11 March 2006

Analysis: Kosovo without Rugova



MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov.) -- Several leaders of conflict-ridden regions have left the political scene recently, with each man's departure emphasizing how important or relative the influence of the individual on history can be.


The demise of Yasser Arafat removed a big obstacle from the path to settlement, but it was only one of many. Disease has disabled Ariel Sharon, whose will and influence allowed peacekeepers to make a few more difficult steps on this road. But his departure from the political scene will not change the situation a great deal. Sharon has done the most he could regarding the situation in the Palestinian territory. If Hamas comes to power there, which seems probable now, Israel will have no negotiating partner.


The same could be said about the situation in Kosovo after the death of President Ibrahim Rugova. His role in the region was great in some aspects and negligible in others, because not everything depended on his word.


With his artistic scarf wrapped around his neck and an intellectual face, Rugova was a find for Europe that allowed it to camouflage several gross mistakes it made in the Balkans together with the United States.


I firmly believe that the Albanians' massacre in Kosovo had to be stopped. But the trouble is that the West gave them weapons and political protection and closed its eyes to their crimes against innocent Serbs. It hoped to appease the province but only changed the poles of violence and hatred by replacing the genocide of Albanians with the annihilation of Serbs.


The European peacekeepers, who stood by while Albanian field commanders torched Orthodox churches and the homes of peaceful Serbs, looted the country and traded in weapons and drugs, actually did their best to force the Serbs from the birthplace of their civilization.


In that situation, Ibrahim Rugova, a man of iron will and a firm advocate of a peaceful way towards the independence of Kosovo - he was sometimes compared to Gandhi - became the trump card in the hands of European "peacekeepers." Rugova hated Serbs, which was understandable because they had killed his father, but he was ready to shake hands with Milosevic and even exchange polite smiles with him if this helped his cause. Such a man was like the magic wand for many European politicians.


Rugova was invaluable for the outside world because his intellectual face masked the wild world of field commanders standing behind his back. The foreign policy image of Kosovo depended entirely on the "Albanian Gandhi." At the same time, he was irreplaceable for "domestic consumption" too, doing his best to keep back the dogs of war who dreamed of independence for Kosovo at all costs.


The president restrained the most radical forces in Kosovo with the promise that they will attain their goal by peaceful means. He died shortly before the independence talks were to commence with Serbia.


I cannot imagine what Europe will do without him, because Kosovo has not produced a second moderate and respected leader of the same magnitude. From now on, the Kosovo Serbs, who number only about 7,000 now, will not be able to stay in their homes. And the sooner they leave them, the more chances they will have to keep their lives. The dogs of war have broken free from their leash.


Worse still, even a 100% ethnic purge of the province, with up to the last Serb forced out, will not restore peace there. History knows many examples of how field commanders fought trying to divide power among them after coming to power. As a result, Europe will suffer not only because a restless enclave torn apart by internal strife might appear in Kosovo, but also because the flight of Serbs has turned it into a drugs transshipment center. Few Europeans may be aware but West European teenagers use the drugs delivered from Kosovo.


The death of Rugova has laid bare the mistakes European politicians made in the Balkans. Now they have an alternative: either continue to claim that they are doing everything right, or admit to their mistakes and draw appropriate conclusions for the future.