Map of Kosovo and the former Republic of Yugoslavia
This past Friday (Nov. 3), I attended a panel discussion on Kosovo at Columbia University's Harriman Institute in New York City. The event was sponsored by the Njegos Endowment for Serbian Studies. The featured speakers were James Jatras of the American Council for Kosovo and Nebojsa Malic, a columnist for the website AntiWar.com. Mila Lazarevich moderated the discussion. Jatras is a seasoned attorney for the D.C. law firm Venable LLP, and has served in the American government. He has been a frequent participant in Russia Profile's weekly Experts' Panel. Along with Srdja Trifkovic of Chronicles Magazine, Malic is the best of the mainstream Serb analysts who regularly communicate in the English language.
The general foreign policy views of Jatras, Malic and Trifkovic often fall under the political category of paleoconservatism. This socially conservative movement frequently cautions against foreign military intervention. The culturally traditionalist attributes of paleoconservatism make it attractive for people of Orthodox Christian background.
The Nov. 5-6 edition of my subscription e-mailed Quick Takes has a brief review of that event. Please feel free to refer to the non-Russian Kosovo matter via the referenced QT. For the benefit of Russia Blog readers, I will focus on the Russian connection to the panel discussion on the future of Kosovo.
A 19th century romantic depiction of a Serbian maiden and a knight wounded while fighting the Turks
Many nations have special relationships with other countries which go beyond the realm of "normalcy." America's stance towards Israel and the United Kingdom is much closer than it is to other countries. America is essentially descended from Great Britain. America has historically been good to the Jewish people. Without meaning to appear conspiratorial, the pro-Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful foreign lobby groups in Washington.
Russia has its own historic special relationships. Serbia is one of them. A brief historical overview chronicles that relationship. The Serbs are descended from the territory of ancient Russia (modern day Ukraine). Like the Russians, they're Orthodox Christians and use a Cyrillic alphabet. Both countries have a derivative of the Eastern Roman Empire two headed eagle as their respective emblem. The Serb flag is the reverse pattern of the Russian one (the latter being a horizontal white, blue and red tricolor).
In the late 19th century, Russia militarily defeated Serbia's Ottoman Turkish occupier. This paved the way for a full Serb independence after a lengthy period of occupation (Serbia had achieved a degree of independence in 1817). Peter Tchaikovsky's Slavonic March (or March Slav) commemorates this period in history. Following the Russian Revolution, many anti-Bolshevik Russians settled in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia; where they became loyal subjects of their newly adopted nation. As anti-Communists, many of these Russian exiles fled Yugoslavia after the Communist takeover at the end of World War II. An interesting political phenomena was evident during this period. Anti-Communist Serbs and Russians remained close as Communist Russians and Serbs forged an alliance against them.
This Communist unity was altered, care of a dispute between a Georgian Soviet dictator Stalin and a half Slovene/half Croat Yugoslav Communist Tito. British historian A. J. P. Taylor called Tito a "Red Hapsburg". During World War I, Tito and Hitler served the rank of corporal in the Hapsburg's Austro-Hungarian army. This made them adversaries of Russia, Serbia and the West. With the Serbs at the top of their list, the Hapsburgs weren't fond of Orthodox Christians. During Tito's reign as Yugoslav dictator, there were periodic purges of pro-Soviet Serb and Montenegrin Communists (very closely related to the Serbs, the Montenegrins are arguably more pro-Russian than the Serbs).
Serbian refugees fleeing persecution from ethnic Albanians in Kosovo
At the Cold War's end, Russia and Serbia (the latter as part of a post Communist Yugoslavia) rediscovered their traditional ties. They become an issue during the wars of the last decade in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The latter remains a hotly contested issue which leads to last Friday's Njegos Foundation gathering at Columbia University's Harriman Institute in New York City.
A good part of the panel dealt with the political mood in Washington. In America, an influential group of foreign policy politicos favor independence for Kosovo. John McCain, Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark are in this category. Their views on Kosovo are shared by the Hungarian born billionaire George Soros.
At the discussion, James Jatras noted how those who are Serb unfriendly are usually against Russia as well. Part of this sentiment involves a cultural bias as well. Rather interestingly, Adrian Karatnycky (of Freedom House notoriety) touched on this bias in an article published in the influential Christian magazine First Things titled "The Condescension of the Christian West". On Kosovo, the Western Ukrainian-descended Karatnycky is expressing the sentiment of Western Ukraine, which is the least Russia-friendly part of that country. According to a series of public opinion polls, during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (Serbia & Montenegro), 90% of the Ukrainian population opposed NATO's air campaign. This included the West Ukrainian based nationalist organization UNSO.
The ruins of a Serbian Orthodox Christian Church in Kosovo
During the wars in former Yugoslavia, neoconservative and neoliberal pundits said that it was good to go against the Serbs, since defending the Kosovar Albanians would appeal to the Islamic world. They said the same in relation to their sympathy for Chechen separatists. This is a hypocritical, sickening position. They don't sacrifice Israel on the same premise and the 9/11 tragedy confirmed the "success" of the anti-Russian/anti-Serb agenda in winning the U.S. any points from Islamic radicals.
It's also a maddening stance in light of Serbia's and Russia's pro-West stands in two world wars as well as in a number of other global conflicts. Many in Washington don't know, and worse,) don't care to know why there's now an increase in anti-Western feelings from the man on the street in Belgrade and Moscow. Even the most zealous of Orthodox Christians don't fly airplanes into buildings to make a point.
The understandable disgust among the two historically pro-Western allies is no doubt playing a role in how Russia approaches the issue of Kosovo's independence. Friday's discussion touched on how many Serbs feel (with some justification) that their fraternal Russian ally has at times fallen short in fully backing their interests. In his recent trip to Russia with Serbian Bishop Artemije, Jatras sensed that a growing number of Russian political figures are rallying around the idea of firmly backing the Serb position on Kosovo.
There're two competing approaches at work. The McCain/Holbrooke/Clark/Soros view claims that Kosovo is a "special case," deserving of independence unlike the disputed former Soviet territories. My own daily readings of Russian media see the reverse being argued from Moscow. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
James Jatras believes that Russia's position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, (two separatist minded territories within Georgia's Communist-drawn boundaries) has a good deal to do with Moscow's disdain for the current Georgian government. This political climate, of course, could quickly change with "regime change" (democratic or otherwise) in Tiblisi.
Jatras didn't mention Nagorno Karabakh (a disputed Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan's Communist created borders). This was likely an oversight. I took his omission of Trans-Dniester to mean that it has by far the best case for independence and should be given such (for more on Trans-Dniester's case for independence, see the Disputed Territories segment of the Oct. 5-6 QT). In comparative politics, there's the chance of misrepresenting similar issues as having the same degree of legitimacy. This should be especially kept in mind when discussing disputed territories.
Nebojsa Malic's contribution to the panel was in line with his style of journalism. Malic is brilliant at covering the Western media's coverage of the former Yugoslavia. His articles typically critique what leading English language mass media articles are saying.
He's not so complimentary towards Serb government PR English language efforts. Malic observed how a number of Serbs have been employed by mainstream Western news and think tank outlets, where they express views going against most Serbs. I can personally identify with his observations vis-a-vis my own experiences with English language Russian government funded media outlets.
The Harriman Institute event was one of the more successful of its kind. More quality panels will likely attract a greater audience. The Harriman Institute had previously hosted a Balkan topic panel featuring former New Republic contributing editor David Rieff and New York Newsday Foreign Editor Roy Gutman. Hopefully, a future discussion of this kind will also have advocates representing the "other side" as well as the Serbian-friendly point of view.
Michael Averko is a New York-based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. His commentary has appeared in the Action Ukraine Report, Eurasian Home, Intelligent.Ru, Johnson's Russia List, Russia Blog, The New York Times and The Tiraspol Times.