Kosovo is disturbing - as Bosnia was before it. Why have good intentions and much diplomatic and military effort produced such unsatisfying results, with new wars clearly on the horizon? Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson says the problem is that we have been pursuing the "mirage of multicultural democracy," (Washington Post, March 26, 2000), repeating what Henry Kissinger said about Bosnia half a dozen years ago.
Both are doubly wrong. We are not pursuing multicultural democracy. And some form of multi-cultural democracy, rather than a mirage may be the only vision that can gradually bring peace and stability to the region. Our problem is that we have tried to diagnose the problem on the basis of easily understood concepts - like ethnic hatred and religious conflict. Few outsiders have had the time and patience to learn about how the complex history and politics since Tito's death govern the operational reality today.
While protesting to the contrary, the Clinton Administration has in fact followed Kissinger's prescription of dividing Bosnia into separate ethnic compartments. The rhetoric speaks of a unified multicultural democratic country. But the Bosnian constitution, written by Americans and ratified by the Dayton accords, codifies the ethnic national principle, exactly opposite to the American Constitution. The result on the ground is three corrupt, undemocratic ethnic-patronage states, without any broad hope for the future.
Madeleine Albright has said that the goal of interethnic cooperation in Kosovo will be achieved if the West stays the course. In plain disregard for reality she wrote that "the ethnic Albanian militia has met its commitment to demobilize," and "with time and sufficient support, the cooler heads on all sides will prevail." (New York Times, March 28, 2000)
She is wrong, too. More than time and support will be needed to get the cooler heads to prevail. Some hard decisions will have to be made. The UN/NATO force in Kosovo will have to genuinely disarm its former allies of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) so that the majority will of the Kosovars has a chance to determine the policy of that regime.
A poll in Kosovo, taken with the help of NATO, found that 45 per cent support the moderate leader, Ibrahim Rugova, and only 13 per cent support the KLA leader and extreme nationalist, Hashim Thaci. Yet de facto, with the support and acquiescence of NATO and the UN administration, Thaci is governing Kosovo. Elections were supposed to be held in the spring, but nobody knows now when they will be held; sometimes it is said that they will be held in the fall, but even this is not yet scheduled. Kosovo, like each of the ethnically separate parts of Bosnia, is becoming an ethnically cleansed territory. But disarming the KLA, who are experienced terrorists and guerrilla fighters, so that moderate Kosovar views have a chance, will mean casualties for the NATO troops - and for civilians. And it will produce political difficulties for the administration.
If the international community were to follow Senator Hutchinson's advice and simply change the borders to fit the ethnic situation on the ground, not only will the borders of Kosovo have to be changed; all the borders in the Balkans will have to be changed, indeed all the borders in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The success of ethnic nationalists in changing the borders in one place will inspire imitators throughout the region.
A third of the ethnic Hungarian population of the region is living outside of Hungary, in neighboring countries. Independent Hungarian enclaves would have to be created in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia to accommodate the ethnic national principle. Similar situations pertain to Serbs outside of Serbia, Croats outside of Croatia, Albanians outside of Albania, and so forth.
Moreover, the peoples are mixed by marriage, especially in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The wife of the newly elected President of Croatia, Stipe Mesic, is a Serb, as was the mother of the opposing candidate, Budica Drazen. The Serb leaders Milosevic and Karadzic are both Montenegrans. The grandchildren of the late Croatian nationalist president, Tudjman, are half-Serb. The Muslim leader Alia Izetbegovic declared himself a Serb until 1969, when Tito created the Bosnian Muslim national-ethnic status. Serbs, Croats, Muslims and Montenegrans all use the same language. A third of Bosnian marriages were ethnically mixed before the war began; in Kosovo somewhat less, due to a real difference in language, but still a substantial number. Milosevic's Minister for Refugees, the Serb Buba Morina, is the widow of a Kosovo Albanian official.
It is indeed a difficult task to create a multiethnic democracy, but it is the only way to resolve the conflicts in the Balkans. Ethnic purity is the real mirage in the region.
Before the 20th century, ethnic fighting did not exist in the area, which was divided between two multiethnic empires: the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Ottoman empire. Ethnic hatreds did not provoke inter-ethnic wars, but rather were the results of wars, starting with the two world wars. When Yugoslavia was formed in 1918, it was not as a multiethnic state but as a unitary Slavic national state to replace the multiethnic empires of the past. It became a pseudo-federal state after 1945, with pseudo-elections on all levels, and with a strange mix of hypercentralism and hyper-decentralization.
The United States has yet to lead the international community in the direction of resolving the Balkan problem along the lines of a pluralistic multiethnic society, held together by democracy and a federal combination of state unity and functional-territorial division of competences. If United States were to follow its own rhetoric in practice, a solution would be available, eventually. The other solutions may seem easier at the beginning, but they proceed to becoming unworkable just a few steps down the road. Multiethnic federal democracy, which would need to be applied on a broad region-wide scale not just tried in a two-party grouping like Serbs and Albanians, would not be an easy solution, but it would be the only solution that would work in the sense of gradually becoming more stable and less
difficult with time.
Mihajlo Mihajlov is a Yugoslavia native who is a senior associate with the Program on Transitions to Democracy at George Washington University. Max Singer is a trustee and co-founder of Hudson Institute.