Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Return to Kosovo, and November Books 24-25

I went back to Kosovo last weekend, for the first time in over a year (and first extended visit for much longer). This was for an excellent conference jointly organised by the European Council on Foreign Relations and its local partners, opened formally by the President and the Prime Minister, and with three visiting foreign ministers to add colour to proceedings. (For me the most exotic participants were a couple of Tory MPs, for one of whom I managed to negotiate a pizza in the airport as we left.) Generally good level of debate with one or two memorable one-liners: a former prime minister worrying that Europe has modelled itself too closely on Kant to cope with Machiavelli, a thinktanker opining that Greece jumped the queue in 1981 and 2002 and we are all now paying the price.

Kosovo - well, Pristina at least - seems to be in great shape. The decision to pedestrianise Mother Teresa Boulevard has given the centre of the city much more focus, and our rather luxurious (if not completely finished) hotel was right in the zone. I made a couple of trips to a nearby supermarket for toothpaste and razors and was interested to note that the range of goods was about the same as one would find in a supermarket of similar size in Brussels, except that the freshly baked bread is probably better in Pristina (and everything is cheaper). I could not find an open internet cafe on Sunday morning, because everyone who cares now has a decent broadband connection at home. There were no power cuts that I noticed. Things have changed.

The Kosovars have been slowly building up international recognitions - 22 out of 27 EU members, 85 out of 192 UN member states - and, faced with the facts on the ground, it is difficult to sympathise with the non-recognisers. For instance, although the European Convention on Human Rights is hardwired into the Kosovo constitution, the European Court of Human Rights lacks jurisdiction because Kosovo is not a member of the Council of Europe. Kosovo officials are blocked from participation in international fora if Serbia's representatives (or sympathisers) object to their presence. It's a bizarre situation.

The conference organisers gave us two books in our goodie bags, and of course I read both (they are short). The first is an essay by prominent Kosovo writer Shkëlzen Maliqi, Why Nonviolent Resistance in Kosovo Failed, originally submitted for a never-published collection of essays on the former Yugoslavia in 2002 (and posted also to his blog). I was familiar with most of the material, but it was very interesting to read the account of an insider, particularly on how the parallel structures set up by Kosovo Albanians actually functioned; Maliqi's assessment of the role of Ibrahim Rugova, elected President of Kosovo though the outside world did not recognise his government, is detailed and far from positive.

However, he misses an important part of the answer to his own question. He quotes a couple of commentators to the effect that Rugova' espousal of non-violence was not "Gandhian". I think that is correct, and crucial: where Gandhi used passive resistance as a means of communication with the British, who would have preferred to ignore him, Rugova used passive resistance to sever contact between Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs. And it did not lead to a solution.

The other book in the goodie bag was Why Kosovo Still Matters by Denis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham. Again, I was interested to read information which I already knew well but told from the point of view of a junior minister in the British government of the mid 2000s. MacShane includes extracts from his own diaries, apparently unrevised, which is honest of him but perhaps a little confusing for the less well-informed reader. It is also striking to realise how much the debate in the House of Commons matters to MPs, as opposed to how little the rest of the world cares about it (certainly outside the UK, and probably outside Westminster). MacShane doesn't really answer the question in the title of his book, but most readers will have made up their mind before opening it.

Where MacShane did add value for me was his dissection, if I may use the word, of the claims by a Swiss politician that Hashim Thaçi, now prime minister of Kosovo, had during the 1999 war been involved with removing organs from captive Serbs to trade them on the international market. It always seemed to me just from the logistics of the alleged process that this is a vanishingly improbable allegation; MacShane adds extra details as to the implausibility of the sources, and, more importantly, the internal politics of the Council of Europe to explain why such an appalling and patently untrue rumour was given legs. I would add that, by comparison, the transport of Albanian corpses to mass graves in Serbia by refrigerated truck during the war is rather well documented. (Those of us with longer memories also recall the Martinović case.)

Anyway, an interesting return to familiar territory.
Tags: bookblog 2011, world: kosovo

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