Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kosovo (Revisited?)

The first major conflict of the 20th Century began in the Balkans, and the final major conflict of said century was - surprise - in the Balkans. Whether it's the Black Hand's assassination of a Hapsburg son, or the ethnic cleansing of minorities, this rich, culturally diverse region of Europe has seen more than its share of strife. This all makes the recent Declaration of Independence of Kosovo all the more remarkable in that it was without a single shot fired or blood shed. Despite the 120,000-plus Serbs living in Kosovo who fiercely oppose the move, and the warnings of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kosovo has been backed by the West without having to earn it with any major military victory.

Of course, this being the Balkans, how long can this serenity last? Just last week, angry Serbs, in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, nearly burned down the U.S. Embassy, a la Iran, 1979. And who knows just how far President Putin is willing to take his objection over Kosovo's independence, despite the end of his term as President. The NATO campaigns of the 1990s against Serbia led to this particular moment, and Russia may find it hard to forget that the West took military action in what it considers its sphere of influence over Russia's own reservations.

Will Kosovo's independence be short lived? That answer depends largely on how fervently the European Union and the United States defends it. So far, the signs are encouraging. According to the Financial Times, the EU special envoy has taken a firm stance against further partitioning along ethnic lines. This is due in part to the large Serbian minority in Kosovo that is against the independent move. This decision by the envoy helps further entrench Kosovo's position by getting the institutions to look past superficial divisions like race, religion and ethnicity. Though those characteristics are real and people live by them daily, a democracy cannot stand long when ideas are opposed (or proposed) based largely on those measurements.

Also, this is an important test for the next President of the U.S., be it Senators Obama, McCain or Clinton. For the last six decades, each President has been able to breathe a sigh of relief at the end of his term that China has never pushed the issue regarding Taiwan, whom the U.S. has always insisted on defending. Though that issue is not entirely settled, for now both sides seem to agree to disagree. But will the Serbians live with a second humiliating setback in as many generations? To what lengths is the new President, essentially the leader of NATO, going to go to defend Kosovo? And what of Russia? To what lengths will they go to ensure we leave what they consider to be their backyard? All questions that may have to be answered before those of Iraq and Afghanistan are. It is, indeed, a brave new world. Thanks W.

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