The current talks between Belgrade and Pristina may provide the US with an opportunity to shift away from a policy that has become dependent upon giving full backing to Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, regardless of the accusations made against him.
By Gerard Gallucci
Since December, news from Kosovo has been increasingly about the involvement of its political leaders in corruption, organ trafficking and organized crime, extending back to acts committed by the KLA during the war. EULEX is currently investigating the alleged involvement of senior officials who are former KLA members. These investigations may be, in part, an effort to make-up for EULEX’s failure to pursue allegations in a report, by Swiss Senator Dick Marty, on Prime Minister Thaci’s involvement in KLA organ trafficking. EULEX tried to deflect calls for it to investigate Thaci by blaming Marty for not passing on the names of witnesses. But some witnesses are dead and those living seem reluctant to entrust themselves into Kosovo’s witness protection scheme. So, EULEX apparently dug through its files and came up with the current investigation. But in the Balkans, it is hard to please everyone and former-KLA have been quite active in criticizing and demonstrating against EULEX.
All this has led some to suggest that perhaps the creation of an Albanian-majority, independent Kosovo was a mistake. Some have charged too that none of the information on corruption and criminal involvement is really new but was previously covered up and ignored for political reasons. This is almost certainly true. Anyone working in the Balkans since the collapse of Yugoslavia will be quite familiar with the near ubiquitous links between political and criminal circles. Of course, traditional brigandage has characterized certain areas of Kosovo since time immemorial. And stories of human rights abuses and criminal activity by KLA figures were common in Kosovo. Some of these may not stand up to the demands for evidence, but the general picture has been known for some time.
It seems certain that someone was protecting the Kosovo leadership from being investigated. Some cite reports that the US pressured UNMIK not to investigate charges into Thaci’s leadership. The US may also have played a role in ensuring that former KLA leader and prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, was pulled in front of the Hague to get him out of Thaci’s way. Indeed, the US may have sought to punish a high-ranking UNMIK official for seeking to help Haradinaj as it had helped Thaci.
It is no secret that the US judged Thaci to be key to maintaining control over the Kosovo Albanians. Keeping him as a trusted and cooperative prime minister became in itself an important element of US policy. In return for him keeping the lid on Albanian irredentism and for accepting the form – if not the substance – of the Ahtisaari Plan, Thaci received complete US backing both for him and for Pristina’s claim of independence and “territorial integrity” (meaning control of the north). Thus the US followed the path it has often used in backing the likes of the Shah of Iran, Mobutu, Pinochet, Saddam (before 9/11), Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi – swallow any reservations about the behavior of “your man” as long as he remains “your man.” Typically, the US was unable to extricate itself from these relationships until it was too late for a happy ending.
This is not to say that Thaci is in the same category as these others. He is not a mass murderer and he continues to operate within the context of a constitutional democracy. The real problem is the stance the US has taken to avoid having to deal with the mess it – and its Quint partners – helped create in Kosovo by picking a favorite, overlooking the problems and digging in to keep things “stable.” One result has been the reckless US effort to distract attention from the problems in Pristina by focusing on alleged threats to security and legality from the northern Kosovo Serbs. US policy for Kosovo can be boiled down into two parts: help Thaci, blame Serbs. If this continues to take the form of seeking to bully the north into accepting Pristina, it will lead to further conflict. Unfortunately, it is a trait of many who have dug themselves into a hole to dig further. Somebody should instead help the US get out of its hole. The current discussions between Belgrade and Pristina could be the ladder.
Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s advisory board.
The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.