Who won the Kosovo war

How the war in Kosovo came about

As early as the early 1990s, the fronts between the Kosovar Albanians and Serbs had hardened so much that a peaceful solution was no longer in sight. However, the "low intensity" conflict has long been overshadowed by the war in Croatia and Bosnia. For the West it was a sideline to the Yugoslav crisis. According to the motto: no dead, no rush.

Put on passive resistance

The symbolic figure of the Albanian independence movement at the time was the writer and philosopher Ibrahim Rugova. He didn't believe in violence. While villages and towns were burning in Croatia and Bosnia, Serbs, Croats and Muslims were fighting fierce battles, Rugova campaigned for non-violent resistance by the Kosovar Albanians against the Serbian state power.

Autonomy abolished

When Serbia lifted the autonomy of two provinces in 1989 - Vojvodina in the north and Kosovo in the south of the country - Rugova founded the "Democratic League of Kosovo" (LDK). As its chairman, he campaigned for the independence of Kosovo - he no longer wanted to agree to an autonomy. The Albanians were a national minority in Serbia, but in Kosovo they represented the overwhelming majority. When the breakup of Yugoslavia became apparent, Rugova recognized the historic opportunity for the Kosovar Albanians.

Writers' Union was a reflection of the state crisis

I met Ibrahim Rugova in the late 1980s, he was chairman of the Kosovar Writers' Union in Belgrade. The Yugoslav state crisis was reflected in the Yugoslav writers' association, in which each republic and the autonomous provinces were represented.

One argued, one yelled at each other. Anyone who refused to bow to the Serbian idea of ​​a common Yugoslav state was accused by the Serbs of "secessionist aspirations". The communist ideology of "brotherhood and unity" was superseded by the revived nationalism of the Yugoslav peoples. The phrase "All Serbs in one state" was quickly heard. That means: If Yugoslavia falls apart, Belgrade would annex all territories where Serbs lived to Serbia. This was later referred to as the "Greater Serbian" ideology.

In the midst of this dispute, the writer Rugova appeared calm, almost shy. While his colleagues were yelling at each other, he looked a little unworldly, thoughtful with his scarf, which he always wore. Perhaps even then he came to the conclusion that Kosovo should break away from Serbia.

Albanian state within the state

I saw Rugova again many years later in Pristina - it must have been 1994. The war raged in Bosnia, a third of the Croatian territory was under Serbian control. His LDK movement was meanwhile the main political force in Kosovo. Their goal: to break away from Serbia. Rugova relied exclusively on nonviolent resistance, on the complete boycott of the Serbian state.

The LDK had organized a shadow government, a parallel Albanian state system, of which, however, only the education and health systems functioned halfway. Albanian children had lessons in barracks, garages or cellars. Outpatient departments and hospitals were temporarily housed in private apartments. The Kosovar Albanians organized their own elections, which Rugova won every time. It was an Albanian state within the state tolerated by Serbia.

The "Gandhi from the Balkans "

The Serbian police and special forces were everywhere. They arrested whoever they wanted, when they wanted, and kept him in custody for as long as they wanted. Young Albanians could never be sure that they would not be arrested during a raid on a nightclub. Since they did not want to accept the Serbian state, they were treated like second class citizens. The younger ones gradually lost patience. They had no sympathy for the "endurance competition" that Rugova had entered into.

I asked Rugova how long this absurd situation could last. "As long as it takes," he replied. He did not want to change his mind, he resisted armed resistance, which some called for in his LDK. That is why he was called the "Gandhi of the Balkans".

Occasionally Rugova traveled abroad to complain about violations of all possible human rights in Kosovo and to campaign for independence. He was listened to patiently and politely, but the West had its hands full with the war in Bosnia and Croatia.

The impatience of the young generation

In 1995 the war ended in Bosnia and Croatia. Things did not look good for the Kosovar Albanians' struggle for independence. The West finally wanted peace in the Balkans, no further border changes. But the young Albanians grew more and more impatient. They thought that the "nonviolent resistance" had only brought them the scorn and ridicule of the Serbs. Even LDK boss Rugova did not want to give in and enter into negotiations for an autonomy.

In 1997, Albanian students organized mass demonstrations in Pristina against Rugova's will. You could feel the concentrated energy on the streets. Something had changed in the mood. Some young men I knew had stones in their pockets. They were ready to fight with the Serbian police.

How the Kosovo Liberation Army came into being

Previously, there were armed attacks on Serbian police officers in Kosovo for the first time. We heard from an organization called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Its members killed Serbian police officers and fled into the woods. They were classic "hit and run" actions. The USA initially put the KLA on the list of international terrorist organizations.

Rugova didn't want to have anything to do with them either. But his authority was rapidly dwindling. The actions of the KLA became more and more daring. They were no longer directed solely against the Serbian security forces, but also against Albanians who "collaborate with the Serbs". According to Serbian sources, the KLA was responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks and murders. The counter-actions by the Serbian police became more and more unbridled. The spiral of violence increased rapidly.

It was not at all pleasant to drive through Kosovo with a Belgrade license plate. On empty country roads, I always had the feeling that someone was shooting at my car. Serbian police officers were nervous and scared. It was a game of cat and mouse that the KLA gradually won. The consequence of increasingly harsh Serb reprisals was that the KLA joined more and more young Albanians. At the same time, the West reacted cautiously to the independence struggles in Kosovo.

Turn in the Kosovo conflict

Formally, the war in Kosovo began on February 28, 1998. A Serb patrol was attacked near the Kosovar village of Likoshan. This was followed by retaliation by the Serbian police, in which, according to Amnesty International, ten boys and men from a family between the ages of 16 and fifty were murdered. They had nothing to do with the KLA.

On March 3, a total of 24 bodies were buried near Likoshan, including civilian victims from the neighboring village of Cirez. They were previously exhibited in a meadow, wrapped in reddish-white cloths. Despite the ban on gatherings, thousands of Albanians came to the funeral. It was more of a fighting than a sad mood. It was the turning point in the Kosovo conflict.

NATO coordinated actions

The KLA then became more and more aggressive and the Serbian armed forces more and more brutal. In the West too, the mood about Kosovo turned. The USA organized training camps for KLA fighters in Albania and equipped them. On March 24, 1999, NATO began air strikes on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), which lasted until June 10. NATO coordinated its actions in Kosovo with the KLA. Serbian armed forces were forced to withdraw, and over 200,000 Serbs fled the province. On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared independence. Rugova did not experience this; he had died in Pristina two years earlier.