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Germany and the Kosovo

How Ger­many paved the way to the Koso­vo War

by Matthias Küntzel

Con­tri­bu­tion to the 2nd Inter­na­tion­al Hear­ing of the Euro­pean Tri­bunal con­cern­ing Nato’s war against Yugoslavia. Ham­burg, April 16, 2000 [1]

In 1991, a del­e­ga­tion of the Ger­man Bun­destag vis­it­ed Koso­vo for the first time in order to talk with Koso­vo Alban­ian nation­al­ist lead­ers. This prompt­ed – as ear­ly as 1991! – the warn­ing by a senior mem­ber of the Yugosla­vian par­lia­ment that “the British and the Ger­mans would cre­ate a com­mon inter­ven­tion force with 70,000 sol­diers in order to inter­vene in Koso­vo.” [2] Indeed an ear­ly and accu­rate prophe­cy! So what about Germany’s role in prepar­ing for the Koso­vo war?

There were and there are strate­gic dif­fer­ences between Ger­man and the US poli­cies about how to retain or enhance hege­mo­ny. “As a wealthy sta­tus quo pow­er, the Unit­ed States has an inter­est in main­tain­ing inter­na­tion­al order”, wrote Joseph S. Nye, Jr, a for­mer US deputy sec­re­tary of defense. “In a world where there are some two hun­dred states but many thou­sands of often over­lap­ping enti­ties that might even­tu­al­ly make a claim to nation­hood, blind pro­mo­tion of self-deter­mi­na­tion would have high­ly prob­lem­at­ic con­se­quences.” [3] Berlin, how­ev­er, in seek­ing to cre­ate con­di­tions for an ongo­ing expan­sion of Ger­man influ­ence (that means: chang­ing the inter­na­tion­al order) does not share this pri­or­i­ty. As Rupert Scholz, the for­mer Ger­man sec­re­tary of defense, explained: “The aim of main­tain­ing “sta­bil­i­ty” in Europe seems to be a most dan­ger­ous one. There will not be any real sta­bli­ty, which is able to main­tain peace, if indi­vid­ual nations are held pris­on­er in unwant­ed and unnat­ur­al (“unnatür­liche”) state orga­ni­za­tions, which have been imposed upon them.” Since 1990, Ger­man for­eign pol­i­cy has “con­stant­ly per­sist­ed in activ­ly advo­cat­ing a uni­ver­sal right of self-deter­mi­na­tion.” [4]

This pol­i­cy has a par­tic­u­lar bear­ing on Koso­vo. The hid­den war about Kosovo’s future start­ed in 1995 at the lat­est. In Feb­ru­ary 1995 in the pres­ence of Roman Her­zog, Germany’s Pres­i­dent at that time, Ger­many and Alba­nia signed a com­mon dec­la­ra­tion of prin­ci­ple at Tirana. This dec­la­ra­tion is rarely men­tioned in the lit­er­a­ture but nev­er­the­less deci­sive because it promised to find a “solu­tion to the Koso­vo ques­tion” by advo­cat­ing the right of self-deter­mi­na­tion for Kosovo’s Alba­ni­ans. [5] Advo­cat­ing self-deter­mi­na­tion for Kosovo´s Alba­ni­ans, how­ev­er, meant advo­cat­ing their right to secede from Yugoslavia. This dec­la­ra­tion was in so far a kind of advance notice to con­tin­ue Germany’s 1991 course (recog­ni­tion of Croa­t­ia) in order to fur­ther split up Yugoslavia fol­low­ing a racist (völkisch) con­cept of self-deter­mi­na­tion.

In the peri­od fol­low­ing, the Ger­man gov­er­ment did every­thing it could to spur on the sep­a­ra­tion of Alba­ni­ans with­in Koso­vo. Ger­many sup­port­ed and financed those nation­al­ists who sought to pur­sue the goal of full inde­pen­dence by cre­at­ing alter­na­tive gov­ern­ing insti­tu­tions as well as inde­pen­dent Alban­ian edu­ca­tion­al and med­ical sys­tems in Koso­vo which sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed the major­i­ty of the peo­ple in Koso­vo from the oth­er peo­ples of Yugoslavia. In addi­tion, Ger­man secret diplo­ma­cy was instru­men­tal in help­ing the “Koso­vo Lib­er­a­tion Army” (KLA), as they call them­selves, since its cre­ation in Feb­ru­ary 1996. The dai­ly news­pa­per “The Euro­pean” stat­ed that “Ger­man civ­il and mil­i­tary intel­li­gence ser­vices have been involved in train­ing and equip­ping the rebels with the aim of cement­ing Ger­man influ­ence in the Balkan area.” [6]

Dur­ing those years, Ger­many uni­lat­er­al­ly sup­port­ed the seces­sion­ist move­ments. In 1997 edi­tor Johann Georg Reißmüller of the Frank­furter All­ge­meine Zeitung (a Ger­man dai­ly news­pa­per) wrote: “The US gov­ern­ment is not at all hap­py with Germany’s pol­i­cy in Koso­vo”.

It was, how­ev­er, exact­ly that year – 1997 – that the cri­sis in Koso­vo began to esca­late. After the destruc­tion of the Alban­ian army arse­nals the KLA armed itself in order to start a large-scale nation­al­ist rebel­lion. This devel­op­ment and the fol­low­ing counter-attack by the Ser­bian police moved Koso­vo into the head­lines and into the focal point of NATO’s con­sid­er­a­tions. How did Ger­many and the Unit­ed States react?

“The Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion is still uncer­tain about how to deal with this cri­sis”, lat­er wrote the week­ly news­pa­per Die Zeit. A senior offi­cial from the Ger­man for­eign office was sent to Wash­ing­ton to put pres­sure on the deputy sec­re­tary of state, Strobe Tal­bott. “We urgent­ly need U.S. lead­er­ship now” claimed Germany’s emis­sary. [7] This pat­tern: Ger­many calls for the U.S. gov­ern­ment – actu­al­ly for a spe­cial wing of the U.S gov­ern­ment – to act against Yugoslavia were repeat­ed between March 1998 and March 1999 over and over again. Let us now take a clos­er look at that pre-war diplo­ma­cy which paved the way to war.

The US gov­ern­ment is respon­si­ble for most of the war crimes NATO com­mit­ted against Yugoslavia. But even in 1998, the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion – split in sev­er­al frac­tions on how to deal with Milo­se­vic and the Koso­vo Alba­ni­ans’ nation­al­ism – hes­i­tat­ed, react­ing uncer­tain­ly on a case-by-case basis, oscil­lat­ing between sup­port­ing the KLA and let­ting Milo­se­vic have a free hand in smash­ing them. Ger­many on the oth­er hand knew what to do and how to act. The grand design of Germany’s Koso­vo pol­i­cy had been in effect by March 1998. It was revealed by Germany’s infor­mal ambas­sador to the Balka­ns, Chris­t­ian Schwarz-Schilling, who on March 16, 1998 said: “We should try to tell Milo­se­vic the plain truth through pres­sure and even mil­i­tary inter­ven­tions that he can retain con­trol over Koso­vo as a part of Yugoslavia only if cer­tain fun­da­men­tals are met. And if this is not the case, the ter­ri­to­ry there will have to be trans­formed into a kind of pro­tec­torate until those fun­da­men­tals are pro­vid­ed for.” [8]

This idea of push­ing the Kosovo´s Alba­ni­ans towards a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion with Milo­se­vic in order to cre­ate a Koso­vo pro­tec­torate from now on became the cen­tral point of Germany’s Koso­vo pol­i­cy – either by the Kohl/Kinkel CDU gov­ern­ment or the Schröder/Fischer SPD-Green coali­tion. One con­di­tion was that inter­na­tion­al troops be sta­tioned on Koso­vo soil. As ear­ly as March 1998 Ger­many accord­ing­ly put this mat­ter on the agen­da at the Lon­don meet­ing of the inter­na­tion­al Con­tact Group on Yugoslavia. [9]

The oth­er con­di­tion was that Nato would have to enter Koso­vo against the will of the Yugoslav gov­ern­ment. Accord­ing­ly, Ger­many sharp­ened its tone towards Bel­grad. Milo­se­vic became the main tar­get and remained so what­ev­er his pol­i­cy looked like.

But France, the UK, Italy and the dom­i­nat­ing voic­es with­in the US gov­ern­ment still pref­ered to fol­low a less con­fronta­tion­al pol­i­cy. In 1998, The Euro­pean for exam­ple stat­ed that “Wash­ing­ton realised that push­ing the Koso­vars towards a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion with Milo­se­vic, as the Ger­mans want­ed to do, would have a boomerang effect on the Balka­ns. The Unit­ed States put max­i­mum pres­sure on Ger­many to stop sup­port­ing the KLA behind the scenes, as did the oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries such as Britain and France.” [10] They termed the KLA activ­i­ties “ter­ror­ist” and sup­port­ed indi­rect­ly a Ser­bian coun­terof­fen­sive against the KLA dur­ing the sum­mer of 1998 and appealed to Milo­se­vic and the mod­er­ate Alban­ian leader Rugo­va to begin talks. The KLA, how­ev­er, suc­ceed­ed in pro­vok­ing the Ser­bian police force and in esca­lat­ing armed clash­es time and again. The pol­i­cy of de-esca­la­tion turned out to be a per­ma­nent fail­ure as long as there was a con­ti­nu­ity in the sup­ply of KLA weapons and KLA mer­ce­nar­ies across the Alban­ian bor­der.

It was there­fore not at all sur­pris­ing that in the sum­mer of 1998 all the efforts of the Unit­ed Nations and the major­i­ty of Nato coun­tries (includ­ing the US) con­cen­trat­ed in the goal of
cut­ting off the arms and sol­diers sup­plies in favor of the KLA. The Alban­ian gov­ern­ment head­ed by Fatos Nano who had dis­as­so­ci­at­ed him­self from the KLA sup­port­ed this plan. Inside NATO the idea of send­ing 7000 sol­diers to cut off the traf­fic in weapons began to take shape.

Dur­ing this cru­cial situation,however, Germany’s cov­er­ing up for the KLA became both pub­lic and evi­dent: The Ger­man gov­ern­ment vetoed the cut­ting-off of the sup­ply of weapons for the KLA! Klaus Kinkel, then head of the Ger­man for­eign office said: “Of course you have to con­sid­er whether you are per­mit­ted from a moral and eth­ni­cal point of view to pre­vent the Koso­vo-Alba­ni­ans from buy­ing weapons for their self-defense.” [11] Volk­er Rühe, then head of the min­istry of defense answered to this con­sid­er­a­tion with an unequiv­o­cal No: “You can­not resolve the Koso­vo con­flict by send­ing troops to Alba­nia to seal the bor­der and thus be act­ing in favor of Milo­se­vic.” [12] Rühe’s mes­sage was qui­ete clear: every­one who tries to seal the bor­der in order to find a peace­ful solu­tion is tak­ing sides with Milo­se­vic. In order to dis­as­so­ci­ate your­self from Milo­se­vic you have to esca­late the war between the Koso­vo Alba­ni­ans and the Serbs by deliv­er­ing more and more weapons to the KLA!

This open Ger­man sol­i­dar­i­ty with the KLA has been as much an iso­lat­ed provo­ca­tion as has the recog­ni­tion of Tudjman’s Croa­t­ia in 1991, 50 years after the for­ma­tion of the first Croa­t­ian state under the rule of the fas­cist Ustashi regime.

Just like 1991 Ger­many again stood near­ly alone against a huge major­i­ty of coun­tries in Europe and the world. Just like 1991 Ger­many again sup­port­ed a move­ment with a back­ground root­ed in the Nazi past, because the KLA is part­ly led by the sons and grand­sons of extreme right-wing Alban­ian fight­ers, the heirs of those who fought dur­ing World War II in the fas­cist mili­tias and the “Skan­der­beg Vol­un­teer SS Divi­sion” raised by the Nazis. [13] The “Nation­al Front of Alba­nia” (Bal­li Kom­be­tar) which col­lab­o­rat­ed with Nazi lead­ers in 1943/44 today boasts about its influ­ence with­in the KLA which has a pro­gram that seems to be a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the 1943 Nazi utopia.

Thus the pro­gram of “eth­nic cleans­ing” which Ger­many export­ed into the Balka­ns in 1941 remained alive with­in the move­ment of the Koso­vo Alban­ian nation­al­ists dur­ing the 80s. “The nation­al­ists have a two-point plat­form” wrote the New York Times in 1982: “First to estab­lish what they call an eth­ni­cal­ly clean Alban­ian repub­lic and then the merg­er with Alba­nia to form a greater Alba­nia.” [14] When­ev­er the KLA talks about “lib­er­a­tion” or “free­ing” this has been up to now under­stood in the Nazi-sense of “free of some­thing” i.e. “free of Jews” (“juden­frei”), “free of Gyp­sies” or “free of Serbs”. Noone could be real­ly sur­prised when, begin­ning with June 1999, the de fac­to rule of the KLA turned out to be a dai­ly and a dead­ly trap for thou­sands of non-Alba­ni­ans, espe­cial­ly defence­less Serbs.

In the sum­mer of 1998 Ger­many and the USA took not only oppo­site but con­flict­ing sides: While the USA – in the words of Gen­er­al Shel­ton, then Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – has had “con­cerns about the tech­niques that are being used to put down, to squelch the upris­ing” [15] Ger­many on the oth­er hand act­ed as the pro­tec­tive pow­er for the KLA. This con­fronta­tion includes a strate­gic con­flict with­in NATO: Is the Atlantic Alliance sup­posed to help or to hin­der the KLA? Should NATO as the KLA’s air­force con­tribute to the revi­sion of state bor­ders and the fur­ther dimin­ish­ing of Yugoslavia? Or is the alliance bound to clap down on such a type of mil­i­tant seces­sion­ism?

It was Germany’s insis­tence and the igno­rance or thirst for adven­ture with­in the lead­er­ship of the oth­er NATO pow­ers that brought the world’s biggest mil­i­tary alliance even­tu­al­ly in favor of the Alban­ian nation­al­ists. Ger­many has “giv­en evi­dence of its pre­pare­ness to lead” praised the influ­en­tial Frank­furter All­ge­meine. [16] Now Ger­many once again took the lead in press­ing for mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in Koso­vo. The New York Times report­ed: “Ger­man offi­cials seem increas­ing­ly inchined towards chart­ing a mil­i­tary course to stop the vio­lence in Koso­vo.” [17] Indeed. “Mr. Kinkel threat­ens with a Nato inter­ven­tion in Koso­vo” pro­claimed the head­lines of Ger­man papers on June 5, 1998. “The Unit­ed States, unlike Ger­many, rejects a snap deci­sion about a mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion”, wrote Frank­furter All­ge­meine the fol­low­ing day. Volk­er Rühe was the first gov­ern­ment offi­cial in Europe who as ear­ly as June 15, 1998 spoke in favor of a strike against Yugoslavia even with­out a UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil green light. This sug­ges­tion played hav­oc with not only the UN Char­ter but also with the Ger­man con­sti­tu­tion and the Treaty of Moscow con­cern­ing Ger­man uni­fi­ca­tion. This pro­pos­al was lat­er tak­en up pos­i­tive­ly by the USA. We have to con­clude, there­fore, that Ger­many is not only guilty of com­mit­ting the crimes which are con­nect­ed with the US-led bomb­ing of Yugoslavia, but is respon­si­ble for ardent­ly work­ing towards trig­ger­ing this war. The Ger­man con­cept for Koso­vo includes the fol­low­ing:

* to make a stand against the Yugoslav gov­ern­ment
* unlim­it­ed sup­port for the Koso­vo Alban­ian nation­al­ists who demand inde­pen­dence and a last­ing uni­fi­ca­tion with Alba­nia
* to demand for air-strikes against Yugoslavia in order to achieve a NATO pro­tec­torate for Koso­vo which is sup­posed to be only an inter­im step towards the inde­pen­dence of Koso­vo.

Strate­gic dif­fer­ences between Ger­man and the US poli­cies dimin­ished con­sid­er­ably in 1999 when the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion decid­ed to go to war in favor of the ultra-seces­sion­ist KLA. They seem to gain, how­ev­er, new weight in the post-war debate about the final sta­tus of Koso­vo. US Sec­re­tary of State Made­laine Albright recent­ly reject­ed the idea of cre­at­ing a greater Alba­nia, where­as Ger­man pol­i­cy seems to be push­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion.

Karl Lamers, the influ­en­tial CDU for­eign affairs spokesman for the oppo­si­tion in the Bun­destag said about the trans­for­ma­tion of Koso­vo into a NATO pro­tec­torate that this is “only the first step towards the sep­a­ra­tion of Koso­vo from Yugoslavia” and that an inde­pen­dent Koso­vo will be “only an inter­im step to merg­ing (“Anschluss”) with Alba­nia.” [18] Recent­ly, Lamers men­tioned with great sat­is­fac­tion “that every­thing we are actu­al­ly doing in Koso­vo, e. g. the cre­ation of a new cur­ren­cy zone, is aimed at cre­at­ing an inde­pen­dent Koso­vo…”. [19] Even Germany’s red/green coali­tion gov­ern­ment does not want to rec­og­nize Koso­vo as being a province of Yugoslavia. That is the rea­son why in his last major state­ment Josch­ka Fis­ch­er – Germany’s vice-chan­cel­lor and sec­re­tary of state – let the ques­tion of “the future sta­tus of the Koso­vo” open claim­ing that it would be impos­si­ble to resolve this now. In an inter­view with a French news­pa­per, how­ev­er, he made clear that he had no doubts about the Kosovo’s future sta­tus: “The inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty is present in Koso­vo and the Balka­ns in order to show that – accord­ing to the exam­ple of resolv­ing the ‚Ger­man ques­tion’ in 1990 – the ‚Alban­ian ques­tion’ could be resolved only with the agree­ment of the neigh­bour­ing states.” [20]

US gov­ern­ment cir­cles are quite aware of the ambi­tions of their rival, Ger­many. Zbig­niew Brzezin­s­ki called the Berlin repub­lic a “geostrate­gic main actor” and a “sub­ver­sive big pow­er inspired by an ambi­tious vision”. Strobe Tal­bott, the deputy sec­re­tary of state, char­ac­ter­ized Ger­many as the seis­mic focal point of the cur­rent geopo­lit­i­cal earth­quakes which are dis­rupt­ing the Atlantic Alliance as well as the Balka­ns. He empha­sized that Ger­many is “the epi­cen­tre of thoses process­es – enlarge­ment and expan­sion, exten­sion and deep­en­ing.” [21]

With­in the con­text of the war against Yugoslavia the oth­er great pow­ers, how­ev­er, not only react­ed to aggres­sive Ger­man moves but pur­sued their own spe­cial inter­ests as
well. The Unit­ed States want­ed to retain its influ­ence in Europe, to strength­en a world­wide role for NATO and to weak­en Rus­sias influ­ence with­in the new world order. Great Britain und France were eager to demon­strate their mil­i­tary supe­ri­or­i­ty over Ger­many and want­ed to give a start­ing sig­nal for the estab­lish­ing of an inde­pen­dent Euro­pean inter­ven­tion force (togeth­er with Ger­many) vis-a-vis the USA. Each of these nations is a rival to the oth­ers and is try­ing to retain or achieve as much influ­ence and pow­er as pos­si­ble. The war against Yugoslavia has been the first, how­ev­er, to be spurred on by Ger­many as an attempt to redesign cur­rent world order after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This war has put the irra­tional ele­ments and the destruc­tive roots of cap­i­tal­is­tic soci­eties into a new light.

(Not pub­lished)
[1] This con­tri­bu­tion is a short descrip­tion of a broad­er study: Matthias Küntzel, Der Weg in den Krieg. Deutsch­land, die Nato und das Koso­vo, Ele­fan­ten Press, Berlin 2000. The author´s e‑mail address: MatKuentzel@aol.com.

[2] This warn­ing was pub­lished in the Yugosla­vian jour­nal Poli­ty­ka; see the min­utes of the Bun­destag meet­ing June 16, 1991, pp. 2560–1.

[3] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Redefin­ing the Nation­al Inter­est, For­eign Affairs Vol.78 No.4, July/August 1999 pp. 22–35.

[4] See Rupert Scholz, Das Fes­thal­ten an unge­woll­ten Staat­en schafft keine Sta­bil­ität, in: Die Welt, Decem­ber 12, 1991; Rupert Scholz, Das Selb­st­bes­tim­mungsrecht und die deutsche Poli­tik, in: Inter­na­tionale Poli­tik 4/1995, S.51.

[5] “Deutsch­land und Alban­ien … bekräfti­gen das Recht aller Völk­er, frei und ohne Ein­mis­chung von außen ihr Schick­sal zu bes­tim­men und ihre poli­tis­che, wirtschaftliche, soziale und kul­turelle Entwick­lung nach eigen­em Wun­sch zu gestal­ten.” This dec­la­ra­tion is pub­lished in the Archiv der Gegen­wart, March 13, 1995, pp. 39819–20.

[6] Roger Fall­got, How Ger­many Backed KLA, in: The Euro­pean, 21–27 Sep­tem­ber 1998. See for more details M. Küntzel, Der Weg in den Krieg pp. 59–64.

[7] See Die Zeit, May 12, 1999.

[8] Chris­t­ian Schwarz-Schilling, March 16, 1999, Deutsch­landra­dio, quot­ed in: Presse- und Infor­ma­tion­samt der Bun­desregierung, Stich­worte zur Sicher­heit­spoli­tik, April 1998, p. 47.

[9] Rus­sia, the USA, the Unit­ed King­dom, France, Italy and Ger­many are mem­bers of this infor­mal but influ­en­tial group.

[10] Roger Fall­got, ibid.

[11] Inter­view with Klaus Kinkel, in: Süd­deutsche Zeitung, July 30, 1998.

[12] Mr. Rühe is quot­ed in the Frank­furter All­ge­meine, June 9, 1998.

[13] See Chris Hedges, Kosovo´s Next Mas­ters? in: For­eign Affairs, Vol.78, No.3, May/June 1999, pp.24–42. “Although nev­er much of a fight­ing force, the Skan­der­beg Divi­sion took part in the shame­ful roundup and depor­ta­tion of the province´s few hun­dred Jews dur­ing the Holo­caust. ... The deci­sion by KLA com­man­ders to dress their police in black fatigues and order their fight­ers to salute with a cleched fist to the fore­head has led many to wor­ry about these fas­cist antecedents.” (ibid.)

[14] See Mar­vine Howe, Exo­dus of Ser­bians Stirs Province in Yugoslavia, New York Times July 12, 1982.

[15] See New York Times, June 16, 1998.

[16] See Frank­furter All­ge­meine, Sep­tem­ber 26, 1998.

[17] See New York Times, June 10, 1998.

[18] See the min­utes of the Bun­destag par­lia­men­tary ses­sion of April 15, 1999.

[19] See the min­utes of the Bun­destag par­lia­men­tary ses­sion of April 5, 2000.

[20] See Le Monde March 25, 2000, empha­sis by the author.

[21] See Frank­furter All­ge­meine, Feb­ru­ary 5, 1999.


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