Friday, December 21, 2007

Serbia's self-defeating posture

This was in Guardian Comment is Free while I was travelling and attracted some 260 traditionall splenetic comments. Go and enjoy them!

Serbia's self-defeating posture
Independence for Kosovo is going to happen, despite Belgrade's strenuous objections
Ian Williams

All Ian Williams articles
About Webfeeds December 15, 2007 6:00 PM | Printable version
One of the peculiarities of Balkan politics is how leaders have photographic memories for events that took place centuries ago, but total amnesia about what happened recently. On the face of it, Belgrade's offer of almost complete autonomy as long as Kosovo and the rest of the world accept Serb sovereignty seems, if somewhat dottily obsessive, eminently placatory. But the essential claim that Kosovo is theirs because a Serb prince lost a battle to the Turks there 700 years ago, is a bit like the British claiming France because of Dunkirk.

In recent reality, the Kosovar Albanians have seen what use Serb nationalists have made of such residual claims: from Slobodan Milosevic's dissolution of Kosovo's autonomy and imposition of apartheid on Albanians there to his pogroms and ethnic cleansing just before the Nato intervention (which a Russian diplomat at the time described to me as "absolutely insupportable", before in effect going on to support it).

For better or worse (frankly mostly for worse) most post-second world war dissolutions have followed established provincial or state boundaries, without too much regard for local feeling. Those who talk about taking away the "Serbian" areas north of Mitrovica again tend to amnesia.

Those are areas that were ethnically cleansed of Albanians in 1999 and stayed that way with the connivance of the French foreign legion who stopped Albanians going across the bridge where the bridge watchers from the Dolce Vita café waited to assault any who dared.

When I went I had a UN press pass, so they could not stop me, but assured me that they would not lift a finger if I were assaulted. In fact I had a good time and good coffee in the café and gave a radio interview to the local Serb station, telling them that, notwithstanding the legion, they should get used to it - UN security council resolution 1244 meant that this area was lost to Serbia.

As was clear at the time, the resolution implied eventual self-determination for Kosovo but tried to save Russian face by deciding "that a political solution to the Kosovo crisis shall be based on the general principles in annex 1 and as further elaborated in the principles and other required elements in annex 2", which in turn referred to the Rambouillet accords.

Those accords, which incidentally precluded partition, were hazed in another level of ambiguity, promising that within three years "an international meeting" would "determine a mechanism for a final settlement for Kosovo, on the basis of the will of the people, opinions of relevant authorities, each party's efforts regarding the implementation of this agreement and the Helsinki final act", which the Americans induced the KLA to sign on to by promising that it meant there would be a referendum.

After Rambouillet of course, Milosevic, assuming that with Sarajevo and Srebrenica behind him he was a modern day Achilles impenetrable to western weapons, went ahead with his ethnic cleansing and was overthrown after his defeat.

The old spiritual about Noah had a line about animals who went up two by two into the ark: "Said the ant to the elephant, 'who are you shovin'?" It came to mind at the self-deluding bluster from Belgrade about Kosovo, where successive nationalist worthies have warned of the terrible consequences of European acceptance of Kosovar independence - Serbia may not join the EU. Brussels is doubtless quaking with fear.

Even more preposterous is the military threat. Kostunica did not disagree with Milosevic for starting wars with his neighbours but for losing them. He has no intention of taking on the Kosovars, let alone Nato. The bellicose Serb nationalist militias would not be confronting and killing unarmed civilians this time.

Serbia and Russia are quoting the sanctity of security council resolutions. They would have been better off reading 1244 before they signed it to save Milosevic from the ground invasion that would have finished him off immediately.

If the leaders in Belgrade, not to mention Moscow, really cared about the Serbs in Kosovo, they would stop posturing about the fig leaf of Serb sovereignty and work to ensure the maximum EU, Nato and UN presence in a Kosovo under probationary independence. The genuine victimhood of Kosovar Albanians does not make them saints, any more than the crimes that some of them commit against the remaining Serbs mitigates Milosevic's deeds against them.

The best future in the region is for everyone to join the EU with its freedom of movement and shared citizenship.

Independence is going to happen, and Belgrade's threat to cut off diplomatic relations with the rest of Europe and the USA will have somewhat less effect than a declaration of war by the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.


Agrippa said...

Outrageously amateurish, uninformed and prejudiced for somebody with such experience.

Deadline Pundit said...

for the Milosevic fan club, there is no disagreement that is not motivated by either stupidity or evil. Agrippa manages to accuse me of being amateurish even while praising, albeit obliquely, my experience, and accuses me of prejudice without saying what it is that a I am prejudiced about!