Update No: 127 - (19/12/07)
The coming new nation
Kosovo is on the brink of declaring independence from Serbia, of which it
remains a province, despite being run by the United Nations since 1999. The 90
per cent of the Kosovo population that is Albanian demands it.
The US and most European countries are ready to endorse it. But that does not
guarantee it can come peacefully.
Fears of a new conflagration
The prospect of a new Balkans conflict came closer in early December after
Serbia made threats of “war” with the breakaway province of Kosovo. After a
four-month peace initiative failed to resolve the fate of the disputed
territory, European diplomats, and even the Pope, made fresh appeals for Serbs
and Albanians to avoid violence.
Concerns grew after Aleksandar Simic, adviser to Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian
Prime Minister, said that his country would defend its sovereignty “using all
means” at its disposal. “The State has no recourse other than war when
someone does not respect the UN Security
Council,” he told Serbian state television. “Serbia has had negative
experiences from certain armed clashes during the civil wars in the former
Yugoslavia, and this is why we are more prudent and cautious now, but, of
course, state interests are defended by war,” said Mr Simic, a member of the
Serb negotiating team.
Commitment to peaceful methods
Actually, in a very welcome development on December 14,Serbia has promised it
will not use violence if Kosovo declares independence, the German defence
minister told reporters. Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said he had received
assurances from his Serbian colleague, Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac.
"The Serbian side does not want to use or provoke violence," Jung told
Formally still part of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the UN since a
NATO-led bombardment in 1999 halted a Serb crackdown. The U.S. and EU nations
have urged Kosovo's Albanian leadership to hold off on their planned declaration
of independence until after the Serbian presidential elections in January. Prime
Minister Vojislav Kostunica has inevitably made the issue the defining one of
There is still a lingering suspicion that Kostunica might 'do a Milosevic,' on
the matter, despite the statement of his defence minister. In a public
statement, Koštunica said that he had given his answer once and for all when he
had taken oath of loyalty to Serbia and the Constitution as prime minister
before parliament – No to Kosovar independence. “Any Serbian prime minister
would respond the same way to any suggestion that Serbia should renounce a part
of its territory in return for some other benefit,” he declared, which seems
The prime minister’s comments came in response to UK Prime Minister Gordon
Brown’s statement on December 13 that Serbia should recognize Kosovo’s
independence in order to become a member of the European Union. Koštunica
stressed that Serbia would not, under any form of pressure or offer of
incentive, waive its right to preserve its sovereign identity and territorial
integrity within its internationally-recognized frontiers. Still, he made no
mention of the use of force.
A tangled tale
It all goes back a long way – to June 28, 1389, as a matter of fact, when the
Battle of the Field of Blackbirds ( or the Battle of Kosovo, for short) took
As it so happens, the Serbs lost that battle, losing their sovereignty over
Kosovo, and indeed over Serbia itself, for nearly five hundred years to the
Turks. Ottoman Turkey now dominated the Balkans. The Serbs only re-acquired
their nationhood and independence in 1878, with Russian help - their Orthodox
The outcome of the First World War saw Serbia absorbed in a new entity larger
than itself, Yugoslavia, but with the gratifying difference that Belgrade, not
Istanbul, was the capital and mentor of the affair. The Serbs had arrived.
Except that they hadn't. There were two forces unleashed by that war that were
to prove stronger than the young Kingdom of Yugoslavia – Fascism and
Communism, the first the initial victor and the latter the eventual co-victor of
the Second World War. In Yugoslavia's case the Partisans under Tito owed a lot
to British help, although they might well have won anyway. The confederation of
Yugoslavia was to last until the 1990s, in which decade it fell apart.
The denouement of the turbulent decade
In March, 1999 NATO began bombing Serb forces in Kosovo and in Serbia until, 78
days later, Milosevic capitulated. In June NATO troops entered Kosovo. Less
murderous than the earlier Bosnian war, in which 100,000 people died, the
conflict nonetheless claimed an estimated 10,000 Kosovar lives and created
850,000 refugees. Sixteen months later the Milosevic regime collapsed; he was
sent to the international court in The Hague and Serbia looked set to rejoin the
world. The outlook is now undeniably bleak. The threat of violence is only just
below the surface. Russia is a player in all this, supporting their slav
co-religionists and offering an alternative to an EU future by Serbia adhering
to a Russian political, commercial, and cultural/religious agenda.
The New Year will tell what is to become of Serbia.