The Kosova Liberation Army, by James Pettifer

Second paragraph of third chapter:

In the chaotic new climate in Tirana, the Communist state remained intact at a formal level but was disintegrating from within. The party leader Ramiz Alia was interested in the possibility of freedom in Kosova and had seen the Irish Republican Army as a possible model for a military force against the Yugoslav People’s Army.11 When his interest became known to Western governments via their spies in Tirana, they feared a ‘Greater Albania’ might soon emerge if the old barriers between Tirana and Prishtina collapsed.12 Alia saw the secular, class-based ‘Official’ IRA as a much better model for the KLA than the Provisional IRA with its Catholic nationalist ideology.13 It is questionable, though, whether Alia and other Albanians really understood that it was the Provisionals who had shown the capacity to bring back guerrilla warfare to the streets of Western Europe for the first time since the Second World War, and the Official IRA had not.14 The LPK avoided contacts with radical Eastern bloc countries in this period — insofar as they still existed — and had never had contacts with countries like Cuba or radical Arab and Islamic states. The Albanian link was all-important to them.
11 Interview with James Pettifer, Tirana, see above.
12 This was a main preoccupation of British foreign intelligence officials in 1991-92.
13 Interview, Tirana, July 2005.
14 See B. Hanley and S. Millar, The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers Party, London, 2010.

A substantial and important book by one of the UK’s major experts on Albania and Albanians. Pettifer has unparalleled access to all the key players in Kosovo and Albania, and in the western part of North Macedonia, and I don’t think it will ever be possible to improve on the factual detail of his blow-by-blow account of how, where and by whom the Kosovo Liberation Army was set up and its progress to the point where its leadership became a key political force in pre- and post-independence Kosovo. I was paying pretty close attention at the time, I thought, but there is a lot here that I had only suspected or had not suspected at all – not only in the 1995-99 period, but also in the 2001 Macedonian conflict. A number of myths are very helpfully and convincingly exploded here. I am sure that there are points of historical incident where there is still room for argument, but the narrative shape of the KLA’s origins and progress is clear. With all that material, it’s surprisingly short, only 256 pages for the main text.

There are some irritating weaknesses along with the mastery of the facts. One of them is Pettifer’s treatment of ideology – the KLA founders are described as “Enverist” without that term ever being defined, and it is never demonstrated that political ideology was a strong motivator for the behaviour of leaders or followers, rather than the existential question of survival in a hostile state. Another is that several key actors are described as being puppets of the Serbs, or the British, or the French, or the Americans, or the Italians, or the Vatican; it’s as if nobody had free will to make their own decisions, except for the people the author is really interested in. And there are some annoying mistakes with names – mostly simple misspellings of Serbs and Macedonians, but also my old friend Ian Oliver is confused with my old friend Iain King; I don’t think that they even know each other in real life.

Apart from those issues of coloration, I think it’s an essential book for understanding the Kosovo conflict. You can get it here.

The Ahtisaari Legacy: Resolve and Negotiate, ed. Nina Suomalainen and Jyrki Karvinen

Second paragraph of third chapter (“The Right to be Buried”, by Helena Ranta):

When we boarded the plane again, there were only four Finns left. The plane flew low and the devastation of the war could be seen clearly as we approached Sarajevo Airport.

This is a lovely collection of eleven short papers by Finns involved with peace-making in the Balkans, pulled together to commemorate the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari in 2008. I myself worked with Ahtisaari quite a lot in the 2002-2008 period, and the collection was given to me by co-editor Nina Suomalainen. He is ill now, but I am sure that he appreciated this collection at the time.

These are all very good papers. Contributors include Ahtisaari himself, three others who I know personally (Olli Rehn, Alpo Rusi and Kai Sauer), and also Elisabeth Rehn – who was defeated by Ahtisaari in the 1994 presidential election – and the late Harri Holkeri, who I knew by sight from both the Northern Ireland peace talks, where he was one of George Mitchell’s co-chairs, and his stint as head of the UN in Kosovo.

The Finns have a reputation for being somewhat silent (the joke is that you can tell an extrovert Finn, because they look at your shoes), but these are all eloquent accounts of personal experience in a region where the Finns felt needed and useful. Most of the details are about Kosovo at its different stages, with both Ahtisaari and Sauer giving their accounts of the diplomatic process that led to independence, and Holkeri trying to give his own side of the story to explain his disastrous tenure. (Ahtisaari pushed for his appointment, which was surely a mistake.)

But I learned most from two people I had not heard of; Arto Räty gives an account of what it is like to be a peacekeeper in a NATO mission at a time when Finland’s relationship with NATO was less comfortable than it is now, and Terhi Nieminen-Mäkynen tells us about being the unelected, UN-appointed mayor of the southern Kosovo town of Prizren.

The other thing I learned – though of course the authors are a self-selected and not necessarily representative sample – is that Finns feel quite strongly about the Balkans. Their own nation emerged from conflict and spent most of the twentieth century uneasily balance between two blocs; older Finns can recall when they and Tito’s Yugoslavia were the lynchpins of the Non-Aligned Movement, and Helsinki hosted the signing of the Final Act which laid the groundwork for the peaceful ending of the Cold War fifteen years later.

I should note that Finns feel equally strongly, if not more so, about Ukraine, having themselves emerged from a century of Russian dominance. The current war has pushed them directly to join NATO. It did not always look inevitable. I remember a lunch in Kyiv in 2005 where I was sitting between Martti Ahtisaari and Thorvald Stoltenberg, the former Norwegian foreign minister. Stoltenberg leaned across me to say, “Martti! Congratulations! I hear that you have tripled the support for NATO membership in Finland!” Ahtisaari replied, “Yes! From 5% to 15%!” That was then, this is now, and Stoltenberg’s son is now the NATO Secretary-General.

Unfortunately this book is out of print and there seem to be no second-hand copies available, so I can’t supply my usual “get it here” link, and I am all the more grateful to Nina for giving it to me in 2016. I’m ashamed to say however that this was the non-fiction book which had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is Diary of a Witchcraft Shop 2 by Trevor Jones and Liz Williams.

The Road To Kosovo: A Balkan Diary, by Greg Campbell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

He was right to warn me: beyond Zagreb the autobahn fed right into the type of road I was doomed to travel for the remainder of the journey: a narrow ribbon of crumbling asphalt that was barely wide enough for two cars abreast, much less the dense traffic of cargo trucks that are constructed more of lumber than of steel, buses that look like something that was just pried off the Titanic, and horse-drawn wagons carrying four-story haystacks. Of course, there are other obstacles, such as steep mountains, shoulders seeded with PMA-2 antipersonnel land mines, random police checkpoints that always seem to be located at the end of a patch of road-top gravel on a blind curve, sudden narrow business districts springing from the hillsides as if from a children’s pop-up book, and a motley collection of pedestrians in various stages of fatigue-induced dementia staggering in the roadway … usually leading a herd of goats and hens and carrying a stack of 2-by~4s. All this is navigated at breakneck speeds and a thorough disregard for safety and curves.

Returning to the Balkans, I had a good read of this book by a Colorado journalist, sent to the Balkans by the Boulder Weekly and immediately immersed in a conflict that he struggled to understand. Of course, he is writing for the well-meaning Colorado reader who wants to be thrilled and informed, and not for me; I found the breathlessness a bit exasperating at times. (Though I did cheer on the couple of occasions when people who I know personally appeared on the page.)

I’ve read a lot of Balkan war stories over the years, and this one stands out for two paradoxical reasons. First, Campbell totally absorbs and regurgitates the collective narrative of the Balkan press corps at any given time – so he accurately reflects the media consensus without especially critiquing it. But second, he has a good eye for human detail, even if he doesn’t always put two and two together. His chapters on Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 are particularly good on incidental observation. So I was duly entertained by it, if not always in the way the author had intended.

You can get it here.

The Kosovo Indictment, by Michael O’Reilly

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Several children and a pregnant woman were among the 24 people killed in these two actions, most of them from just two families – Ahmeti and Sejdiu. Both families were associated with the KLA and the evidence suggests that both attempted to resist the Serb attack but were quickly overwhelmed.

I know the author of this book, and I know the subject, and I know many people mentioned in the book (including Søren Jessen-Petersen, who wrote the foreword). It’s an account of the war crimes trial of Ramush Haradinaj, briefly Prime Minister of Kosovo, written by a leading member of his defence team. There is a lot of well-crystallised historical information about the roots of the Kosovo conflict and Haradinaj’s role in it, and also a lot of excoriating analysis of the weakness of the prosecution case (Haradinaj was in the end acquitted, twice). I did not spot any errors in the former, and so am more inclined to trust the author on the latter.

The core argument of the book is a strong case that the prosecution of Haradinaj and others was launched as a political sop to the government of Serbia in order to encourage Belgrade to cooperate with the international tribunal. The facts are that the final batch of indictments by ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) included seven high-ranking non-Serbs, every one of whom was ultimately acquitted; but Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić, the two highest-ranking Bosnian Serb fugitives, were handed over by Serbia shortly after the indictments were issued. One may draw one’s own conclusions. You can get the book here.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves (sorry Michael). Next on that pile is Political Animals, by Bev Laing.

Three books about Kosovo

I am working on a small project about Kosovo at the moment, and improving my reading around the subject. No detailed write-ups as those are for my project notes.

Kosovo: A Short History, by Noel Malcolm. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Unfortunately there is very little direct evidence about conditions in Kosovo during those earlier centuries of Bulgarian and Byzantine rule. We can assume that the Slav population that had settled in Kosovo was brought within the cultural realm of the Bulgarian empire, which means that it would have been included in the Bulgarian dioceses of the Orthodox church. Thanks to the work of Saints Cyril and Methodius (and their followers) in the ninth century, the Slavs had a liturgy and other texts in their own language, written in either of two newly invented alphabets: Cyrillic and Glagolitic. The western macedonian town of Ohrid developed strongly as a cultural and religious centre in the ninth and tenth centuries, and by the end of Tsar Samuel’s reign the archbishopric of Ohrid included bishoprics in Skopje, Lipljan (Alb.: Lipjan; a town just south of Pristina) and Prizren.1 Although the formal division of the Christian Church into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox did not occur until 1054, it would not be anachronistic to describe this Bulgarian Christianity as Eastern in the ninth and tenth centuries; the roots of the conflict between East and West went back a long way. (The Slav liturgy was at first violently rejected by the Roman Church, on the grounds that God spoke only three languages: Hebrew, Greek and Latin).
1 Gelzer, Patriarchat, p. 4; Gjini, Ipeshkivia, pp. 79-80.

Magisterial stuff, which unfortunately takes us only to 1997 and the emergence of the KLA. Unlikely to be bettered as a summary of historical knowledge, especially in the medieval period. You can get it here.

Stability Operations in Kosovo 1999-2000: A Case Study, by Jason Fritz. Second paragraph of third chapter:

The President and NATO members supported an air campaign because it excluded the obligation of ground forces, pressured Milosevic toward compliance, and limited allied exposure to losses. The rejection of a ground option satisfied domestic political interests across the Alliance, but limited the seriousness of the threat posed to Milosevic. NATO publicly ruled out ground forces to assuage citizens concerned about starting a new war, but the announcement also signaled to Serbia the limits of U.S. and NATO commitment.94 The guidance from the NCA, discussed in the following section as the plan developed, provided a limited set of strikes to draw Serbia back to negotiations, going so far as to give a break in hostilities to signal NATO’s preference for a bargain, while allowing for an accelerated series of strikes if that failed. Theoretically it was an ideal strategic approach: a limited use of force to compel the adversary to a negotiated settlement. It limited friendly, enemy, and civilian casualties, did not tie down U.S. forces into an occupation, and while Serbian allies such as Russia would disapprove, it was limited enough to keep Russia on the sidelines. Of importance after the operation began, not only did NATO reject a ground component, it refused to plan for any contingency that included ground forces in Kosovo.
94 Nardulli et al., Disjointed War: Military Operations in Kosovo, 1999, 22–23.

Looks at the NATO intervention, especially the air campaign in 1999, from the perspective of lessons to be learned by the US military, of which the most general conclusion is that it is sensible to think ahead of what the political leaders say they want this week, and plan for what they might want next week. You can get it here.

The Smell of War, by Roland Bartetzko. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Be a little coward! Take it easy in the beginning and don’t volunteer for any dangerous assignments. Wear your body protection, even when the whole squad is laughing at you.

Personal account of a German who fought for the Croats in Bosnia and for the KLA in Kosovo. Author subsequently convicted of murder, attempted murder and terrorism for a post-war bomb attack on a Serbian government office. You can get it here, but I think you can give it a miss.