I often find myself imagining that people around me are sort of stories printed on the huge book of life. Some stories are written with bright white letters over a black colored paper, simulating the entrance of light into the darkness as their mouths utter any phrase. While some others, are fragmented black sentences over a Starbucks coffee cup. I’d like to think of myself as an unfinished travel journal, one that has too many sentences crossed out and special notes around the edges. This is mainly because I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to different environments, where I learned that some ideas could be crossed out to be rewritten.
Like that one time, when walking over Belgrade’s streets during early September, Nico, a friend from Georgia, asked me what my opinion on Kosovo’s independence, particularly regarding EU and other international intervention. I first thought in my family’s – leftist – background back in Mexico, accusing NATO and USA of world dominance. Then I thought about most of my Chicago friends –international students with some focus on art – who believe that anything is better if it comes from Europe. Naturally, I answered (quite authoritatively) that Mexico does not recognize the independence of Kosovo and neither should I. I simply didn’t know anything else about it. International intervention to me was a political term used by both supranational entities, such as the EU, and power-seeking states, such as USA, to expand their imperialistic and economic agendas. I knew very little about it. He stopped talking to me for a while after I gave this answer. I don’t blame him though; I probably would have stopped talking to myself as well. It’s just that no one talks about the Balkans back home.
I began to understand what’s written on memorials and international agreements once I came here. I was standing on top of a hill surrounded by colorful autumn leaves while feeling the cold air hitting my face in Potocari (Bosnia and Herzegovina), a territory where a genocide of thousands of Muslim Bosnian men occurred. Right below my feet were what seemed to be countless tombstones from bodies found after the genocide occurred here in July 1995. Equally, from my hotel room in Sarajevo, I could see the bullet holes on the walls from back when the siege by Bosnian Serb forces took place. “The internationalization of the war hastened the redefinition of the role of various regional and international organizations in Europe and prompted some major changes in international law, such as the recognition of the right to use force for humanitarian purposes” (Bougarel et al.); I had the opportunity to learn about how international intervention brought changes to individual, local, state, and supranational entities in the very place that had been strongly affected by it. To say the least, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it ended the war.
On another day, we had a lecture at University of Pristina with Dr. Afrim Hoti who taught me that, following the declarations of independences of former Yugoslav republics in early 1990s, it wasn’t until 1996 when ethnic Albanian Kosovars “lost hope and people joined the Kosovo Liberalization Army (a paramilitary group looking for secession from Serbia).” The conflict between pro-independence ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo and the-then president of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic caused thousands of deaths and people to flee the country during the following years. NATO bombed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia over 78 days during 1998-1999 causing more than 700 deaths. International intervention took place in the form of humanitarian intervention to promote peacebuilding. For this and for other reasons, this is why, perhaps, while walking under the street lights across the southwest of Pristina in Kosovo, I could see people comfortably overlooking Bill Clinton’s statue that smiles and gently says hi back to me.
During my study visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was sitting in front of five people who worked for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in different issues, such as education, rule of law, human rights, democratization, and policy. At their headquarters in Banja Luka, I noticed that their ‘boss’, who was a Russian diplomat was rather overbearing, arrogantly occupying the dominant position and interrupting in the conversation. I thought that, quite paradoxically, international intervention didn’t promote a peaceful dialogue.
“Among the failures of Dayton (Dayton is a peace agreement led by international intervention, especially American, that ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina) is first and foremost the ineffective state, which is not adequately equipped to meet the challenges of European integration. This is directly linked to the obvious lack of the state’s effectiveness in all reform processes” (Karsten Dümmel). The creation of the Office of High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a foreign power whose ability could revoke elected officials, seemed more anti-democratic to me than submission to sporadic kleptocracy. To my mind, a ruling family, appearing right after independence, that controls the resources of the state via policy coercion, is more democratic than a ruling power put in the supreme chair by an international force.
Which reminds me that when walking towards the ‘Newborn’ monument from Boulevard Mother Theresa (Nene Tereza in Albanian) in Pristina, Kosovo, I could see a cheerful souvenir seller sitting in the middle of dozens of Albanian flags. Across the street from there, graffiti art showed letters in Albanian I couldn’t understand with the exception of two black words: EUMIK and EULEX crossed out in red lines. “The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has been mandated primarily to provide an interim government and build multi-ethnic society until the final status of Kosovo is defined” (Di-Lellio and Schwander-Siever’s). However, with the current state-building process, the state lacks any attribute of sovereignty and remains under the tutelage of an international protectorate. Once again, international intervention has proven to be effective in conflict resolution, yet it has failed to promote the necessary mechanisms through which the country can effectively follow a satisfactory state-building process. At least in both Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although, where is the sovereignty of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina?
During the preparation lectures for study visit in Belgrade, I learned the importance of the international community in relation to international law. “Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, argued that without the explicit approval of the Security Council, the declaration [of Independence of Kosovo] represented a fundamental violation of the principle of territorial integrity of the states, as protected by international law” (Ker-Lindsay). Therefore, it would make sense to think that the independence of Kosovo was ‘illegal.’ Yet, some international – humanitarian – interventions in the Balkans were ‘illegal’ as well. For example, NATO intervention in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 wasn’t approved by the UN Security Council. Consequently, it is complicated for me to think of international intervention within the scheme of state-building process but rather within the umbrella of peacekeeping. To my mind, I understand why disregarding some of the international standards and rules prescribed and stipulated by the very international community (breaking the rules) makes sense if it saves lives. But I don’t get why international intervention remains throughout the process of post-war democratization of state institutions. Perhaps it’s useful to understand that the international community is not a homogeneous body, with member states each of which keeps pursuing its own national interests. Perhaps because war-torn and devastated societies and countries, especially those in which wars were terminated through the intervention of outside actors, do not possess sufficient internal capacity, resources nor political will to assume the state – and nation – building processes on their own? Is that a reductive argument?
Today, I wonder if my friend would ask me the same question again. I assume that he may already know the answer or figured his own. Perhaps, like me, he sees the independence of Kosovo and the role of international intervention in facilitating conditions for its independence just like an old page on a travel journal. Some sentences have been crossed out, some underlined, some others have found a note alongside for clarification. What it is true for me today, is that the role of international intervention for humanitarian purposes – the one that disregards international law – is complicated. However, instead of getting away of its analysis and discussion, I should look at it in greater detail/with more attention, like the narrative of a complicated crime and punishment novel. In essence, I’d like to place my opinion upon the idea that international intervention works for ceasefire but fails significantly in contributing to a well-rounded state-building process. It brings immediate peace while bringing long-term structural inefficiency.