The pessimistic philosopher E.M. Cioran once described the Balkans as having a "taste for devastation, for internal clutter, for a universe like a brothel on fire." The Yugoslav people have been a thousand years trying to pick up that internal clutter, but like some kind of geopolitical teenager the result has inevitably been more disorder and confusion. In the coming months, Kosovo Albanian representatives, the Serbian government, and a United Nations envoy will try again to sort things out.
Few are optimistic. (Though what do you expect in a region where one finds states with official names like "The Former Yugloslav Republic of Macedonia"?) All sides will enter the negotiations with mutually exclusive demands: Kosovo Albanians (which make up 90 percent of the province) demand full independence. Serbians, who regard Kosovo as the cradle of their civilization, insist the province remain part of Serbia-Montenegro (the latest place-name for the former Yugoslavia). Last, the Kosovo Serbs favor partition.
According to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan all options are on the table, including full independence. Naturally such statements do not sit well with the new foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro Vuk Draskovic, who recently declared an independent Kosovo "impossible." Any attempt to form such a state, he told the BBC, would go against the wishes and rights of Serbs living there and would be very dangerous.
Uncharacteristically the Bush Administration is refusing to support any option, saying it's none of the U.S.'s business. (Stability in southeastern Europe not in the U.S. interest? It damn will be if NATO bombers have to pay a return visit to Serbia.) But if the U.S. is feigning disinterest, others are not. Independence movements from Corsica to Kurdistan to Chechnya will be closely watching the results of the talks.
WITH THE EXCEPTION of Kosovo Serbs, few see partition as the answer. "As a general rule it can be stated that all partitions except that of Germany have led to war or another partition or both. Or that they threaten to do so," writes Christopher Hitchens in the Atlantic Monthly. Besides, partition is bound to be unanimously opposed by the states of the former Yugoslavia, all of which have Muslim populations, particularly Macedonia, where Albanian Muslims form a majority in the western part of the state and where fighting broke out a year ago. Partition would also encourage the Republika Srpska -- the Serb entity in Bosnia -- to seek a union with Serbia. Bosnian Croats might also secede. The UN and EU's commitment to a multi-ethnic character of the Balkan states would degenerate into nationalistic tribalism.
As for the final two options, autonomy and full independence, it is here that we cross into the murky waters of geopolitical semantics. After six and a half years of relative freedom, Kosovo Albanians are no longer interested in a return to pre-Milosevic autonomy within Serbia. They may, however, accept roughly the same status under a different name: "conditional independence." Under this alternative Kosovo would join Serbia and Montenegro as a third state within the nation of -- well, what it will be called is anyone's guess. Probably not Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo, though you never know. Its leaders could follow the lead of international business; take the first few letters from each name and voila:
Anyway, Kosovo, like Serbia and Montenegro, would have its own capital, assembly, and police force (although its own military seems highly unlikely) and would be monitored closely by the EU.
KOSOVO ENJOYED A HIGH degree of autonomy under Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, but with the end of the Cold War Kosovo Albanian nationalism and separatism increased. Determined to establish Serbia's control of the province, President Slobodan Milosevic in 1989 banned the provincial government, police force, and Albanian-language media, while sacking 115,000 Kosovo Albanian state employees. In 1991, a shadow Kosovo government declared independence, and five years later a group calling itself the Kosovo Liberation Army commenced a series of guerilla attacks against Serb civilians. These attacks led to even harsher reprisals from the Serb Army, culminating in the January 15, 1999 Racak massacre in which 45 Albanian civilians were allegedly butchered. At this time NATO stepped in and threatened a bombing campaign if Serbia did not agree to the ceasefire brokered at Rambouillet. In spring 1999, Milosevic called NATO's bluff and refused to sign Rambouillet. The next day NATO bombs began falling on Serbia. Three and a half months later Milosevic signed a similar agreement.
Since 1999, the region has been operated as a UN protectorate, pending a final solution. The UN likes to brag that Kosovo has been the world's "most successful" UN peacekeeping mission, although it was NATO (meaning the U.S.) that restored peace, and 18,500 NATO troops that help maintain the ceasefire. But six and a half years of limbo is starting to wear on Kosovo's Albanians. Last year's Albanian mob attacks on Serb towns and villages demonstrated how tenuous the stalemate really is. The KLA (who some suspect have links to al Qaeda) has launched intermittent terrorist attacks on Serbs, and the mood inside Kosovo is increasingly hostile to foreign troops.
Both sides enter final status negotiations with black marks on their records, with both sides accused of war crimes. Serbia has failed to arrest or seek the surrender of Gen. Ratko Miladic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, both wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity. The KLA, meanwhile, remains at large and poised for new attacks.
Ironic, but Kosovo lost its chance at full independence that day in March 1999 that U.S. bombers came to its rescue. Like it or not there will be no independence day celebrated in Kosovo this year, nor in the foreseeable future. Whether there will be peace in the region will depend on how serious Kosovo Albanians are about shutting down so-called Islamic terrorists. Judging from the success of Islamic terror networks elsewhere, this will be no easy task.
Christopher Orlet is a frequent contributor and runs the Existential Journalist website.
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