Interview with James Pettifer, author of The Kosova Liberation Army

The following is an interview with James Pettifer, author of The Kosova Liberation Army: Underground War to Balkan Insurgency, 1948-2001 :
The Kosova Liberation Army

Question: Some years have passed now since the main conflicts in the Balkans, and interest in them has been overtaken by the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. What motivated you to write a book about the ethnic Albanian Kosova Liberation Army and its role in the conflict there in the late 1990’s?

James Pettifer: I had been very involved in the region for many years, as a foreign correspondent and as an academic. The war in Kosova was a success for NATO, in my opinion, and it was in danger of being forgotten as the later and much larger conflicts in the Middle East and with their much more problematic outcomes occupied public attention. And I felt the Kosova Liberation Army was a very interesting organisation, a rare example of a successful insurgency in the Balkans that had attracted outside support. I wanted to try to explore why this was, and above all why a tiny group of people with what many people would regard as an antiquated nationalist ideology were able to be so successful in modern Europe.

Q: You write a good deal about the support the Kosova Liberation Army received from different outside émigré groups, particularly in the United States, Germany and Switzerland. Why was this so important?

JP: The ethnic Albanians in Kosova were (and are still) in a poor landlocked country that few people have visited. Many of them had family members who had been forced to emigrate in order to find work, often after they were thrown out of their normal occupations in the Milosevic martial law period in Kosova after 1989. These people took away with them a strong resentment of Serbian rule, and a determination to help rescue their homeland from it. Switzerland was particularly important. Over 400,000 people of Albanian descent(mostly from Kosova) live there, and Swiss traditions of respect of the rights of political refugees are very important if you are conducting underground political activity that seeks to change the state you have come from in the first place. The United States Albanian Diaspora was also essential to the KLA. These émigrés had long nationalist traditions, and were very active in the wartime period.

Q: Does the book show how these kinds of irregular wars in the Balkans actually work?

JP: I hope so. The study of insurgency is as important as that of counter-insurgency and I think one of the consequences of the difficulties in the Iraq and Afghan wars in some parts of academia has been that there has been an almost exclusive concentration on counter-insurgency. It is a historical fact that insurgents often win against much stronger powers; Vietnam is an obvious example, although there are many others. I hope my book will contribute to the debate about why this is so, and to discussion about what makes an insurgency successful – or fail. I hope it might contribute something to the arguments about what, if anything should be done about the crisis now in Syria. I have only visited Syria once but it seemed to me that from the military geography point of view alone, the odds were stacked against the rapid success of the Syrian insurgents from the beginning. Western policy should have recognised the strong strategic cards the Assad government have always held.

Q: Have you explored the situation in Kosova since NATO and the United Nations took over in the summer of 1999? What of the future?

JP: I have analyzed the short wars in the Preshevo Valley in south-west Serbia in 2000 between KLA-descended organizations and the Serbian army, and the important conflict in Former Yugoslav Macedonia/Republic of Macedonia in 2001, as they involved many of the same political and military actors. I did not think readers needed much on the history of the United Nations UNMIK administration, its many weaknesses and operational deficiencies have been well covered by other writers. The advent of Kosova independence in 2008 was the main landmark, but it is still only a partial independence and international recognition has been slow in coming from some countries. Kosova has a young population and many of those now at school and in college were only children in the conflict, or not even born. I hope my book will contribute towards their understanding of this part of their own history. As British General Mike Jackson has said, it is a fascinating story.

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