Burning churches, braying mobs, senseless sectarian murder, and an international presence patently struggling to contain the carnage. In an environment where the cigarette lighter has become once again a weapon of mass expulsion, the Balkans have recently returned to international attention. And for all the wrong reasons. In a grotesque reverse image of 1999, Serb communities have been subjected to a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing by Albanian provocateurs. The outbreak of violence in mid March left 31 dead and more than eight hundred injured including more than 80 international peacemakers. In addition the violence made refugees of 3, 500 people and destroyed hundreds of houses and up to 30 churches.
The incident that sparked off the violence is somewhat obscure. Two Albanian boys drowned in the Ibar river with the claim made that they did so after being chased by Serbs with a pit bull terrier. International investigators have not, however, been able to corroborate the story. The pattern of violence and expulsions, however, suggests an orchestrated campaign. And that organisational pattern included some very familiar elements from previous bouts of localised ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia.
Reporting for the Financial Times Christopher Caldwell pointed out that on the first day of rioting, convoys of buses brought ethnic Albanian youth from the capital Pristina to the divided city of Mitrovica in the north to help an assembled crowd fight its way across a bridge into the city's Serbian quarter. In Djakovica, 1, 000 people with guns and grenades attacked Italian KFOR (Editor’s note: N.A.T.O led Kosovo Force) soldiers protecting a Serb orthodox monastery. Parked buses blocked KFOR vehicles travelling around the country. In Svinjare, where all 136 Serbian homes were destroyed and those marked with Albanian flags were left standing, vandals wrote their names on the Serb-owned buildings that they wished to claim once the Serbs were gone. Thus we have a grotesque reminder of the scores of Bosnian villages where exactly the same activities had been perpetrated in the 1992-1995 war, and where even today many villages display the horrific physical evidence of ethnic cleansing – boarded up, burnt out and dilapidated houses – the houses of the local victims of ethnic particularism.
The upsurge in violence is rooted in the interaction of three separate but interrelated factors. The first and most important is the tension arising out of Kosovo's unresolved and quite ambiguous constitutional status. The second is the growing Albanian disenchantment with the ruling UNMIK administration. Finally, there is the poisonous legacy of the past and the role played by political elites on both sides of the divide. Each of these factors have contributed to the escalation of tensions.
The UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999 effectively established Kosovo as a temporary western protectorate under the authority of UNMIK. The province was formally recognised as part of Yugoslavia. But it was clear from the outset that some sort of independent Albanian state would emerge in a &ldquofinal settlement”. With the Albanian population constituting a nine to one majority in the province, an overwhelming mandate for independence could be the only possible outcome in a future referendum.