When Kosovo recently asserted its independence from Serbia, I listened with great interest and anticipated intense political fireworks. The grousing, public protests in various countries, charges of “fake state” and outrageous burning of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade provide ample evidence of the critics’ ire.
But their discontent and motivations are misguided. An independent, sovereign Kosovo poses no danger. Indeed, it is perhaps the best way to rectify past wrongs against the majority population of the new state.
Before continuing, let me be clear: Not all bids for independence have equal validity, nor do they necessarily indicate readiness to join the community of nations. In the case of Kosovo, however, the decision makes sense. The United States, along with a growing list of other countries extending recognition to Pristina, should stand firm.
After all, Washington and its NATO allies led the effort to restore stability in the region almost a decade ago, ending former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic’s heavy-handedness against the Kosovar Albanian population. From ethnic cleansing to systematic rape to other crimes, that ugly period of history towers as a monument to inhumanity. Such behavior deserves no place in modern Europe or anywhere else.
Subsequently, Kosovo – which had enjoyed substantial autonomy until Milosevic’s crackdown – fell under the interim administration of the United Nations and NATO protection. If anything, that arrangement underscored Kosovo’s separate nature and hinted at permanence. The flourishing of democratic institutions in Kosovo only helped to encourage such thinking. Then, last year, when a U.N. special envoy recommended independence for Kosovo, in the context of a multi-ethnic democracy under continuing international supervision, the stage was set.
Predictably, Serbia has issued the most vociferous criticism. Its reasons, which are mostly historical, cultural and religious, cannot be ignored. But Serbs must come to grips with the fact that the terrible behavior of Milosevic and his cronies led to the new realities. As much as Serbs may seek to blame the United States for the course of events, including the current turmoil, responsibility rests squarely with them.
As for other countries that face problems with separatism and eagerly side with Belgrade, notably Russia and China, it is important to emphasize that Kosovo’s experience is hardly common. Consider the unusual combination of the messy dissolution of Yugoslavia, unspeakable brutality and eventual U.N. administration. Thus, Kosovo’s experience should not be viewed as a precedent that inevitably will complicate the lives of countries dealing with groups that yearn for independence. Rather, because the overall stability of the region is paramount, an independent Kosovo is the most viable option.
I am reminded of other examples, such as the formation of Israel, that prompted similar international disagreements and even war. Israel’s appearance on the global scene also stemmed from a U.N. proposal. Indeed, if the original 1947 plan had been followed, today we would have not only Israel but a Palestinian state. Moreover, the status of Jerusalem – another place where historical, cultural and religious claims and counterclaims proliferate – would be resolved.
Back to Kosovo. My hope is that the contentiousness over the new state’s independence will eventually give way to reason. Nations that have not yet recognized Pristina – including those that have dug in their heels – should do so without delay. Global acceptance of self-determination for Kosovo represents the best protection against repeating the mistakes and excesses of the past.