Book Review: Underground War to Balkan Insurgency

by Sophie Gnesda

Book Cover the Kosova liberation army__275x445

After decades of peaceful independence movements proved as an unsuccessful tool for obtaining national statehood, Kosovo won its independence by force, emerging as a new state following a series of bloody conflicts. Those who fought at the front lines are today negotiating the future of the country as soldiers-made-political leaders. The monograph The Kosova Liberation Army is the first comprehensive publication on the military unit that helped Kosovo become independent in 2008. James Pettifer’s book analyzes how the Swiss diaspora gave birth to a guerilla army which formed a strong military alliance with NATO twenty years later, in 1999. He highlights why Kosovo’s military history still has considerable impact on current political actions of its ex-leaders.

Professor James Pettifer, a member of the Oxford University History Faculty and an associate of Zurich University, has traced the development of the KLA using recently opened Russian and Serbian archives and Albanian documents, as well as interviews with participants and eyewitnesses. While the focus of most other books lies on the international component, Pettifer emphasizes the role of Kosovo’s internal force driving the liberation movement – nationalism.

While exploring the origins of Kosovo’s guerilla army, he offers a historical account of Europe’s insurgent warfare in the last few centuries. The roots of the Balkan guerilla go back to the distant past but have been rediscovered, reorganized and adapted to new circumstances.

The origins of the KLA are deeply rooted in the living tradition of military memory and oral history about the Serbian army conquering Kosovo during the Balkan Wars as part of its struggle to take as much of the collapsing Ottoman Empire as possible. Pettifer’s explanation of Balkan guerilla prior to WWII leads the reader to the analysis of the Albanian unification movement since 1950. He also gives an exhaustive account of the ideological origins of the KLA and outlines the initial Albanian influence on and guidance to the Kosovo’s military unit.

In subsequent chapters, Pettifer describes in fine detail the role that Kosovo expatriates played in Switzerland, the support of the Albanian government and Kosovo’s first independence movement organized by the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK). Its leader, Ibrahim Rugova, followed a policy of peaceful resistance and lobbying for international rescue which, unfortunately, did not materialize. As a result, the rise of the KLA and armed resistance to counter the increasing oppression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo ensued.

Pettifer supports his conclusions with details about military techniques and describes shortcomings on both sides. He describes the events that led to the retaliation by the Yugoslav military. Other countries, as well as NATO, joined the conflict resulting in the war in 1999. The most powerful military alliance in the world tolerating or even assisting a nationalist resistance movement was quite beyond the imagination of most followers at the time. Despite its reluctance to engage, international community realized that the resolution of the political crisis trough diplomatic means was impossible.

KLA’s formation, mobilization and concepts as depicted in the monograph make this reading more than just valuable. Familiar with the subject matter, Pettifer offers little-known details and personal insights into the complex break-up of Yugoslavia. It is particularly interesting to see why Kosovo was perceived as an underrated opponent to Serbia. This is highlighted by Pettifier’s depiction of Serbia’s military superiority. However, antiquated doctrines of head-on military confrontation did not bring Serbia any success against an opponent who had NATO’s assistance.

This book addresses issues which are of current importance in a country that is still stuck in an identity-finding process between Albania, Serbia, and the international community. From the very beginning, it is clear to the reader that Pettifer’s adherence, loyalty and interest lies firmly with the Kosovo Albanians. His emotive language illustrates a certain lack of objectivity, which is also found in his extremely critical view of the international community’s involvement. However, years after the statehood was obtained, Kosovo still looks up to the U.S. and the EU for direction and support. It remains to be seen for how long they will continue to do so.

James Pettifer

The Kosova Liberation Army

Underground War to Balkan Insurgency, 1948-2001

C. Hurst & Co. Ltd., 2013, 379 pages. 20.10.-Book Cover the Kosova liberation army__275x445

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