Monday, March 03, 2008

In Kosovo, sacrificing principles for oil

Once again the Bush administration is sacrificing its conservative principles to satisfy our nation’s seeming insatiable thirst for foreign oil.

The latest victims of our oil lust are the ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo. Until Feb. 18, Kosovo was part of Serbia. That changed overnight when Kosovo unilaterally declared independence.

The United States, Germany and the United Kingdom were quick to recognize Kosovo’s declaration. Russia and Serbia flatly rejected it.

Yes, folks, Kosovo’s independence is all about oil – at least from a Western perspective.

In a press release that gleaned little media attention in the United States, Switzerland’s Manas Petroleum Corp. announced on Jan. 10 that “Independent resource evaluation confirms existence of giant oil and gas prospects on Manas Petroleum’s Albanian exploration blocks.”

The announcement indicated that there are potentially 3 billion barrels of oil and 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the areas explored. Some of these areas lie near Albania’s border with Kosovo.

Kosovo’s population is about 90 percent ethnic Albanian. The remaining 10 percent are nearly all ethnic Serbs. Under Tito, in the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo was a semi-autonomous region which enjoyed special political privileges in the Yugoslav system.

During the breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbia’s President Slobodon Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomy and kept a tight grip on the ethnic Albanians through an internal security force composed almost exclusively of Serbs.

Serb domination of Kosovo ended when a NATO occupation force, the Kosovo Force (KFOR), forcibly interposed itself between the ethnic Albanians and Serb forces.

For the Serbs, Kosovo is a place of religious history and national pride. If the Serbs had an Alamo, it would be located in Kosovo. There, in an area that has become known as the Field of Blackbirds, thousands of Serbian “warrior saints” stood their ground in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Polje, only to be slaughtered by the invading Ottoman Turks.

The Serbs continued to resist the Turks during the ensuing five centuries of Ottoman domination, which did not end until 1912, when Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria defeated the Ottomans in the First Balkans War. To this day, the Serbs view themselves as defenders of Christianity who held the line against the incursion of Islam into Western Europe.

During that famous battle, ethnic Albanians fought side by side with the Serbs against the Ottoman invaders. But during the subsequent years of Turkish rule, most Albanians adopted Islam, while the Serbs clung to their Orthodox Christian tradition. Today, Kosovo is the historical seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

During the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia, rampaging ethnic Albanians reportedly destroyed more than 100 Orthodox monasteries and churches in Kosovo, some of which were nearly 1,000 years old. The UK Independent reported in November 1999 that the Albanian destruction of Serb holy sites in Kosovo continued even after NATO’s KFOR arrived.

Kosovo’s neighbor, Albania, is currently struggling to integrate with Western Europe. Islam in Albania today is something less than radical. In fact, the number of Christians in Albania may be nearly even with the number of Muslims.

However, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), a nonprofit, independent, nongovernmental organization that works to resolve world conflicts through diplomacy, reported in July 2006 that “a tiny but growing minority (in Albania) is turning toward Wahhabi Islam.”

This could spell future trouble for the West. The Wahhabis are a violent, extremist sect of Islam that originated in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century. It has been argued that Osama bin Laden had gravitated toward Wahhabi beliefs prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

It appears the West sold out the Kosovo Serbs in order to gain assured access to Albania’s newly discovered petroleum reserves. Albania’s strategic location on the Adriatic Sea guarantees the West easy access to Albanian oil, without having to deal with unsavory governments.

In the coming months, look for a growing political support for Kosovo’s union with Albania to form a Greater Albania, something that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.

The West will sit idly by as Albania expands its borders, knowing that a Greater Albania will be inclined to sell oil to the West and is not likely to be influenced by the Serbs and Russians.

After Kosovo, the next target for Albania will probably be its neighbor, the Republic of Macedonia. Ethnic Albanians make up nearly a third of the Macedonian population.

While it is doubtful that a Greater Albania could gobble up all of Macedonia, it may attempt to annex the ethnic Albanian areas of Macedonia contiguous to the Albania-Macedonia border.

Macedonia might just allow this to occur in order to hasten its admission to the European Union.

Zachary Hubbard is a retired Army officer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He served as the chief of intelligence assessments and senior Balkans intelligence analyst for the NATO Stabilization Force in the former Yugoslavia. Hubbard is a member of The Tribune-Democrat’s Readership Advisory Committee.

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