home | 1945-21st century



War in Kosovo

In Serbia, Milosevic was hanging on to the old Communist habit of controlling the media. Journalists who weakened in their support for his government line were dismissed.

Yugoslavia was no longer in the United Nations. In Kosovo in 1991, Albanians had held a secret referendum, and responding to its results leaders of Kosovo's Albanians announced the creation of an independent "Republic of Kosovo," all of this declared illegal by the Milosevic regime. In 1993, Montenegro began to distance itself from Belgrade, and it established an independent relationship with its neighbor, Albania.

Milosevic continued to suppress Kosovo's Albanian majority, winning condemnation by the Helsinki Federation of Human Rights. In July, 1995, a Serbian court sentenced 68 Kosovo Albanians to as many as eight years in prison for allegedly setting up a parallel police force. Serbs driven from Krajina began to settle in Kosovo, with the belief that it would strengthen the Serb position there. Then in 1996, denied the independence that they wanted by peaceful means, some Kosovo Albanians formed a group willing to fight for independence, a group called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

In August, 1998, after a month-long offensive, Serb forces overran a KLA stronghold: the village of Junik. The UN called for a cease-fire, and in September the Serb army continued its offensives against villages in Kosovo's Drenica region. The United Nations Security Council then voted for a resolution demanding a cease-fire in Kosovo. The UN warned the Milosevic regime that "additional measures" would be applied if he failed to comply, and, in conjunction with this, NATO took its first steps in preparing for intervention against Serbia.

Milosevic believed it was his right and duty to crush the Kosovo Liberation Army and Kosovo independence. Then in January, 1999, in southern Kosovo, where Serb forces had recently conducted an offensive, the bodies of around 40 Albanians were found in what appeared to have been a mass execution.

Also in January, 1999, an international conference at Rambouillet, France, arrived at a plan of limited autonomy for the Albanians in Kosovo. The Clinton administration and members of other NATO powers sought to convince Milosevic to accept autonomy for the Albanians. Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, advised Milosevic to forget about any greater Serbia, and he spoke of Germany's mistake in the forties at attempting to create a greater Germany and attempting to take on the rest of the world. NATO sent two senior military officers to Belgrade to warn Milosevic's regime that Serbia faced air strikes if it persisted in violence. Milosevic was offended by NATO's threat to bomb and refused to accept the Rambouillet Agreement.

On March 23, 1999, NATO began bombing, and Milosevic's forces in Kosovo moved against the Kosovo Liberation Army and other Albanians in earnest. Albanians were driven from neighborhoods and areas that Serbian forces, including paramilitary groups, wished to "cleanse." The Serb army struck especially hard against any Albanian community from which shots were fired at them, inspiring massacres of civilians. Thousands of Albanians fled or were pushed out, with some Serbian young men glorying in their freedom to steal, loot and rape. Some people complained that the bombing inspired the Serbs to greater atrocities in Kosovo. Some in the United States complained that the US should not have become involved because it had failed to intervene elsewhere, in Africa, for example, or against the Chinese in Tibet. Some in the United States complained that Milosevic could hunker down and endure the bombing and that ground troops would be necessary to turn Milosevic around.

The Russians were working for a settlement of the conflict. The Russian envoy, Vicktor Chernomyrdin, told Milosevic not to expect the NATO alliance to come apart or for the Russians to be able to do more than it was already doing. He told Milosevic in so many words that Serbia was alone against the rest of the world and that the best he, Milosevic, was going to get was what NATO was already offering. Perhaps Milosevic knew that if he did not accept NATO's demands that not only would deterioration in Serbia continue, including that of his military, but that eventually NATO would employ ground troops. Hanging over his head was an indictment by the United Nations as a war criminal. He chose the easiest way out. He accepted NATO demands and claimed that his agreement with NATO was a victory for his policy of defending Serbia's position in Kosovo. On June 3, Serbia's parliament accepted the international peace plan. Serb forces began their withdrawal from Kosovo and NATO and Russian "peacekeeping" forces moved in.

Serbs admitted that a few extremists might have done some nasty things, but in their opinion they held to their opinion that their use of force was necessary if Kosovo were to remain Serbian. They were angry with Milosevic not because of "war crimes" but because he had abandoned them. Many Serbians continued to see themselves as victims.


PBS special on Srebrenica: a Cry from the Grave:

The Bosnia Report. Articles back to October 1993:

Kosovo: a Short History, by Noel Malcolm, New York University Press, 1998

To End a War, by Richard Holbrook, 1998

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.