Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


The origins of the Kosovo crisis up to May 1997

12.  The situation in Kosovo has both contributed to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and itself been influenced by that disintegration. Milosevic's exploitation of the grievances of the Kosovo Serb minority in Kosovo contributed to his rise to power, and, according to Dr Mary Kaldor of the LSE, the effective abolition of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989 "marked the beginning of the disintegration of Yugoslavia."[15] We now examine briefly the history of Kosovo.


13.  Discussions of the origins of the crisis in Kosovo frequently refer to the battle of Kosovo Polje (the Field of Blackbirds) in 1389, when the Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman Empire.[16] According to the Serbian Information Centre in London—an independent, anti-Milosevic organisation—1389 "has been woven into the Serbian national poetry, tradition and beliefs. It is to no avail to call it a myth, a legend or a delusion. Be what it may, it plays an important part in the contemporary politics of Serbia."[17] The battle has been used to justify continuing Serb rule in what has been a majority Albanian province for hundreds of years. Contrary to much comment, relations between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo have not always taken the form of confrontation.[18] Differences of language, religion and customs prior to the eighteenth century have been over-emphasised. Ethnic and cultural differences certainly existed but the people of Kosovo shared a common layer of historical development, the sediment of first Byzantine and then Ottoman domination. In general, an atmosphere of "live and let live" prevailed. Until the mid-eighteenth century, the great majority of Albanians were still Christians but, as the Ottoman Empire declined, pressure on the Albanians to convert to Islam increased, and most Albanians became Muslims. This factor has been a significant cause of the two groups' hostility to each other over the past two centuries. An additional factor has been the recent higher birthrate of the Kosovo Albanians compared to the Serbs.

14.  In the Tito era there were a series of political moves aimed at reducing Serb hegemony over the other republics of Yugoslavia, and winning over the ethnic Albanian population to the communist cause. In 1945 an estimated 60,000 Serb settlers who had fled Kosovo during the war were officially prohibited from ever returning to their homes. Serbia was then divided into three distinct regions with the creation of the two Autonomous Regions of Vojvodina in the north and Kosovo in the south—the so-called "Weak Serbia, Strong Yugoslavia" policy. Another blow to the Serbs came with the 1974 Constitution, which granted Kosovo with its then 70 per cent ethnic Albanian majority the autonomy offered to republics (although unlike the republics, Kosovo could not secede under the Constitution). Albanian became the official language of the province, and Serbs found themselves increasingly marginalised as Kosovo's Albanian leaders encouraged the almost total Albanianisation of cultural and public life in the province.

15.  Following the death of Tito in 1980, Kosovo's Albanians began demanding outright republic status. The riots in the province in 1981 during which over 1,000 people died further alienated Serbs from Albanians. In 1989, Slobodan Milosevic was able to capitalise upon this alienation. We turn now to the personal role of Milosevic in provoking the crisis in Kosovo.


16.  No single factor can account for the crisis in Kosovo over the past decade but most observers would agree that Milosevic bears overwhelming responsibility for the worsening state of affairs there. Dr Jones Parry described Milosevic to us as "a man who has been at the heart of most of the problems" in the region, a man who "has been party to most of the things that have produced the difficulty."[19] Mr Donnelly told us, similarly, "I have no doubt that he is part of the problem [and] with hindsight I think we can say he always has been."[20] The Serbian Information Centre confirmed this view, writing that Milosevic's instincts "were authoritarian, and his actions were oppressive and harsh," one consequence of which has been to radicalise the Kosovo Albanian population.[21]

17.  In her written evidence, Jane Sharp explained how Milosevic rose to power in the late 1980s by fuelling and then exploiting Serb resentment of the Kosovo Albanians.[22] "Although it is true that there has been a long history of antagonism between the Serbian and Albanian populations," Dr Mary Kaldor of the London School of Economics observed that "the current crisis has to be primarily traced back to the mobilisation of nationalist sentiment by Milosevic in the late 1980's. The position of the Serb minority in Kosovo and the insistence on the mystical importance of Kosovo to the Serbian nation were central elements of the nationalist propaganda developed by Serbian intellectuals and exploited by Milosevic, using all the contemporary techniques, especially television, available." The Serbian Information Centre informed us that "the current rulers of Serbia have, for their own ends, inflated the Kosovo myth out of all proportions and turned it into a means of oppression of their own people."[23]

18.  In 1987, against a background of rising tension in Kosovo, Milosevic visited Kosovo Polje (the site of the battle of 1389) to listen to the grievances of the Kosovo Serbs. At the time, thousands of Serbs were clashing with the mainly Kosovo Albanian police. Milosevic told the Serbs that "No one should dare to beat you!" This episode—exploited by Milosevic's friends in the Serb media—greatly helped his rise to power in Serbia.[24] In 1989 Milosevic effectively revoked the autonomy of the province—a move that marked the beginning of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, strengthened Serbia's position in the Federation and created a constitutional crisis. New laws passed that same year made it a crime for ethnic Albanians to buy or sell property without the special permission of the authorities—just one in a series of measures designed to shore up the position of the Serb minority there.[25] Then, as John Sweeney told us, Milosevic dismissed thousands of Albanians from their jobs as doctors, police officers and key employees in state-owned firms, replacing them with Serbs.[26] Albanian students were barred from entering university buildings and a new curriculum—using the Serbian language and Serbian versions of history—was introduced. Meanwhile arbitrary arrest and police violence directed towards Albanians became routine practices, earning Kosovo distinction as the region with some of the worst human rights violations in all of Europe.[27]


19.  Glogovac is one of the 29 municipalities of Kosovo. It has a population of around 60,000 (15 per cent less than before the war). The population is and was almost exclusively Kosovo Albanian, with "fewer than three dozen Serb[s] or [members of] other national communities"[28] in Glogovac town before the war. Glogovac town, the administrative centre of the municipality, is around 30 kilometres from Pristina. Glogovac is a mainly rural area, although there is a large Feronikel plant, the main local employer. Before the war all the key workers at the plant were Serbs, bussed in daily from outside the area. Kosovo Albanian staff had been sacked after 1989. Glogovac is situated in the Drenica valley, the traditional stronghold of the KLA, and of resistance to Serb rule in general. Even before the establishment of the KLA, two Serb policemen were killed and five wounded in Glogovac in May 1993.[29]

20.  Despite his record of repression, Milosevic succeeded in maintaining good relations with Western diplomats partly because, as Dr Jones Parry told us, "there have been times when Milosevic has been a convenience for the West¼.when he was instrumental in getting key accords signed [e.g., Dayton] and in some of the implementation afterwards."[30] Milosevic has also proved to be a skilful interlocutor. Mr Donnelly said that Milosevic had the manner "of a communist apparatchik but with a veneer of Del Boy on top of it which makes him immensely plausible. He can make what are¼absolutely outrageous statements but he puts them over with a degree of plausibility which I think helps to explain why over a period of ten years he has seen a succession of visiting statesmen of very high seniority and experience and has managed to survive all of that and to prolong his position and to leave in many people's minds a doubt, until relatively recently, as to whether he was the problem or whether he was part of the solution."[31] An official of the Ministry of Defence even went so far as to tell our colleagues on the Defence Committee that "we did not think that [Milosevic] was a war criminal before then [March 1999]. He had behaved in a reasonably responsible way in trying to get the settlement in Bosnia actually. His track record was not so bad as it has become."[32] This may be contrasted with the UN Secretary General's recent Srebrenica Report, which stated that "the international community tried to reach a negotiated settlement with an unscrupulous and murderous regime" and "Through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder." That report confirms that the international community at large treated Milosevic as "part of the solution not part of the problem."[33]

21.  Milosevic has also benefited from a weak and fragmented political opposition whose leaders, moreover, have largely supported the Milosevic government's objectives in Kosovo, although they have perhaps differed with respect to the tactics he has employed there.[34] As Dame Pauline Neville-Jones explained to us, "nationalism is something that does permeate the political scene...I think that Serb politics breathes and turns on the issue of nationalism."[35] We turn now to the reaction of the Kosovo Albanian population to Milosevic's exploitation of that nationalism in Kosovo.

Radicalisation of Albanian opinion


22.  As the FCO informed us, "for much of 1990s, the mass of the Kosovo Albanian population adopted a policy of passive resistance to 1992 Ibrahim Rugova of the LDK (Democratic League of Kosovo) was elected President in elections which were not regarded as valid by the Belgrade authorities. The Kosovo Albanians set up parallel systems in health, education and other areas."[36] These were funded by contributions from the diaspora. The most developed area of this was education: "Albanian teachers and lecturers set up their own Albanian-language education systems in private houses, cellars, garages and small areas of existing educational buildings...before the recent conflict there estimated 267,000 Kosovar Albanian children in parallel schools."[37] The non-violent stance adopted by the Kosovo Albanians was in part related to events in Croatia and Bosnia, where the activities of Serbian paramilitaries made apparent what fate the Kosovo Albanians would face if they took up arms against the well-armed and organised Serb forces.

23.  Dr Rugova's form of Ghandian passive resistance to Serb control was increasingly frustrating for more activist Kosovo Albanians. Tim Judah argues that frustration with Kosovo's absence from the agenda at Dayton, as well as Milosevic's apparent weakness during 1996 (when the opposition organised large demonstrations, forcing Milosevic to accept the results of local elections), helped to radicalise Kosovo Albanian opinion.[38] The collapse of Albania in 1997 also opened up the Albanian armouries to looters, allowing the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) to arm itself.


24.  The KLA stems from a small emigré group, based in Switzerland, which founded the Popular Movement for Kosovo (LPK) in the early 1980s. After the effective abolition of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989 and the beginning of the war in Bosnia in 1992, the LPK's left-wing radical membership derided the passive policies of Dr Rugova and the LDK, and advocated a more aggressive stance. By 1993, at the height of the Bosnian war, the LPK decided to open a second front against the Serbs in Kosovo. After a series of secret meetings in Macedonia, the KLA was officially founded. Many of its leaders were political exiles who had served time in Serbian prisons. In 1994 and 1995, Serb police and civilians were being periodically shot throughout Kosovo. Tim Judah records that there were "about 150" active KLA men in Kosovo up to 1997.[39]

25.  The KLA or UCK (Ushtria Climtare e Kosoves) first publicly announced itself in February 1996 by launching an attack in northern Kosovo on Krajina Serb refugees. There followed several more attacks upon Serb police and civilians. In an open letter to the BBC in June that year, the KLA claimed responsibility for killing six Serbs—three policemen and three civilians—in the southern Kosovo town of Decani. Until late 1997, hardly anyone in Kosovo had any idea who the KLA were. The LDK leaders, including Dr Rugova, maintained that the KLA were Serbs trying to undermine the peaceful policies of the LDK. Tim Judah quotes a member of the KLA as saying that in 1996 he had had "exchanges of information" with "representatives of the British, American, and Swiss intelligence services."[40] As we have stated above, we are not in a position to assess the accuracy of this claim as we were not allowed to take evidence from the intelligence community.[41]

26.  The collapse of the Albanian state in March 1997 gave the KLA access to thousands of weapons looted from the Albanian military arsenals, permitting the KLA to intensify their assaults on Serb security forces in Kosovo. Belgrade began to target known KLA activists and sympathisers. In early March 1998 Serb military police raided the village of Donji Prekaz in the KLA heartland of central Kosovo, home to KLA strongman Adem Jashari. They killed the entire family of Jashari and of his two brothers—58 people in all, including women and children. Suddenly the KLA had martyrs, and hundreds of young men came to Drenica to join the KLA. Mr Donnelly, who became British Ambassador in Belgrade in 1998, told us that he saw KLA activity increasing in 1997, but that in 1998 "after the Serb atrocities in February and early March there was an enormous groundswell of support for the KLA in Kosovo such that it was possible for them to conduct operations over a much wider area of territory."[42] Throughout the spring and summer of 1998, money for the KLA poured in from the "Homeland is Calling" fund-raising groups which sprang up all over Western Europe and the United States. At this point the possibility of a peaceful settlement in Kosovo became very much more remote.

27.  Although the KLA made a series of lightning advances, things were moving too fast for the leadership to organise effective military structures. Their Kosovo Albanian rivals the LDK managed to undermine their activities on the world stage by calling them "Marxists" and "Enverists".[43] LDK "Premier" Bujar Bukoshi set up the Armed Forces of Kosovo (FARK) with support from the ex-Albanian President Sali Berisha. For a time the two Kosovo Albanian forces fought each other in the mountains of northern Albania. Gradually, in the autumn and winter of 1998 the Serbs managed to push the KLA back along the Albanian border.

Diplomatic action up to May 1997

28.  We turn now to the diplomatic process which accompanied these developments in Kosovo. We have not examined in detail events before the present Government came to power in 1997. This is because Ministers are not answerable for any mistakes which may have been made during that period—nor, indeed can they claim credit for any successes. But it is reasonable to record that we received evidence that suggested that if different decisions had been taken before 1997, there might have been different results.

29.  Kosovo has not been a major item on the diplomatic agenda in the West's relations with Milosevic since the crisis in Yugoslavia first erupted in June 1991. It is true that the West has periodically issued stern warnings to Milosevic, most significantly in December 1992 when US President George Bush threatened military action if Serbia chose to engage in aggression against Kosovo. He wrote in a letter to Milosevic: "In the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian action, the United States will be prepared to employ military force against the Serbs in Kosovo and Serbia proper."[44] This warning was repeated by President Clinton in February 1993. But leaving aside how seriously such a threat may have been taken by Belgrade, especially in view of US reluctance subsequently to deploy forces to the region, as we discuss above,[45] these warnings were overshadowed by the tendency to treat Milosevic as an interlocutor whom the West could not afford to alienate in its efforts to achieve a diplomatic settlement of the regional crisis.[46]

30.  Kosovo was one of Yugoslavia's eight constituent units, as a federal autonomous province (although it was not a republic, and therefore did not have the right to secede from the federation). However, its representatives were not invited to the EC's conference on Yugoslavia convened in The Hague by Lord Carrington in September 1991.[47] And in December 1991, when the EC offered to extend recognition to the Yugoslav republics seeking independence, it refused to consider Kosovo's request for recognition.[48]


31.  Some have argued that Kosovo could have been dealt with at or shortly after Dayton, the US-organised conference held in November 1995, which brought the war in Bosnia to an end. At the Dayton negotiations, no significant attempt was made to address the Kosovo question, although the 'outer wall' of sanctions[49] was maintained in part to exert pressure on Milosevic to assume a more conciliatory stance towards the province. Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who was present at Dayton, argues that Kosovo could not have been solved at this time, because the Dayton agenda "was already very complex", "Kosovo was entirely unprepared" and "Milosevic would have baulked and would probably have withheld his signature from the Dayton Agreement. This would in turn have led to the withdrawal of UN forces and the resumption of war [in Bosnia]."[50] Dr Oleg Levitin, one of the Russian participants at Rambouillet, agrees "that the Dayton agenda was too complex to include...Kosovo (though an attempt to exchange opinions was made at the final stage of the talks)."[51] Dayton was not intended to be a full settlement of outstanding issues in the former Yugoslavia, and it was therefore unsurprising that it addressed issues related only to Bosnia.


32.  Kosovo was sidelined by the mechanics of EU recognition of Yugoslavia in 1996. The EU's "Declaration on Yugoslavia", adopted on 16 December 1991, required that all Yugoslav republics seeking recognition agree to accept extensive provisions for safeguarding the rights of national minorities within their boundaries, including the granting of autonomy ('special status') to minorities forming a majority in the area where they lived.[52] However, when in April 1996 the EU member states, including the United Kingdom,[53] decided to extend recognition to Yugoslavia, they chose to ignore the requirement of autonomy for the Kosovo Albanians which earlier had been a central component of the EU's recognition policy.[54] The EU merely noted at the time that improved relations between Yugoslavia and the international community would depend upon, inter alia, a "constructive approach" by Yugoslavia to the granting of autonomy for Kosovo.[55] Again, achieving Milosevic's cooperation on Bosnia was given priority over exercising leverage on Kosovo.


33.  There were some apparently hopeful signs after Dayton. In the aftermath of the Agreement, serious dialogue began between Belgrade and Pristina on how to solve Kosovo's education problem. The discussions, which were mediated by representatives of the Italian NGO, the community of St Egidio (linked to the Vatican), culminated in the signing by Milosevic and Dr Rugova on 2 September 1996 of an agreement to normalise the education system for Albanians in Kosovo. This education accord was never implemented. It was in fact used by both sides as a stalling tactic—Milosevic to keep the West on side, and Rugova to try and show his authority just months after the emergence of the KLA.[56]

15   Ev. p. 228. Back

16   Some writers have noted that the battle of 1389 was not in fact the decisive battle against the Ottoman Empire, and that its importance has been exaggerated by oral histories. See for example, Glenny, p. 11. Back

17   Ev. p. 344. Back

18   The following four paragraphs draw upon Vickers, chapters 1-5. Back

19   QC5-6. Back

20   QC7-8. Back

21   Ev. p. 345. Back

22   Ev. p. 77. Back

23   Ev. p. 344. Back

24   Judah, p. 53. Back

25   Malcolm, p. 346. Back

26   QC138. Back

27   Helsinki Watch, Human Rights Abuses in Kosovo, 1990-92 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1992). Back

28   OSCE Report, p. 190. Back

29   Judah p. 129. Back

30   QC9. Back

31   QC6. Back

32   Q78. (Evidence taken by Defence Committee in its Kosovo inquiry: yet to be published). Back

33   Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35 (1998). Back

34   We discuss the Serb opposition further below: see paras 310-312. Back

35   QC278. Back

36   Ev. p. 2. We discuss the education system further below, see para 33. Back

37   Ev. p. 306. Back

38   Judah, pp.125-134. Back

39   Judah, p. 118. Back

40   Judah, p. 120. Back

41   See para 7. Back

42   QC47. Back

43   In other words, supporters of the disastrous policies of Enver Hoxha, the leader of Albania 1944-85. Back

44   Cited in The Guardian, 29 December 1992. Back

45   See para 20. Back

46   Ev. p. 78. Back

47   Ev. p. 269. Back

48   EPC Declaration on Yugoslavia, 16 December 1991. Back

49   i.e. Yugoslavia's access to funding from international financial institutions was blocked, and some EU sanctions remained in place. Back

50   Ev. pp 109-110. Back

51   Ev. p. 361. Back

52   "Declaration on Yugoslavia", Extraordinary EPC Ministerial Meeting (Brussels), EPC Press Release P.129/91, 16 December 1991. Back

53   HC Deb 7 May 1996 col 89. Back

54   The EPC Declaration on Yugoslavia of 16 December 1991 made EU recognition conditional upon the Yugoslav Republics accepting the provisions laid down in the Carrington draft Convention for a General Settlement of 18 October 1991, especially relating to "areas in which persons belonging to a national or ethnic group form a majority, [which should] enjoy a special status (autonomy). Such will provide educational system which respects the values and needs of that group; a legislative body; an administrative structure, including a regional police force; and a judiciary responsible for matters concerning the area which reflects the composition of the population of the area...". Weller, p. 80-81. Back

55   EU Presidency Statement of 9 April 1996. Back

56   See paras 24-27. Back

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