The birth of Europe’s newest State — Kosovo — brings to an end the violent break-up of the erstwhile confederation of Yugoslavia. But it also raises as many questions as it resolves. Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence early this morning amid rising political tension and Serbia’s resistance to what it considers an illegal breakaway of its restive southern province. To recall: ethnic violence erupted in Kosovo in the late 1990s when the Slobodan Milosevic regime in Belgrade removed Kosovo’s status as a special province. This was followed by a wave of repression that forced the Albanian majority to live in fear as second-class citizens. Under President Ibrahim Rugova — who adopted Mahatma Gandhi’s tactics of passive resistance — the Albanians fought the oppression, creating their own schools, parliament and infrastructure. In the subsequent wave of ethnic cleansing unleashed by Belgrade, tens of thousands of people were killed, leading to the creation of the Kosovo Liberation Army. The bloodletting stopped only after US-led Nato forces drove the Serbs out, and Kosovo has since been a UN protectorate.
The UN mission, alas, has obviously failed to encourage integration between Serbian and Albanian communities that even use different currencies and telephone networks. And it is doubtful if the European Union task force, which is reportedly standing by to replace the UN mission, can do any better. In that event, there could possibly be an exodus of Serbs from some areas to the Serb-dominated north, or even an attempt by the north to secede from Kosovo and join Serbia. An even more disconcerting thought is the impact of Kosovo’s independence on Europe and the rest of the world.
The US and the European Union are expected to welcome an independent Kosovo, just as Serbia and Russia will denounce it. In fact, Moscow has already warned that it sees no difference between the ‘separatism’ of Kosovo and the ‘ambitions’ of pro-Russian areas like Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and Trans-Dniester in Moldova. This is bound to complicate the already difficult relations between Russia and the West even more, and that doesn’t exactly spell good news for the rest of the world.