Five theses on Kosovo

Published on April 1, 2008, Transnational Institute

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

Feral Tribune, 1 April 2008
Croatias recognition of Kosovo has more to do with a desire to please Washington than responsible regional politics, writes Marinko Culic.

In less than the two months since Kosovo became independent, Croatia has been flooded with so many wrong conclusions and theses that they have already started to create a false parallel reality. This is not to say that unforgettable political statements have not been made before, especially during Tudjmans time, when, for example, the thesis of Croatia as the bulwark of Christianity shook the western part of ex-Yugoslavia, and almost the country itself. We thought we had left this behind, and few could have imagined that this dirty package once thrown out of the door would return through the window.

This is exactly what has happened. In the effort to please Washington it is as though Croatias politicians adopted the logic of George Bush, who solemnly proclaimed the end of war on the occasion of the US armys entry into Baghdad, while the war has kept raging for the next five years, and nobody knows for how much longer. It is in a similar manner that many in Croatia see the independence of Kosovo. It took only a few weeks for the unsophisticated simplifications of a serious problem to produce several firm, but completely wrong theses about it. Here they are.

Stability. The dumbest statement about Kosovos independence is that it will bring stability to the region, since, as anyone can see, quite the opposite is true. In no time, the governments in four of six former Yugoslav states have been seriously shaken. One of them, Serbia, has already collapsed, Macedonia has barely avoided the same fate, while crisis struck the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina (which is Bosnias permanent state to tell the truth) and also Croatia. This was to be expected, of course. In each of these countries lives a sizeable community of an opposing side, either Serbs or Albanians, and, since its collapse, never has the crisis spilled so rapidly from one end of the former Yugoslavia to another. If this is stability, then what would instability look like?!

End of Yugoslavia. The favorite thesis in Croatian politics and media is that the independence of Kosovo is the last act of Yugoslavias breakdown, which is to say that it was something inevitable and would finally put an end to the story. But it might rather be the beginning of something: that Yugoslavia, after it has been broken down along the borders of the former federal republics, could now continue breaking down along ethnic lines. The most affected state would again be Serbia (more specifically its regions of Vojvodina, Sandzak and the Presevo valley), but also other countries, particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and somewhat less Montenegro and Croatia. Only Slovenia seems to escape the meltdown. Those other countries have learnt their lessons, however, and thus none of them has so far recognized an independent Kosovo, except Croatia, which seems to believe that the best place from which to look at the regional problems is not Zagreb, Sarajevo or Podgorica, but Washington.

NATO. Croatia has its own specific reasons for so obediently adhering to the views from Washington because it knows that it could never become part of NATO if it does not recognise Kosovo. But this is not the whole truth. Prime Minister Ivo Sanader also had his own reasons for his speedy recognition of Kosovo. Demands from Washington came as a welcome excuse. The Kosovo crisis has resolved one of his biggest old problems: the fact that for years popular support for NATO membership was stuck between 30 and 40 percent, while now it has skyrocketed to 60 percent.

Prime Minister Sanader, of course, is a responsible enough politician not to openly pour oil on the Kosovo fire, unlike some pro-government newspapers that reported the alleged arrival of Russian missiles on the Croatian border. But he also doesnt mind if recognition of Kosovo causes some tension on the other side, nor even among Serbs in Croatia itself. He is obviously not very concerned about the effect on the situation in the region, especially when consider that this is the first recognition of statehood for one ethnic group within the borders of a former Yugoslav republic. Not even Milosevic and Tudjman ever thought of recognizing the independence of the para-states they themselves had created (two self-proclaimed Serbian states in BiH and Croatia, and one Croatian in BiH). Petty local tyrants seem to have been better than big ones, at least in this issue.

Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS). The party that represents the interests of Serbs in Croatia embarrassed itself by making empty threats that it would leave the coalition government if Croatia recognized Kosovo. This has created the impression that SDSS only trades with government posts, while Sanader did nothing to disprove this largely overblown accusation. Quite to the contrary, he only strengthened it by offering Slobodan Uzelac of the SDSS a post in the state privatization fund.

By so doing, he legitimised the worst among the critics of SDSS. He knows full well, but prefers to keep quite, that the SDSS is a modern party that has done a great deal to defuse Serbian-Croatian tensions in Croatia. SDSS was wrong to ignore the plan made by Marti Ahtisaari, however, which guarantees great autonomy to the Kosovo Serbs, even double citizenship, while its rejection might leave them with almost nothing. Still, too much defamation against SDSS has been heard these days, including that they are the tool of the Serbian state in Croatia, while some even went so far as to accuse them of being the tool of the Serbian extreme nationalist Radical party.

All this reveals how little Milorad Pupovac, the President of SDSS, is understood. He has been a loyal ally of Serbias liberal President Boris Tadic. He has no hesitation about defending his position on Serbian State Television, in front of the anchors who do not hide that they fiercely sympathize with the Radical party of Tomislav Nikolic. But it seems that nobody in Croatia wants to know this, and without knowing it, it is impossible to understand why SDSS opposed the fast recognition of Kosovo. Such recognition benefits the Serbian nationalistic parties, and that is why SDSS asked for recognition to be postponed at least until the parliamentary elections in Serbia in May.

Regional leader. Croatia has been obsessed with the desire to become the regional leader, which is childish and narcissist, but would not be too hard to bear had it not been for one other thing. This title is expected to be bestowed by major international offices, but not by the countries in the region itself, while, bearing in mind all the bad moves thus far, it is quite obvious that none of the countries in the region would want to give Croatia this title except maybe Kosovo. And the lesson? You cannot keep your feet here and your head in Washington and expect that suspicious neighbors will take you as one of their own, let alone respect you.

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