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There are two roads to Kosovo: a meandering one that winds through Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Serbia...and another one that begins all the way back in the time of the Ottoman Turks and makes its way through centuries of war, ending violently and inevitably on March 24, 1999.
I drove the first one. Without really realizing it, the international community, the nation of Yugoslavia, and about 2 million ethnic Albanians were traveling on the other.
The two merged for a brief time in the summer of 1998, and they're both mapped out in The Road To Kosovo: A Balkan Diary, a book written with the philosophy that to understand where we are, sometimes it's critical to look at where we've been.
I had two reasons for making the trip, and they both go back to a previous visit in the spring of 1996, when I reported on the reunification of Sarajevo in the wake of the adoption of the Dayton Peace Accords. I'd volunteered to go for the simple reason that I didn't fully understand what was happening, and I wanted to provide my readers a fuller, visceral picture of the conflict that had consumed Bosnia for three and a half years, displaced 2.5 million, and killed about 250,000. As a media consumer, I understood the blow-by-blow details, but I still didn't know what it was like to be there.
It was a fortunate journey to make: My impressions of Dayton's chances for success in its goals -- the re-creation of a peaceful, democratic, multiethnic nation -- ran counter to the public opinions of the agreement's U.S. and international creators. They prophesied success and envisioned a peaceful Bosnia within years; I saw failure and confusion and predicted that it wouldn't be too long before I was back again to report on a war. I theorized with other reporters about the likely circumstances that would cause us to return. We all agreed on one factor: Kosovo.
So when I heard, in February 1998, that combat had broken out between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbian state forces, I knew I had to return. The situation in Kosovo was stickier and more difficult than that of Bosnia, and I wanted to assess the earlier peace effort from the ground in an attempt to understand what would happen in Kosovo. And I wanted readers to know what it was like to be there in that strange twilight between uneasy peace and all-out war in the Balkans.
What I found was a Bosnia that was barely holding together and looked nothing like the bucolic picture painted by international diplomats. Instead of a harmonious, unified nation, I drove through a partitioned country where, despite the almost invisible presence of 33,000 international enforcement soldiers, ethnic cleansing continued to occur with alarming regularity.
The mission had indeed stopped the warfare -- but it was obviously powerless, for both political and historical reasons, to impose peace.
So it was alarming indeed to arrive in Kosovo and find the same international cast of characters who created Dayton, and who continued to blindly call it a success, following the same patterns with Kosovo. And partially due to the failure of Dayton, the inevitability of war in southern Serbia hung ominously over everyone I found there. The ethnic Albanians had seen what type of "peace" the international community conjured up for Bosnia; they wanted their own definition, but to get it, they would have to fight.
The Road To Kosovo was released three weeks after NATO began bombing Yugoslavia to try to end the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo and to prevent, in a broader sense, spillover of the conflict into neighboring nations, especially still-unstable Bosnia.
My goal was to take readers with me on the ground in search of answers, clues, and context to what is happening now, searching for them in the faces of those who live there. It was clear from that perspective that the current events unfolding in Yugoslavia were all but inevitable. And it's equally clear that peace measures based on the Bosnian model are inadequate and offer only temporary relief, mainly to foreign politicians who are stymied by how to handle war in the Balkans. It's a reality that could well cause the collapse, once again, of the nations that formerly made up Yugoslavia.
International political leaders, even now that the conflict has spun wildly out of NATO's control, continue to vow success and promise a peaceful Kosovo where all of the roughly 700,000 displaced Albanians can return and live in ethnic harmony with the Serbs who are killing them. The proposals for peace look harrowingly like the failed efforts in Bosnia, the people espousing them steadfastly ignoring the lessons waiting to be learned.
The Road To Kosovo is proving to be circular and never-ending.