Monday, February 18, 2008

The Tragedy of Kosovar Independence

While Bush hopscotches his way through Africa, trying to avoid the many war zones, it should be clear that the last thing the world needs is another border.

The borders in Africa and everywhere else are superstitious creations meant to ward off an imaginary evil other. Whether created by tribal chiefs, post-WWI mapmakers, or modern kings and bureaucrats, these demonized others are flesh and blood people whose lives have never been constrained by strange lines in the sand.

Indeed, the hybridity and movement of populations explains the presence of Orthodox Greek Serbians in the ruins of the Muslim Ottoman Empire that had conquered them; Albanians in Serbia; and the presence of Serbians in the Kosovo, who were ethnically cleansed by the Albanians following the Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA) attacks on Serbian police in 1998.

The recent unhappy history of the former Yugoslavia's disintegration began in 1991, when Germany decided to flex its newly found diplomatic muscles following reunification and chart a foreign policy distinct from the U.S. by recognizing Croatia as an independent state, thus transforming minor skirmishes between small militias into a full-blown regional war with foreign invasions by Britain, the U.S., and NATO.

Seven years later, and three years after the Dayton Accords established recognized governments of independent Croatia, Republic Macedonia, and the Federated Bosnia-Herzegovina, in addition to Slovenia, the nationalist Albanians who were citizens of Serbia decided that the only way they could achieve their dream was through violence.

The KLA decided that the only way to gain the respect and attention of the international community was to kill Serbian police and then expose their fellow Albanian-Serbians to the collective punishment they knew would follow, and lead in turn to the international intervention that would elevate them to nationhood. Just the way it worked for the Croatians.

Here's what a journalist sympathic to the KLA wrote in 1998:
They organized their own parallel Albanian-language schools, their own medical services, and even their own informal tax collectors to pay for it all. They held unauthorized, Kosovo-wide elections that made Ibrahim Rugova, an almost Gandhian advocate of nonviolence, the unofficial "president of Kosovo." And since they weren't killing people, the world ignored their plight. In the last two years, a few frustrated Kosovars formed a "Kosovo Liberation Army" that carried out a few attacks on Serbian police. But the province was still almost entirely peaceful until February when Milosevic sent in his police to massacre several villages where individuals linked to the KLA were thought to live.
(Source: Gwen Dwyer, "Serbia the Ultimate Loser of Carnage in Kosovo," Post and Courrier, Charleston, August 8, 1998:A11.)

In 1998 Albanians living in Kosovo, Serbia, had been suffering the indignities of not being able to use Albanian for official purposes and employment discrimination. These actions by Serbia are unjust but they are no more unjust than the official policy of most other countries.

How different is this from the U.S. requiring English and not Spanish be used in Texan hospitals and schools? Imagine if the United States government were asked to endure Mexican-Americans in the Southwest establishing a separate government and collecting taxes? Would the systematic discrimination against Mexican-Americans today--the official denial of their ability to speak their language and run their own schools--be sufficient to trigger sympathy for large Mexican-American cities in the U.S. becoming independent states? And what if some Mexican-American terrorists, equivalent to the Albanian-Serbian KLA, started to attack the Anglo police who were working in the Southwest, precipitating violent retribution against the population and the occupation of forces from Russia, Canada, and other Latin American countries, which is roughly analogous to the occupation of Serbia's Kosovar region by the U.S., Britain, and other European troops?

The new, self-declared Prime Minister of Kosovo is the man who led the KLA attacks on Serbian police ten yers ago, Hashim Thaci. Although at present only Kosovar Albanians see Thaci as their leader, he is poised to receive receive recognition from the United States, Germany, Britain, and France shortly. Russia and of course Serbia will not recognize Kosovo as a state and have asked the United Nations not to do so either. Several countries in the European Union also do not want to recognize Kosovo, as they have their own secessionist movements with which to contend. According to the New York Times today, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania oppose Kosovar independence.

Kosovo's ability to split the EU on foreign policy is itself another symptom of how new borders create new divisions. If it is to be a unifying regional political body, the EU needs a single foreign policy. Kosovar autonomy and any other question that provokes debates on sovereignty will undermine this. In the end, the debate shows that despite the best intentions, the nation-state cannot accommodate peace. The answer is not the proliferation of more nation-states but their demise altogether.

Instead of recognizing Kosovo, the world would be better off depriving all states of the ability to control movement and membership by the use of ancestry, language, or any other criterion other than the desire to establish residence.

Kosovo is poised to be independent because of a temper-tantrum that elicited brutal corporal punishment and brought in the child protection service, and this produced another bully that has already been smacking around its own peers. Kosovo's situation is morally no worse than any other country, but it is no better, either.

For a look at how the Kosovar's Orthodox Greek Serbians have documented the bombing of their churches and arson to their homes in recent years by Kosovar's Muslim Serbians, look here, the source of the image above of a man in 2004 peeing at a destroyed 19th century Orthodox church in Prizren.

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