First and Last Days in Kosovo

Interview with Balkanalysis

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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March 27, 2004

(Interviewing: Christopher Deliso)

Reaping the Fruits of Intervention: Dr. Sam Vaknin on the West’s Quagmire in Kosovo 

NATO recently celebrated the fifth anniversary since its bombing of Serbia and “liberation” of Kosovo’s Albanian population. The intervention was called a successful one by key players such as Wesley Clark, Javier Solana, Madeleine Albright, Jamie Shea and Bill Clinton. Yet now, five years later, NATO  is increasingly finding itself caught in the crossfire of ethnic hostility, as the restless Albanians clamor for independence and the besieged Serbs demand NATO protect them from their persecutors. And acts of terrorism have been stepped up against both the KFOR military peacekeepers and the UNMIK colonial administration. 

Given the optimistic prognosis forwarded by Western interventionists at the time, how could everything have gone so horribly wrong? Was the current quagmire to some extent foreseeable, or not? And what can the current violence tell us about the future of this embittered Balkan sub-state? For answers to these questions and more we turn to longtime Balkan resident and analyst, Dr. Sam Vaknin. 

Prophesies, Partitions and the Future Map of the Balkans 

Q: In a provocative piece dated 14 June 1999, entitled “NATO’s Next War,” you prophesied that the then-triumphant NATO occupiers would become the object of disdain not just for Serbs but for ‘liberated’ Albanians- and in the end wind up the ultimate losers of the war. History, it seems, has proven you right. KFOR and UNMIK officials and facilities have been increasingly targeted in Kosovo in the past few months, and especially since last week’s riots in Mitrovica and elsewhere. Yet from your article one got the impression that the reckoning would arrive somewhat sooner. Are you surprised that it took a whole 5 years for tensions to reach the boiling point?

SV: Very much so. The West invested fortunes – billions of dollars (and euros) in maintaining this illusory truce. In a way, the West bribed both the local politicians and Kosovo’s impoverished population (as it has been doing in other conflict regions). Additionally, it capitalized on the adulation and the Albanian Kosovars’ overwhelming pro-Western sentiments (the main street in Pristina is named after Bill Clinton).

But I did expect this inevitable confrontation to start much sooner.

CD: Your article seems to overestimate the gains Serbia would make from the crisis. You wrote: “…Materially revamped, nationally revived, militarily vindicated, an invigorated power that withstood the mightiest alliance in history, Serbia is in an excellent position to emerge as an important, nay, indispensable regional player.”

However, five years later, Serbia has enjoyed neither economic growth nor territorial solidification. On the contrary, aside from Kosovo’s independence there are ever more likely possibilities of autonomy and/or independence for Montenegro, Vojvodina and eventually, perhaps, the Sandzak. The Hague still demands the extradition of various “war criminals.” Considering that your article seemed quite optimistic regarding Milosevic’s future, is it possible to say that your assertions about Serbia were inextricably tied to a belief that Milosevic would remain in office? 

SV: Like most analysts I foresaw the extradition of Milosevic and the subsequent trial. I also predicted the emergence of Milosevic-clones and the inevitable takeover of state structures and institutions by the criminal class.

Moreover, I firmly believe in what I wrote:

Serbia is bound to emerge as a pivotal strategic and economic factor in the southwestern Balkans.

Where I failed is, again, in providing a realistic timetable. I simply did not envisage the West’s collusion with the local mafias (as represented, for instance, by the late Zoran Djindjic and by the long-serving Montenegrin President, Milo Djukanovic).

In Serbia, the West has wasted precious time (and an inestimable amount of goodwill) on pursuing and purging minions of the ancien regime (Milosevic apart), on imposing the notorious Washington Consensus (a surefire recipe for economic decline), and on aiding and abetting an assortment of indigenous crime lords and murky power brokers.

CD: Nevertheless, even from his jail cell in the Hague, Milosevic has had the last laugh time and time again. The frustrated prosecutors can’t pin the desired charge of genocide on him amidst various challenges to witness credibility and spirited cross-examinations from the defendant. It is obvious that Milosevic incarcerated has a symbolic prestige he never had while in power. But do you think that the situation in Kosovo has gone as he had planned?

SV: I would beg to differ. Milosevic between 1989 and 1994 had a lot of clout among his people. He was an admired politician, thought to capture the spirit of a resurgent, proud Serbia.

I don’t think he had any “plan” as far as Kosovo is concerned. He simply wanted to eradicate what he regarded as criminals in cahoots with terrorists – and many Kosovars considered as freedom fighters.

A typical Balkan policing operation was labeled “Ethnic Cleansing” by the West (mainly by the Americans) and treated as genocide by the emerging system of supranational courts.

Milosevic could not have foreseen these surrealistic turns of events. He reacted as any besieged self-respecting politician would have. He fought back.

CD: That said, will the province be partitioned? And, if so, will there be a knock-on effect for other ethnically estranged territories, such as Republika Srpska in Bosnia and the Albanian-populated sections of Greece and Macedonia? 

SV: Cosmetic and face-saving alterations to its borders aside, Kosovo, in one piece, will end up being an independent state. The Serbs and even the West have no say in this. It is entirely the Albanians’ call.  

Secession and partition are not new to the post-Yugoslavia Balkans. The West’s feigned horror aside, the only viable long-term solutions to the Balkans quagmire(s) involve the (voluntary or forced) exchanges of population and the (negotiated or belligerent) alteration of borders. 

Ironically, the interventionist West itself is responsible for the relocation of whole populations (such as the Serbs in Kosovo) and for the demarcation of new borders everywhere (need I mention Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia, or Croatia)? 

CD: Could an independent Kosovo survive on its own?

SV: What country in the Balkans – Slovenia aside – can truly survive on its own? Is Macedonia a viable economic entity? Is Bosnia? These are all charity cases and will continue to be so for a long time to come.

As an autonomous unit within the Federated Yugoslavia, Kosovo survived on massive handouts from the center. The West has now replaced Belgrade as Kosovo’s (and Macedonia’s and Serbia’s and Bosnia’s) sugar-daddy.

CD: Who should fear most in the case of a ‘Greater Albania?’- neighboring countries, the West, or the Albanian residents themselves? Could such a construction even survive after the initial euphoria subsided without lapsing into civil war?

SV: “Greater Albania” is a boogeyman gleefully exploited by non-Albanians in the region. “Greater Serbia” and “Greater Bulgaria” (even “Greater Greece”) are far more realistic (and they are not).

Moreover, Albanians are not a homogeneous lot religiously, or ethnically. Kosovars do not get along with Albanians from Albania and vice versa. Albanians in Western Macedonia have a disparate agenda. The dream of “Great Albania” is a pipe-dream.

An Economy Deferred

CD: In another article from last year, entitled “Kosovo’s Iraqi Lessons,” you cite many examples of bureaucratic stonewalling due to the unresolved status of Kosovo. These, you argue, have had the cumulative effect of stymieing economic growth. Starting companies, getting licenses, dealing with insurers, conducting banking, etc. have been difficult at best and impossible at worst. To the best of your knowledge, has any significant process been made towards implementing legal and other reforms that will facilitate business since you wrote this article? If not, why not?

SV: I regret to say that nothing of substance happened in the eleven months since this article was written. The Kosovar leadership, however, is now determined to take things in its own hands. Shortly, it will demand far greater economic autonomy and decision-making powers. This may be the first institutional salvo in the battle for independence – not from Serbia, but from the stifling Western bureaucracy. 

CD: Out of the total stock of Kosovar Albanian grievances with the West, what percentage of these grievances do you see as stemming from such economic failures? 

SV: Zealous (or virulent) nationalism is very often a symptom of economic malaise. The state of Kosovo’s economy is among the worst in the world. It is comparable to the West Bank and Gaza. 

Unemployment is vertiginous. The manufacturing and agricultural bases are moribund. Only the construction sector somehow chugs alone – and crime, of course: Kosovo’s main product and export.  

Inevitably, this translates into frustration and aggression. This is psychology 101. Independence attains the mantle of a panacea and Serbs (and increasingly Westerners) are viewed as obstinate and infuriating obstacles on the way to happiness and prosperity. 

CD: Given the current unrest and disdain for foreign advisors who are perceived as being corrupt and meddlesome, will the future Kosovo government suffer from a lack of imported insight? If so, what effect would this have on the province’s economic reform process and economic strategy? 

SV: The Kosovar government is actively seeking the help of real foreign advisors with hands on experience – especially in the economic field. The current crop of “foreign advisors”, imposed on Kosovo by its benefactors, are either lethargic bureaucrats or fourth rate economists from third world countries. It is in places like Kosovo that the West dumps its damaged goods and surplus university graduates. But the Kosovars are eager for useful and relevant foreign input.

Political Myths and Machinations

CD: Let’s go outside of Kosovo for a moment. To the best of your knowledge, are there any factions within the government of Albania proper, or its political parties, who may be sponsoring the latest round of violence in Kosovo?

SV: The recent violence in Kosovo was not the outcome of conspiracies and machinations, neither was it carefully planned and executed. Mitrovica has always been a flash point. Tempers have been running high for years now. Recurrent conflagrations are unavoidable. There is no need for outside assistance or encouragement.

CD: Same question, regarding the Albanian leadership in Macedonia.

SV: Due to personal and historical reasons, the Albanian leadership in Macedonia is far closer to the Kosovars that their counterparts in Albania proper. So, yes, they were kept updated throughout and gave words of advice here and there.  

But the inner turmoil in the Albanian camp in Macedonia is such that it consumes all their energy and resources. The forthcoming presidential elections have exposed deep rifts. Erstwhile extremists (dare I say “terrorists”) have been tamed by lavish sinecures and exorbitant personal gains. Erstwhile moderates now clamor to replace them as new radicals. Violence and zealotry have proved themselves as engines of upward social mobility and self-enrichment. 

CD: Can you offer any insights on the specific power dynamics at work these days within the Kosovo leadership, i.e., between people like Rugova, Rexhepi and Thaci? Can the current manifestation of violence be seen as a sort of power struggle between various Kosovar political factions?

SV: No, it isn’t. One shouldn’t read too much into the latest riots. Rugova is firmly in charge because he is holding the purse string (and what a purse it is!) and because he is a Western favorite. Thaci has been domesticated by the trappings of power and the dangling prospect of a Hague ignominy should he bare his armed teeth.

CD: Speaking of Hashim Thaci, at the time of the riots he was far away in America, addressing the US Institute for Peace regarding his great sorrow at the violent events occurring in Kosovo, and pledged his “vision” for a multi-ethnic and harmonious Kosovo. Yet given his background as a high KLA leader and given that some suspect his involvement with actually having sponsored the latest riots, what credence do you give these stated views?

SV: No Albanian leader – Rugova and Thaci included – wants a multi-ethic Kosovo. They can do without this headache. They publicly say otherwise only to placate the West and keep the foreign aid flowing.

Still, almost all of them do wish to see a peaceful and prosperous Kosovo (if only for selfish reasons of political self-perpetuation and self-enrichment). The sentiments are false – the wishes fairly true, I believe.

CD: That said, do characters like Javier Solana really mean business when they declare the need to ‘purge’ the Kosovo leadership of militants? Do UNMIK and KFOR have the guts to really be tough on troublemakers, or is this just a symbolic threat that should not be taken seriously? 

SV: It is not a threat but a classic manipulative lever. Do what we, the West, tell you to do – or you will end up in the Hague (or worse). 

The Humanitarian Disease and NATO’s Impending Defeat 

CD: In your first article mentioned above, you predicted that NATO had “contracted the humanitarian cancer” and that its “days were numbered.” Can you explain more precisely what you mean here, and at what stage the organization (which is, after all, presently expanding east) is now at with this terminal disease? 

SV: NATO – as a military alliance - has died a while back. It is now engaged mostly in peacekeeping and humanitarian aid operations. Its roles are to mop after the United States and to assist the United Nations peacekeeping forces. Its expansion is meaningless. It does not possess the military wherewithal to threaten any country – or to defend it. 

Both the USA and the European Union have accepted NATO’s demise as a fait accompli.  

In the last few years, the USA has been going it alone militarily. It doesn’t even bother to “consult” its “allies” in NATO (also known as the “Old Europe”). 

The Europeans are frantically trying to revive old military structures and infuse them with some might and content. Hence the non-NATO European rapid deployment force, for instance. 

CD: Let me present you with a scenario: Kosovo Albanian protestors threaten KFOR peacekeepers so violently that the latter have no choice but to shoot back, wounding or even killing a number of the protesters, sparking popular outrage, renewed protests and soon, heavy fighting. NATO, caring only for its own self-protection, flees the province with its tail between its legs, allowing the Albanians to continue “cleaning up” the vestigial ethnic minorities left.

What is the likelihood of such a scenario actually happening? And, if not this, can you speculate on a more likely scenario for the next 6 months in Kosovo? 

SV: KFOR has been fleeing Kosovo for years now. It is a shadow of its former self. I don’t think it will openly evacuate the province. But it may seek a negotiate way out ASAP.  

What Serbs are left to cleanse, by the way? Vestigial they are, indeed. 

I don’t know about the next six months, but the Kosovars just discovered assertiveness. They are going to demand independence ever more vocally and violently. And, to no one’s surprise, they are going to get it.

Also Read

Plight of the Kosovar

The Black Birds of Kosovo

Serendipitous Macedonia

The Defrosted War

The Bones of the Grenadier

Millenarian Thoughts about Kosovo

NATO's Next War

Why did Milosevic Surrender?

The Deadly Antlers

The Price of Kosovo

 ... and the Treasure Trove of Kosovo

The Phlegm and the Anima

The Dark Clouds of NATO

Black Magic, White Magic

The Bad Blood of Kosovo

Between Omerta and Vendetta

The Sergeant and the Girl

The Fifth Horseman

The Common Enemy

The Third Balkan War

Kosovo's Iraqi Lessons

Interview with Serbianna

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