This exhibit was conceived to help an American audience understand the war, reconstruction and reconciliation in Kosovo. We are not trying to present a comprehensive history but rather to show individual vignettes as experienced during three trips to the region, in hope of highlighting some of the complex problems of post-war reconstruction.
The first trip was to Macedonia in April 1999, coinciding with the forced exodus of nearly a million Kosovar Albanians into neighboring Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro. The second trip was in January 2000. This followed the initial massive efforts to provide emergency reconstruction and preparation for the first post-war winter and also the start of a period of escalating violence in Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. The third trip was in July 2000 when the shortcomings of the UN administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) were becoming clear—and the reality of the nearly impossible task of taking over the civil administration of a war-torn nation began to set in.
We hope the following images and text will add to the constructive dialogue and debate on issues concerning humanitarian intervention, the role of the UN in post-conflict reconstruction, reconciliation between opposing ethnic groups, the quest for justice, and the effect of war and nationalism on ordinary people.
It is no coincidence that the term “balkanize” has come to mean “splintering something into smaller and often hostile units.” It is truer today than at any other time in the past fifty years in the Balkans. Where one nation—Yugoslavia—existed in 1990, there are now five nations: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), and Macedonia. While Kosovo is legally still part of Serbia, for all intents and purposes, it is autonomous. Its future is still undecided, though, leading to great instability.
From an ethnic and linguistic perspective, the majority of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia are all similar, all southern Slavs. They speak the same language and are descendents of the same people. This was not enough, though, to prevent violence and ethnic cleansing in 1991 that resulted in wars in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia.
The Kosovar Albanians, on the other hand, are a completely different ethnicity. The Albanians claim the oldest heritage in the Balkans and speak an entirely different language than their Slav neighbors. While there has always been a high degree of multiethnic cooperation and intermarriage among the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims in Bosnia, this is not true for the Albanians and their nearest neighbors, the Serbs.
While war in the Balkans has never been waged because
of religion, each side in the conflicts has often been of
The crux of the problem for the Kosovar Albanians is that while they are a majority in Kosovo, the land there is also home to important Serbian religious and historical sites, including the Battle of Kosovo, fought on the plains near Pristina in 1389. The Ottoman Sultan Murat defeated the Serbian Prince Lazar at this historic site, thus beginning 500 years of Ottoman rule in the Balkans. When the Serbs finally liberated themselves in the 19th century, they took Kosovo with them.
At the end of WW II, Albanians composed 70% of Kosovo.
By 1990, on the eve of the break up of Yugoslavia, they were 90%. This
demographic situation created great conflict between the two groups, with
the Serbs, though,
The Dayton Peace Accords, signed in 1995, were a diplomatic success in stopping the war in Bosnia but the agreement completely ignored the brewing situation in Kosovo. The international community was well aware of the problems caused by Milosevic in Kosovo but U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke felt he could not secure a deal with Milosevic on Bosnia if he pressed him on Kosovo. He was probably right.
Since 1989, the Kosovars’ response to Serb oppression had been one of non-violent resistance under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova, head of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK.) Rugova knew that he had no chance against the much more powerful Serb police and military. His only hope was that non-violent tactics would eventually garner international attention. Dayton proved him wrong and sent the Kosovars a signal that only violence would get them the attention they were looking for. Hence, the rise of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA.)
In 1997, the KLA began to go on the offensive against the Serb police in Kosovo. If Milosevic had responded by only going after the KLA, the international community would have had no choice but to accept that he was confronting terrorist activity and that it was a legitimate use of state power. But Milosevic overstepped his bounds, and in a fashion similar to what his forces did in Croatia and Bosnia, they attacked entire villages, claimed civilians were “terrorists,” and executed them.
The international community was fed up with Milosevic and wasn’t about to look the other way after being made fools in Bosnia. They also couldn’t let Milosevic slaughter thousands of civilians again and create further instability in Europe.
In February and March of 1999, the international community brought representatives of Serbia and Kosovo to Rambouillet, France for negotiations that sought to remove Serb forces from Kosovo and allow in a NATO-led peacekeeping force. Milosevic was presented with an ultimatum but did not agree to the terms. Serb military and police forces intensified their abuses of Kosovar Albanians, bringing tanks into the province. Finally on March 24, 1999, NATO launched a massive aerial bombing campaign against Serb forces throughout Serbia proper and in Kosovo.
While the Serbs had committed massive human rights abuses prior to the bombing, they took this provocation as an opportunity to finish the job by ethnically cleansing the province. Nearly a million Kosovars were forcefully expelled from their homes and thousands of unarmed civilians were killed in the process. In addition, the Serb forces also destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, major historical and cultural monuments, hundreds of mosques, libraries, hospitals, and essential infrastructure. Credible sources estimate that nearly 10,000 Kosovars were killed by Serb forces during the war. In May 1999, Yugoslav President Milosevic was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes committed in Kosovo.
NATO commanders had hoped the war would be brief, based on the experience of bombing Bosnian Serb targets in September 1995 that led to the end of that war in Bosnia. This was a miscalculation and the war continued into June. It didn’t end until NATO started hitting civilian infrastructure targets in Belgrade and the Serbs responsible for so much carnage in the Balkans were feeling the direct impact of the war.
On June 3, 1999, Milosevic finally agreed to terms presented to him by Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari and Victor Chernomyrdin, former Prime Minister of Russia.
On June 9, 1999, Yugoslav President Milosevic agreed to terms presented by NATO commanders at Kumanovo, Macedonia and accepted their demands which included:
1. Ending all hostilities
2. Removing all Serb forces from Kosovo
3. The entry of NATO-led forces
4. Unimpeded access by humanitarian organizations
5. The establishment of an interim administration, under UN authorization, to provide for reconstruction, and
6. The start of a political process for self-government of Kosovo
This agreement was formalized in Security Council Resolution 1244 passed on June 10, 1999.
KFOR, a multinational force, immediately secured the province and set up a peacekeeping operation, eventually numbering 43,000 troops from NATO and other countries, including Russia. The KLA was demilitarized and by June 20, the Serb withdrawal was complete.
The international community hoped that the Kosovar Albanian refugees in neighboring countries would stay put until an assessment could be made of urgent humanitarian needs. The refugees, who had been living in tents for months, however, thought differently. By July, almost all of the camps in Macedonia and Albania were emptied as hundreds of thousands of refugees returned to their homes, only to find rubble, landmines, and mass graves. It was the worst case scenario envisioned by the UN.
Fortunately, the capital city of Pristina suffered little damage because the Serbs had thought they would eventually take control of the city. On the other hand, much of western Kosovo including Peja, Prizren, and Djakova suffered badly with 80% of the housing destroyed. Landmines were strewn everywhere resulting in numerous deaths and injuries as farmers returned to their fields and children went out to play. Many wells were contaminated with human or animal carcasses, the roads were in terrible condition, and the economic infrastructure was non-existent.
The economy quickly became dependent on the influx of international aid groups and KFOR soldiers working in the province. In Pristina, housing prices rose dramatically and the post-war population more than doubled to 400,000 as rural people flocked to the cities for housing and economic opportunities. While UNMIK was paying Kosovar doctors $150 a month, local employees for the UN were making three or four times that as translators and drivers. The same was true for engineers and other skilled professionals who were desperately needed to rebuild the economy. Things only got worse as winter came and the demand for heat and electricity grew. Finally the system gave out and by mid-winter, days would go by without electricity. Many businesses purchased diesel generators, but individuals most often went without as did state-run schools and hospitals. It was the new millennium in Kosovo and it was frozen solid.
The US and Europe committed large amounts of money for reconstruction and sent thousands of civilian advisors to Kosovo to help rebuild the province. By January 2000, there were more than 300 aid groups operating in Kosovo doing everything from mine removal, to trauma counseling, health care and education, economic planning, human rights monitoring, policing, and infrastructure development.
Security Council Resolution 1244 empowered the UN to coordinate all civil administration under the umbrella of UNMIK (the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo), led by Dr. Bernard Kouchner of France. The “four pillars” of reconstruction in Kosovo are:
United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK): Civil administration
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE): Institution building and democratization
United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees
European Union (EU):
Shortly after KFOR arrived, forensic investigators from the ICTY began the grisly task of exhuming several hundred mass grave sites to collect evidence for the indictment against Milosevic. International groups worked with families members viewing bodily remains in search of their missing loved ones. Four hundred judges and prosecutors were appointed by UNMIK but a planned local war crimes court continued to be stalled and war criminals roamed Kosovo freely. By mid-2000, the police force had still not reached its full capacity and corruption continued with impunity.
Violence and Acts of Vengeance against Minorities
The security situation quickly deteriorated for
all minorities including Serbs, Roma (gypsies), and Slav Muslims. The
Albanians, who suffered so much for the past ten years, were now taking
their revenge. Much of it was orchestrated by hardliners within the KLA.
Prior to the war, 40,000 Serbs lived in Pristina. By the spring of 2000,
less than 200 remained. Serbs throughout Kosovo were under around-the-clock
KFOR protection as were most Orthodox cathedrals and Serbian
The Roma were thought to have aided the Serbs during the war and were subject to equally harsh treatment by the Albanians. Anyone speaking Serb, Bosnian, or Macedonian was suspect of being a Serb collaborator.
Violence against minorities remains the single biggest problem for the international community and it has jeopardized the commitment of donor governments and private agencies to helping Kosovo rebuild.
Nowhere is the ethnic conflict more apparent than in Mitrovica, a mining town in northern Kosovo near the border with Serbia. As the war came to a close, Serbs in Mitrovica took control of the northern half of the city and prevented Albanians from returning to their homes or gaining access to the only hospital there. While Security Council Resolution 1244 clearly stated that there would be freedom of movement throughout the province, the French KFOR troops in Mitrovica were not willing to protect the returning Albanians. By early 2000 there were violent clashes in north Mitrovica and many deaths on both sides. KFOR finally made an effort to protect Albanians, but it was too late to prevent an outright division of the town along the Ibar River. Many Albanians are infuriated with KFOR and the international community for allowing this to happen, and many claim they will fight for a free Mitrovica.
Mitrovica also is home of the largest mineral deposits and ore processing plants in the former Yugoslavia. Both Serbs and Albanians feel that control of these facilities is their only chance for economic survival given that there are no other major industries in the province. Independent analysts claim that the mines and factories are too old and inefficient to be profitable in a global economy without massive amounts of economic assistance.
Beneath all of the ethnic violence and problems with reconstruction is the underlying uncertainty about the political future of Kosovo. The KLA went to war for independence, but the NATO powers, while agreeing on autonomy for the province, never supported complete separation from Serbia. The Albanians will never accept living under Serb rule again after what happened to them before and during the war. Serbia, backed by Russia and China in the Security Council, will not accept rewriting its borders. Until this issue is resolved, the future of Kosovo remains uncertain.
During Yugoslavi presidential elections in September
2000, opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica defeated Slobodan Milosevic.
Milosevic contested the results, only to concede defeat after a stunning
public uprising that caused him to flee into seclusion. He was later arrested
and sent to The Hague where he now awaits trial for war crimes committed
in Kosovo and Croatia. After Milosevic’s fall from power, images of war
crimes committed by Serbs in Kosovo were aired on Serbian television as
Serbia came to terms with its past. Its future as an open and tolerant
society remains uncertain. Meanwhile ethic unrest continues to
Immediately after the war in June 1999, UNMIK was accepted as a benevolent dictator by the Kosovar Albanians. Their welcome is now wearing thin as the Kosovar Albanians want control of their future—and an independent Kosovo.