10) Peace at Any Price: How the World Failed Kosovo, by Iain King and Whit Mason
Iain King is an old friend of mine; I don’t think I’ve met his co-author, but the two of them together have written a fairly damning indictment of the international efforts to put Kosovo on its feet since the NATO campaign against Serbia and Yugoslavia of 1999. From the very beginning, international officials conceded to thuggery on the ground, committed by both the ethnic Albanian majority and by the remaining ethnic Serbs where they could manage it. UN officials retreated into a colonialist mentality, failing to implement their mandate and questioning their own ability to do so. (Kosovo’s electricity supplies now are in worse shape than they were before the conflict.) The highest ever per capita expenditure by the international community on post-conflict reconstructiuon has delivered indifferent results.
They have a list of prescriptions as to what could be done better in future. To me, the two key points – confirmed by this book – are, first, that any such international mission needs to move fast to establish the rule of law as a matter of extreme urgency; and second, that the end goal must be clear right from the beginning. The determination to put off deciding on Kosovo’s future independence led directly to the discrediting of the UN mission within Kosovo and the violence of March 2004, and has exacerbated uncertainty in the wider region.
There were one or two other points that occurred to me when reading. In Bosnia, politicians were reined in by the international community when they lied about what was actually in the peace deal. No such measure was ever applied or even threatened in Kosovo, with the result that nationalist fantasies continued to be peddled by the top leadership until the start of this year. Freedom of speech, sure, but malicious lies about the basis of government should at the very least have been countered by the UN.
King and Mason make the argument, though I feel they are not completely convinced, that holding elections in Kosovo before the moderates were in a position to win was a mistake. In my view that is wishful thinking. While in these circumstances elections do often simply confirm the hold on power of local thugs, at least they are now in by virtue of the ballot box rather than by force and it becomes thinkable that they can be removed. And anyway, the first elections in Kosovo did, in fact, remove from power many of the KLA-linked structures that had gained local ascendancy during the war.
I think this is the first book-length piece on the Kosovo protectorate, and it’s a thorough analysis, drawing of course among other sources from the work my own colleagues have been doing over the years. My one minor quibble are that some of the Serbian names are misspelt – the famously impaled Mr Martinović is Martimovic, Nenad Radosavljević has acquired an extra l in his surname, and Slaviša Petković’s first name is spelt Slavisha, as if in Albanian. But those quibbles apart, it’s a good book.