The turbulent history of the Balkans is sustained by myth and counter myth. Elision and half truth mark different interpretations of recent events, never mind proto-national narratives, which often delve deep into the medieval past and beyond.
I am currently reading Noel Malcolm’s ‘Short History of Kosovo’. Although the writer is heavily predisposed towards an Albanian understanding of the province’s story, he is prepared, at least, to test nationalist shibboleths on either side of the Serb / Albanian divide.
Malcolm assures us from the outset that he does not believe that prior habitation by antecedents comprises sufficient evidence to sustain current political claims to a territory. Given that he is correct in this contention, he invests surprising energy in bolstering his argument that Albanians are not recent arrivals in the Balkan region.
Although the author deconstructs one side’s myths with greater vigour, and although he requires his deconstructions to bear more weight than they deserve, either because he loads his narrative with counter-speculation or because he builds countermanding nationalist interpretations in their place, nevertheless, he writes beautifully. He also understands that much ‘national memory’ was cobbled together systemically by nineteenth century nationalists.
It is important that current territorial claims on Kosovo shouldn’t be based on romantic narrative, spun with premeditated intent, from diverse threads of folklore and legend, by literary nationalism. It is worth knowing that the Battle of Kosovo Polje did not precipitate an immediate unravelling of the medieval Serb state. And of course, reminding modern Serbs and Albanians that their antecedents did not neatly line up along opposite sides of an Ottoman Islamic / Serb Orthodox divide is beneficial.
It is also imperative that more recent myths about the Serbian province are interrogated and to this end Carl Thomson sets out with clarity some of the chief fallacies which have been propagated since the 1990s about Kosovo and in particular Nato’s intervention there.
Thomson’s analysis is particularly heartening, because it comes from a Conservative perspective, yet roundly rejects the neo-Con, interventionist doctrines which could be detected within the party, even as recently as last year, when war erupted in Georgia. Indeed he is prepared to trace the roots of that conflict, and others, to unfortunate parameters established in Kosovo.
A taste for unilateralism; willingness to operate outside the remit of international law and without sanction from the United Nations; a tendency to pursue wider geo-political aims whilst massaging the truth in order to bolster a case for military action. Each of these traits was to re-emerge conspicuously in the allies' prosecution of the Iraq War.
An apparent willingness to underwrite unilateral declarations of independence, issued by ethno-nationalist separatists, had its own baleful consequences and continues to threaten to reignite various ‘frozen conflicts’.
Kosovo is an example of conservative apprehension of ‘unintended consequences’ being thoroughly vindicated. The principle that a state’s territorial borders should be sacrosanct, unless determined otherwise by international law, has been gravely weakened. Any requirement for international consensus has been sacrificed to liberal interventionism and Thomson is right to contend that the Conservative party’s reaction should be to oppose that development and seek to reinforce previous legal norms.