So it was written, and so it came to pass. In 1999, a law professor named Mark Almond was published in National Review magazine, which was otherwise among the many — for some reason — conflicted conservative publications when it came to Clinton’s “war”. I only came across this piece recently and have highlighted some of Almond’s revelations and stunningly accurate predictions. If they can be called that, given that even the word “predictability” fails when it comes to Kosovo, a failure almost by design.

Disregard the professor’s common mistake in the sentence referring to “Serb nationalism” which he, like everyone else, seems to think had something to do with the Balkan wars. (Milosevic was the opposite of a nationalist — he was a socialist; hence his efforts to keep Yugoslavia together. You know — the “brotherhood and unity” mumbo jumbo versus deadly Croatian, Albanian and Bosnian hyper-nationalism, racism, supremacy and separatism.)

Our Gang - Kosovo Liberation Army
National Review , July 26, 1999 by Mark Almond

The trouble with the KLA.

Mr. Almond is a lecturer in modern history at Oriel College, Oxford.

Slobodan Milosevic’s forces have retreated from the smoldering ruins of Kosovo. But the replacement for Belgrade’s brutal [sic] misrule [sic] has not been a NATO- led force imposing Western standards of democracy and human rights — the ideals proclaimed by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair during the war. Deployment of the full contingent of NATO peacekeepers has been painfully slow. And the U.N.-sponsored police force for the province is even more notional. Instead, the force on the ground is the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The KLA is the big winner in NATO’s war against Milosevic; its leaders are now determined not to lose the peace. Even as NATO troops moved into Kosovo, the KLA was rushing its forces ahead of them to seize the political initiative. KLA representatives have occupied the administrative posts vacated by Serb officials, and also filled the positions that might have been taken by the forces of local Albanian rivals like the pacifist Ibrahim Rugova, sidelined by the war.

A motley group of cheerleaders from State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial writers has endorsed the KLA and especially its youthful self-proclaimed prime minister, Hashim Thaci, as the way forward for Kosovo. There can be little doubt that Thaci intends to lead Kosovo in the future and has a very good chance of doing so. Whether the West should rejoice at the prospect is another question.

The KLA’s propaganda presents the group as emerging in response to Serb repression in the mid 1990s. In fact, its roots lie in an anti-Yugoslav movement created in the early 1980s by the Stalinist-nationalist regime of Enver Hoxha in neighboring Albania. Thaci’s uncle was an activist in this self-declared Marxist-Leninist liberation movement. It was quickly neutralized by the Yugoslav secret police, which then still had many Albanian-speaking officers loyal to the Titoite regime. Indeed, part of the folly of the Serb nationalism [sic] sponsored by Milosevic [sic] is that it helped to unite the Kosovo Albanians against Belgrade.

Some commentators who acknowledge the Communist roots of the KLA argue that the West need not worry about such ideological hangovers in a post-Cold War world.

True, the economic absurdities of Marxism may no longer figure on the KLA’s agenda for the future of Kosovo, but a different sort of economics obtains.

The KLA has been widely accused by West European police forces of involvement in drug-running as a way of funding its armed struggle. One reason that the Czech Republic, one of NATO’s new members, was so unenthusiastic about the allied cause was the exposure in the Czech press at the beginning of the war of a drug-running ring in Prague linked to the KLA.

Of course, banditry and national liberation have gone hand in hand on all sides in the Balkans for as long as anyone can remember — and elsewhere as well. Those who romanticize the KLA as selfless freedom fighters and bristle at any suggestion that the group funds itself out of racketeering are as naive as fundraisers for Noraid who think that the IRA hasn’t supplemented its income over the years through bank robberies and protection money.

What has changed recently is that, from Colombia to Kosovo, Marxist guerrilla groups have accepted the transition from Maoism to the market. Unfortunately, their preferred product is light, white powder that is easy to ship and very healthy for the cash flow. Even the rivalries between different emigre national- liberation movements that share the same core beliefs can be explained by their competition for the profits from Europe’s black-market economy.

For instance, surely the Kurdish PKK-an ethnic group waging its own struggle for liberation in Turkey-would have backed the KLA? But PKK sympathizers were among the most vocal critics of the NATO war. It was not just Ankara’s pro-NATO, anti-Serb line that shifted the PKK against the KLA, it was a turf war between the KLA’s fundraisers in Western Europe and the PKK’s. In the last few years, Kosovar and Kurdish mafiosi have been fighting to control the drug and prostitution rackets of many big West European cities.

After the mayhem in Kosovo, to expect the region to pick up the pieces and return to normal is naive. But what was normality there in any case? As in a dozen other places across the post-Communist world, even with the best will in the world, Kosovo’s new rulers are beginning with a legacy of mismanagement and repression.

Take Chechnya as a possible model for Kosovo’s future. Just like the rebellious Russian province, Kosovo looks set to exist in an international limbo run by warlords. Neither truly a part of Russia nor yet independent, Chechnya finds itself in a halfway status that suits the sort of people who — for all their nationalistic rhetoric — find a legal Never-Never Land very congenial for their type of business. Kosovo too stands at the crossroads of drug — and people — smuggling from the Middle East to Europe.

Albania itself is another template for Kosovo’s future. It is an example of a lawless “state,” and many Kosovar refugees experienced it firsthand during the crisis. The refugees were not always received with solidarity and generosity.

The local Albanian mafia battened on them, demanding protection money or trying to recruit destitute girls for their prostitution rackets in Italy.

Many of the key international bureaucrats who are slated to run Kosovo have served time in Albania since its collapse into chaos and gang-warfare in 1997.

In Albania, these international administrators and European Union peacekeepers were satisfied to appease gangsters and corrupt policemen. The pattern can be expected to repeat itself in Kosovo.

The KLA may have agreed to demilitarize but in practice this means it is going to transform itself into the local police — just in time for running local elections. Meanwhile, the combination of a shattered society and the inflow of humanitarian aid is likely to provide a honey pot for the corrupt and those who feel their service in the KLA deserves reward. It was ever so.

History teaches us not to be surprised, and also reminds us not to ignore the downside of NATO’s victory. In all likelihood, the fragile Balkans are witnessing the establishment of another mafia statelet. The Kosovo tragedy thus continues.