Kosovo – the 'Hoodlum' myth

The myth of the “hoodlums” does an injustice to the northern Kosovo Serbs and seriously underestimates what is at stake in the north, and what cost may have to be paid for the Quint effort to hand the north to Pristina before leaving.

By Gerard Gallucci

As noted previously, the EU has now joined the Quint effort to press President Tadić to give up on northern Kosovo. The next step appears to be to bring Belgrade to accept Republic of Kosovo customs seals during the September sessions of the talks with Pristina. EU “mediator” Robert Cooper reportedly believes that KFOR Commander Buhler is doing a “very good job” and has the support of the international community. (I thought only Washington was so arrogant as to speak for the world, but seems Brussels is too.) Cooper gives the game away when he says that the “two” embargoes have to go, i.e., to lift the KFOR embargo on the north, Serbia will have to give up its own on Kosovo. This despite the fact that there is no Serbian boycott on Kosovo. Kosovo can still send goods into Serbia under CEFTA and with UNMIK seals. But it now seems EU policy to call anything less than Serbia accepting goods with the ROK seal an “embargo.” Pure power politics, no shame.

How does the Quint get away with a one-sided and illegal aggression against the northern Serbs? In large part because the Kosovo Albanians and their supporters – the latter either ignorant of reality or cynically denying it – have set the narrative and the Western press has not looked further. The Quint paints a picture of northern Serb “hoodlums,” “hooligans” and “criminals” resisting Kosovo law and order and keeping the local population hostage. As part of this myth, if the northern Serbs were freed from these hoodlums, they would gladly accept being ruled from Pristina.

General Buhler reportedly told the German newspaper, Tagesspiegel, that “criminal gangs” have been allowed “full rein” in the north and they “are the ones that control the armed forces that control the roadblocks and pay the people who stand guard at roadblocks. And basically they take the peace-loving population in the north as a sort of hostage.” He suggested that criminals control everything in northern Kosovo and ignite ethnic tensions to create conflict to protect their interests. “Organized crime uses violent extremist groups for its own purposes.” According to the general, criminals mobilized “soldiers” to erect roadblocks and to burn down the Jarinje crossing point and paid Serbs to “defend” the barricades. KFOR claims it has detected members of extremist Serbian organizations, as well as “football hooligans,” among demonstrators in northern Kosovo and suspects Serbian security services also to be playing a role. The “parallel structures” – including the northern Serb local officials – are also said to be part of this illegal force resisting peaceful incorporation into Kosovo.

Some of this may be true. There are criminals in the north as there are south of the Ibar. There are no doubt plain-clothed Serbian security in the north, as there are local Serbian officials. They can be called “parallel”, but so can the authorities in Pristina. Some of the so-called “criminals” and others may well have been on the barricades; the burning down of the crossing post – whether by criminals or angry young men – was a foolish error. But the great mass of those peacefully manning the barricades are common people there because they believe they must defend their communities from a real threat embodied first in the Kosovo special police sent into the north and then by the NATO troops who intervened to further the interests of the Kosovo Albanians. There were so many older folk on the roads that KFOR was apparently afraid to use teargas: it did not want news stories that it killed old ladies. People voluntarily took “shifts” on the blockades and young women and men used them as meeting places to socialize.

No one holds the northern Serbs hostage to resisting the imposition of Pristina authorities, police and officials. The great majority simply believe that the imposition of the Kosovo state would mean the end to their existence as Serbs in their own local community and their own state. The myth of the “hoodlums” does an injustice to the northern Kosovo Serbs and seriously underestimates what is at stake in the north and what cost may have to be paid for the Quint effort to hand the north to Pristina before leaving.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s advisory board. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.

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