Don't recognize Kosovo

Published on February 23, 2008, Winnipeg Sun

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

By JOSEPH QUESNEL

Canada should not recognize the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo as an independent country.

Kosovo made a unilateral declaration of independence last week and the United States and the European Union moved to recognize it.

Canada's role as a middle power should be in promoting regional autonomy for Albanian Kosovars who make up the overwhelming majority of the territory, but it would be wrong to interfere in a domestic Serbian issue in such a blatant way. As Canadians, we cannot preach the virtues of federalism as a solution to ethnic differences around the world while encouraging states to separate over those same differences. Kosovo is about 90% Albanian and Muslim, but it is also historically a part of Serbia. Why are people looking to separation rather than cultural accommodation within the Serbian state as a solution? International troops in Kosovo could ensure ethnic Albanians have strong rights within a Kosovo under Serbian control.

Critics of independence have pointed to the precedent separation would set in emboldening other secessionist movements, including Quebec, but this misses the point. Separation for Kosovo is wrong because it is harmful to Serbia's national identity and territory.

Kosovar independence is misguided because it ignores the central role Kosovo plays in Serbia's religious and cultural heritage. Historically, it had a large Serbian population, but this declined under the Yugoslavian dictator Tito.

While the United States and the European Union have a right to be concerned about the human rights of Albanian Kosovars, they do not have any right to assist in dismembering a country because it serves their strategic interests in the region.

This is fundamentally where NATO and the UN got it wrong. Back in 1999, Western countries -- including Canada -- sent armed assistance to Albanian Kosovars who were complaining of human rights abuses at the hands of the Serbian central government. While assisting them was right, our job should not have been to stay permanently and determine the course of its future, particularly in encouraging separation. Protecting civilians is one thing, but assisting a violent, drug-funded secessionist force like the Kosovo Liberation Army is another.

The problem is part of the American and European approach towards Kosovo is fueled by unfair perceptions of Serbia. They are always painted as the bad guys in the Yugoslav Civil War. The late Slobodan Milosevic is depicted as the Serbian equivalent of Adolf Hitler. Don't get me wrong, Serbian paramilitaries were involved in ethnic cleansing after the collapse of Yugoslavia and there should be accountability. Moreover, Milosevic is no saint.

But all sides committed atrocities. After Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1990, the Croatian government encouraged attacks against Serbian civilians who lived in Croatia. Ethnic Serbs in Bosnia were also attacked as Bosnia tried to secede from Yugoslavia.

Perpetrators from all sides should be tried for war crimes, not just from Serbia. The show trial of Milosevic by an international criminal court goes to show how titled the Western community was against Serbs.

It is time to correct this historic wrong by allowing Serbs to protect their territorial integrity.


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