Bill Clinton in Kosovo

Inevitably, some extraordinary security measures were taken in Kosovo's capital in connection with William Jefferson Clinton's recent visit. The former president of the United States undertook a long journey to the middle of the Balkans in order to take a look at his own figure standing twelve feet above the rest of humanity.

There could be little doubt that those extraordinary measures added additional tension in the life of the current and former residents of the area. Let's clear up a possible confusion: many of the current Albanian residents of Pristina live in the houses of the former Serbian owners who were forced to leave, very often at gunpoint. My thoughts went back two weeks before the former president's visit to Kosovo, when I had to spend some rather uncomfortable hours in the company of a small group of former residents of Pristina.  

On a cold morning that had the Serbian city of Prokuplje in its wet and foggy embrace, a friend of mine and I joined a small group of Serbian teachers, nurses, and doctors, all of them Pristina natives. Every morning, this group traveled to their jobs at a tiny Serbian enclave in the vicinity of the city where they were born and raised. The preparation for their seemingly endless working day starts at four in the morning.

We joined them an hour later as we boarded the overcrowded van. The three-hour journey had to be undertaken so early because of the long wait at the border. Those doctors, nurses, and teachers, most of them women, have been taking this killing journey back and forth at the beginning and the end of each working day for several years. If they are lucky, they will be back home somewhere after nine, when their children are already sleeping. The nightmare will repeat itself again the next morning at 4 a.m.

Obviously, some of the smiling and applauding Albanian observers of the unveiling of the monument were living in the houses of the Serbian doctors and teachers currently making the demanding journey across the border that separates their city from their country. Did this fact disturb the former president of the United States? No, not a bit. Should it have disturbed him? Yes, and not only him, but the American people as well.

In justifying the war the United States waged against Serbia back in 1999, the Clinton administration pointed out the moral obligation of the most powerful democracy on earth to defend the victims of persecution and ethnic cleansing. The actions of this administration, however, defied such a noble obligation. To put it bluntly, in the course of the Serbian-Albanian conflict over Kosovo, the United States was successful in defending the rights of the Albanian residents of Kosovo when those rights were violated by the dictatorial regime of Slobodan Milosevic. 

However, the United States failed miserably in the other important goal of its voluntarily accepted responsibility: the protection of the Serbian residents of the area who became the victims of persecution and ethnic cleansing of the same magnitude that had provoked the American involvement in the Kosovo conflict in the first place. Tens of thousands of Serbians were forced to leave the area, and more than one hundred Christian churches and monasteries were desecrated and destroyed.

Regardless of the fact that the United States is in possession of "Camp Bondsteel" -- a large military base in Southeast Kosovo -- its human and technological resources have never been used to protect the Serbian victims of the Albanian ethnic cleansing. As a result, the Serbian presence in Kosovo has been almost eradicated.

Bishop Artemije, the spiritual leader of the Serbian community in Kosovo, who moved to a small monastery in Pristina after his residence was set on fire several years ago, told me shortly after the end of my tortuous journey to Grachaniza Monastery, "We are conducting our conversation on a tiny archipelago consisting of Serbian and Christian islands surrounded by an Albanian and Muslim Sea..."

This situation outlines not only the moral deficiency of the United States' Balkan strategy, but a strategic deficiency as well. The American regional strategy gave birth to a growing anti-Americanism in Southeastern Europe.

What at least should be done is an American attempt to improve U.S. relations with Serbia. An important component of such an attempt could be the initiation of a dialogue between the mutually hostile communities of Kosovo at a local level. It is possible as well to create some arrangement with regard to the American protection of the Serbian enclaves -- particularly those in the South, where the residents are completely isolated from Serbia. A third dimension of such an activity could be the work on an agreement that would address the humanitarian problems involving the plight of the Serbian refugees. What the Albanians could get in return could be financing of joint projects benefiting equally their communities and the Serbian enclaves.

With the theoretical opportunity to take part in this kind of activity, President Clinton, undoubtedly a skillful negotiator, will have the opportunity to undo at least part of the mistakes committed during his presidency with regard to the Kosovo conflict. If the situation remains the same, the present shape of the Pristina monument would require two important additions. A group of statues portraying smiling and deeply grateful Albanian residents should be situated on the left side of the monument, while on the right side should be displayed a replica of an overcrowded van  filled with dead-tired Serbian teachers and doctors dozing while waiting their turn to cross the border.

Dr. Gounev earned his Ph.D. at the Moscow Institute of Foreign Relations in history and political science. He currently teaches comparative history and international studies at two Southern California Colleges and has authored several books. His website is foraff.org.
Inevitably, some extraordinary security measures were taken in Kosovo's capital in connection with William Jefferson Clinton's recent visit. The former president of the United States undertook a long journey to the middle of the Balkans in order to take a look at his own figure standing twelve feet above the rest of humanity.

There could be little doubt that those extraordinary measures added additional tension in the life of the current and former residents of the area. Let's clear up a possible confusion: many of the current Albanian residents of Pristina live in the houses of the former Serbian owners who were forced to leave, very often at gunpoint. My thoughts went back two weeks before the former president's visit to Kosovo, when I had to spend some rather uncomfortable hours in the company of a small group of former residents of Pristina.  

On a cold morning that had the Serbian city of Prokuplje in its wet and foggy embrace, a friend of mine and I joined a small group of Serbian teachers, nurses, and doctors, all of them Pristina natives. Every morning, this group traveled to their jobs at a tiny Serbian enclave in the vicinity of the city where they were born and raised. The preparation for their seemingly endless working day starts at four in the morning.

We joined them an hour later as we boarded the overcrowded van. The three-hour journey had to be undertaken so early because of the long wait at the border. Those doctors, nurses, and teachers, most of them women, have been taking this killing journey back and forth at the beginning and the end of each working day for several years. If they are lucky, they will be back home somewhere after nine, when their children are already sleeping. The nightmare will repeat itself again the next morning at 4 a.m.

Obviously, some of the smiling and applauding Albanian observers of the unveiling of the monument were living in the houses of the Serbian doctors and teachers currently making the demanding journey across the border that separates their city from their country. Did this fact disturb the former president of the United States? No, not a bit. Should it have disturbed him? Yes, and not only him, but the American people as well.

In justifying the war the United States waged against Serbia back in 1999, the Clinton administration pointed out the moral obligation of the most powerful democracy on earth to defend the victims of persecution and ethnic cleansing. The actions of this administration, however, defied such a noble obligation. To put it bluntly, in the course of the Serbian-Albanian conflict over Kosovo, the United States was successful in defending the rights of the Albanian residents of Kosovo when those rights were violated by the dictatorial regime of Slobodan Milosevic. 

However, the United States failed miserably in the other important goal of its voluntarily accepted responsibility: the protection of the Serbian residents of the area who became the victims of persecution and ethnic cleansing of the same magnitude that had provoked the American involvement in the Kosovo conflict in the first place. Tens of thousands of Serbians were forced to leave the area, and more than one hundred Christian churches and monasteries were desecrated and destroyed.

Regardless of the fact that the United States is in possession of "Camp Bondsteel" -- a large military base in Southeast Kosovo -- its human and technological resources have never been used to protect the Serbian victims of the Albanian ethnic cleansing. As a result, the Serbian presence in Kosovo has been almost eradicated.

Bishop Artemije, the spiritual leader of the Serbian community in Kosovo, who moved to a small monastery in Pristina after his residence was set on fire several years ago, told me shortly after the end of my tortuous journey to Grachaniza Monastery, "We are conducting our conversation on a tiny archipelago consisting of Serbian and Christian islands surrounded by an Albanian and Muslim Sea..."

This situation outlines not only the moral deficiency of the United States' Balkan strategy, but a strategic deficiency as well. The American regional strategy gave birth to a growing anti-Americanism in Southeastern Europe.

What at least should be done is an American attempt to improve U.S. relations with Serbia. An important component of such an attempt could be the initiation of a dialogue between the mutually hostile communities of Kosovo at a local level. It is possible as well to create some arrangement with regard to the American protection of the Serbian enclaves -- particularly those in the South, where the residents are completely isolated from Serbia. A third dimension of such an activity could be the work on an agreement that would address the humanitarian problems involving the plight of the Serbian refugees. What the Albanians could get in return could be financing of joint projects benefiting equally their communities and the Serbian enclaves.

With the theoretical opportunity to take part in this kind of activity, President Clinton, undoubtedly a skillful negotiator, will have the opportunity to undo at least part of the mistakes committed during his presidency with regard to the Kosovo conflict. If the situation remains the same, the present shape of the Pristina monument would require two important additions. A group of statues portraying smiling and deeply grateful Albanian residents should be situated on the left side of the monument, while on the right side should be displayed a replica of an overcrowded van  filled with dead-tired Serbian teachers and doctors dozing while waiting their turn to cross the border.

Dr. Gounev earned his Ph.D. at the Moscow Institute of Foreign Relations in history and political science. He currently teaches comparative history and international studies at two Southern California Colleges and has authored several books. His website is foraff.org.