DEITZ: You got Serb-ed



Ian Deitz

Recent events in Kosovo carry significant weight for international politics, and as such have been closely watched by countries the world over. On Feb. 17, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, naming itself a sovereign state with a distinct composition and historical experience.

The United States and many European countries quickly moved to endorse and thereby legitimize the declaration. In the wake of these events, an enormously complex set of issues developed. These issues, all of which overlap in various ways, pose a delicate problem for the United States and its key allies.

For one, the historical context surrounding Kosovo’s relation to Serbia runs deep. Ever since the end of World War II, Kosovo has maintained relative autonomy within Serbia, though not as an actual independent state. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kosovo attempted its first declaration of independence in 1990 but did not receive recognition from the international community.

During and after the Bosnian War, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic treated Kosovo harshly. During this time Serbian nationalism was at its fiercest, and it took a concerted bombing campaign by NATO in 1999 to avert further hostilities.

Since then, Kosovo has been administered by a U.N. peacekeeping force. Recent negotiations aimed at providing for Kosovar independence led to stalemate and predictably obstinate rhetoric. Kosovo was thus forced to unilaterally declare independence, creating the present state of affairs.

Given these complex antecedents, extensive compromise is unlikely (one is reminded of the situation between Israel and Palestine).

The international community has been extensively involved in the saga, however, and cannot now forsake its commitment. The United States would be unwise to ignore the obligation it established by both rhetoric and substantive contribution to the NATO bombing campaign.

Alas, the historical context is but one factor complicating the situation. The international community’s stake, beyond its obvious involvement through the United Nation’s peacekeeping mission, rests on the question of whether Kosovo’s declaration constitutes a precedent.

If Kosovo deserves sovereignty on grounds that it is composed of an ethnic group different from the surrounding area, shouldn’t similar ethnic groups around the world be granted sovereignty as well? The State Department’s official line is that Kosovo represents a special case that cannot and should not be repeated elsewhere. A brief list of analogous situations illustrates the potential problem: Russia’s Chechnyans, China’s Taiwanese, Israel’s Palestinians, Canada’s Quebecois, Spain’s Basque separatists, Iraq’s Kurds and Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Pashtuns.

The precedent issue has led many countries, principally Russia, to voice outspoken criticisms of Kosovo’s declaration. For this reason, formal U.N. recognition of Kosovo is sure to be blocked by a veto from Russia and probably China as well.

Many also point to an apparent contradiction in the United States’ own policy: if it recognizes Kosovo’s Albanians as an autonomous ethnic group, shouldn’t it separately recognize Kosovo’s Serbs (who make up nearly 10 percent of the population)?

A third complicating factor is that of Serbia’s relations with the European Union. The Serbian government’s efforts to gain acceptance into the European Union have been dramatically impacted by the fact that the majority of EU member countries have formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state.

Certain political parties within Serbia are now fiercely resisting the country’s accession into the European Union, seeking to impose a condition that the European Union first retract its recognition of Kosovo.

In fact, this past Saturday Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica dissolved the government and proposed new elections, presumably in an effort to reconstitute the government along anti-European Union lines.

Such a drastic maneuver does not bode well for the West’s interest in solidifying its influence over the Balkans.

There will likely be no conclusive resolution anytime soon. A key issue will be what measures the United Nations and European Union take in their joint peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, since Kosovo is not yet capable of full autonomy.

Serbian nationalism, the severity of which is infamous, will not rest easily with an independent Kosovo, as they see the region as integral to its historical identity. It would therefore behoove Washington not to treat the impasse that has developed brusquely.


Ian Deitz is a senior political science major from Gettysburg, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].