Miki Jacevic had a baptism of fire in his chosen academic field of conflict resolution. A Bosnian from Sarajevo, Jacevic experienced some of the worst abuses of human rights this century first hand when Serbian forces carried out ethnic cleansing operations in his home city. He is now a board member of the State of the World Forum, and is working on a Ph.D. in conflict analysis and resolution at George Mason University.
For the past two years, Jacevic has been the co-ordinator of the First Candle Campaign, a U.S. based effort to support a non-violent Kosovo student protest movement. In March this year, the beginning of the crackdown in Albania was marked in part by the arrest of a group of students who participated in the campaign by bearing witness to protests.
In this interview with the SWF News Team on 27 October, Mr. Jacevic discusses the current situation in Kosovo in detail, concluding that the ideal - albeit politically unrealistic - solution to the ongoing problem of genocide in the Balkans is probably a full-scale military attack on Serbia.
A conversation with…Miki Jacevic
Jacevic: I am the youth representative to the SWF board. Originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia. I also co-ordinate a campaign to support the non-violent student movement in Kosovo and have been working with both Albanian and Serbian student leadership. A major part of this activity was to recruit and send American students to Kosovo to bear witness to the non-violent protest.
In March this year, seven American students were arrested. When the Serbs arrested my group it was a major sign that something big was about to happen.
A lot of people disagree with me on this and say that with a complex situation such as Kosovo you can't put the blame on a single person such as Milosevic. But in my view he played a very similar role in Croatia and Bosnia for such a long time, the tactics are the same, the numbers of refugees are outrageously similar, and the pictures of burning villages and killed kids. The way things have happened, especially in the last two months, is just too similar to discount his involvement.
In the end in Sarajevo, the U.N. unarmed protectors were just marched aside and the people were taken out into the fields and slaughtered. Now, thanks to Richard Holbrooke's agreement, there are again unarmed observers on the ground.
Thompson: It appears at present that a number of the refugees in Kosovo are now returning home to their villages?
Jacevic: That's correct. I have to be optimistic about this, because in the last three days there has been a huge return of refugees. So there are some signs of calming down. But of course the whole agreement is very shaky, in the sense that you have put unarmed observers, who basically are potential hostages.
By sending these people in you are sending a very clear message that you will never ever use military force against Serbia. How are you going to use force in that infrastructure? Within 10 minutes of sending in the planes, how are you going to evacuate those observers? And that is why Milosevic is slowing down the process.
But this is also a very short term, stop the fighting, solution. The real problem is what is the long-term solution to the problem. At present none of the parties, not even the Albanians unfortunately, have a clear strategy that can bring them together to some sort of a table. Serbia claims Kosovo as its historical cradle, and in that respect it has the support of the international community to a degree. But in that respect the concept of the national state we have had for the last 300 years is not working anymore.
Thompson: So will the Holbrooke agreement hold?
Jacevic: I believe it will hold through the winter.
Thompson: But it is not holding at present. Reports indicate Serbian troops are still shooting people?
Jacevic: I'm really unfortunately being pragmatic and looking at the numbers. Considering what happened in the last two months. Then they used to go into a village and kill everybody. We had half a million refugees and more than 1000 people shot in these ethnic cleansing activities. That is not happening since the international community stepped in, which was when the agreement was signed.
I don't think it is a good agreement and it has to be very soon followed up with some sort of long-term discussion and dialogue. But I do believe it will hold, not because of Milosevic, but because the K.L.A., the Kosovo Liberation Army, is now so weak. Their funding has been cut, a lot of people have been killed and they are not in a position to mount an offensive.
Thompson: So what you are saying is the war has stopped because the K.L.A. has been beaten?
Jacevic: I am saying it will be put on hold, maybe through the winter, till the K.L.A. eventually regroups.
Thompson: Do you think the Serbians seriously want to talk about autonomy. It is difficult to see why - given the history - we should believe anything that Slobodan Milosevic says?
Jacevic: I agree with you. However I do also believe that he pragmatically has to come up with a solution, because Serbia pretty much has gotten to the point where something is needed to be done. The people I know in Serbia tell me it is now out of depression state, it is totally like Nazi Germany in 1931. The people don't have jobs, and the only thing that holds things together is nationalism.
Milosevic has totally corrupted the police, the media, and everything is simply disgusting. At the same time they, the Serbian Government, claim they have lost wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Kosovo is their only passionate struggle. And if you ask me, will Kosovo be given independence? I say no, I do not think Kosovo will ever gain independence.
Thompson: Another possibility is that there may just be a recommencement of ethnic cleansing?
Jacevic: Well, that is correct too. But I do believe that with this intervention there is a hope that the agreement will at least last the winter. That is based on my Bosnian experience, in which cease-fires usually began in October, they usually lasted a few months and then fighting would resume in March.
Thompson: But we are talking about people who haven't got homes anymore?
Jacevic: Two million people in Bosnia still don't have homes either, and yes that is a problem. Literally they don't have houses because they have been burnt down. They are afraid to go back to their villages because of the ethnic cleansing and the police. And also you have these refugee communities being created where people do come together and kind of bond. From my experience there is this feeling of, we should stick together for the winter and not go back home.
One of the good parts of the agreement is the humanitarian corridor. A lot of the humanitarian aid has been getting through in the last two weeks. And the NGOs [Non Government Organizations] have been getting through for the last two weeks. Some people have returned to their villages, but the majority are still up in the mountains, but one of the good things is that aid is now getting through to them.
Thompson: In an ideal world, what would NATO do?
Jacevic: For me it comes back to the question of what is a nation state, what is the structure. I would have preferred NATO to have followed through with their initial decisions. Anytime they issued ultimatums they need to follow them through, because really what Milosevic is operating on is this diplomatic card. He knows that the international community will not do anything.
What is needed is just a simple follow-up of a real threat, a way of saying, "we know what you are doing, we do not approve of genocide - especially after what happened in Bosnia - and we will do something to prevent that."
Thompson: But if the U.S. had launched its cruise missiles, that would have started a war in Bosnia, wouldn't it?
Jacevic: Not necessarily. The political landscape in Bosnia has changed over time. Clearly it would have had some effect - but I wasn't really talking about a full-scale NATO intervention or attack on Serbia. I was just talking about them doing what they said they were going to do which was to say: "If you don't pull out all your military forces in 74 hours we will attack certain things," which they listed. But then they didn't do that, and again gave him a free hand to keep doing what he is doing.
Thompson: Had they done so, is there not a risk that it would have precipitated reprisals against the civilian population?
Jacevic: Again I am not sure they had a good assessment of the situation. Yes, there is always a risk, but there is still a risk anyway. I come back to the experience in Bosnia. Once they bombed Serbian positions on August 28th 1995, the day after the massacre at Srebenica, the very next day Milosevic was flying to New York to start the diplomatic process. So the very same process happened in Bosnia and bombing worked.
Thompson: History seems to be repeating itself over and over again?
Jacevic: Yes, and it is not only us saying that, Madeleine Albright also says that.
Thompson: Is there any alternative? NATO seems to be prepared to commit a lot of resources to air strikes. Would it be possible, for example, to relocate the refugees so that military action could be taken without so great a risk to civilians?
Jacevic: That is a very good question. And there are of course other large questions about what resources are available for assisting the peace process.
Thompson: Realistically though, history is repeating itself. NATO's General Wesley Clark is back in the same position he was after the massacre in Srebenica in 1995. Milosevic looks like he is going to kill a whole lot more people. He is closing down what remains of his independent media. You say Serbia is looking increasingly like Nazi Germany. Those circumstances seem extremely dangerous. Arguably Bosnia was the United Nation's greatest defeat. If there were now a will to do something about Kosovo, would it be possible to do something? Would it be possible, for argument's sake, to relocate the refugees temporarily?
Jacevic: A lot of them have already gone. NATO never said we are not going to bomb the Serbs because there are Albanians on the ground. That was not their excuse. They are not bombing because they think there is an agreement there.
The same thing happened in Bosnia. The U.S. can target specific military installations very effectively, especially the heavy artillery that is being used to destroy the villages. There is no need to relocate anyone. Most of the villagers are in the woods anyway. The problem is that there are no political will among the NATO partners. There is no unified NATO council decision to really use force.
Thompson: Don't you think that perhaps they are genuinely scared that they could create a greater humanitarian disaster by bombing than by not bombing?
Jacevic: I don't know really how the situation could get any worse in terms of a humanitarian disaster than it already is. There are already people living in woods without food and water.
Thompson: It could get worse if they bombed the artillery and the Serbian troops then went into the bush and shot all the villagers?
Jacevic: But, if they do that one would hope there would be some sort of military engagement with NATO. But that is not what the Serbs said they would do in the event of an attack in any event. What the Serbs were claiming was that they would fire on NATO planes. They said they were putting food in their basements and that they were preparing for a war.
Again it comes back to the crazed atmosphere of a very closed-off nation, which believes the whole world is against it. The refugees themselves would have moved to Albania had the attack started. But, in fact, I think that once the Serbs were bombed, that would have, as happened in Bosnia, resulted in a return to negotiations.
In 1995 it took them 48 hours to get the basic framework for the peace accord into place after the military attacks. Again, based on the Bosnian experience, if they had done it then we may well have progressed faster than we have.
Thompson: Do you think the people will move back to their houses?
Jacevic: There is a basic mistrust with the Serbian regime. Again the situation has eased from two weeks ago. And now there is some humanitarian assistance. Some people have returned to their homes and others are building their refugee communities.
Thompson: What is the objective of the Serbian forces in Kosovo?
Jacevic: It is and always has been ethnic cleansing. That is what it has been for more than 100 years. But the excuse for using force since March has been to crack down on the K.L.A.
Thompson: Do you think NATO or the U.S. would agree to the use of ground forces to protect the people of Kosovo as they have in Bosnia?
Jacevic: I don't personally believe that Americans would ever give a green light for any such action.
Thompson: What about a hypothetical ideal solution?
Jacevic: The idealistic situation. I think that this would be an even better solution than the bombings, because it could provide for an atmosphere for some sort of negative kind of peace, but still security, and an atmosphere in which some sort of a process might start in terms of negotiations for the future.
Thompson: There are arguably two possibilities here, a long-term military presence occupying Kosovo, or alternatively an invasion of Serbia?
Jacevic: Well, I don't think that will happen and I don't see actually the reason for invading Serbia itself. Serbia is a huge country with 12 million people. We are talking about Kosovo, the southern part of Serbia. It is primarily Albanian, and that is where the problem is.
In an ideal world, one would hope that people like Milosevic would not be in power, and that the international community would have certain means for eliminating him from power. And I do believe that if there was a true democratization process in Serbia, then I believe that minority issues would be done differently. But this is a realpolitik world in which there is no way anyone will do anything.
Thompson: You say it is not possible for there to be an invasion of Serbia. But NATO is the whole of Europe and the U.S., and Serbia is relatively small in comparison. They could invade Serbia, surely?
Jacevic: Technically, they can, but I don't think there is substantial political reason enough to do it. The only reason would have been an idealistic one, to prevent the genocide.
Thompson: But that is what they say they are doing now.
Jacevic: Yes, that is what they are saying now. That is what they had been saying in Bosnia, while we were being slaughtered. Every single day, people were dying, and they were saying, "we are protecting you." I am sorry, from a Bosnian perspective, but for me that is just someone sitting in Brussels in NATO HQ and selling that crap to the papers.
To me, having lived through one of the NATO interventions, I know they don't do it. There is a clear policy - and that policy is coming from Washington DC, through NATO - that unless there is something that the Pentagon has approved as a "safe" military intervention, then nothing happens.
Thompson: That surely is part of the problem, as long as the West believes the only kind of military intervention it wants to take part in is safe, it is impossible to deal with someone like Milosevic.
Jacevic: I totally agree. We need to rethink the strategies. There needs to be a military intervention in Kosovo because that is the only way. But this is the realistic world where those things don't happen. The international community does not engage in the prevention of genocide. They did not do it in Bosnia. They didn't do it in Rwanda and they didn't do it during the Holocaust.
Thompson: They didn't do it in Rwanda and they got caned for it. They didn't do it in Bosnia, and as a consequence the U.N. is now considered by many an impotent dishcloth. Sooner or later the international community is going to realize that if they don't do something they might as well give up?
Jacevic: Don't you think they have already given up?
Thompson: Isn't that what this is what this - the State of The World Forum - is all about?
Jacevic: Yes. But I do not believe that this kind of change of paradigm could be applied today, to Kosovo. What this forum is doing may eventually spread the wonderful message we are building here. But my point is that the realpolitik is still operating here.
Thompson: So, we will have two or three months of winter, a cease-fire and then the war will restart in the spring, by which time CNN will no longer be broadcasting and chances are Milosevic will be able to move back into a position where he can recommence his ethnic cleansing operation.
Jacevic: That's correct.
Thompson: Do you feel it is hopeless?
Jacevic: No. I feel angry, but I do not feel it is hopeless because I have friends on the ground who are still doing such great work, and I feel there may be some solution other than total genocide. And as I said, since the agreement, and with the 2000 observers coming in, I do feel a little more optimistic.
However, again I am talking here from the perspective of a Bosnian person who has lived through a huge failure of the U.N. According to all indicators that I have seen in the last six months, nothing has changed.
They could have ousted Milosevic after the Bosnian peace agreement, but then NATO saw him as a peacemaker in the region - and this is where it has gotten us now. I am very angry with the whole situation, but I am optimistic for the rest of the winter over what has happened in the last two weeks.