The Shadow of the Black Hand over Kosovo

(For a conference of the Institute of International Studies, UCB, 20 April 1999)



E. A. Hammel

Departments of Anthropology and Demography

University of California, Berkeley

15 April 1999


The tortuous politics of the current conflict in Kosovo remind us of similar events in it and the broader region in the first 20 years of the century. It is not clear that the decision makers in the US and NATO sensed this historical doppelgaenger, but if they did, it is clear they have not shared that knowledge with their publics, covering it with the figleaf of humanitarian concern. It is inconceivable that European diplomats could exhibit the same ignorance, but stranger things have happened. Let me give a brief historical review stressing the roots of Serbian-Albanian conflict, Serbian national aspirations, the frustrating of Serbian national ambitions by outside or superordinate powers, and the threat of Serbian military strength:



From all of this one may suggest that the military might of Serbia, combined with its history of expansionism, its intransigence, and its resentment of foreign intervention, constitute a threat to the stability of the region. Let us review the US-led NATO action.



Numerous criticisms have been raised, including:



No one thought through the consequences of failure or success.



If we are unwilling to accept humanitarian interest as a sufficient cause of NATO action (rather than an excuse), we must ask why that is the only issue that has been presented by the Clinton administration. If they know something else, why aren't they putting it on the table?



In short:



There are no obvious answers in administration rhetoric to most of these questions, yet they shouls have been in the minds of analysts and policy makers. Were they in those minds, and if they were, why have those factors not been discussed? Can the American public not be trusted with its own fate? Or is incompetence of the administration the issue?


The Clinton administration and its allies appear as the novice who has advanced a pawn in the opening, is confused in the midgame, and has no idea of where the pieces will be in the endgame. Various plausible conspiracy theories about American domestic politics and the psychology of leading actors have been advanced, some even plausible. They pale, I think, before the alternatives of historical ignorance, simple stupidity, and political arrogance.