Swedish KFOR General Warns About Total Ethnic Cleansing of Serbs

Anders Brännström, Swedish general warns about ethnic cleansing of Serbs

Swedish KFOR General Warns About Total Ethnic Cleansing of Serbs

By Anders Brännström

May 18, 2004

Translated article from the Swedish Daily Dagens Nyheter of May 3, 2004


“Do not abandon Kosovo!”

Unless the Serbian minority is protected by a strong international military force, the part of the Kosovo Albanian population that is prone to violence will ethnically cleanse anything Serbian out of Kosovo as soon as it gets an opportunity. Until the violent riots in March, the external world believed that the situation in Kosovo had become stabilized. There were plans to strongly reduce the peacekeeping KFOR troops. Thanks to the disarmament not having gone very far, it was possible to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Serbs. Brigadier Anders Brännström, until recently brigade commander in Kosovo, writes that an international force must remain.

Last Friday I returned to Sweden after serving as brigade commander in Kosovo. During the last six months, Sweden has been responsible for the Multinational Brigade Centre – MNB (C) – one of four brigades in KFOR, the military force in Kosovo. This is the first time that Sweden has been in charge of a brigade reporting directly to a NATO staff. By this article I want to explain the radical change that occurred during my time in Kosovo. I am not a politician and this is not a political brief. My responsibility has been security. This is a field where I see myself as being well informed after my Balkan missions. Apart from the recently finished mission I was commander of the Swedish batallion in Kosovo in 2000.

Before I continue the argument I would like to comment on what I write about the Kosovo Albanian population. It is important to clarify this part of the analysis in order not to get misunderstood. The absolute majority of Kosovo Albanians are of course – like in other parts of the world – honest citizens who aspire to a good life for themselves and their families. I have many good friends among Kosovo Albanians. And I can testify that that friendship is often warmer and more intense then with many of my Swedish friends. We must, however, not disregard the a genuine and encompassing suspicion and aversion against Serbs is found in the Kosovo Albanian population. And let me, for the sake of completeness add that a corresponding suspicion, aversion and in addition fear of Kosovo Albanians is found in the Kosovo Serbian population.

When I travelled to Kosovo in October last year I believed – as did the entire international community – that the situation in Kosovo was stable. Everybody deemed that Kosovo was ripe within a near future to live in a multiethnic society where the different population groups could live together. It was therefore planned to reduce KFOR drastically, to reduce the international police force correspondingly and to hand over power and competences to local institutions.

On 17 March that illusion was broken very clearly and brutally. As a complete surprise to the entire international community, riots broke out all over Kosovo. Kosovo Albanian crowds burnt Serbian churches, hospitals and houses in the Serbian parts of cities and villages. Women and children were forced to abandon their burning homes and flee for their lives. KFOR succeeded in preventing a total ethnic cleansing, but the damages were nevertheless vast all over Kosovo. 

Miraculously, no KFOR soldier was killed in the riots. In hindsight, it is rather embarrassing that we could be this naive. How could we believe that Kosovo -after all that had happened through history -would be ripe already now for its different population groups to live in harmony with each other?

A positive consequence of what happened it that we discovered the frailty of the project in time. If we had had time to disarm even further, it would not have been possible to prevent the ethnic cleansing. Some 100,000 Kosovo Serbs and other minority groups would might in that case have been either dead or assembled in refugee camps, with which Balkan history is replete.

I would like to summarize my analysis of the new situation in Kosovo in four points.

1. Kosovo is not sufficiently ripe to become a multiethnic society within any near future. This was made very evident by what happened on 17-19 march this year.

2. The contradictions and the hatred are so strong that this situation will remain the same for many years. It is quite obvious that we must count with decades until a different situation can be expected.

3. Kosovo Serbian lives and Kosovo Serbian property must be protected by a strong military organization. Existing alternatives are either an international force like KFOR or the army of Serbia-Montenegro. Under present political conditions, the latter alternative is hardly implementable.

4. Unless the Serbian minority is protected by a strong military organization, the violence prone part of the Kosovo Albanian population will cleanse everything Serbian from Kosovo at the first opportunity.

In my analysis I refer to the part of the Kosovo Albanian population that committed the deeds on17-19 March. The UN estimates that there were at least 50,000 people who created the disturbances more or less spontaneously. These are people whose hate of the Serbian population is so great that they will use any means. If this group is permitted to further plan and coordinate its deeds, the destruction would no doubt become even greater.

The conclusion of my analysis is that as long as the international community is not ready to permit ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, a strong international force must be present in the area.

I started by stating that I am no politician; and that is certainly true. I nevertheless wish to conclude this article by using a citizen´s perspective to indicate some possibilities that might be used by skilled and courageous politicians.

– If the international community chooses to continue protecting Kosovo Serbs against ethnic cleansing, would it not be a good idea to attempt to cooperate with Serbia-Montenegro in these issues?

– Would it not thereby be possible for Serbia-Montenegro to enter European cooperation in other ways too?

– Would not that provide an opportunity for Serbia-Montenegro to deal with some of the negative effects of the Milosevic era and perhaps even become able to neutralise some of its radical politicians?

I am completely convinced of the relevance of this analysis of the security situation of the Kosovo Serbian minority population in Kosovo.The question is whether there is political courage to constructively manage and exploit the opportunities created by the entirely new situation in Kosovo.


(Unauthorised translation from Swedish by Håkan Wiberg, TFF Board member)