Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kosovo Blues

I can't say I'm surprised that Kosovo declared their independence from Serbia. Countries have been declaring their independence from Serbia for the last 10-15 years, Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia in 91, Bosnia in 92, Montenegro (finally) in 06, and now Kosovo. Considering the hostilities of the late 90s and the difficulties of the UN's post-regnum mission, it seemed inevitable.

But I am still conflicted about it.

Unlike Croatia, Bosnia, and the others, Kosovo was never an official republic of the former Yugoslavia. It was one of two autonomous provinces (the other being Vojvodina) carved out of Serbia to reduce its domination among Yugoslavia's six republics. But, still, Kosovo remained part of Serbia.

To complicate matters, Kosovo is the closest thing the Serbs have to sacred ground (to see why, click here) but at the same time, only 1 in 10 Kosovars are ethnic Serbs. The other 90%? Mostly Albanians and other non-Slavic ethnicities.

So on the one hand, I can understand why Serbia wouldn't want to lose some of her territory (after all, Kosovo has been part of Serbia since medieval times), but on the other hand, I can also understand why the Albanian Kosovars don't want to be subject to Serbian rule, whose idea of how to treat ethnic minorities starts with "ethnic cleansing" and ends with genocide.

But I'm still not sure who is right and who is wrong...or even if these terms apply.

Does a country deserve to lose territory because it can't treat its minority with respect?

And does a minority get to declare their independence, erasing hundreds of years of territorial integrity?

At first glance, it seems easy. The Kosovars were at the sharp end of an attempted genocide, so it's only natural to have sympathy for their situation. But what if a similar situation was playing out in the United States?

Could I support, say, California's declaration of independence? *

I don't know.

* (I acknowledge that California's relationship to the United States is not an apt comparison to the Kosovo/Serbia issue. In fact, it's apples to oranges. Our multi-ethnic democracy bears little resemblance to Serbia's homogeneous socialist nightmare. However, if one is going to grant a minority the right to redraw national borders, one must recognize that it at least theoretically possible that it might happen here.)

Updated: Reading through this again, I realize that I might have been unintentionally confusing. First I say that 90% of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians, then I start referring to them as a "minority." Any idiot knows that 90% isn't a minority, James!

Ah, yes, but remember that Ethnic Albanians are simultaneously the majority in Kosovo and the minority in Serbia as a whole, which until recently included Kosovo. (I wanted to use the term "Greater Serbia" instead of "Serbia as a whole," but that has the same connotations as the German word Lebensraum. The ethnic cleansing of the 90s was just a means to that end.)


Aleksandra said...

I just read this blog and I appreciate the authors objectivity. However, some of the fact he has presented here are incorrect. I am Serbian, I live in Belgrade (capital of Serbia), I know a lot about our history, and I have seen all this happening with my own eyes. There has never been any kind of ethnic cleansig of Albanian people in Kosovo. If there has, do you really think they would make 90% of the population on Kosovo? They were once a minority on Kosovo and Serbs were a majority. Would an ethnic cleansing of Albanian people get the situation become reverse? If so, could anyone explain me how would it be possible? I have met lot of Serbs that left all they had on Kosovo and escaped to Serbia 10 years ago, because they couldn't cope with the treatment they got from Albanians. My point is, the world is not seeing the real picture of events that took place there. The real question is-why.

James said...

Thanks for the comment, and the added perspective. But are you sure that there never was any ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo by the Serbs?