Sunday, February 17, 2008

Problems with the independence of Kosovo



Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence from Serbia. Some people outside Kosovo celebrate the decision. I think that this reaction is irresponsible.

A millenium ago, Kosovo was a part of the Serbian state. Slavs used to live there. Of course, the Slavs had moved to their favorite regions just a few centuries earlier and there has been a lot of traffic in Europe 1000-1500 years ago. But there exist both historical as well as modern reasons to consider the territory to be a part of the Serbian domain of influence. Some people call it the cultural heartland of Serbia.



The Patriarchate of Peć in Kosovo where Serbian Orthodox Patriarchs are officially inthroned. Should this 13th century heritage site belong to the Albanians, too? How did it exactly happen? And is it OK to point out that Kosovo authorities have unfortunately begun to falsify the history?

Later, there has also been a lot of influence from the Turks, Islam, and Albanians who currently represent over 90% of the population (2+ million) of Kosovo. Places with this kind of complicated history are always sources of tension and - in some cases - wars. I believe that the best working strategy in similar cases is to try to preserve the status quo as much as possible and to convince both (or all) sides that such a new beginning is acceptable. Compensations shouldn't be about a complete control over a territory.




The question of the Kosovo independence splits Europe in a very serious way. Most importantly, Serbia vigorously opposes it. However, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Spain disagree with it, too. That's a rather impressive collection of countries in the region, including a major nuclear power, that no responsible politician should try to ignore. Add Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Georgia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Vietnam, and many others that are not too happy about the independence; Bulgaria, Egypt, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, and others want to be cautious or leave the decisions to the U.N. If someone thinks that it will be straightforward for the world to accept this new country, his mistake could have grave consequences. This question splits the world and the region into two comparably strong groups.

Why does the EU so self-confidently ignore the opinion of its 6 (out of 27) members? Why do the U.S. follow?

I don't believe that one can honestly say that Serbia is bad and Albania is good. At the same moment, I feel that some people approach these disputes in similar naive and dangerous ways. I feel that it is the simple reason why both the EU and the U.S. plan to recognize the new country. Why do they dislike Serbia so much?

Well, because Serbia has recently had some aggressive communist leaders; if this is your thinking, get rid of these silly stereotypes: Serbia currently has a pro-West president. A related anti-Serbian sentiment arises because the U.S. and other countries recently fought against this nation. The problems in Yugoslavia have been temporarily solved for the price of treating the Albanians (and a few others) as the good guys and the Serbians as the bad guys. That's the main reason why the Albanians love America so much today. Does it mean that this is how the two nations should be viewed forever, even in cases when it begins to looks obviously unfair?

There is one more general reason why some people support the independence of Kosovo: because these folks systematically enjoy to support an underdog and Albanians in Greater Serbia may count as an example.

It is damn dangerous to support underdogs who create serious enough problems for more powerful - and at least partly justifiable - groups and nations in the region.

The independence of Kosovo is likely to lead to a new wave of escalating tension in the region. This development certainly can't be compared to the Velvet Divorce - the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia. While it is true that most Czechs used to be afraid of this split, pretty much everyone agreed that it was a legitimate choice (and the right of the Slovak nation) when the politicians were actually negotiating about it. At the end of 1992, both sides agreed with the plan and they had a framework that treated both nations as equal. There existed no significant territorial dispute. The political representations did their best to proceed in a perfectionist and smooth fashion. That's why it worked and why the divorce has actually improved the Czecho-Slovak relations at the end.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union was less peaceful but it was still understood by a significant part of Russian people that most of those nations simply had the right to be independent (again). The territories have never quite belonged to Russia. In the case of the Baltic and a few other countries, this statement is obvious. In the case of e.g. Ukraine or Belarus, it is less obvious but the consequences of the independence are less significant because of the proximity of those Eastern Slavic nations that is guaranteed to last.

The Serbia-Montenegro split in 2006 can be viewed as another example of a Velvet Divorce. At the end, everyone agreed with it. Moreover, both regions are controlled by Southern Slavic nations.

However, these observations don't work in the case of Serbia and Kosovo. From a certain perspective, its territory can be legitimately viewed as a historical part of Serbia and the difference between the Albanians and Serbians is simply more indisputable and more explosive than the difference between Russians and Ukrainians (or even Czechs and Slovaks).



A hypothetical new Kosovo state can't be "neutral" in any way. Because this region uses the euro as their currency, it can be a seed of a war inside the de facto eurozone - something that we normally think of as a region of peace and stability.

I feel that it would be more acceptable a solution to divide the territory in an arbitrary way (see the map above for an example) into the Serbian territory and the Albanian territory and merge these parts with Serbia and Albania, respectively, giving them (temporarily?) the status of autonomous regions within Serbia and Albania, and attempting to create a plan to peacefully transfer most of the Albanians from the Serbian portion within a few years and to convince both sides that it is a fair compromise.

It is hard to believe that Serbia will accept to lose the territory completely. It's just too big a change. And I think it is absolutely silly to imagine that an independent Kosovo doesn't mean that Greater Albania increases in size. The declaration doesn't really mean anything else. A future unification of Albania and the independent Kosovo (plus a portion of Macedonia that may separate later) would only be a matter of time and formalities. This dispute is about a battle of Serbian and Albanian blood to control this territory and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise.

Miloševič's ethnic cleansing in Bosnia more than a decade ago (8,000 dead in the Srebrenica massacre, and they were Slavs) was horrible but it also shows how strongly the Serbians think that Bosnia was a part of their broader realm. The situation with Kosovo is analogous. And sorry to say, they have a point. Human lives are precious but I feel that the unhappy and undeserved fate of 8,000 lives just can't change the character of similar territories. In the past, millions of lives have been paid for comparable territories in wars.

Finally. An independent Kosovo would become a dangerous example for a large number of similar regions in Europe with similar separatist tendencies. For example, Spain opposes Kosovo's independence because of fears from a future Basque state. If Russia had to resign over Kosovo, it would probably start to support the independence (=a step towards incorporation) of "its" regions in Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and Moldova (Trans-Dniester area).

It is kind of paradoxical that certain people who love ever closer European unification also love the separation of the European countries into ever smaller pieces. Yugoslavia has also been a smaller, local counterpart of the European Union. In fact, it was a reasonably working federal state and Josip Tito wasn't even Serbian: he was 50% Slovenian, 50% Croatian (that's probably why he was creating autonomous regions in Serbia but not in other subcountries of Yugoslavia).

Unless additional reasons are carefully explained, it is inconsistent to support a tight unification in one case and a complete separation in the other case. I think that some people want to social-engineer difficult things in Europe and they build on naive, black-and-white descriptions of various complex controversies while they misunderstand the values and sentiments that really matter in these conflicts.

What do you think?

10 comments:

  1. It's interesting to see a Czech's opinion on this... As a Romanian, I've also blogged about this: http://corinamurafa.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/thoughts-on-kosovo/

    The solution you're proposing is creative, yet I believe unfeasible. Kosovars will never give up on Pristina, and the situation has - unfortunately - become a zero sum game.

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  2. There is a strong prejudice against Serbs in the West. Western liberals are always looking for "conservatives" to dishonestly demonize (and also for bad guys they can dishonestly label as "conservative"). What I found most remarkable about this situation is how stealthily the ruling elites of Western countries like the USA were able to reverse their position on Kosovo independence without anyone publicly noticing. (I knew all along that they were insincere about Kosovo staying part of Serbia, that they were just saying that in order to justify the war; but nobody seems to remember this now, I have not seen a single story in the Western mainstream media pointing out that a reversal has occurred.)

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  3. Lubos ... You marshall a pretty good list of arguments in favour of your position. However, they all crash like a hadron collider against this one statistic : 90%.

    Where on the earth can the will of 10% of the actual living people be more legitimate than the 90% regardless of what the ancient history of the place is ?

    Think of Nothern Ireland where the Protestants barely had a 51% majority over a Catholic populace and think of what troubles were stirred up for over 30 years because of some strange 400 year old politics and pride of some ridiculous Orange men.

    And this Kosovo situation is not even about one Christian denomination warring against another Christian denomination but Christians versus Muslims and vice versa which of course is much more volatile.

    Given these facts countries like Russia and other Slavic brothers would do well not to uncessarily pour gasoline on any sparks that be flying.

    All sides (muslim and orthodox) need to grow up and enjoy eurozone prosperity and not throw it all away over some 1000 year old nonsense.

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  4. It is kind of paradoxical that certain people who love ever closer European unification also love the separation of the European countries into ever smaller pieces.

    Is it really paradoxical? I thought one of the schemes of the EU colleagues was to dilution of the strong powers by the proliferation of little ones, each with a vote power far beyond its economic significance.

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  5. Albanians have historic rights to Kosovo. Albanians are decendants of the Illyrians. A tribe of Illyrians which lived in modern day Kosovo was called "Dardania" which means "Land of Pears" in Albanian. They were Conqured by the Romans later on when Western Rome split with Eastern Constaninople the land of Dardania feel in Byzantine rule during this period many churches were built e.g. Gracanica, Patriarch of Peja. When the barbarians (Slavs) raided the Byzantine Empire the Emperor (Justinian) which was born close to Ulpiana (Anceint Pristina) tried to defend the land but soon the Byzantine Empire was crushed and the modern Kosovo fell under Sebrian Kingdom which spanned from Rascia to Northern Greece. Many of the destroyed churches that were built during the Byzantine Empire e.g. Gracanica (evidence was found that it was actually built in the 7th century) were rebuilt and turned into Serbian Orthdox ones. Albanians in Kosovo during this period were Sebrian Orthdox and had the same rights as the Serbs (Although law on Albanians different in Villages they were equal in the cities). With the coming of the Ottoman Empire many Christian Albanians in Kosovo converted to Islam due to Pressure caused by taxes the Albanians that remiand Serbian Orthodox assimilated into Serbian.

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  6. Yeah yeah, we all know that albanian patriotism about them being descendants of the Illyrians, but does anyone know when that idea came to be? Obviously not. That idea was propagated by albanian communists in their small-time rule of albania. In that horrific time the commies needed something to fire up the people, and use the weakening of the ottoman empire to form an independent state that never actually existed. Although the albanians keep claiming that their language is related to the Illyrian, they should explore a bit more on that subject, because the albanian dialect and language is a satem-shaped language, and that has no connection with the Illyrians, since the satem-shaped dialect was in the Balto- Slavic states. The Illyrian languages are: Ardiaei, Delmatae, Pannonii, Autariates, Taulanti. And who gave you the idea that orthodox albanians assimilated to the Serbian people?!? The Christians in albania are located in the south of the country. The south of albania is bordered with Greece and partially Macedonia. And no, the albanians didn't convert to islam because of high taxes. The ottoman empire wanted a high tribute, but those who wouldn't give the tribute would be slaughtered. Why do you think "bosnians" converted to islam? Because of high taxes??? No, they did it to keep their heads on their shoulders.
    @Joe Shipman
    I am glad there is someone who actually researches something before believing everything the media says. In today's world the strongest state is the one with the most powerful media, not an army!
    @Celal Braider
    Its not regardless. Let me give you a comparison. The British and French came to North America which was inhabited by Native Americans. They crusaded against them like against satan himself. Today the Native Americans, who were known as a partially peaceful people (pay attention to the word PARTIALLY)live in reservations. How dare you even compare the numbers in KosMet. The Serbs populated over 80. percent of KosMet until the NATO aggression, which was said to be a heroic act. Yeah right. Serbia was having a "Stand Alone" battle against: US, UK,France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Turkey, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary. Accomplices were: Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Macedonia, albania, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and croatia.

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  7. @Joe Shipman
    I am glad there is someone who actually researches something before believing everything the media says. In today's world the strongest state is the one with the most powerful media, not an army!
    @Celal Braider
    Its not regardless. Let me give you a comparison. The British and French came to North America which was inhabited by Native Americans. They crusaded against them like against satan himself. Today the Native Americans, who were known as a partially peaceful people (pay attention to the word PARTIALLY)live in reservations. How dare you even compare the numbers in KosMet. The Serbs populated over 80. percent of KosMet until the NATO aggression, which was said to be a heroic act. Yeah right. Serbia was having a "Stand Alone" battle against: US, UK,France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Turkey, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary. Accomplices were: Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Macedonia, albania, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and croatia.

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  8. Which brings us to the question: WHY is the US actually helping this country? The answer is simple, you just have to do a little research. The FORMER Serbian base Urosevac, now inhabited by the US, although they keep saying its UNMIK and the Kosovo police, is one of the most concentrated place of uranium in Europe, ironically, because Serbia was bombed with depleted uranium shells. Also, Kosovo, and actually Serbia is located in a perfect strategic AND transit location, which the ones controling the area would most certainly use.

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  9. The media of the Philadelphia Inquirer Rebeca Chamberlain and David E. Powell published the "Serbian Rape System", in which Serbian people would gather albanian and other women in town squares and rape them, while the terrified people were watching from the sides. The Serbs were so satanized in the western world that general Short, with the help of Wesley Clark, could bomb anything in Serbia. Today no one in the western world has the guts to say the horrific tales of the Serbian people and what they have suffered during that bombing. They were accidentally bombing civilian buildings because of "old maps", they said. Isn't the US the most powerful state in the world with agents everywhere. Unfortunately, they are, and no one even WANTS to stand up to them because they know they will end up even worse than Serbia. One interesting detail: After the capitulation of Germany in 1945, the first victims killed by the Germans were Serbians. Two Serbs in Prizren, or Peja which is the shqip name, tried to run away from the NATO tanks that entered the city. They were shot with 14 shells from a T-72. Not one of them survived. The first victims of Germany after WWII were Serbs. Think about that.
    In the end id like to comment the picture the author made. A divide will not please either state. The albanians (scqip as they like to call themselves) want the entire Kosovo because of their ambitions to spawn Great albania, which existed during WWII, and its roots were given by fascist Italy and mussolini & hitler. Not only Kosovo, but also west Macedonia which is overpopulated by them, and eastern/southeastern Montenegro, also with a lot of albanian population, and they can talk about it openly, because the US stands behind their back.

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  10. And one question for the author: You mentioned that 8000 bosnians died in the falling apart of Yugoslavia, but did you also mention the abnormal number of Serbian people slaughtered by the "domobran" army?!? No, you didnt. The Ustase, as they call themselves, and even today they use it as a patriotistic name, killed, raped and pillaged all over Bosnia. Why? Because 45% of Bosnia were Serbs, and ARE today, another 45% were Bosnians, and 10% were Croats. They wanted to cleanse Croatia from Serbs & Bosnians and they did it. But it wasn't enough for them. They wanted to control both Bosnia and Serbia, by assimilating Bosnians into catholics. Well, those that are Muslims and Orthodox Christians. But, they were stopped, not fully, but stopped, by the europeans who waited for Serbia or Bosnia to counter-attack, and then propose a peace treaty. So why dont you ask about the Serbs who were slaughtered there? Let me remind you that the Croat independent state became when the nazis conquered Serbia, and it was made so people, primarily Jews, THEN Serbians, get set there to get murdered in camps which, confirmed by nazi officers, had worse tormenting than Auschwitz itself. Think about the foundation of that state. It is founded on killing innocent souls. God watches all, my friend.

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