By Michael Djordjevich
Once again, the Balkans is in world news. Once again, the great powers of the day, America and the European Union, are redrawing borders and creating a new country and, most likely, planting seeds of future instability and wars in this region. At issue now is the independence of Kosovo.
As in Bosnia recently and now in Iraq and ahead in Kosovo, U.S. decision-makers have misread the situation. They had not read history. Some people are not willing to live together. They are ready to fight and die for it.
Forcing people to live apart is evil, but forcing people to live together is also evil. This is moral and historical axiom. If there is no consent, living together means domination of one people over another. In the long run, this means instability and conflict.
U.S. engagement in the Balkans during the past decade provides a text book illustration of the dangers of short-term crisis management.
After the NATO war on Serbia because of Kosovo in 1999, the province was given to the United Nations for administration -- with catastrophic results. Within a few years, the province was methodically and ethnically cleansed. Essentially, it is now monoethnic. More than 150 Christian churches and centuries-old monasteries have been destroyed by the Albanian Muslims, while some 200 new mosques and a number of schools for the young were feverishly built by Wahhabi funds. Violent and corrupt, Kosovo has become a den of thieves, arms smugglers and white slavers, and the key narcotic transfer point to Europe.
Threatening violence, Albanians demand independence from Serbia in clear contravention of existing international laws and the U.N. Resolution 1244, which had recognized Kosovo as integral part of Serbia. America and Europe are all but determined to force Serbia to cede its land. This would be the second Muslim sovereign state created in the Balkans in one decade by present-day powers. And this in the face of growing concerns of Western societies about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Moreover, the currently contemplated Kosovo resolution would inexorably encourage aspirations of Albanian Muslims to create the Greater Albania, creating permanent instability in the region.
In the face of this conundrum, the United States has an opportunity to create a realistic model for the resolution of regional conflicts ignited by ethnic and religious aspirations of the people elsewhere. The recent Yugoslav civil-religious wars, the current Iraq conflict and future Kosovo quagmire amply demonstrate the old adage: only tall fences make good neighbors. People can't participate in government and accept it if they don't feel safe and fear it.
A fair separation of Kosovo in two entities -- Albanian and Serbian -- should be sought and effected. It should also include a mechanism for the resolution of matters of property rights, Serb holy and historical sites and mineral resources. After a transitional period of two years under international supervision, if these entities still cannot work together, a referendum should be carried out in the two entities as to the future status of Kosovo.
The long-term outlook for security and prosperity must be homegrown. To this end, America and the European Union should promptly support and welcome the creation of a self-sustaining regional body, Council for Stability and Cooperation, composed of Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania. It would -- among other things relating to the Balkan security and stability, international crime and terrorist activities -- focus permanently on the Kosovo problem. The council should be decisively involved in the subsequent monitoring and assessing of progress of transition under the terms of the Kosovo Agreement.
Over the past decade, Balkan affairs have consumed American resources and attention to a far greater extent than justified by hard American national interests. The legacy of these efforts has been highly unsatisfactory. Many regional problems remain unsettled.
With a wrong outcome of the vexing Kosovo situation, the United States may face open-ended involvement in the region. The aforementioned two-prong approach offers a way out for the United States.
Michael Djordjevich, a California businessman, served as founding president of the Serbian Unity Congress.