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Keeping Moscow at Bay - In Kosovo

World War IV is real. It began not on September 11, 2001, but in 1978 when the Russians installed a puppet regime in Afghanistan.

The Russian incursion south toward the Indian Ocean reproduced the history of more than a century before, beginning in 1875, when the tsar incited the Balkan Christians to rebel against the Ottomans. But events never repeat themselves exactly. Developments today follow the cycle between the Austrian absorption of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908 and the Sarajevo assassination of 1914. Europe claims that, like the Habsburgs in Bosnia, it will bring progress to Kosovo, now demanding independence. Russia seeks aggrandizement. But while those are the permanent features of the political landscape, the details have been distorted to appear new.


Kosovo has dropped off the political map for most Americans, who are diverted by continuing terrorism in the core Islamic countries – exemplified by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Similarly, Western obliviousness has encouraged Turkey to attack Iraqi Kurdistan with impunity. Westerners find it difficult to perceive clearly how, while the U.S. is absorbed with the headlines in the battle against jihadists, other malign interests – Russian and Chinese imperialism no less than Turkish ultranationalism – pursue their own aims. The appetites of Moscow could again set Europe afire, beginning in Kosovo – just as war was touched off in Sarajevo.

While Kosovo appears most important to Albanians and their friends, the territory’s independence is significant for another reason – as a bulwark against revived Russian designs beyond its borders. Kosovo independence has been promised, explicitly or implicitly, by the U.S. and some European countries since 1999. There are no special “processes” required for the attainment of independence, except, when necessary, a struggle against the colonial power. Indeed, the United Nations declared in the great age of decolonization – the 1950s and 1960s – that “Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.”


Failure to secure independence for the Kosovar Albanians will have further negative consequences. First, it would be a betrayal by the U.S. of one of the few majority-Muslim communities in the world that is wholly pro-American – a threat also visible in the alienation of Kurdish affections by American hesitation to restrain Turkey in Iraq. But most importantly, it will encourage Serbian adventurism, as well as similar attitudes elsewhere – beginning in Turkey and Russia, but opening a road without a predictable end, except probable disaster. While Western media and pseudo-experts prattle about the dangers of “separatism” in Europe, the real menace comes from the arrogance of the established powers, not from the oppressed small nations. Giant Russia has always backed nearby Serbia against the Albanians, except briefly during the Tito era, while the few million Albanians have real friends only in distant America. The balance is hardly as even as it should be.

When I went to Kosovo in mid-December – expecting a declaration of independence at that time – Kosovars were still trusting and enthusiastic about America, but consumed with rage at the obstruction of Russia and the endless delays proposed by the Europeans.

Russian imperialism has been the bulwark of obscurantism and collective hatred in Europe since the 18th century, and the division of Poland beginning in 1772. The regime of Vladimir Putin has revived the strategy of encroachment and belligerence pursued by his predecessors. Few of us who fought for and celebrated the defeat of Soviet Communism imagined that it would be succeeded by mafia capitalism, and then by a neo-tsarism that exploits its speculative prosperity to demand submission from its neighbors.


In accord with this legacy, Putin and his cohort have repeatedly stated bluntly that the Kosovo question must be deferred to the United Nations Security Council, where Moscow will veto independence. The anticolonial principles that the Russians claimed to support in 1960, when the issue was that of the Congolese versus the Belgians, are elided now that Moscow wishes to reincorporate Ukraine and China continues to exercise a cruel domination over Tibet.

Kosovo has gained the renewed, if vague, attention of the Western press, which unfailingly covers the bid for statehood in two ways, both mendacious. The first turns victims of a 20th century attempted genocide into the victimizers. Thus the British dailies tearfully elicit sympathy for Kosovo Serbs who allegedly face “ethnic cleansing” from their supposed “cultural cradle.” The second way reduces the issue to irrelevance, treating the Kosovars as yet another quixotic separatist movement in which the arguments of “both sides” merit equal attention. The Kosovar Albanian viewpoint – the land was theirs centuries before the Slavic invasions 1,500 years ago – is seldom heard or read in the Western media.

Srebrenica – the site of the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Serbian terrorists – is the most prominent recent symbol of Moscow-backed genocidal aggression in Europe. While Boris Yeltsin, then the titular leader of post-Soviet Russia, pursued inconsistent policies on the issues created by Russia’s imperial history, powerful interests in the former USSR backed Serbian and other terrorist crimes against whole communities. Throughout the Bosnian conflict, Russian nationalist media and politicians supported Serb claims, and Russian volunteers served alongside Serbs in committing bloody atrocities in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo. I argued in my 2002 book The Two Faces of Islam that a Muscovite strategy of Slav-Orthodox assault on vulnerable Muslims had been visible not merely in Afghanistan, but in Europe, too. Communists expelled Bulgaria’s Turkish minority and “nationalized” domestic Bulgarian Muslims in the 1980s. Armenia also assaulted Azerbaijan, and Russia’s devastation of Chechnya began as the Soviet Union collapsed. In other words, the wars against the Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians came after many warnings, for those capable of understanding them.


Kosovo has a Srebrenica, which is much less well-known. It is called Korenica and is located in the western section of Kosovo, near the city of Gjakova.

In Korenica, on April 27, 1999 – a month after the commencement of the NATO bombing of Serbia – nearly 400 Albanians were wantonly murdered by Serbian irregulars. But Korenica is significant for more than its having seen the largest number of Albanian victims in a single Serbian assault during the 1998-99 conflict.

While Serbs and their apologists portray their role in the long battle for Kosovo as a defense against a jihadist offensive by Albanian Muslims hateful of Slav Christians, their churches, and their sacred heritage, the majority of the Albanians killed at Korenica were Catholics. The aim of the Serbs, like that of their Russian protectors, has always been to promote the dominance of the Orthodox Christian identity over all the peoples that follow religious traditions different from it.

I first learned of the crime of Korenica only months after it took place, during a visit to Gjakova. I found out about the killings accidentally, when I drove along a rural road and found a Sufi turbe or mausoleum. Inside the structure, I was shocked to discover the coffins of 24 infants. It was then that I learned about the Korenica slayings, and was taken to a graveyard that included many wooden markers with the initials “N.N.” for an unidentified corpse.


I believe I was among the first foreigners, aside from some human rights monitors, to thoroughly research the Korenica incident, and in the years that followed I continued an extensive inquiry into it. First, in 1999, I interviewed a brave Albanian Catholic priest from Gjakova, Pater Ambroz Ukaj, who had defied Serbian officers to learn what had transpired in Korenica. Later I learned that a Sufi, Shaykh Rama of Gjakova, had been killed at Korenica. In recent years, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, of which I am Executive Director, has supported reconstruction of a primary school in the Korenica district, the Pjetër Muqaj School in the hamlet of Guska, that educates both Catholic and Muslim children.

Europe seems not to understand that in refusing to repudiate Serbian and Russian blandishments, and in failing to assist the Kosovar Albanians consequentially, it is committing a slow suicide. Spain is afraid of demands for rights by the Basques and Catalans; Slovakia and Romania have a bad conscience about their treatment of their large Hungarian minorities, which possess capacity for resistance unknown among the Roma, those other martyrs to Slovak and Romanian nationalism. Cyprus should probably not have been admitted to the EU without the participation of its Turkish-minority northern zone (a topic so convoluted as to require a separate article.)

But rather than deal with stateless nations and minorities fairly, resolve its fear of Turkish Islam, and recognize the unquenchable desire of the Kosovar Albanians for freedom, Europe may blindly submit to the return of Russian power, enriched by energy and bent on reestablishing a bipolar world in which only the U.S. and Moscow count.


The U.S. still counts, more than either the hallucinated Serbian and Russian leadership or the Europeans – the latter with a disgraceful record of preferring peace to freedom. America must support Kosovar independence, without dishonorable concessions to Belgrade or Moscow, and without delay.

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