From the Battle of Kumanovo to the Kumanovo Agreement: What is next and what does history teach us?

Kumanovski sporazum  - general Džekson
Source: AFP/Eric Feferberg

In the life of nations and states, as well as any human being, many things do not go easily. The most important goals are actually very difficult to reach. Only great effort and sacrifice bring true quality and substance, not easily available solutions.

Prepared by Milos Garic

"On that rainy morning in October 1912, on the field near Kumanovo, Serbian soldiers of the First Army broke through where they were awaited by the Vardar Army of the Ottoman Empire, which imposed the place and time of the battle. Resolutely, heroically, albeit with huge losses, the Serbian army won a great victory, which was considered a revenge for 1389 when Serbian Prince Lazar stood opposite Sultan Murat with his advancing force at the Battle of Kosovo.

The Battle of Kumanovo was just the first in a series that followed in the next few years - Cer, Kolubara, the Golgotha across Albania, Kajmakcalan, Dobro Polje, the breakthrough to the Alps. A state was created, in which Serbs stood under one national roof with their other Slavic brothers.

Only 87 years later, in the summer of 1999, after an unequal conflict with the new world empire, in an unprecedented aggression by NATO alliance against a small country, Serbian commanders were again in Kumanovo, this time forced to withdraw from Kosovo. From 1991 to 1999, Serbs lost what had been built with blood, for which millions of lives had been given, since that misty and rainy morning in October 1912.

Agreement Half Fulfilled

Today, 25 years after the signing of the agreement that ended the NATO bombing of Serbia, mentioning Kumanovo inevitably evokes the symbolism of Serbian suffering and elevation in defense of freedom, honor, and their ancient land. What does history teach us? Will there be a new Kumanovo?

"The Kumanovo Agreement, negotiated in early June 1999, as a military-technical agreement for the handover of duties over Kosovo, from the Serbian Army to the NATO pact, was based on a previous agreement that Slobodan Milosevic made with the international negotiators Russian Chernomyrdin and Finn Ahtisaari. Today, 25 years later, none of them are alive, and those who were children then or were not even born have been left with the task of trying to regain and save what can be saved, in accordance with international circumstances," says military-political analyst Ivan Miletic for Kontekst.

Those who had power and decision-making leverage in 1999 are either deceased or retired today, and to those who fought or witnessed the battle of David and Goliath, Serbia and the NATO pact, it has been left to be patient and wait for the time, for some 'new Kumanovo.'

"Kosovo today is a stumbling block for Serbia in relation to its former allies, an obstacle on the path to European integration, but also an anchor deeply embedded in its national identity, with which it acquainted Europe and the world as early as 1911, when Ivan Mestrovic presented a model of the Vidovdan Temple at the World Exhibition in Rome. Some officials of the new modern empire in Washington and Brussels today believe that Serbs should accept the loss of their national consciousness and trade it for economic gain from the Brussels budget, and the new proclaimed values of what is called the post-Christian era of Europe. All this the Serbs should do to appease the dissatisfied young Albanians, who are unhappy with the economic decline of Albania and Kosovo, which is why 16 percent of all asylum seekers in Britain are Albanians, of which 88 percent are women," explains Miletic.

During the handover of duties defined by the Kumanovo Agreement in 1999, he recalls, it was agreed that all Serbian police, army, and security services should leave the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija. However, the OVK terrorists were never disarmed, although this was part of the agreement.

"However, no one foresaw a plan for how and who should replace that security apparatus. KFOR, as a military formation, had a small contingent of military police, UNMIK even smaller security service. The OVK was supposed to be disbanded, but it was mostly made up of people from the criminal segment of Albanian society, who first got rid of those Albanians who believed that there should be some kind of order and order in Kosovo. Moreover, the border was opened to criminals and their clans from northern Albania, who had only two years earlier overturned Albania itself," emphasizes Miletic."

Interesting Symbolism

After 25 years, he adds, the NATO alliance is different and bigger. The countries of the region are now in the NATO alliance (Albania, North Macedonia, and Montenegro), and Turkey, as a NATO member with the largest potential in terms of number of soldiers, has its new ambitions precisely in the Balkans and Kosovo.

There is some more symbolism here. A Turkish general is now the commander of the international KFOR forces in Kosovo, and the Turkish contingent has a military base named after Sultan Murat, a very provocative name for Serbs.

"October 1912, after the battle of Kumanovo, our great-grandfathers thought that with the Turkish influence in this part of the Balkans it was finally over, and that the spirit of Sultan Murat was definitively driven away from Kosovo. Today we see that the Kumanovo Agreement of 1999 has brought Murat back to Kosovo. I fear that the genie is out of the bottle, and once it's out, it's hard to put it back. Therefore, Serbia needs to be prepared in the spirit of the knight Milos Obilic, despite all aspirations for peace. Just in case, because Murat has already arrived," Miletic concludes.

Historian Srdjan Graovac points out that Serbs must draw lessons and think carefully about what happened in the 20th century.

"When the Military-Technical Agreement was signed in Kumanovo on June 9, 1999, ending the NATO aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and initiating the withdrawal of Serbian armed forces from Kosovo and Metohija to be replaced by UN troops, it's hard to believe that anyone had time to think about symbolism. About how almost 87 years earlier, the Serbian army's victory over the Turks at Kumanovo marked Serbia's return to Kosovo, and that at that moment, with the Kumanovo Agreement, the reverse process was taking place. Serbian institutions were withdrawing from the southern province, making way for foreign, international administrative bodies. Inevitably, such a situation forces us to reassess. How and why did it happen that the achievements of the Balkan Wars and victories won in 1912 were devalued less than nine decades later? Although it is easiest to blame the international community, the great powers, especially those in the West that traditionally have not been favorable to us, we must first turn to ourselves, see where we went wrong, and draw certain lessons," says Graovac for Context.

Looking from the Serbian perspective, he adds, the essence of the Kosovo problem lies in the demographic picture.

"Taking into account that in 1921, in the first census after the liberation of Kosovo, Albanians accounted for about 66 percent compared to 34 percent Serbs and other non-Albanians, and that according to demographers' estimates in 1991, the number of Serbian population in Kosovo was only about 18 percent with a huge majority of Albanians, things become clearer to us. There is no doubt that the most responsible for such circumstances were the rulers in communist Yugoslavia, during whose time the emigration of Serbs was most intensive. Data shows that before World War II, the ratio of the number of Albanian and non-Albanian population was approximately 55-45 percent. If it weren't for World War II and the establishment of Tito's communist regime, perhaps the Kosovo issue would no longer be raised. However, in the new Yugoslavia, by banning the return of displaced Serbs to Kosovo, all previous efforts to strengthen the Serbian factor were nullified, and then a new way to resolve the Serbian-Albanian dispute in Kosovo was applied. Granting wide autonomy to the southern Serbian province, i.e., to the Albanians," explains Graovac.

The right moment always comes

Time has shown that no autonomy could suppress the Albanian political elites' aspiration to achieve the dream of "Greater Albania," which has as its main task the secession of Kosovo from Serbia.

"Granting wide autonomy to Kosovo and Metohija did not suppress Albanian separatism but rather gave their political structures the opportunity to even institutionally pressure the local Serbian population, inducing further emigration. Time has undoubtedly shown that the great victory at Kumanovo in 1912 did not represent a solution to all the challenges that Serbian politics faced in Kosovo. Essentially, better conditions for solving the Kosovo problem were created back then. However, due to neglect, irresponsibility, and catastrophic political decisions, that opportunity was squandered," emphasized Graovac.

He therefore believes that it is senseless for Serbs to seek exclusive blame for their own misfortune in the great powers.

"We had 87 years to solve that issue, which unfortunately we did not use. Therefore, today when we observe the situation in Kosovo, when we no longer have an army, police, or other government institutions in that territory, it is pointless to expect that we can dictate terms and impose solutions. The best we can do in the given circumstances is to strengthen the economy, the Serbian army, patriotic spirit, and wait for the appropriate political circumstances in which we could react in the best and most efficient way. In other words, history teaches us that the right moment always comes, and the question is only whether we will be ready to seize it, as we did at Kumanovo in 1912. Or will we allow events to carry us through the wilderness of international politics, which resulted in Kumanovo in 1999," Graovac concludes.