The Treasure Trove of Kosovo
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The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author
Nothing like a juicy, photogenic human catastrophe to enrich corrupt politicians and bottom-line-orientated, stock-option-motivated corporate executives. The Balkan is teeming with both these sad days.
Even as the war was raging, shortages of food and other supplies led to the dispensation of political favours (in the form of import licences, for instance) to the chosen few. Bulgarian, Greek and Albanian firms, owned by ruthless criminals and criminals-turned-politicians benefited mightily. Millions were made and shared as artificially high prices were maintained by various means while cronies and crime controlled firms shared the spoils. This orgiastic intercourse between the corrupt and the criminal was not confined to one country. The whole region partook in robbing the most impoverished populations in Europe by "legal" means.
Their more refined and perfumed Western brethren were never far behind in taking advantage of American largesse on the one hand and re-emerging alarmist tendencies, on the other. Thus, American, German, Greek, French and Italian firms enjoyed funds allocated to international humanitarian aid by the likes of the US government, the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and other long arms of the American octopus. Defence contractors and the dubious characters known as weapons intermediaries stoked the atavistic fires of war in securing defence contracts. And aid workers resided in six star hotels, driving the latest sports utility vehicles and brandishing futuristic laptop computers as they went about the business of dispensing aid. In the meantime, at least one half of all aid money was pilfered - not to use a harsher term. Aid rations were freely available in Macedonian, Albanian, Greek and Bulgarian markets - offered at a discount by aid workers who stole them from their supposed recipients. The refugees were never given mattresses, were short of blankets, water, showers and toilets (I visited the camps - this is an eyewitness account). Only bread was abundant.
Now that the war is over, some people are counting their dead - while others are counting their blessings. But this has all been a prelude. It is the next wave of aid which is the main course in this bacchanalia. Outlandishly feverish numbers are tossed around. Kosovo's immediate reconstruction (housing and infrastructure) will require well over 2 billion US dollars in the next 2 years. Of this, 1.5 billion dollars has already been raised. A further 2 billion USD is slated as direct aid to the shattered economies of Macedonia and Albania. But the real booty lies in Serbia. A minimum of 10-13 billion dollars will be required simply to restore Serbia's infrastructure to its former, inglorious self. To resuscitate the whole languishing area, a staggering 30 billion dollars is touted as the minimal bill.
Rest assured that at least one third of this generous cornucopia will end up lining the pockets of the rich and mighty. At least 1 billion dollars will end up festering in Swiss, Cypriot, South African and Israeli bank accounts. The politicians know it, the "grupirovki" (business cartels controlled by mafia-style organizations) know it, Western governments know it. This is the REAL stability pact. Financially inebriated politicians are better motivated to maintain peace and stability, or so the thinking goes.
The history of the Balkans will play a major role in determining the topography and geography of this flood of cronyism, nepotism, criminality and vice. The Balkan is composed of states run by crime organizations and crime organizations run by states. Old alliances last long (as opposed to the Middle East where alliances, dune-like, shift with the winds). Bulgaria and Macedonia, for instance. Serbia and Greece. Albania and Kosovo. And now Albania and Macedonia. Meetings of regional "leaders" in the Balkans were always reminiscent of scenes from "The Godfather". The dons, uncomfortably clad in expensive business suits and wearing golden rings, deciding life and death and a jovial yet vaguely menacing atmosphere. Only the leaders of the New Balkans are much younger, less experienced, more prone to superstition, extremism and moodiness. The old tension are bound to re-emerge, this time in the employ of business interests. Expect a flare up of animosity between Greece and Macedonia. Despite its Bulgarophile regime, expect uneasy moments between Bulgaria and Macedonia. And expect an unholy alliance of business interests between Mr. Thaci and his sprawling business empire and the governments of Albania and Macedonia. If not assassinated before, Thaci is definitely the Man to watch. Young, well educated, ruthless, involved in business (read: corrupt to the core) - an aptly dangerous man in dangerous times.
The problem is that everyone hold high expectations. This is a poor recipe for an amicable carving of the cake of international funding. Macedonia expects to lead the reconstruction effort of Kosovo. It was offended greatly by the decision to base the Kosovo reconstruction agency in Pristina. Greek and Italian firms expect to snatch profits out of the jaws of their near treacherous behaviour during the war. Turkish firms except to be rewarded for the loyalty of Turkey during the same. American and German firms expect to exclude all else in gaining access to American and German (=EU) funds (as they have done in Bosnia). These all are mutually incompatible expectations and they will lead to mutually exclusive behaviour. Expect some very ugly scenes, including spilt doses of this cheap, red liquid, blood.
Albania, already governed by the ungovernable crime gangs it spawned in the last few years, has formed an alliance with the KLA, never a moral standard-bearer. This expanded amusement park of drug trafficking, prostitution, weapons smuggling, contraband and much worse is now threatening to take over its more virtuous (though by no means virginal) neighbour, Macedonia. A flare up of hitherto unimaginable brotherly love has indicated this sacrilegious rapprochement. The Macedonian Prime Minister - encumbered by a demanding Albanian coalition partner - has met Thaci and the encounter had all the trappings of a state visit. Soon after senior albanian politicians started talking about a Macedonian recognition of an independent state of Kosovo and an Albanian language university (the reason for student riots just two years before).
To a large extent, the Kosovo war was a gang warfare. The Serb criminal organization known as Yugoslavia against the Albanian gang known as the KLA. It was a war over turf and lucrative businesses. In what used to be the Third World and moreso in the post-communist countries in transition, criminal activities often accompany "wars of liberation". In Congo, in Sierra Leone, in Chechnyia, in Kashmir - wars are as much about diamonds, oil and opium poppies as about national aspirations. Kosovo is no exception but it was here that the West was duped into intervention. NATO was called upon to arbiter between two crime gangs. There is no end to the mischievous irony of history.
Perhaps the following incidents are more telling than any learned analysis:
In late April, the Albanian telecom switched off the roaming facility of cell phones in Albania. Foreigners - including aid workers - had to pay the company 1000 dollars for a special roaming-enabled chip.
Rumour has it that the post of the Chief of Police in the Tirana Airport was "sold" at the beginning of April for an undisclosed amount (presumably 250,000 US dollars). The reasons: all shippers (including NATO and aid organizations) have to pay enormous kickbacks to airport and customs officials to release their goods.
Most Albanian families charged refugee families an average of 500 DM a month for their accommodation in subhuman conditions. Refugees who could not pay (or who had no relatives in Germany and Switzerland to pay for them) were evicted, often cruelly.
As Serbs were murdering their supposed brothers in Kosovo, Albanian crime gangs laid an oil pipeline (through Lake Shkoder) to Serbia and supplied the Serb army with the oil it was deprived of by NATO.
Welcome to the Balkans.