Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Reluctant Reply to John Pilger on Kosova December 2004

Reply to John Pilger on Kosova 

December 2004 

By Michael Karadjis

John Pilger’s “How Silent Are The 'humanitarian' Invaders Of Kosovo?” (New Staesman, December 9, 2004) forces me to reluctantly respond to someone I have great admiration for. John Pilger has been a great asset to the international left and that he has often done important work in exposing imperialism's machinations throughout the world. What he writes here is has the outward appearance of arising from that same point of view. However, in reality what we are seeing is Pilger joining a long line of former left luminaries who have abandoned all pretence about class analysis, who instrumentalise class-free "anti-imperialism" and who thereby throw out the very essence of what being "on the left" is supposed to be about - the struggle for human emancipation. Shilling for tyrants, oppressors and genocidaires is the opposite of the politics of liberation. While Pilger has had these tendencies for a while now, in the past he, like Chomsky, has been better than the outright apologists for Milosevic and Serbian fascism, such as Ed Herman, Diana Johnstone and Michael Parenti. But this article, full of fake lines about "fake" massacres of Kosovar Albanians, represents a new level of degeneration. 

First let's clarify what the discussion is about. The discussion is about whether we should gloss over massive crimes committed by some local despot when that despot happens to come into some conjunctural conflict with US imperialism. When we put our energies into opposing an imperialist war, do we advance our case by pretending that the local despot was not really as bad as many people think, that the regime is simply misunderstood etc? If we choose that road, we come across a number of problems. First, no-one will believe us, and they will be quite right. So there will be no anti-war movement, as for example there was no significant movement against the NATO attack on Serbia, because anti-war groups allowed Chetniks, Serbian royalists and Serbian Orthodox fanatics to lead the campaigns, and a number of leftists even bent to their views. Naturally they could not mobilise anyone on the basis of being apologists for the actions of the Serbian regime which was driving 850,000 Albanians from their country. People rightly believed this was an enormous crime. The left needs to know how to oppose imperialist war for good traditional anti-imperialist reasons and respond to other real concerns that normal people rightly have. Second, by using such arguments, we in fact take the focus off the nature of imperialism. We weaken our ability to expose the nature of imperialism. In fact, we end up in reverse liberalism. For example, if the reason to oppose NATO's war was that Milosevic wasn't really doing all those things he was accused of, that he wasn't driving the Kosovar population from their country, that it was all an invention of the media, that he wasn't killing large numbers of people, that the lightly armed village-based guerillas of the KLA were just as responsible as the massively armed Serbian conventional forces, then the reverse logic also becomes true: in that case, what if it turns out that these crimes really are being committed, if not in that case then in another case, does this mean we should support imperialist war? 

Third, as socialists, our solidarity must always be with the oppressed and terrorised. That is the nature of our being. We can oppose NATO's bombing precisely out of solidarity with Serb civilians being terrorised by NATO bombs. If at the same time, we become apologists for the enormous terror, on a similarly disproportionate scale, being carried out against the Albanians by Milosevic, directly as a further result of the NATO attack by the way, then we expose ourselves as hypocrites. Moreover, we cut ourselves off from the struggling people themselves. It would be somewhat difficult to have a discussion with an Albanian arguing against support for NATO if you were trying to tell that Albanian that they should submit to the brutal oppressor they had been fighting to be rid of since 1913, or that they should not resist when a good "anti-imperialist" like Milosevic was trying to drive the whole population out. Our program is international - we need to advocate what is in the interests of all the oppressed of the world - Albanians included. If virtually all Albanians hate the western left, it is very well deserved, but does not advance the socialist cause, only that of imperialism trying to divide and rule. 

Pilger has never been an apologist for brutal regimes just because they don't have rosy relations with imperialism. For example, he produced an excellent documentary on the brutal SLORC military dictatorship in Burma. This is a regime that the US has had sanctions on since 1990, that Bush recently spoke of as a member of an expanded 'axis of evil', and whose opposition leader is wildly feted by western leaders. If the US ever felt the need for a "humanitarian liberation" war in southeast Asia, the Burmese junta would be the target of convenience. We should strongly oppose such a war, but that would not make anything Pilger said about it incorrect. Similarly, Pilger launched into docos with some superb work on the monstrous Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, where he rightly gave support to the Vietnamese intervention to rid the country of the KR, and exposed western hypocrisy in punishing Vietnam. However, before Vietnam intervened, many prominent voices in the US government were calling for a US "liberation" of Cambodia from the KR "genocide". If that had happened we would have opposed it, yet it wouldn't alter the fact that the term "genocide" used widely by Pilger was correct. Most of the left in the 1980s was strongly opposed to the regime of Saddam Hussein for its invasion of Iran, growing alliance with the west, its slaughter of the Iraqi Communists, its chemical genocide against the Kurds etc. To the point that, when Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the initial reaction of some left journals was that US imperialism will probably let him get away with it! Since them Hussein has been enemy Number One. Yet that does not alter the validity any of the condemnation the left made of his regime. And in opposing the invasion of Iraq, very few on the left chose the rationale that Saddam was actually just a misunderstood guy who was not all that bad after all, that the anti-Kurdish genocide was all fiction, that he didn't kill many people etc. We would have been laughed off the stage. Pilger in fact stresses the use by the current US-backed puppet regime of elements of Hussein’s repressive forces. That is a good thing to emphasise. Of course we can say the same for the Taliban, when we opposed imperialist invasion, we did not pretend that the barbaric oppression of women did not exist, that the Hazara were not brutally oppressed, that the Taliban did not really blow up ancient Buddha statues etc. Or the Argentine junta in 1982, which had slaughtered thousands of leftists, but which was then condemned by Thatcher as a "Nazi" regime which the UK had to fight against for "freedom" etc, and many more cases. 

What does this have to do with Pilger's article? Unlike some on the left, Pilger is not a lover of the Milosevic regime. In the article sent, he asserts rightly that Milosevic was a "thug" and that he was the original choice of western leaders because he was a pro-capitalist politician bringing in "market" reforms in the late 1980s. Absolutely correct. Elsewhere, Pilger wrote during the Bosnian war that the west should end its criminal arms embargo on Bosnia's government which was confronted, he said rightly, by "fascism on two fronts", ie the allied Serbian-Croatian genocidal offensive to partition the country. Excellent. 

However, in making his case against NATO, Pilger in fact makes a number of statements which tend to underestimate the level of this "thuggery", and others which tend to suggest he was not so pro-capitalist after all and maybe that's why the west had a problem. I believe that both are incorrect, but also, that they do not add to a coherent argument against imperialist war for the reasons given above. 

Pilger begins: “Just as Iraq is being torn apart by the forces of empire, so was Yugoslavia, the multi-ethnic state that uniquely rejected both sides in the cold war.” However, multi-ethnic Yugoslavia was torn apart in 1988-91 by the Milosevic regime raising the banner of chauvinism of the dominant Serb nation in Yugoslavia, a virulently anti-Titoist thing to do, and something that was assured to rip any multi-ethnic federation apart. This was the era when the west had chosen Milosevic, as Pilger rightly points out. Despite persistent myths, the west in fact strongly opposed the attempts by other republics to escape from the increasingly Serb-dominated prison, and I can back this statement with a rich documentary record. On the other hand, if Pilger is referring to NATO's terror in 1999, then this is a decade after Yugoslavia was ripped apart. There was nothing "multi-national" about the rump "New Yugoslavia" by then - it was a chauvinist Serb state with an oppressed Albanian colony in Kosova which had never wanted to be there at any time since 1913. 

 Pilger: “Lies as great as those of Bush and Blair were deployed by Clinton and Blair in their grooming of public opinion for an illegal, unprovoked attack on a European country. Like the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the media coverage in the spring of 1999 was a series of fraudulent justifications, beginning with US Defence Secretary William Cohen's claim that "we've now seen about 100,000 military-aged [Albanian] men missing... they may have been murdered." David Scheffer, the US ambassador at large for war crimes, announced that as many as "225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59" may have been killed. Such claims are obvious nonsense, and it is fine for Pilger to expose such grotesque exaggerations. However, they were few and far between. Even the Cohen quote, while obviously a piece of meaningless propaganda (how do you know who are "missing" in conditions of such terrible war?), was immediately followed, in Cohen's very next sentence, with the estimate of about 4,600 killed - so I'm not sure what value there is in playing up the 100,000 quote. Scheffer's quote is perhaps more useful. But overwhelmingly, imperialist leaders claimed around 10,000 dead, a very realistic figure. 

The reason the wilder exaggerations which Pilger dishonestly highlights were rare was that this propaganda was not at all aimed at winning public opinion to support an oncoming war, but was propaganda regarding the war after NATO had attacked. NATO leaders, and many others, had widely claimed about 2000 dead in the whole year before the NATO attack. If within a few weeks after the NATO attack, Milosevic had been facilitated in killing 100s of 1000s of people, this is hardly good propaganda for NATO's great work - this would have been an unmitigated disaster that NATO would never have recovered from. That is why I believe NATO did not have an interest in exaggerations that were too ridiculous. 

Regarding the actual number of deaths during the war, Pilger writes the following: 

“Several weeks later, having not found a single mass grave, the FBI went home. The Spanish forensic team also returned home, its leader complaining angrily that he and his colleagues had become part of "a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one - not one - mass grave." In November 1999, the Wall Street Journal published the results of its own investigation, dismissing "the mass grave obsession". Instead of "the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect ... the pattern is of scattered killings [mostly] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army had been active." The Journal concluded "The war in Kosovo was "cruel, bitter, savage; genocide it wasn't." One year later, the International War Crimes Tribunal announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo's "mass graves" was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army.” 

How sad to see Pilger indulge in such crude propaganda. Yes, the Spanish team went home after finding "only" 187 bodies, but they were only one of twenty teams. Some 2000 bodies had been found by the time work had to stop for winter, and the following year a similar number were found. Pilger claims their final count was 2,788 - if this were true it would certainly be higher than the usual count given for the number of Timorese slaughtered by Indonesian troops in mid-1999, and if this were the number of dead in 11 weeks, it is only a little less than the number of Palestinians killed in the last three years. So assuming that Albanians should have the same level of human rights as we demand for Timorese and Palestinians, this would already be a terrible figure. But my own look into the IWCT records suggest around 4000 bodies uncovered, not as a total figure, but in, specifically, 529 grave sites called “mass” graves (I suspect Pilger accidentally put '2' rather than '3' in his "total" 2,788 figure). Whether these were "mass graves" or not I think depends on the definition of how many bodies make up a "mass grave". However, this figure did not include individual graves or for that matter those who remained unburied until their relatives returned from exile and buried them. Moreover, another 836 bodies of Albanian men, women and children were later found in graves in Serbia itself, where they had been taken during the war, and this number before the search was called off by the embarrassed Serbian government. Looking more like 5000 bodies now. Then there are 3000 Albanians still missing. Looking like 8000. Add those not in any of these particular sites - perhaps up to 10,000 is not unreasonable. 

Is this genocide? No. But no-one says it was, though it is a vast massacre that ought not be whitewashed by the likes of Pilger. However, was the expulsion of 850,000 Albanians - nearly half their entire population - from their country not a form of genocide? Depends on the definition. It is more or less equivalent to the expulsion of about 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. The attempt to wipe a people off the map is genocide, it doesn't have to mean killing them all, that's a different level of genocide. It is surprising that few seem to want to deal with this reality. Chomsky very correctly makes this comparison of 1999 and 1948 in his 'New Military Humanism', a book devoted to condemning NATO's war while avoiding underestimating the terror against Albanians: "By the time of the peace accord of June 3, the UNHCR reported 671,500 refugees beyond the borders of the FRY, in addition to 70,000 in Montenegro and 75,000 who went to other countries. To these we may add the unknown number displaced within Kosovo, perhaps some 2-300,000 in the year before the bombing, far more afterwards. The numbers reported from Kosovo are, unfortunately, all too familiar ... the UNHCR totals at the war’s end are about the same as the number of Palestinians who fled or were expelled in 1948 … in that case, refugees numbered about 750,000, 85% of the population, with over 40 villages levelled, and ample violence. The comparison was not overlooked in the Israeli press, which described Kosovo as Palestine 1948 with TV cameras (Gideon Levi). Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon warned that if “NATO’s aggression” is “legitimised” the next step might be a call for autonomy and links to the Palestinian Authority for Galilee.” Well done Chomsky. 

As for the assertion that the bodies were not all Albanians but included "combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army," I think we need a sense of dimensions. Of the 37,000 killed in south-east Turkey in the war between the massively armed Turkish conventional forces and the PKK, there would no doubt be many Turkish troops killed. There would also be Turkish civilians killed, as the PKK was no more scrupulous than the KLA, many Palestinian factions, the IRA and most liberation movements the world over, in only attacking military targets. No doubt dead bodies in Timor would include a few Indonesian troops. However, it is unusual for leftists to put this kind of equals sign between the enormous massively armed conventional forces of a state like Serbia, which had 400 tanks, thousands of artillery pieces, fighter aircraft and other advanced weaponry, and the lightly armed guerrillas, armed with Kalshnikovs looted from Albanian armouries during the 1997 uprising. 

There should be no guesses about who the overwhelming majority of bodies would be. Of course, some could be Serbian troops killed by NATO bombs, who targeted them in the last two weeks of the 11-week war (nearly all the total of 13 Serbian tanks hit by NATO were in the last 2 weeks - NATO's terror concentrated on Serb civilians far from the battle inside Serbia proper). The Serbian government claims some 576 troops were killed, however, I am not aware of any claims of missing. The very orderly retreat of the Serbian army in June 1999, when NATO counted out 476 tanks and 40,000 troops, more than at the beginning of the war, would suggest they would have taken their dead, or at least not buried them in the same collective grave sites as Albanians. And finally, Serbs and Roma killed by the "KLA" was mainly, though not entirely, something that occurred after the Serbian troop withdrawal, whether by the "KLA" or by vengeful returning relatives of the slaughtered or criminals etc - appalling to be sure, but again unlikely to be in the same collective grave sites with Albanians - it was usually individuals hit by a molotov or an odd bullet, there were no "KLA" marches on Serb towns to evict the population and carry out collective slaughters etc. 

For a full refutation of this persistent underestimation of the terror against the Kosovars during 1999, see my refutation of an Ed Herman article at: http://mihalisk.blogspot.com/2004/12/reply-to-ed-herman-on-body-counts-in.html 

Pilger: “Nato's clients were the Kosovo Liberation Army. Seven years earlier, the KLA had been designated by the State Department as a terrorist organisation in league with Al Qaida. (later) KLA thugs were feted; Foreign Secretary Robin Cook allowed them to call him on his mobile phone.” So NATO called them terrorists, therefore they were? Later they came into contact with them, in late 1998, after they had grown into a mass liberation army of tens of thousands of troops that could no longer be ignored. What was the aim of this contact? To moderate them. To get them to drop their demand for independence, which NATO opposed and still opposes. So that NATO could get into the province and disarm them, with their consent. Chris Hedges, writing in the April 1999 issue of the US foreign policy elite’s ‘Foreign Affairs’ clearly proclaimed this as the aim of US intervention, and there is a further rich documentary record of this. 

Pilger: "The Kosovo-Albanians played us like a Stradivarius," wrote the UN Balkans commander, Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, last April. "We have subsidised and indirectly supported their violent campaign for an ethnically pure Kosovo. We have never blamed them for being the perpetrators of the violence in the early 1990s." Why quote a leader of the Canadian imperialist occupation of Bosnia MacKenzie? Especially seeing as he later spent his time touring the US and Canada giving speeches to support the Bosnian Serb Chetnik forces, paid at $10,000 an appearance by the far-right Serb-American group “Serbnet,” (Clayton, M, “UN Peacekeeper Under Fire,” Christian Science Monitor, June 25, 1993). Why quote him saying they were the perpetrators of the violence? Israel says that about the PLO, Turkey says that about the PKK, the US says that about the Iraqi resistance - if the people of Puerto Rico rose up against US rule, the US would say that about them. What about the long-term systematic violence of the oppressor which forces the oppressed to rise up, especially when it was exacerbated by the "thug" Milosevic? 

Actually, talking of the KLA, John Pilger signed the petition launched by the DSP in 1999 which opposed “both the US-led NATO war against Serbia/Yugoslavia and the Serbian authorities' genocidal campaign of terror against the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosova” and supported “the right of the Kosovar people to self-determination, which includes their right to independence from Serbia” and therefore demanded “an immediate halt to the NATO military campaign against Serbia, the immediate withdrawal of all Serbian military forces from Kosova and removal of all restrictions imposed on the ability of the Kosova Albanians to defend themselves (including the UN-NATO arms embargo)” http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/1999/359/359p2.htm . The last demand of course gives no political support at all to the KLA or its leadership, let alone its policy of supporting NATO, but it does explicitly say they have a right to arms to defend their own people in the face of Serbia’s “genocidal campaign.” This should actually be straight-forward. 

Next, Pilger quotes Neil Clarke, a persistent apologist for the Milosevic regime, who aims to show that Milosevic's Serbia was some socialist hold-out in the Balkans, which contradicts Pilger's own correct statement that he was initially "the west's man who was prepared to implement "economic reforms" in keeping with IMF, World Bank and European Community demands." He quotes Clarke thus: “As the Balkans writer Neil Clark has pointed out, "the rump of Yugoslavia... was the last economy in central-southern Europe to be uncolonised by western capital. 'Socially owned enterprises', the form of worker self-management pioneered under Tito, still predominated. Yugoslavia had publicly owned petroleum, mining, car and tobacco industries, and 75 per cent of industry was state or socially owned." “In the bombing campaign that followed, it was state owned companies, rather than military sites, that were targeted. Nato's destruction of only 14 Yugoslav army tanks compares with its bombing of 372 centres of industry, including the Zastava car factory, leaving hundreds of thousands jobless. "Not one foreign or privately owned factory was bombed.” This description of Serbia's economy by Clarke is entirely fictional, it was carried in a single-A4 grubby piece of “analysis” by Clarke in the Guardian some months ago. For a full, well-referenced refutation of Clarke's piece, see: http://mihalisk.blogspot.com/2004/12/occupation-regime-in-kosova-begins.html 

Pilger: “Kosovo today is a violent, criminalised UN-administered "free market" in drugs and prostitution. More than 200,000 Serbs, Roma, Bosniacs, Turks, Croats and Jews have been ethnically cleansed by the KLA with Nato forces standing by. KLA hit squads have burned, looted or demolished 85 Orthodox churches and monasteries, according to the UN.” I hope Pilger is aware that the Serbian armed forces destroyed 200 mosques in 1999, which of course does not alter the similarly appalling later destruction of churches. Though the violence Pilger describes is true enough, the "KLA" ceased to exist nearly five years ago, and former KLA leaders went out into the streets to calm the crowds in March 2004 and often got them to disperse, this is all well-documented. In some cases, the Serbian orthodox church thanked former KLA leaders, I have it all on record. This violence will certainly not be resolved as long as Kosova remains a western colony with absolutely no self-determination and thus no economy. Whether NATO forces "stand by" is another question; the 19 people who were killed in March 2004 were 8 Serbs killed by Albanian mobs, and 11 Albanian mobsters shot dead by NATO. Moreover, NATO has also carved out a Serb mini-state in northern Kosova, a kind of Serb Ulster, for them the easiest way to protect the minority, far easier than in more mixed areas. It is true that a foreign occupation force are not very effective in a country where they have no roots, no interest, don't speak the language etc, though they shoot a few Albanians here and there, and arrest large numbers, including sending them to the Hague. NATO demands that all Serbs be able to return and live in security and have freedom of movement and a host of other rights, including equal representation in the Kosovar Protection Force etc, before it will even discuss the issue of Kosova's final status. 

This is all another discussion, but it is time to get away from these alleged numbers of Serb refugees. Funny how the number of Albanians expelled or killed is systematically downgraded, while the above number of Serbs expelled, as claimed by Belgrade, is always accepted. The problem with the idea of 200,000 Serbs expelled is that this is the total number of Serbs who lived in Kosova pre-war. Of course Pilger adds that this figure includes Roma, Turks, Croats, Bosniaks, Jews etc - it is true that such minorities were also attacked and many expelled (the entire Croat population was expelled), but then we would need to ask, if this is all the doing of the "KLA", or if this all fits with NATO's secret intentions, then why would the "KLA" want to alienate the governments of Croatia, Bosnia, Turkey etc, and for that matter, why would NATO? This actually tells us something more about the criminal nature of violent attacks in this country where the international occupation does not allow an independent state – the number of murders of Albanians by Albanian criminals is also a very high figure. However, Serbian sources and those of their apologists regularly claim the number of *Serb* refugees alone is over 200,000 or even as high as 250,000. Time to get over it. According to the Yugoslav government's own census, there were about 200,000 Serbs in Kosova in 1991, their population had been steadily declining, and no-one suggests their numbers rose in the 1990s. However, the Serbian government's own Kosovo Coordination Center published a detailed report in January 2003 which gives a figure of 129,474 Serbs in Kosova in 2002 (Kosovo Coordination Centre (Government of Serbia), Prinzipi organizovanja samouprave nacionalnih zajednica na Kosovo i Metohiji, Belgrade, January 2003). This figure also fits very closely to the results of a study done by the EU based on Serb primary school attendance in Kosova. Thus the number of Kosova Serb refugees is about 70,000. I don't think that should mean we say it is not important. They should all have the right to return and live in security (though of course this figure includes a certain number of hated cops and others who committed crimes who are unlikely to show their faces). But let's stop saying there are more Kosovar Serb refugees than their entire original numbers. 

In conclusion, I would like to stress again my strong admiration for John Pilger's work in the past. I would also like to quote from another left luminary, the late great Edward Said, who, perhaps because he was Palestinian, had a strong sense of justice and solidarity with the Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians sadly lacking among certain leftists, such as Herman and Parenti. If you want to argue with me, argue with Said. This is how he approached the onset of NATO bombing in 1999 - note how he describes the Milosevic regime in the same breath as condemning NATO. For him there was no contradiction: "ONCE again, and led by the United States as usual, a war is being conducted - this time in Europe - against an unprincipled and racist dictator who will almost certainly survive the onslaught even though thousands of innocents will pay the actual price. The pretext this time is of course the persecution, ethnic cleansing and continued oppression of Albanians in the province of Kosovo by the Serbian forces of Slobodan Milosevic. "No one at all doubts that horrible things have been done to the Albanians under Serbian domination, but the question is whether US/NATO policy will alleviate things or whether they will in fact be made worse by a bombing campaign whose supposed goal is to make Milosevic give up his policies." Full: Protecting the Kosovars, by Edward Said http://www.soc.qc.edu/ssc/said.html

Friday, October 02, 2020

Serbia and Kosovo go to Jerusalem: Passing Trump circus, or profound geopolitical shake-up?

 

     Serbian president Aleksander Vucic meets the master.

 

By Michael Karadjis

A bizarre Trumpist ceremony in the White House on September 4 saw the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo apparently signing two separate documents with the United States involving American-funded economic agreements between the two estranged countries.

Bizarre in so many way – not least with Trump claiming that he had ended “hundreds of years” of “mass killings” between Serbia and Kosovo because he said “fellas, let's get together.” Of course, apart from a two-day outbreak in 2003, there have been no “mass killings” since 1999. In contrast, his equally right-wing Balkan envoy, Richard Grenell,

thought the Kosovo war was merely a “perceived conflict, which in some ways is a conflict.” Believing that Serbia and Kosovo are fighting over the name of the Gazivoda/Ujmani lake which borders the two countries, he suggested calling it “Trump Lake” as a solution.

But leaving aside this truly abysmal state of the US political leadership presiding over the deal, the strangest thing about these “agreements” was the added extras that had nothing to do with the issues between Serbia and Kosovo.

One example is the clause whereby the two countries agree to prohibit the use of 5G equipment “supplied by untrusted vendors.” Apparently, reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo involves getting stuck in the middle of the global conflict between Chinese and US imperialism.

Even stranger was that these deals included a signed commitment by Serbia to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to illegally occupied Jerusalem by July 2021 (and to open a Ministry of State Affairs in Jerusalem immediately), and that “Kosovo (Pristina) and Israel agree to mutually recognise each other.” While not explicitly on the signed document, it has been widely reported that the condition for Kosovo to gain Israel’s recognition is that it also places its eventual embassy in Jerusalem, which it later promised to do.

Since, apart from the US itself, only some quisling regime in Guatemala has violated this article of international law by moving its Israeli embassy to illegally occupied Palestinian territory, if Serbia does move its embassy it will be the first European country to do so. Meanwhile, ideologically separating Kosovo from its European reality, Trump has disingenuously presented Israel’s reluctant recognition of Kosovo as a case of another ‘Muslim’ state recognising Israel, following in the footsteps of the recent, also Trump-sponsored, recognition by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Not surprisingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked “my friend the president of Serbia” for the Jerusalem decision, while Palestine's ambassador to Belgrade Mohammed Nabhan declared it “contrary to international law.” Meanwhile, Turkey, a strong supporter of Palestine which was also one of the first countries to recognise Kosovo, said Kosovo’s Jerusalem promise was disappointing and urged it “to refrain from such steps that would undermine the historical and legal status of Jerusalem.”

Observers would be correct in wondering what Israel and Jerusalem have to do with the Serbia-Kosovo dispute. It is not difficult to see what’s in it for Trump: by attempting to “Middle Easternise” the Balkan dispute, the Trump regime seeks to present – in a flagrantly dishonest way – another Trump victory on behalf of Israel to the US electorate, especially the ultra-Zionist Christian fundamentalist part of it.

In addition, as we will see below, if Serbia and Kosovo do make these Jerusalem moves they may jeopardise their plans to join the European Union, which does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and which, until recently, has been the main body presiding over Serbia-Kosovo negotiations within the EU accession framework. With this move – and the background process, detailed below, involving a US-pushed move to partition Kosovo - the US is making inroads into the EU’s “backyard.” Ironically, in doing so, it is also competing with Russia on similar terms, virtually stealing its thunder, as both Trump and Putin see a partner in Serbia’s ambitious right-wing president, Aleksander Vucic.

Decades-long alliance between Israel and Serbian nationalism

However, what do Serbia and Kosovo get out of this? And what can one make of this Israel connection to the agreement from their perspective? On the one hand, Israel and Serbian nationalism have had something like a 3-decade long strategic alliance. The former Yugoslavia severed relations with Israel after Israel’s conquests of 1967, and as a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, it was historically allied to Arab leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Nasser, and was a strong supporter of the Palestinian struggle.

However, with the rise of anti-Yugoslav Serbian nationalism in the late 1980s and 1990s, led by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, a new special understanding was reached with Israel, whereby both saw themselves resisting “Islamic extremism”, which Israel identified with the Palestinian quest for liberation, and right-wing Serbian nationalism identified with the Bosnian Muslims, who it wanted to eliminate, and the Kosovar Albanians, over whom it imposed a regime not unlike that imposed by Israel on the Palestinian West Bank. According to some sources, Henry Kissinger helped facilitate this alliance. This alliance was consecrated with a major deal Israel made to sell arms to Serbia in October 1991, when its army was razing the Croatian city of Vukovar to the ground. When the former Yugoslavia was dissolved and a ‘New Yugoslavia’ established by Milosevic’s Serbia and Montenegro in 1992, relations were established with Israel, and a delegation from the Israeli defence ministry arrived in Belgrade to do another deal to sell Serbia large numbers of shells

Throughout the war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, Israel was identified as one of the countries, along with Greece and Ukraine, violating the UN arms embargo on “all of Yugoslavia” by arming the Bosnian Serb ‘republic’ (Republika Srpska), led by Chetnik genocidist Radovan Karadzic, as it seized 70 percent of Bosnia and ethnically cleansed these regions of their Bosnian Muslim (‘Bosniak’) majority. Bosnian Serb general Mladic, also convicted of genocide, refers to these arms in his diary; and according to Israeli professor Yair Auron, it was almost certainly Israeli-made shells used by Serbian Chetnik forces in the Markale market massacre in August 1994, which killed 68 people and wounded 142. In 2016, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition calling for details of Israel’s arms exports to Serbian forces during the Bosnian war be revealed.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Bosnian Serb ethno-statelet in half of Bosnia, that was consecrated by the US-orchestrated Dayton peace agreement in 1995, has long been one of the strongest supporters of Israel in Europe, continually stymying Bosnian government policy. For example, when the UN voted on recognition of Palestine in 2011, the Bosniak and Croat representatives in the tripartite Bosnian government were in favour, but the Serb delegates vetoed it, resulting in Bosnia being forced to abstain. Then three years ago, in a vote on a UN resolution to get the US to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Bosnia was forced to abstain rather than vote against like virtually all other Muslim-majority countries, due once again to the veto of the pro-Israel Serb representatives in the government.

When Israel’s US sponsor led NATO into its air war against Serbia in 1999, and Milosevic attempted to physically empty Kosovo of its Albanian majority, Israeli defence minister and famous Sabra-Shatilla butcher, Ariel Sharon, declared his solidarity with Serbia:

“Israel should not legitimise NATO’s aggression, led by the United States…Israel could be the next victim of the sort of action now going on in Kosovo… imagine if one fine day the Arabs declared autonomy for the Galilee and links with the Palestinian Authority.”

This alliance has included Israel refusing to recognise Kosovo for 12 years after it was recognised by the US, its biggest, most unconditional ally. As such, if Serbia really has decided to move its embassy to Jerusalem, this rather makes sense – if seen in isolation.

But then … why the Jerusalem move if Israel recognises Kosovo?

However, there is a context; and the context is ... Israel ending that long period of non-recognition of Kosovo. Which would seem a somewhat strange moment for Serbia decide to reward Israel by promising to move its embassy to Jerusalem, in isolation from the rest of the world, and in particular, from the European Union, as we will explain below. So, how can this decision be explained in this context?

On the one hand, it is possible that Serbian president Aleksander Vucic did not even know that he had agreed to move its embassy to Jerusalem. This video of the ‘agreement’ makes Serbian president Vucic appear surprised when Trump announces Vucic’s decision on this.

However, Vucic’s signature is on the document immediately below the explicit statement regarding Jerusalem, so unless Vucic is a dill, it is not credible that he did not read it; and several months ago Vučić had already announced that Serbia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry would open in Jerusalem, and that a substantial package of Israeli arms was to be purchased. And the more general strategic alliance continues to play out: the day after the Trump show, Milorad Dodik, president of ‘Republika Srpska’ and Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, demanded that Bosnia move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He was overruled by the Bosniak and Croat leaderships.

So, if we assume that Serbia has in fact agreed to the Jerusalem move, despite Israel’s recognition of Kosovo, what might this mean is happening behind the scenes?

A Serbia-dominated south Balkan economic zone?

One possibility is that Serbia figures the economic agreements will be so much in its favour that the economic rewards outweigh Israeli recognition of Kosovo; so Serbia is rewarding Trump (rather than its ally Israel as such) with Jerusalem. This reasoning is based on solid ground. Serbia, after all, is already in a vastly superior situation compared to Kosovo. With 7 times Kosovo’s GDP and double its per capita GDP, and half the poverty and unemployment figures of Kosovo, Serbia manufactures and exports products such as automobiles, iron and steel, machinery, pharmaceuticals, electrical appliances and weapons; by contrast, Kosovo is heavily dependent on mining, base metals, foodstuffs and beverages and textiles.

Despite the “economic normalisation” hype about this agreement, Serbia and Kosovo have never stopped trading, and ever since 1999, the far more powerful Serbian economy has commanded a massive trade surplus over Kosovo; indeed while Kosovo exports very little to Serbia, Serbia is the Kosovo’s major source of imports; the value of imports from Serbia is twice as big as that of Albania.

Serbia may therefore believe that this inevitable domination of economic rewards will mean the ability to further economically dominate Kosovo; and extending this thinking, that such economic dominance may allow Serbia to impose political costs on Kosovo down the road.

From this perspective, the statement by the Kosovar opposition Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) movement condemning the agreement, where its states that “the construction of these internal corridors [ie, US-funded road and rail corridors] for Serbia in Kosovo create the ground for a dangerous project, such as the territorial division of the northern part of the country,” may well be the thinking of Serbian leaders. For Serbia, these major road and rail projects from Serbia into Kosovo, and in particular, cutting across the north of Kosovo through Albania to the Adriatic sea, are indeed huge – landlocked Serbia essentially gains a sea port funded by the US International Development Finance Corporation.

Another point made by Vetevendosje and other critics is that Kosovo has agreed to join the ‘Mini-Schengen’ agreement between Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania in 2019, involving the free movement of people, capital, goods and services between these countries of the southern Balkans. Montenegro and Bosnia have also been invited to join. But all Kosovar political parties had been opposed to joining a bloc; Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti claims he was pushed by the White House to accept it. As Vetevendosje explains, the Mini-Schengen “is a space that would be easily hegemonized by Serbia, due to military, demographic and economic inequality between it and other countries” – a logical statement, given the economic data noted above.

Indeed, Serbia commands very large trade surpluses not only with Kosovo but also with Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia; is the third biggest foreign investor in Bosnia and Montenegro; and the Serbian dinar rules in northern Kosovo and Republika Srpska. Thus, alongside the recent change in government in Montenegro – elections won by a Russian-backed, trenchantly pro-Serbia coalition which aims to revive the lapsed federation with Serbia – and continual threats by Republika Srspka – itself heavily dominated by Serbia’s economy – to secede from Bosnia, it is clear that Mini-Schengen can well serve as a vehicle for the hegemony of Serbian capital throughout the southern Balkans.

Furthermore, some of the economic agreements do arguably touch on sovereignty issues, in particular the clause which commits the two parties to “work with the US Department of Energy on a feasibility study for the purposes of sharing Gazivode/Ujmani Lake, as a reliable water and energy source.” The importance of this can hardly be underestimated; this lake supplies drinking water to one third of Kosovo’s population, and cooling water for two coal plants that produce 95 percent of Kosovo's electricity; yet the power infrastructure is owned by a Serbian power company, and it is situated within the province of Zubin Potok, an ethnically Serb province in northern Kosovo bordering on Serbia which in practice has little to do with Kosovo’s government. Therefore, talk about “sharing” a strategic resource that Kosovo considers it sovereign territory comes on top of a situation in which most Kosovar politicians consider the region far too “shared” already.

According to Vetevendosje, by agreeing to this point, Kosovo prime minister Hoti “has allowed Serbia to intervene in Kosovo’s energy sovereignty, security, production and market,” further claiming “this also harms Kosovo’s position vis-à-vis the European network of operators who made Kosovo’s energy transmission operator independent from Serbia.” Notably, alongside the opposition Vetevendosje, even the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) party, a member of the current governing coalition, has threatened to withdraw from the government over this clause.

While certain other aspects of the agreements could be considered political concessions to Serbia, these are minor. Certainly the “protection of religious sites and implementation of judicial decisions pertaining to the Serbian orthodox Church” are relevant to Serbia (and highly justified), but only refer to long-term agreements giving special status to the church in Kosovo that Kosovo has not objected to.

There is also the fact that the original agreement included the ‘Republic of Kosovo’ but upon Serbian objections, the agreement called the two entities simply ‘Serbia (Belgrade)’ and ‘Kosovo (Pristina)’, thus highlighting Kosovo’s limited status; but this in itself is simply continuation of the status quo. Kosovo also agreed to suspend its campaign to gain recognition from other countries, but only for a year.

Vetevendosje may be stretching things when claiming the road and rail links could facilitate the territorial division of northern Kosovo – ie, the long term Serb nationalist project – but there is no doubt that these economic agreements as a whole – the road and rail networks connecting Serbia to the Adriatic cutting across northern Kosovo, the sharing of Kosovo’s major energy resource located in the north, all within a US-funded, Serbia-dominated, south Balkan mini-Schengen zone – will further entrench Serbia’s regional domination, arguably thereby reducing an internationally unrecognised Kosovo’s effective status.

Some background: EU negotiates Serb autonomy in Kosovo

Nevertheless, while this scenario arguably describes a comprehensive US-financed boon for Serbia, economically lording it over a hobbled Kosovo, this still represents a retreat from a more formal partitionist scenario that has been on the recent agenda. The big issue the last few years and earlier this year was a US-facilitated discussion on the possibility of ‘border correction’. While this has apparently disappeared in this agreement, it has never been given a burial; does Serbia perhaps think that is still somewhere in the sub-text, or something that its economic superiority may still be able to push in practice?

To put this question in context, it is worth going over these developments, which requires some background. Despite recognition by the US and EU and some 100 countries after 2008, Kosovo’s development has remained frozen due to crucial countries inside both the EU and the UN Security Council, which veto EU and UN membership. For the EU, unfreezing the conflict is an essential step in integrating the remainder of the southern Balkans.

In the 2013 Brussels Agreement, Serbia and Kosovo, under EU auspices, agreed that an autonomous Community of Serbian Municipalities (ZSO) would be set up inside Kosovo. This was a more explicit and detailed variation of Serb autonomy clauses already in Kosovo’s constitution as outlined in the Ahtisaari Plan which prepared it for recognition in 2008. The ZSO was thus seen as a landmark agreement with the potential to unfreeze the conflict.

The revolt of the Kosovar Albanian majority for independence from Serbian rule in the 1990s had, after all, begun in 1989-90 when Serbian nationalist warlord Slobodan Milosevic had suppressed Kosovo’s status of high-level autonomy, which it had enjoyed in Communist Yugoslavia under the rule of Broz Tito. Given that Milosevic had attempted to physically “cleanse” the entire region of Albanians in 1999 while NATO rained down bombs to “protect” the Albanians – protection which plainly didn’t happen – it was hardly surprising that the autonomous Kosovo emerging from that war, led by hardened Albanian nationalists, with a vengeful population, in chaotic post-war conditions, would in turn act oppressively towards the Serbs. After all, unlike the multi-ethnic Bosnian society which Serbian nationalism had destroyed, there was never any such thing in Kosovo, an outright Serbian colony, and now the tables were turned.

Therefore, the ZSO – Kosovar Serbs getting the autonomous rights in Kosovo that Kosovar Albanians had once had in Serbia – would seem a highly appropriate solution.

However, Kosovo has dragged its feet in implementing this agreement, which tends to be opposed by whichever Kosovar Albanian parties are in opposition at any time, a convenient nationalist target; and given that Serbia says it will never recognise Kosovo regardless, Kosovar leaders do not feel obliged to move in that direction with no bargain.

Meanwhile, while the ZSO would be of great benefit to smaller Serb communities scattered around Kosovo, the northern part of Kosovo – the four provinces of Zubin Potok, Leposevac, Zvecan and northern Mitrovica  - has remained effectively independent of Kosovo, and linked directly to Serbia, ever since 1999; the Serbian dinar is the currency. Much of the Serbian elite therefore has little more interest in the ZSO than the Kosovo Albanian elite, as it is more interested in keeping the north, with its economic resources, than an agreement that, if implemented, would reduce its argument for non-recognition.

Therefore, as Kosovo did not implement the agreement, Serbia went on a campaign to convince countries that had recognised Kosovo to withdraw recognition, a campaign which has led to some 15 countries doing so. This campaign gave Kosovo more excuses to not implement the ZSO, and in retaliation, in 2018 it imposed 100 percent tariffs on Serbian products.

US-backed drive for partition of Kosovo

Both the US and the EU tried to push Serbia to end its de-recognition campaign, and for Kosovo to scrap its 100 percent tariffs. But while the EU sees the solution as returning to the ZSO framework, in 2018 the Trump regime adopted a new tack. Led by Trump’s Balkan envoy Richard Grenell, the US got to work with a pair of ambitious and somewhat idiosyncratic leaders - Serbian president Aleksander Vucic, whose Serbian Progressive Party is a pragmatic split from the Chetnik-fascist Serbian Radical Party of war-criminal Vojislav Seselj, and Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDK), one of the parties to emerge from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Together these leaders jointly proposed the territorial exchange of Serb-majority northern Kosovo for the Albanian-majority Presevo region of southeast Serbia.

This proposal was strongly rejected by most EU leaders, especially Germany; any ethnic-based border changes pose the question of the Albanian minority in Macedonia, or of the Bosnian Croat demand for third republic status in Bosnia, or the Bosnian Serb campaign for secession from Bosnia, and are thus considered highly  destabilising.

In contrast, for the Trump regime, pushing this expedient and iconoclastic solution probably involved little more than an attempt to add a great “peace agreement” – like that between Israel and the UAE – to its resume, while gaining a special US foothold in the EU’s backyard, competing with Russia for the same turf. At another level, however, this course tapped into the views of a section of the US right who had never been comfortable with US support for Kosovar independence, which they associate with the Clinton legacy and ‘liberal internationalism’.

In particular, while then National Security Advisor John Bolton explained pragmatically that “if the parties themselves felt that as part of an overall solution that adjustments to territory made sense, that the United States would support that,” in reality he has long condemned successive US governments for alleged “anti-Serbian policy since the break-up of Yugoslavia,” and issued a joint declaration with other US leaders in 2007 opposing recognition of Kosovo. Grenell has indicated that Bolton was his inspiration for pursuing this course. Meanwhile, voices on the hard-right and Christian-right among Trump’s support base are even more committed to an anti-Albanian position. Grenell, who was spokesman for Bolton when he served as anti-UN UN Ambassador for the Bush regime, is a rather controversial figure himself; arriving as new US Ambassador to Germany in 2018, he gave an interview with the far-right Breitbart where he declared the US would “empower” right-wing forces in Europe.

For Vucic, enthusiasm for this partition proposal is a no-brainer. While the proposal takes the form of an exchange of territory of similar size (both approximately 1000 square kilometres), there is no equivalence. For pragmatic Serb nationalists, giving away one percent of Serbian territory populated by Albanians, with no special significance, is small change for gaining ten percent of symbolically invaluable Kosovo – especially the resource-rich north with the massive Trepca mining and metallurgy complex, and Gazidvoda/Ujmani lake – indeed, the entire worry about “sharing” the lake with Serbia in the agreements would be irrelevant if this partition took place.

As for Kosovo, this proposal was only supported by president Thaci and his PDK, which was part of the governing coalition. While Thaci assumed this would lead to Serbian recognition of Kosovo and therefore an end to the deadlock, he may also see it in broader nationalist terms – last year he proposed the unification of Kosovo with Albania, a course consistent both with gaining Albanian-populated Presevo and dispensing with Serb-populated northern Kosovo.

All other parties in Kosovo – both those in opposition (Vetevendosje, and the Democratic League of Kosovo – LDK – the old party of Kosovo civil opposition leader Ibrahim Rugova), and the AAK (the other party that arose from the old KLA), which was part of the governing coalition and whose leader, Ramush Haradinaj, was Thaci’s prime minister – strongly opposed this partitionist scenario.

To digress, while such a partition would allow Serbia to keep the north’s economic assets, it would be the worst outcome for Kosovar Serbs, only 40 percent of whom live in the north. The secession of the wealthy north would abandon the majority of Serbs, living in smaller, more vulnerable enclaves surrounded by the Albanian majority throughout the rest of Kosovo, and they would lose the city of northern Mitrovica as their major Serb centre (with university, hospital and so on) inside Kosovo.

Therefore, many Kosovo Serb leaders oppose partition; Rada Trajkovic, president of Kosovo’s Serbian National Council, proposes instead “the Cyprus model,” meaning the UN’s Annan plan for reunification based on a Greek Cypriot entity and a Turkish Cypriot entity forming a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Such a scenario for Kosovo – more than mere Serb autonomy, less than full partition – would indeed represent the Kosovo reality, like the Cypriot reality – both involving parts of two external nations fated to living in the same geographic space.

Did the partition drive lead to the US overthrow of Kosovo’s elected government?

The Vucic-Thaci-Trump drive received a significant set-back with the shock election victory of Vetevendosje (‘Self-Determination’) in October 2019, a party furiously opposed to partition. Noting its opposition to partition was not a stance against the Serb community, the party’s leader, Albin Kurti, declared “I am ready to discuss the needs of the communities, rights of the citizens but not territorial exchange.”

Vetevendosje emerged after Kosovo gained its freedom from Serbian rule among a radical wing of Kosovar civil society, led by youthful radical Albin Kurti, a former political prisoner in Serbia and advisor of historic Kosovar Albanian leader Adem Demaci, who had spent 28 years in Serbian prisons. Radically opposed to any Serbian-state interference in Kosovo affairs (while, however, rejecting anti-Serb chauvinism at a popular level), Vetevendosje also opposed the entire structure of UN and EU institutions ruling Kosovo over the next decade, denying it independence; and then after independence in 2008, it opposed the “supervised” strictures imposed on it. Some analysts have called it Kosovo’s “anti-colonial movement.” Also campaigning against entrenched corruption among Kosovar political parties, big on street campaigns and radical direct action stunts, Vetevendosje is seen as a huge factor of instability by the incipient Kosovar Albanian bourgeoisie and all wings of the traditional political elite.

Despite this, needing a coalition partner, Vetevendosje managed to stitch together an unstable coalition agreement with the LDK, which received the second largest number of votes. However, while Thaci’s party was now out of office, he remained president and continued to push partition via heavily executive decision-making.

From its inception, the Vetevendosje-led government was confronted by a US-orchestrated campaign involving both its LDK partner and the now-opposition PDK. Vetevendosje indicated its readiness to drop the 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods, but aimed to drive a bargain involving Serbia reciprocating by removing non-tariff barriers and ending its lobbying against recognition of Kosovo. Despite this, it was confronted by a sudden holier than thou campaign by parties inside and outside of government (including those who introduced thee tariffs) denouncing it for not scrapping the tariffs immediately, in order to remain in America’s good books!

They were joined, or possibly ordered, by the US government, which froze $50 million in development aid to Kosovo because of Kurti’s refusal to immediately and unconditionally lift the tariffs, while the US embassy informed Kurti the US was considering withdrawing its peacekeeping forces from Kosovo. As part of this campaign, Vucic dropped into Washington in late March for photo shoots with Grenell, Kushner and national security advisor Robert O’Brien, and announced Serbia’s rejection of Kurti’s conditional lifting of tariffs – a stance explicitly supported by Grenell, and also by both Thaci’s PDK and by the LDK coalition partner! Other Republicans and Trump cronies joined in the assault.

When the LDK moved a no-confidence motion against Vetevendosje in late March, all the other parties supported the move, in what has been described as a US-inspired soft coup against the just-elected government; in the face of this, angry Pristina residents, unable to protest in the streets due to the Covid-19 lockdown, banged pots and pans from their balconies in protest. Kurti himself accused the US of orchestrating his overthrow, stating “my government was not overthrown for anything else but simply because Ambassador Grenell was in a hurry to sign an agreement with Serbia.”

Just before Vucic and Thaci were to arrive for a summit in the US on June 27, where big announcements were expected, the EU-run Kosovo Specialist Chamber (set up in 2015 to investigate war crimes in Kosovo) indicted Thaci and nine others for some 100 killings during the war in 1999 – timing widely considered fortuitous to the EU. This put the deal on the back-burner, as new prime minister Avdullah Hoti of the LDK took Thaci’s place in negotiations.

While the parties were all united against the radical Vetevendosje on one side, the LDK, AAK and other small parties were also united against the partitionist agenda of Thaci’s PDK on the other. Thus the new government formed by a coalition between the LDK and the AAK had neither the mandate nor the interest in furthering the partition deal; the lack of any such deal in the Trump-Vucic-Hoti agreement may well represent the death of these scenarios.

The fact that Vucic is clearly pleased with the deal, however, may indicate that Serbia, and perhaps some in the Trump regime, perhaps see this as a mere setback, and believe that the weakness of the current Kosovo coalition and the continuous political instability in Kosovo, combined with Serbian economic domination, may give way to political concessions in the future. But even without that, it is not difficult to understand the huge advantages Serbia sees in this agreement in terms of its regional economic position, as described above, regardless of the formalities of Kosovo statehood.

Israel and ‘Muslim’ Kosovo

Returning to the question of the connection of Israel and Jerusalem to all this, an additional question is: why would Israel recognise Kosovo if it had rejected doing so for so long? On the one hand, clearly Netanyahu simply did it for Trump, to give his ally a propaganda victory for his upcoming election, allowing him to push the dishonest discourse of another ‘Muslim’ state recognising Israel, and as bait for Kosovo to accept a deal otherwise not very favourable to it.

However, we need to consider that this is part of a deal involving Vucic and Serbia; and that the reasons Israel had rejected recognising Kosovo were twofold, namely, due to its alliance with Serbia (and huge economic relationship – Israeli companies have invested more than a billion euros in Serbia and tourism has risen by hundreds of percentage points), and due to fear that it sets a precedent for recognition of Palestine. Which raises the questions of whether Serbia has given Israel the go-ahead, and whether Israel no longer fears the precedent.

For its part, Vucic denies giving any go-ahead to Israel; in a seemingly rational reaction, Serbia has indicated that while Israel may have some form of “diplomatic relations” with Kosovo, if it actually recognises Kosovo as an independent state, Serbia will renege on moving its embassy to Jerusalem. Yet even this message offers a way out; in situations where symbolism is everything, the fact that the document refers to ‘Kosovo (Pristina)’ rather than the Republic of Kosovo – as explained above – may turn out to be significant.

Alternatively, if there was actually a cryptic OK from Serbia to help stitch the whole deal together, this may mean that Serbia believes, as described above, that the agreement will allow for its regional dominance to effectively control a weak, unofficially dismembered, Kosovo; and if this is the case, then that kind of precedent for Israel/Palestine that would be acceptable to Israel as well. All of this is of course conjecture at present. But it is worth recalling that Serbia recognised Palestine back in 2011 – ironically enough at the same UN vote where the Bosnian Serb republic blocked Bosnia’s recognition – yet this had no effect on the increasingly blooming Israeli-Serbian relationship in the decade since. If Israel knows it can handle an ally recognising a dismembered, dominated semi-state, then perhaps Serbia can as well.

Trump’s tweet that framed Israel finally recognising Kosovo as a case of another “Muslim-majority” country recognising Israel which will lead to “more Islamic and Arab nations” doing so, thereby helping peace in the “Middle East” is absurd on multiple levels; and Netanyahu used the same discourse, declaring that Kosovo will be the “first country with a Muslim majority” with its embassy in Jerusalem.

Neither of them did Kosovo any favours by Middle-Easternising the Kosovo issue in this way. Kosovo is in Europe, not the Middle East, is not an Arabic country, and while the majority of Albanians are Muslim and a minority Catholic (with an Orthodox Serb minority who hold positions in all state institutions), it is in no way an “Islamic” nation, but is rather intensely secular and western-oriented.

Since Serbia framed its repression of Kosovar Albanians as a case of fighting “Islamic terrorism,” while an obvious bald-faced lie, this same framing by Trump and Netanyahu is seen as rationalising Serbian discourse. Further, Kosovar Albanians understand the effect such ‘Islamic’ framing has in the West, which they therefore deeply resent, especially at a time when the EU is “led mainly by conservative parties and with ideologies that see “Christian values” at the core of European identity” and where “public opinion … is increasingly influenced by right-wing, anti-Muslim, rhetoric.”

As a consequence, Kosovar Albanian leaders tend to bend the stick in the opposite direction, to rather an excessive degree, following an intensely ‘French-style’ secularism virtually hostile to the Muslim religion, which does not prevent them constructing an enormous new Catholic cathedral in the centre of Pristina, and erecting statues to (Catholic) Mother Theresa in towns all over Kosovo, vainly seeing this as the road to Europe.

Mother Theresa’s statues can compete only with those of the likes of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, as a result of seeing the United States as their saviour in 1999. Kosovo in fact is the number one most pro-American country on Earth. Hence, far from ‘Muslim’ Kosovo finally deciding to recognise Israel as Trump implies, Kosovo has craved recognition by Israel forever, no matter how much Israel treated it with disdain, for the simple reason that Israel is known as the closest US ally in the Middle East. It is nothing to do with Israel as such; really, if the US were a supporter of Palestine, the Kosovar leaders would be the biggest backers of Palestine on Earth.

Thus, while Israel continually stressed its refusal to recognise Kosovo and its great friendship with Serbia, we get the spectacle of Hashim Thaci in 2007, just before the declaration of independence, declaring “I love Israel. What a great country. Kosovo is a friend of Israel … I met so many great leaders when I was there – Netanyahu, Sharon — I really admire them.” It is quite an extraordinary case of cognitive dissonance – not to mention political cringe – for Thaci to refer to Sharon, who openly cheered on Milosevic’s version of al-Nakbah on the Kosovar Albanians in 1999 – as a “great man.” The fact that it is also demonstrates an intense lack of awareness of the most elementary principles of solidarity among the oppressed is less of a surprise – unfortunately bourgeois nationalist leaders the world over rarely ever care about such inconvenient details.

By way of further conjecture, there may be another element at work in this puzzle. As noted above, the Bosnian Serb republic – dubbed by the Jerusalem PostIsrael’s best friend in Europe’ – demanded Bosnia also move its embassy to Jerusalem but was blocked by the Bosniak and Croat members of the tripartite presidency. The Bosnian Serb leadership has continually claimed that if Kosovo is internationally recognised, then ‘Republika Srpska’ – a pure product of ethnic cleansing whose particular size and shape has no geographic, historic, ethnic or cultural validity – will also secede from Bosnia. Is it just possible that the RS leaders, and perhaps even Serbian leaders, may see in Israeli recognition of Kosovo a potential spin-off, and may believe, rightly or wrongly, that Israel may see RS similarly? Bosnian Serb leader Dodik’s visit to Croatia straight after the Trump circus may well be pat of further geopolitical manoeuvring, given the decades-long strategic alliance of “friendly enemies” – Bosnian Serb and Croat nationalists – against the very existence of Bosnia.

Path to the EU or to Trump?

One explanation of the absurdity of the whole charade may well be simply that both Serbian and Kosovar leaders decided to try to get what they could out of an idiosyncratic Trump regime while it lasts, while realising they may not have to do any of it if Trump is out of power in a couple of months. And this applies particularly to the strange Jerusalem issue.

After all, both Serbia and Kosovo aim to join the European Union; Serbia signed its Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2007 and became a full candidate in 2013, while Kosovo signed its SAA in 2016. Kosovo’s candidacy is currently blocked by the refusal of five EU member states to recognise Kosovo, while the EU has told both Serbia and Kosovo that membership is dependent on the two countries working out their dispute.

But moving your embassy to Jerusalem (Serbia) or promising the new embassy will be there (Kosovo) does not make sense from that perspective, because the EU does not recognise Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, rejecting any unilateral moves on “final status” issues.

In a press conference shortly after the Trump circus, the European Commission spokesman, Peter Stano, stressed that

“ .. there is no EU member state with an embassy in Jerusalem. The EU delegation is not in Jerusalem. This is in line with the UN Security Council resolution nr.748, from 1980. The EU has repeatedly reaffirmed our commitment to the negotiated and viable two-state solution … A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states, Israel and Palestine. …

“Since Kosovo and Serbia identified EU accession as their strategic priority, the EU expects both to act in line with this commitment.”

So why would both risk their EU accession plans? On possibility is precisely that the frozen nature of the process of EU accession has led both to try to get a better deal from the US; or at least to show the EU that they have other options. But this also means neither is likely to be in Jerusalem if the EU itself manages to break the deadlock and move accession forward; and if Trump is voted out shortly, a Biden administration, while shamefully ruling out leaving Jerusalem, would be unlikely to pressure European countries into conflict with the EU over the issue.

As such, it is hardly surprising that Serbia’s proposed move is for July 2021, allowing plenty of time to see which way the wind is blowing; as for Kosovo, so far mutual recognition with Israel has consisted of little more substantial than tweets. Keeping doors open, the EU is moving forward on its own next round of negotiations with the two countries, and as part of this, Hoti visited Brussels on September 10 and pledged to implement the Association of Serb Municipalities agreement.

Therefore, despite Trumps’ bluster, and the idiosyncratic and contradictory moves and statements by current Serbian and Kosovar leaders, the possibilities arising from this photo op range from a very significant shake-up of the geopolitics of the region to a mere hiccup within the ongoing status quo.

Let the masses eat nationalist poison

The emergent bourgeois leaders throughout the region have been attempting to bridge the long-term ‘national’ issues – in a way suiting their own nation – in order to stabilise the wider region for investment and ‘growth”; thus, alongside the Serbia-Kosovo issue, we have the recent Greece-Macedonia accords, and the ongoing wrangling inside Bosnia, often involving both Serbia and Croatia. Needless to say, however, this “growth” feeds the bourgeoisie far more than the working classes of the region, and therefore the status quo referred to above also sees these same bourgeois leaders concurrently continue their decades-long game of feeding the masses with the circus of nationalism.

Even before Covid-19 hit, the Balkan region has long been characterised by very high unemployment rates relative to the rest of Europe. It is significant that Serbia’s unemployment rate of around 10 percent – no small figure – is the lowest in the region, which ranges up via Bosnia’s 15 percent to Kosovo’s rate of 25 percent, the region’s highest. Clearly Kosovo’s situation is the most dramatic, being also the country with the lowest per capita GDP in Europe after Moldova, and some 17 percent of the population living below the poverty line, double Serbia’s figure. However, Serbia’s relative success, in being hailed in 2019 as the world champion of foreign investment, hides deep problems with precisely such a growth model: in 2017, the richest 20 percent of Serbs earned 9.4 times more than the poorest 20 percent, the highest level of inequality within the EU and candidate countries.

Enormous mass protest movements in Serbia in 2018-19, in Macedonia in 2016, in Bosnia in 2014, amongst others, have shaken the local ruling classes, alerting them that the free reign of post-Cold War neoliberalism under corrupt and semi-authoritarian governments is continually under challenge. In particular, in the Bosnian and Macedonian cases, a tendency to bridge the ethnic divide was a prominent feature of the mass movements, if less so in the Serbia case.

If we go back to 1987-88 when 2000 strikes involving workers of all Yugoslav nations united challenged the Yugoslav regime’s IMF-pushed austerity, the virulent nationalism of Milosevic, and later Tudjman, was the answer put up by the ruling classes to stupefy, divert, divide and break the movement – with the results now history. This choice of resorting to nationalism will not be given up lightly.