By Petar Ristanovic
“Don’t bother yourself, they’ve already killed him.” The short line contains all of the absurd woven into the short novel Chronicle of the Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. That morning, everyone knew that Santiago Nasar would be killed. Several people tried to warn him but could not find him. Others felt it was not up to them to warn him. Some hated Santiago or at least believed that he deserved to be punished. Whispers that the Vicario brothers had started sharpening their knives spread through the town, and in tête-à-têtes one could hear the suspicion that everything was just a bluff, drunken rambling, and that the murder would not come to be. The head of the municipality takes away their knives and then, occupied with his morning responsibilities and organizing a game of dominoes, he overlooks the fact that they could obtain a new pair. No one really tried to prevent the murder because they believed that it was unfeasible and that, since everyone was already aware of it, Santiago must know what was in store for him.
Everything that has happened in Kosovo in recent months is ominously reminiscent of the events in Marquez’s short novel. In the public appearances of politicians and experts on the topic of Kosovo, all sorts of things could be heard. What is conspicuous, however, is the avoidance to mention the possibility that a mass, unrestrained violence, could break out. The belief that events like the ones from March 17th, 2004, will not happen again has been building for years. It is also difficult to count how many times tensions have been raised, after which we were left with the painful impression that we had attended another staged and well-played show. Whether because of this or the belief that „NATO and the international community will not allow it“, the sentiment was created that no matter how complicated the situation in Kosovo gets, mass violence will ultimately be avoided.
I hope that is true, but I doubt it. If violence escalates, and its ultimate victims would certainly be Serbs, we will look at everything that happened as a chronicle of a clearly announced tragedy, to which everyone turned a blind eye.
A single hothead under a helmet or a firecracker thrown in the direction of Albanian special forces at Brnjak during the blockade could have set off a spiral of violence. One reckless move by a man overwhelmed with fear and anger could be a spark in the dry grass, resulting in Serbs in Orahovac, Velika Hodza, Pomoravlje, and returnee Metohija villages, who were having lunch in their homes at the time, spending the night on the run, with their homes burning in flames.
The rhetoric of politicians and the moves of the Pristina government, because they are the ones who have control in the field and thus bear the greatest responsibility, announce that crisis situations will also happen in the future. Just as the situation at the crossings was unwinding, the „confiscation of smuggled goods“ in Mitrovica and Zvecan ended in shootings and blood on the streets. Through a series of incidents, the state of constant tension and „limited violence“, whatever this phrase may mean, is being normalized. This „new normal“ in an area where nothing has been normal for decades can easily lead to the belief that „limited violence“ is the only way to move the immovable solution of the Kosovo issue from the deadlock. After all, Croatia is the only country in the region where a stable post-conflict society has been built. The price for this was „only“ ethnic cleansing.
Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo have been living in two parallel realities since 1999. They interpret the past, experience the present, and wish for a different future differently. Serbs, even in enclaves like Suvo Grlo and Banje, in the heart of Drenica, dream of the day when „Serbia will return“. During that time, Albanians speak of the victory of „heroic Kosovo“, fully ignoring the fact that about 10% of Kosovo’s population was part of the other side during the war. For them, they are an inconvenience, a nuisance, a foreign body, and the best solution for it would be to remove it. Even those few Serbs who tried to truly integrate themselves into today’s Kosovan society with a series of gestures are reminded practically on a daily basis that they have no place there.
Negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, euphemistically and sarcastically called „dialogue“, have not been leading anywhere for a long time. The final agreement „is set to be signed any time now“ going on three years now and there is no chance that it will come to be in at least three or thirty-three years. In the meantime, there is an increasing number of potential sources of violence.
Paradoxically, one of them may be the „final agreement“. Serb representatives persistently repeat that they will solely agree to an agreement by which Serbia will not explicitly recognize Kosovo and by which it will get „something“. Whatever that „something“ is, among the Kosovo Albanians, who are deeply divided along political lines, it will be an opportunity for the (then) opposition to declare betrayal and call for protests that could very easily escalate into unrestrained violence against Serbs.
Violence can also be incited by the absence of an agreement, that is, by blaming Serbia and Serbs for the problems that Kosovo is facing. Regardless of much Pristina persistently repeats that the status issue is closed forever and that a „vibrant society and booming economy“ is emerging in Kosovo, the fact remains that Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations; about half of the world countries do not recognize its independence; Kosovo’s path toward the European Union (as is the case, after all, with the entire „region“) is closed so that there are no chances that they will get visa liberalization. Most importantly, Kosovo is economically unsustainable as an independent state. During the SFRY, at the time of the largest investments during the 1970s, the province was able to provide only 7% of the money for investments. The Feronikl in Glogovac, the Ibar hydro system with Lake Gazivode were built at the time, Trepca’s capacities were expanded, the Kosovo B thermal power plant was built. Today, these are all investments that the government in Pristina cannot even dream about. At the same time, during the 1970s, the province of Kosovo was able to provide only 30% of its budget. Today, Kosovo hardly has any industrial production, it does not have a pension and medical system, and it dreams of an army.
Albin Kurti came to power promising a crackdown on corruption and crime. Even if he tried to keep his promise, there is no way to achieve visible results during his mandate. He will try to make up for the failure in that field through the national field, which he is already doing to a great extent. One should not forget that Kurti is an open advocate of unification with Albania, which, due to economic unsustainability and the closed path to the EU in Kosovo, will become a logical path and an idea that is increasingly being discussed. Once again, Serbia (and Serbs) will be an obstacle for its realization, and they have long since been labeled as an obstacle to Kosovo’s economic progress, because they do not allow the launch of production in Trepca, privatization of the ski center in Brezovica, construction of water supply and roads near Decani, etc.
Kosovo’s „standstill“ and the normalization of the state of permanent tension will lead to the spread of the belief that „limited violence“ is a tragic but the least bad solution in the long run. „Controlled escalation“ would, in theory, put everything before a fait accompli. After all, this was already talked about two years ago, during the announcement on the so-called delimitation agreement. International representatives are tired of Kosovo and disinterested. KFOR, with 3,000 people, does not have the resources to stop the escalation of large-scale violence, even if there was a will to do so. All that can be expected of them is an expression of „concern“ and calls to „preserve peace.“
Every new crisis, every gesture of the Pristina government aimed at „confirmation of statehood“ and „establishing reciprocity“ presents a new danger of things turning into unrestrained violence. The media is adding fuel to the fire. The claims of the representatives of the civil society from Pristina that the situation from March 2004, when the media initiated the pogrom of the Serbs, cannot be repeated are just (self)deception. Media coverage on both sides is scandalous, but the Pristina media are the ones that influence the situation in the field to a greater extent because they shape the thinking and actions of the majority of Kosovo residents. The level of anger has been stoked up for a long time, and no one can be sure what will happen if it erupts. One can only speculate on how the Belgrade government would react and what would happen to the Serbs north of the Ibar. Serbs south of the Ibar face the danger of being wiped out.
The keyword in any conversation about Serb-Albanian relations in Kosovo must be de-escalation. Today, and at any time in the future, defusing tensions should be a precondition for everyone. Only in this way, there is a chance that the events will not obtain a tragic course. The reality, unfortunately, is not promising. In Marquez’s short novel, Santiago Nasar ends up disemboweled, covered in blood in the kitchen of his own house. Similar scenes have occurred in Kosovo too many times. I hope they will be avoided this time.
Petar Ristanovic is a historian and a research associate at the Institute of Serbian Culture in Pristina/ Leposavic. He is the author of the award-winning books „Kosovo issue 1974-1989,“ “The Illusion of Power,” and “Serbian critical intellectuals and the communist regime.” A number of Ristanovic’s articles on the Kosovo issue and communist Yugoslavia have been published in domestic and international scientific journals.
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