Operation "Merciful Angel" became a 78-day Serbia- and Montenegro-wide NATO bombing campaign that often seemed to lack a real military objective, save for the vague pronouncements about the protection of the Albanian population from the Serbian forces.

Rather than contain the Serbian crimes, the NATO bombing in fact allowed the Serbian government to go further than it had ever gone in Croatia and Bosnia: to attempt to empty Kosovo entirely of Albanians. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians were driven out of the province into ad hoc camps across the border in Macedonia and Albania.

The onslaught of Milosevic's government forces was stopped only after NATO began mulling a ground invasion. Milosevic quickly signed an armistice agreement and Serbia withdrew from Kosovo.

In Serbia proper, the NATO bombing and the loss of Kosovo allowed Miloševic to construe any opposition as treason, and to hang on to power by murdering or imprisoning opponents. For instance, Slavko Zuruvija, a journalist critical of Miloševic and his wife (Mira Markovic), was murdered by the secret police in broad daylight in the center of Belgrade on April 11, 1999, during the NATO bombing. On October 3, 1999, and then again on June 15, 2000, the security services attempted to assassinate Vuk Draškovic, a long-term oppositional figure who, in 1990, had been willing to "compromise" on the issue of Kosovo thus: "all the Šiptars [derogatory term for Kosovo Albanians] who accept Kosovo and Metohija as an eternal property of the Serbian people and Serbia as their homeland will be given all the rights due to them as members of a national minority. Others, however, will have to leave Serbia." And on August 25, 2000, the secret service kidnapped and murdered Ivan Stambolic, who at the time seemed to have been the presidential candidate pick of the united Serbian opposition for the upcoming election of September 24, in which Miloševic was ultimately defeated by Vojislav Koštunica and subsequently driven from power by the popular uprising of October 5, 2000.

Milosevic, in turn, lost the elections of September, 2000 and was driven from power by a popular uprising. In the early afternoon of October 5, 2000, a million-strong crowd in the streets of Belgrade stormed the federal parliament building and the state TV building, setting the latter on fire.

While the subsequent election of Vojislav Kostunica ended the Milosevic era, it certainly did not bring a resolution to the Kosovan situation.

From 1999 to 2008, Kosovo remained in international limbo, under a transitional UN administration (with NATO peacekeepers known as KFOR). In the wake of ongoing ethnic violence (especially in 2004), UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari began negotiations in 2006 over the future status of Kosovo. Ultimately, the Kosovan declaration of independence on February 17, 2008 preempted any final resolution of Ahtisaari's proposals for Kosovo.

Forging Nations in Blood: Serbia and Kosovo in the 21st Century

As post-Miloševic Serbia positioned itself with Europe and the European Union, many EU politicians undoubtedly expected Serbia to leave behind the violence of the Miloševic era and embrace a European future.

That hope ignored the basic fact that Serbia and Kosovo emerged from Yugoslavia through a bloodbath. The same was true of Bosnia and Croatia and in all cases the violence was ethnically driven and genocidal.

Rather than "returning to Europe" after a brief but violent interval in their distinct histories, the nations of Yugoslavia were radically altered through the years of political violence in the 1990s. Because of this conflict, what it means to be Serbian (or Kosovan Albanian, Bosnian Muslim, Croatian, etc.) in 1974 and in 2000 have become two vastly different things, despite the continuities all nationalists seek to project.

In the former Yugoslav republics, the recent campaigns of communal violence in the 1980s and 1990s played crucial roles in laying the foundation for the tensely clenched unity of each of "the opposing sides" today. It was in these very recent decades, then, that the meanings of history were fundamentally reshaped by political elites with very specific political interests, and mobilized for the purpose of nation-forging mass violence.

Against the view that sees "the Serbs" and "the Albanians" as naturally existing and long lived ethnic groups that, in due course, came to fight over a particular territory, we need to see the conflict between them as the work of political factions determined to dismantle Yugoslavia and replace it with new kinds of national entities in the late 1980s and 1990s.

This work entailed fostering discrimination, rumors, and hate speech against "them," the shadowy enemy of "our people," while also making it possible for many nationalists to deploy forcible mobilization, repression, brutality, looting, and sustained campaigns of "ethnic cleansing" across Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia.

These were, as the indictments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) termed them, "joint criminal enterprises" aiming toward the establishment and legitimization of new states characterized by the kind of national unity that no electoral victory could ever bring.

Criminal Violence as Normal

It is this history of violence and crime perpetrated in the name of "our nation" that separated the inhabitants of Yugoslavia—including Kosovo—into members of mutually incompatible ethnicities whose "natural homelands" turned out to be the new states created through war.

Criminal violence thus became part of the post-Communist transition to democratization, privatization, and the "rule of law": a passage, as it were, from the Balkan past to the European future. This "transition," because of the temporal proximity of 1989 and 1991, was accepted and promoted in no small part by the EU itself.

The normalization of criminal violence is perhaps most apparent in Serbia.

The very first time since the wars that a Yugoslav politician actually came close to making a radical break with the criminal war structures—when the government of the prime minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindic, came within one day of issuing arrest warrants for the leaders of this gang—he was murdered in central Belgrade in broad daylight and in everyone's full view.

The coup was legitimized through the subsequent election in which the party with almost no support among the voters produced a prime minister whose closest advisers had maintained close relations with the executors of the conspiracy.

EU politicians, in their turn, continued negotiating EU ascension with the governments led by that prime minister, while the international media kept referring to him as a "moderate nationalist."

The EU chose not to recognize the assassination for what it was—namely, an act of violence fully consistent with the violence that had, since the early 1990s, defined the perimeters and meaning of being Serbian. Rather, Europe's leaders have treated it like an unfortunate and alarming, yet fully external obstacle to Serbia's road to joining the Union.

However, the conspiracy accomplished its goals: EU ascension was off the Serbian agenda. This is not surprising. As long as the political elites forged through the violence of the 1990s—political parties, governments, secret services, and other quasi institutions—enjoy the legitimacy lavishly bestowed upon them by the international community, there will be no real political will in Serbia to join the EU, since not joining the EU is the only way these structures can survive.

At the level of everyday politics, few politicians imagine Serbia or Kosovo as places where Serbs and Albanians can coexist. The mantra of Serbia's political elite that defies the rules of formal logics—"Kosovo is Serbia"—is only an absurd consequence of a more entrenched viewpoint that imagines Kosovo as free of Albanians.

In all recent instances in which citizens of Serbia voted in elections or referenda Serbian electoral institutions treated ethnic Albanian citizens residing in Kosovo as if they did not exist. In the referendum for the ratification of the current Serbian constitution in the fall of 2006, the Central Electoral Commission simply did not count ethnic Albanian residents of Kosovo as eligible voters.

Kosovo after Independence

For their part, the Kosovan Albanian elites' routine praises of "European values" and "multiculturalism" in the newly independent country sound like canned speeches geared far more to the international community than to their own fellow citizens.

The Kosovan Albanian politicians' claims of "democratic progress" resonate eerily in a postwar environment characterized by lingering acts of violence against the few remaining Kosovan Serbs, practical obstruction to the return of many non-Albanian refugees (the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities), high levels of permanent unemployment, debilitating deadlock among the proliferating state institutions, and continuing growth of criminal networks forged during the war.

Emblematic of the failure of Kosovo's nascent institutions was their inability—and possibly unwillingness—to protect the prosecution witnesses during the ICTY trial of Ramush Haradinaj. Haradinaj, a one-time commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army and briefly the country's prime minister in 2004, was charged with the murder of forty civilians in 1998. Many of the prosecution's leading witnesses refused to testify, citing intimidation and fear of retaliation; indeed, some were murdered in Kosovo during the investigation.

The inadequate protection of witnesses and the inability to sufficiently investigate war crimes only reflect the larger institutional failures that have characterized the postwar state of Kosovo.

Nonetheless, the country's leading political figures, like the current Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, continue to assert their democratic credentials and commitment to "multiethnic structures" while effectively upholding patterns of Kosovan Albanian domination over the non-Albanian citizens.

Since 1999, most Kosovan Serbs have been expelled or murdered in several waves of violence, one of the most notorious was the unrest of March 2004 that set the stage for Kosovan Albanian rioters to attack, vandalize, and drive more Serb inhabitants out of a few regional enclaves. These developments, in turn, are cast (and implicitly justified) by many commentators as the inevitable results of the long struggle of the once-repressed Albanian majority against the authoritarian Serb minority.

Ten years after the carnage of 1999, and a year after the declaration of independence, reminders of the war are hard to miss anywhere in Kosovo. Burnt-out and abandoned houses stand side by side with new construction. Some 3,000 people remain missing, their families still uncertain of the exact fate that befell them.

The hope that war crime trials would at least bring most of the perpetrators to justice is proving difficult to sustain as thousands of cases are backlogged at local and international institutions (Amnesty International estimated in 2008 that more 1,500 investigations of Kosovo war crimes remained unresolved).

Meanwhile, the expansion of organized crime networks that got underway in the 1990s now takes place in a virtual international protectorate where some 40 percent of the population lives in poverty and, thanks to the dismal political and economic circumstances, remains unable to gain a good education, find long-term employment, or travel freely to most European countries.

EU initiatives, such as the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), important and necessary as they are, remain far removed from engaging or addressing the legacy of the violence that established the new states in the first place.

This is precisely why the problem of violence and war crimes cannot be simply dealt with through diplomatic negotiations, power-sharing agreements, or institutional arrangements favored by the EU.

To be sure, such measures are important steps that can gradually pave the way for significant breakthroughs in the political functioning of these societies. But at the same time, it is also necessary to acknowledge the centrality of violence in the constitution of current post-Yugoslav nations, identities, and relationships in order to formulate more convincing policy approaches that will go beyond the rhetoric of reconciliation through European integration. Indeed, this one of the most important challenges that the EU faces in Kosovo, and, more broadly, in the lands of Yugoslavia.

For all the appeal of the historical parallel of Franco-German reconciliation as a model for facing the past and finding a common European future based on the common European value of tolerance (and this is the one that is cited most often), the future of Yugoslav space does not hinge on whether the Yugoslav nations manage to move from their Balkan histories of violence to the Western promises of a common European future.

In other words, Serbia and Kosovo, or Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, will not be "good neighbors" as long as mass violence remains a legitimate and popular political tool, and as long as the consequences of forcible "unmixing of nations" are not at least publicly recognized as criminal.

The Enduring Effects of Violence

The years of war-making not only set in motion new organizations, institutions, and dynamics across the Yugoslav states. The violence of the 1990s has also bled into the social fabric itself, radically altering the ongoing relationships, informal interactions, and personal identifications even on an everyday level.

Conveying and grappling with this complex legacy of violence is a difficult task, but one that a new generation of writers, film-makers, and artists has begun to address critically and perceptively.

Grbavica (2006), the acclaimed and deceptively simple film by the Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanic, is one such striking reminder of the deep-seated problems plaguing the new Yugoslav societies.

Set in post-war Sarajevo, its sensitive portrait of Esma, a woman who was raped during the 1992-1995 war, and her daughter Sara subtly but repeatedly highlights the impossibility of "leaving the past behind," or of uncoupling the violence of the wartime past from the problems of the post-war present.

The film reminds us that in Sarajevo, just as in Prishtina or Vukovar, even children born well after the war live out many of their aspirations, disappointments, loves, arguments, and friendships in relation to the wartime violence that they may not have experienced firsthand, but which continues to shadow and shape their lives. There is no easy escape here, no "outside" to flee to.

The EU paradigms of transition and reconciliation, which are promoted by "technical missions" and institutional arrangements, largely miss the significance of these profound transformations. The enduring legacies of the Yugoslav wars are by now deeply lodged within the living and evolving social dynamics as well as political structures of states like Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo.