovo. Although Serbian military forces had managed to retake much territory before the cease-fire began, Milošević's agreement to international observers cost him heavily at home, drawing the ire of Serbian nationalists.[99]


The OSCE monitors remained in Kosovo until March 20, 1999, Serbia withdrew some troops, and the fighting did die down. Neither side halted military preparations, however, using the time to organize themselves for a future offensive, with the KLA's mobilization in northern Albania and parts of rural Kosovo matched by a Serbian buildup along Kosovo's Serbian borders. "As far as one can tell," one analyst suggests, "neither side fully abided" by the October peace deal, and "the KLA quickly recovered from the battering it received from the Serbs in the summer fighting."[100] KLA ambushes against Serbian forces continued, while Serbian retaliations were brutal. One such retaliation in mid January 1999 was particularly noteworthy, killing forty-five persons in the village of Račak, many execution-style. The massacre prompted a U.S. ultimatum to Serbia: sign a Western-designed peace treaty in Rambouillet, France, or face NATO air strikes. When the Rambouillet summit failed, the OSCE withdrew its monitors.

Serbia's harsh offensive had triggered vigorous international human rights attention and threats of Western air strikes against Serbia. It did not, however, push the West to challenge Serbia's juridical sovereignty over the province, although increased discussion of an international military presence in Kosovo, coupled with vague promises to negotiate Kosovo's final status later on, signaled a tendency to drift in that direction. Still, Kosovo's Albanian leaders had failed to convince Western powers to substitute the sovereignty norm for human rights. Unlike Bosnia, Croatia, or Slovenia, Kosovo was still located within Serbia, and was thus unable to successfully lobby for international recognition.

Assessing Serbia's 1998 Violence in Kosovo

Although some dubbed Serbia's 1998 repertoires of violence "ethnic cleansing," they were in fact quite different than the violence to come. During 1998, Serbia did not seek to expel Kosovo's ethnic Albanians from the province altogether, choosing instead to raid villages suspected of supporting the KLA; in response, many villagers fled into the hills. Although this certainly was forced displacement of a sort, it did not amount to a wholesale ethnic cleansing effort. Most importantly, Serbian forces did not move against Kosovo's urban population. The state's monopoly over violence was threatened in several key rural areas and that, for the most part, was where Serbian efforts were focused. Thus by the fall of 1998, Serbian authorities were pursuing a bifurcated strategy in which piecemeal rural cleansing existed alongside ethnic policing in the

cities. This mixed approach was sparked by changes in Kosovo's institutional conditions, the most important of which was Serbia's increasing loss of empirical sovereignty over parts of the province. The Kosovo Liberation Army had created semi-autonomous pockets and pierced the Kosovo ghetto's walls, but Serbia's loss of control was sporadic and localized, as were its ethnic cleansing operations.

Another factor inhibiting full-scale ethnic cleansing was the Western world's unwillingness to cut Serbia off entirely. By insisting they still recognized Serbia's juridical sovereignty in Kosovo and by continuing to negotiate with Serbian officials, Western powers and international institutions signaled their acceptance of Serbia as part of the international community. This was expressed most powerfully in October 1998, when the OSCE sent unarmed monitors into Kosovo, thereby respecting Serbian rights over the province.

These monitors, however, created a major contradiction for international actors. Their job was to record events on the ground in detail, bringing the media, human rights organizations, and Western governments into immediate and intimate contact with the effects of Serbian state violence. With this level of proximity, it was difficult for Western governments to downplay Serbian human rights abuses in the name of stability. Given the power of international human rights norms and the density of human rights groups clustered around Balkan events, Serbian massacres were bound to excite tremendous international attention, pushing Western governments to take concrete action. The monitors brought the reality of Serbian massacres to key Western audiences in a way that was difficult to ignore.

There is little doubt that Serbian operations against suspected KLA supporters in 1998 and 1999 were entirely brutal affairs. At the same time, however, Kosovo suffered equally or less than other areas of the world during those same years.[101] Those conflicts did not have hundreds of human rights monitors on the scene, however, with a direct line to powerful diplomatic offices and Western journalists. The discourse and actors of the international human rights norm had by now fully enveloped and penetrated Kosovo and Western agencies concerned with Balkan events, transforming Serbian massacres into major international political events.

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