Colony Kosovo, Where cops, do-gooders, and privateers run the show
[Emperor's Clothes]

By Christian Parenti (8-29-00)

CLOGGED WITH ALMOST 800,000 souls, Pristina, Kosovo, a city of tower blocks rising from a parched valley floor, now holds twice the population for which it was built. The air reeks of exhaust and burning garbage. Ceaseless hot winds blow litter and clouds of gritty dust from the huge mountain of mine tailings that lies a dozen miles due west. At night one still hears the snap of gunfire and, the next day, rumors of another unsolved murder.

Despite the city's modernist aesthetic (the place was rebuilt from scratch after an earthquake in 1963), Pristina has no public transportation or refuse collection. All the most impressive modernist buildings downtown have been reduced to bombed-out relics. Throngs of cell phone-wielding crowds and streams of new Mercedes and Audis choke the streets below the charred towers. Water and electrical services are intermittent, yet several cybercafés and brothels operate around the clock.

Welcome to ground zero of NATO's reincarnation as what Secretary of State Madeline Albright has called "a force for peace from the Middle East to Central Africa." Billed as the greatest humanitarian intervention since WWII, the U.N.-NATO occupation of Kosovo doesn't look so noble up close. Rather than a multiethnic democracy, Kosovo is shaping up to be a violent, corrupt, free-market colony.

'Humanitarian' imperialism

Kosovar Albanians may talk about "their country," but the foreign-aid workers in official white SUVs make the real decisions. After NATO's 78-day bombing, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo(UNMIK) was created as an "interim administration." The U.N., in turn, has opened Kosovo to a kaleidoscopic jumble of governmental and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ranging from Oxfam to obscure evangelical ministries.

At the apex of it all sits Bernard Krouchner, the Secretary General's Special Representative in Kosovo. Founder of Médecins Sans Frontières and a former socialist, Krouchner took a sharp right turn in the 1980s when he championed the use of Western (particularly American) military intervention as the path to human rights. Krouchner's left-wing critics who argue that American and European corporate power and military aid are the main causes of human rights violations internationally see Krouchner as a Clinton-Blair "third way" hypocrite. Meanwhile, many mainstream right-wing commentators see the short, thin Frenchman as a publicity-seeking autocrat.

In Kosovo, Krouchner's responsibilities range from censoring the local press when it offends him to appointing all local government personnel to schmoozing with international donors.

Adding muscle to Krouchner's administrative decisions such as unilaterally ditching the Yugoslavian dinar for the mark are about 4,000 so called UNMIK police, many of whom are transplanted American cops. For the heavy lifting, Krouchner can count on the 40,000 international soldiers that make up KFOR, the Kosovo Implementation Force.

Along with putting down the occasional ethnic riot, protecting convoys of refugees, and guarding the few small Serb enclaves remaining in Kosovo, KFOR and the UNMIK police occasionally uncover caches of weapons belonging to the officially disarmed Kosovo Liberation Army. Such operations are usually followed up with robust KFOR statements reaffirming their commitment to "building a multiethnic society." Yet, strangely, the ethnic cleansing this time Albanian against Serb and Roma (Gypsy) never stops.

Violence still

"This place is a shit hole. All the young people I meet, I tell 'em: get out! Go to another country," booms Doc Giles, a tanned, muscled American cop who speaks in a thick, south-Jersey accent. A longtime narc-officer from hyperviolent Camden, N.J., Giles has spent the last year working homicide in Pristina with UNMIK. The pack on his bike sports a "Daniel Faulkner: fallen not forgotten" button. (Faulkner was the cop whom death row inmate and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal may or may not have murdered 18 years ago in Philadelphia.)

Giles's maggot's-eye view of interethnic relations is sobering: "Look, all the perps are oo-che-kaa," Giles says, using the Albanian form for the Kosovo Liberation Army's acronym. "They're fucking gangsters. I don't care what anyone says they're an organized crime structure. And all the judges are either scared or pro-KLA. They're like: you shot a 89-year-old Serb grandmother? Good for you. Get out of jail."

Of the province's 276 judges, only two are Serb, so Albanian hit squads operate with near total impunity. Among their favorite targets during the last year have been Orthodox churches and monasteries, more than 85 of which have been burned, looted, or demolished, according to both the U.N. and a detailed report by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

After hearing one of Giles's rants about KLA death squads and 15-year-old Maldovan girls "turned out" as prostitutes, you'd almost agree with his prescription: "What they should've done was put this place under martial law, get a bunch of American cops from cities like Philly, Dallas, and Denver to come in here and just kick the shit out of everyone for a few months. Then turn it over to your NGOs, or whatever."

Terrified merchants also tell stories of KLA thuggery. "Ten percent. They take 10 percent of everything you make. And you pay or it's kaput," says a nervous restaurateur in Prizren, an ancient town near the Albanian border. He's a Kosovar Turk whose great-grandparents probably moved here during the twilight of the Ottoman Empire, but he says that when he gets enough money, he's taking his two children to Canada.


While Giles and his comrades recycle Albanian "perps" through a nonworking judicial system, the U.N.'s paper pushers and its partner organizations are hard at work trying to turn Kosovo into a free-market paradise.

"We must privatize so as to secure investment and new technology. There is no alternative," says Dianna Stefanova, director of the European Agency for Reconstruction's office on privatization, which is working under the auspices of UNMIK and Krouchner.

But the industries located in Kosovo are not UNMIK's to privatize. Nor does the wording of Security Council resolution 1244 the document defining the U.N.'s role in Kosovo give UNMIK the power to sell off local industries. And when Krouchner made his pitch for mass privatization to the Security Council in late June, he met with stiff opposition from the Russians.

Oddly, despite the U.N.-NATO occupation, resolution 1244 recognizes Kosovo as an integral province of Yugoslavia and does not empower the U.N. to privatize. To get around this, Krouchner has devised a creative bit of legerdemain: the U.N. isn't actually selling off assets; it's just offering 10- and 15-year leases to foreign transnationals. The first industry to go was the huge Sharr Cement factory, leased to the Swiss firm Holderbank. "Sharr could produce all the cement for reconstruction, and even export," says Roy Dickinson, a privatization specialist with the European Agency for Reconstruction.

The next assets on the block are a series of vineyards and wine cooperatives, but the ultimate prize is the gargantuan Trepca mining and metallurgical complex that sprawls across northern Kosovo and into the mountains of southern Serbia. Since Roman times, foreign armies have targeted these massive mineral deposits. Hitler took Trepca in 1940, and thereafter the mines some of the richest in the world supplied German munitions factories with 40 percent of their lead inputs.

Trepca contains all of Yugoslavia's nickel deposits and three-quarters of its other mineral wealth; during the 1990s the 42 mines and attendant factories were one of Yugoslavia's leading export industries.

The Belgrade government and a private Greek bank that has also invested in the mines insist that Trepca shall not change hands. The U.N. isn't so sure. "The question of who gets what will be settled by a panel of judges that UNMIK is still setting up," says a coy Stefanova. In the meantime UNMIK is drawing up plans to downsize local industries and streamline enterprise to appeal to foreign investors. But there's another piece in the equation: who controls the land above the mines? That, of course, brings us back to the issue of ethnic cleansing.

Balkan Belfast

The swift and shallow river Ibar, bisecting the town of Mitrovic, is the front line in an unfinished war that pits Albanians against Serbs and Roma. All non-Albanians have been expelled from south of the Ibar and all Albanians driven from its northern bank. [Emperor's Clothes note: Regarding the area North of the Iber, the statement is incorrect, according to Oliver Ivanovic, a key leader on the North shore. He insists that a large Albanian community remains, and though relations are cold the Serbs have no desire to drive these people out; quite the contrary.]

Thus crossing into north Mitrovic is much like entering Serbia: the language, the music, and the beer are all Serbian, and people use the dinar. This is also the heart of the Trepca complex.

Here, despite occupation by French troops, the Belgrade government still pays salaries and pensions and still provides health care. And if even a fraction of U.N. and KFOR accusations are true, then some of the hard men with mobile phones who lounge at the Dolce Vita Cafe on the banks of the Ibar are probably undercover cops from Serbia (some of whom, you will recall, have been indicted by the International Tribunal on War Crimes at the Hague and could be arrested by KFOR).

"We're in a prison, and under attack," a young Serb named Branislav says. "If I cross that bridge, I'll be killed."

This, it seems, is the future: an ethnically "pure" and therefore "stable" Albanian Kosovo in the south, hosting huge NATO installations like the sprawling 775-acre American base Bondsteel, with its 4000 G.I.s on the plains of southeast Kosovo. In the north, on the other hand, astride some small part of the Trepca mines and in a few other spots, Serb and Roma ghettos will remain, possibly as parts of Serbia. And in the places where these communities overlap there will be trouble and, therefore, a plausible reason for the West to maintain a long-term military presence.

[Reprinted from the The San Francisco Bay Guardian, August 23, 2000]

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