New seeds of civil war in Balkans

Published on December 10, 2007, The Times-Tribune

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution


Monday the international community meets to determine the status of the Serbian province of Kosovo, which has been managed – not well – by the United Nations since 1999.

Thus far, the approach to resolving Kosovo’s political status has been dangerously misguided. Belligerently premature promises of independence coupled with the willingness of Western diplomats to delay a final decision, have contributed to the rise in nationalistic and religious extremism in the province.

The imminent threat of global destabilization calls for an internationally supported resolution that upholds legal precedent, recognizes the need for mutual compromise, and reflects a serious commitment to the protection of human and minority rights. Neither Russia nor China will accept a cosmetically altered “blank check” for independence.

International negotiators are no longer in a position to ignore Kosovo’s aspirations for greater autonomy. Granting Kosovo full internal autonomy as a self-governing commonwealth within Serbia has emerged as the most viable — and legally acceptable — solution.

Granting independence to Kosovo would violate the U.N. Charter’s affirmation of a state’s territorial integrity, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and U.N. Resolution 1244 that established a peacekeeping mission overseeing the administrative matters and an international police force.

Furthermore, the international community’s acknowledgment of Kosovo’s right to independence would set a dangerous precedent for secessionist movements worldwide. Would-be breakaway regions like Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Tibet and Taiwan with China, and numerous others will demand independence, against which Western diplomats will have very little political or historical leverage.

As Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament, observes, “just like Kosovo, Iraqi Kurdistan has also been under international protection.” For nationalistic groups, there is no difference between an independent Kosovo and an independent Kurdistan.

Kosovo’s independence would quickly expose the weakness of the province’s institutional infrastructure. Given Kosovo’s limited participation in the U.N.’s administrative structure, it is simply illogical to assume that an amateur regime would possess the necessary expertise to dramatically improve the province’s poor record of dealing with organized crime, drug trafficking and human rights abuses.

The international community must avoid planting a failed state in Southeast Europe. The strategy championed by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy since 2004 of making Kosovo a self-governing commonwealth within the Republic of Serbia remains the most effective solution. Just as Serbia would retain her internationally sanctioned right to sovereignty, Kosovo would not only benefit from the backbone of Serbia’s working economy and international influence, but it would similarly gain a de jure right to the autonomous governance of its internal affairs, analogous to the arrangement between the Unites States and Puerto Rico.

The rise of extremism in the region underscores the necessity of addressing this option. Over the past four months, the region’s security has grown increasingly fragile and is now on the verge of detonation. Fazli Veliu, president of the Veterans’ Association National Liberation Army, has publicly expressed an increasingly popular ethnic Albanian threat: “If the resolution of the Kosovo issue keeps being postponed, very soon, we will … win Kosovo’s independence with weapons.”

Just over the border, Zeljko Vasiljevic, president of the Serb Veterans’ Movement “Guard of Prince Lazar,” promised a crowd of 5,000 pro-Serbian volunteers that “in the event that independence is proclaimed we are going to be ready … with bullets.” It is time that the international community acts on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s warning that “any further delay will have a very negative impact on peace and security not only in Kosovo.” The province cannot afford a repetition of the violence that erupted in March 2004, involving over 50,000 individuals in at least 30 separate incidents, which claimed 19 lives and injured 900 people.

Russia remains attached to her fellow Orthodox Slavs in Serbia, while the United States kowtows to the requests of the Kosovar Albanians who make up 92 percent of the Kosovo population. Given the turbulent record of Western involvement in the Balkans, the reemergence of such pet-campaigns should raise a bright red flag. The international community has an obligation to forgo destructive big-brother alliances in order to promote regional stabilization and prosperity. Acting immediately to engage Priština and Belgrade in the discussion of this option may finally work to dispel the all-too-common myth that violence is the only natural resource found in the Balkans.

JOSEPH K. GRIEBOSKI, a Scott Township native, is founder and president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Washington, D.C. For the second consecutive year, the organization has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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