Serbia needs say in future of region

Published on April 3, 2007, Winnipeg Sun

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

By JOSEPH QUESNEL

Canada should oppose unilateral attempts by the United Nations to grant independence to the region of Kosovo as long as Serbia is left out of the equation.

This is not because ethnic Albanians who form the majority of the region don't deserve a say in their future, but because aiding an independence movement was never anything envisioned by Canada when they sent military assistance to the region in the 1990s, out of humanitarian concerns for Kosovars who were being "bullied" by the Serbian government. While victims of Serbian repression certainly existed, many sources say casualty counts were inflated and that NATO strikes exacerbated the ongoing refugee crisis.

While I continue to support our military's actions, I am alarmed at the movements towards independence. Kosovo is historically a semi-autonomous province of Serbia, which was part of the multi-ethnic state of Yugoslavia before that federation erupted into civil war in the 1990s.

While Kosovo has strong Albanian and Muslim roots, it is also an integral part of Serbia and is home to many historic Serbian Orthodox sites. It was also the location of the famous Battle of Kosovo Polje, where the Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman Turks and, for a short time, Kosovo became part of the Ottoman Empire. Serbs would eventually regain control of the territory and by the time of communist dictator Tito, the Yugoslav constitution would not recognize Kosovo as autonomous of Serbia.

In university, I supported the Kosovars on human rights grounds and approved of the air strikes. I remember a Serbian man who confronted me, saying that if I wanted to support the Kosovar cause, I should buy heroin. Years later, I see what he meant with revelations that Kosovar separatists fed their movement with drug money.

He was right and I was wrong.

The bombings would lead to international control of the province, first by NATO and now by the UN, which supports independence. The problem is Serbia has a historical and religious link to Kosovo that needs consideration. Moreover, a sizable Serbian minority still calls it home.

It is still worrisome that evidence exists suggesting Albanian Kosovars in the Kosovo Liberation Army used NATO, including Canada, as pawns in their nationalist regional war against Macedonia. Scott Taylor, a Canadian journalist and former soldier, recounts this in Diary of an Uncivil War: The Violent Aftermath of the Kosovo Conflict.

There have also been attempts to unite Kosovo with Albania, but I don't think the international community should be helping this process.

This issue has become public because the UN is working on resolving Kosovo's final status. Last week, Russia's representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, criticized Joachim Rucker, special representative of the UN Secretary-General in Kosovo, for taking what he termed a "biased" position on the territory's status. Russia, which has religious and cultural ties to Serbia, has always opposed Kosovo independence, as has Greece, for similar reasons.

No matter which path Kosovo chooses, Canada's role should be in bringing both Serbians and Kosovars together to decide the region's future.


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