February 18, 2008
The breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo, administered by the United Nations and protected by NATO since 1999, declared its independence from Serbia. Its ethic Albanian leaders promised to create a democratic state that will protect the rights of its ethnic Serb minority. Major European powers and the United States supported the declaration. Serbia, backed by Russia, opposed the move, but took no military action to stop it. “A false state of Kosovo was illegally declared on the part of Serbia that is under the military control of NATO,” said Serbian Prime Minsister Vojislav Kostunica. “A destructive, cruel and immoral policy carried out by the U.S. led to this unprecedented act of lawlessness.” (Los Angeles Times, free registration)
What the commentators said
Given its brutal reactions when Slovenia, Bosnia, and Croatia seceded, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, “Serbia’s resort to violent rhetoric in response to Kosovo’s declaration of independence yesterday counts as a kind of Balkan progress.” And while Russia and Serbia will grumble, support from the U.S. and Europe—and NATO troops—will ensure that Kosovo’s independence ends “the last territorial dispute in the Balkans.” Kosovo’s bid is no different than “the other stand-alone parts of Yugoslavia that won their freedom after 1991,” and like those small nations, a sovereign Kosovo “can be a force for good in the region and in the wider Europe.”
Kosovar independence “may now be the only viable option,” said Hurst Hannum in the International Herald Tribune, but “trapping 100,000 Serbs in a state that they reject is no more appealing (or morally justifiable) than trapping 2 million Albanians in Serbia.” Since the U.N. and NATO rejected ceding the Serbian-domanted sliver in northern Kosovo to Serbia, “one awaits with curiosity” their “justification” for backing Kosovar “self-determination” while opposing that of the Serb minority.
Serbia had a decade to work that out, said Roger Cohen in The New York Times (free registration), but “Belgrade never wanted to settle.” Serbia long ago “rolled the dice of genocidal nationalism and lost,” and Kosovo’s independence is “justified, unique, and unavoidable.” Trying to avert the “inescapable” break-away of this “anachronistic remnant a now defunct” Yugoslavia “can only damage the region.” Besides, unlike Serbian leaders, Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci “has been making gestures to Serbs: that’s positive.”
He may be gesturing to the Serbs, but that doesn’t mean they can hear him, said The Economist in an editorial. In a “moment pregnant with symbolism,” Thaci held a pre-independence press conference in which he made all the right noises about protecting the Serb minority—but “no one had bothered to provide a translation” so “none of the now angry Serbian journalists had a clue what he was saying.” With no real dialogue, things are “bound to get worse” in the short term. The ethic Albanian Kosovars are “delirious” today, but they don’t understand that what they think of as their “final status” is in fact “not final, but rather just the end of a chapter.”
We would have had a final status long ago, said Ed Morrissey in his Captain’s Quarters blog, if the U.N. hadn’t led all parties to “believe that they would succeed through stalling.” Now we have a deepened “military commitment” in Kosovo and an incoherent global message “on nationalism, sovereignty, and statehood.” We oppose breakups in Africa and the Middle East but support them in Europe? “Can Texas declare its independence?” Since the “end of the Age of Empires” almost a century ago, we’ve struggled to find “a new model for political stability,” and “the struggle continues today in Kosovo.”
of The Week magazine.