Belgrade Burning. . ..
Vol: 77 Issue: 22 Friday, February 22, 2008
Following Kosovo’s declaration of independence last weekend, NATO Secretary-General said KFOR would “respond swiftly and firmly against anyone who might resort to violence in Kosovo.”
Moscow warned that it would not rule out the use of force, if necessary, to resolve the dispute over Kosovo’s recent declaration of independence — especially if NATO gets involved.
“If the EU works out a single position or if NATO steps beyond its mandate in Kosovo, these organizations will be in conflict with the U.N., and then I think we will also begin operating under the assumption that in order to be respected, one needs to use force,” Dmitry Rogozin said, in comments carried by Russia’s Interfax news agency.
The Russians have refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence, triggering a diplomatic standoff with the US and a number of EU states who had immediately recognized Kosovo’s declaration.
On Thursday, Belgrade erupted into rioting as angry Serbs protested the US extension of recognition, changing, “Kosovo is Serbia” and vowing never to accept its independence.
In an massive case of understatement, Richard Holbrooke, former Clinton negotiator to the Balkans was quoted telling reporters:
“The fact that (independence has) not happened as peacefully as people had hoped is the direct result of the incitement to violence by extremist elements in Belgrade, implicitly and privately supported by the Russians.”
America’s instantaneous recognition of Kosovo’s independence raises what seem to me to be two significant questions. The first question is also the most obvious (and the most difficult to answer): Why?
Thanks for a decade of NATO-supervised ethnic cleansing, the majority of modern Kosovars are actually Albanian Muslims.
Kosovo was historically the center of medieval Serbia, until it was captured by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. Consequently, to the Serbs, Kosovo is the heart and soul of its medieval history.
The displacement of the Serbs under Ottoman rule in the 14th century is called “the great migration’ by Serbians to the present day. Serbians have as long a memory as do their Islamic counterparts.
In the First Balkan War in 1912, Serbian forces joined a Balkan alliance against Albania to avenge their defeat by the Turks 400 years earlier.
The Balkan Wars revived Balkan aspirations for independence, and Kosovo became its symbol. To Serbs, Kosovo is a legendary symbol of Greater Serbia, a symbol of the ideology of rebellion against foreign rule.
On June 28, 1914, a Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The Serb separatists chose June 28 for the assassination deliberately.
In Serbia, June 28 is “Kosovo Day”. British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans emphasized the enduring power of Kosovo in the Serbian pysche:
“The memory of Kosovo, one of the greatest battles of the world, decisive even in its indecisiveness, remained alive up to contemporary times.”
American journalist John Reed also noted the power of the Kosovo legend.
“The Serbs carry on a hero cult, and today with the name of Milos Obilic they bracket that of Gavrilo Princip; the former stands for Serbian heroism in the tragedy of the Kosovo Field, the latter for Serbian heroism in the final liberation.
Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the culmination of the Kosovo ethos of self-sacrifice and martyrdom on behalf of one’s people or nation.”
The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo was the fuse that ignited World War I. The spark that lit the fuse was Kosovo.
In a sense, Kosovo is Serbia’s Jerusalem. Which returns us to the question of why Washington was so quick to recognize its independence.
While Kosovo represents the historic and spiritual soul of Serbia, under the Ottomans (and later in the 1990’s under NATO and UN supervision) Kosovo was ethnically cleansed of its Serbian population, leaving modern Kosovo primarily inhabited by Albanian Muslims.
American recognition of Kosovo is therefore as much a slap in the face of Serbia as US recognition of an independent Kurdistan would be to the Iraqis, Iranians and Turks. And by extension, a slap in the face to Moscow.
The fallout from the Kosovo declaration, as already noted, includes a Russian threat of military force against NATO. It resulted in the burning of the US Embassy in Belgrade, and has split the world down the middle over the issue.
Serbian President Boris Tadic warned the United Nations (UN) Security Council yesterday that Kosovo s unilateral secession was likely to shake the world order for years to come.
“This arbitrary decision represents a precedent, which will cause irreparable damage to the international order,” Tadic told the 15-member council.
China, concerned that Taiwan will be next, expressed its ‘grave concern’ over the US decision. Spain, Romania, Cyprus, Greece and Slovakia have all joined the Russians and Chinese in denying Kosovo recognition, Brazil and India say they are studying ‘the ramifications” of Kosovo’s declaration.
Would that Washington had done the same thing – because the answer to the question of why the US stuck its neck out for Kosovo is, “I haven’t got a clue.”
Just about the last thing either the United States or the EU needs is another independent Islamic state, particularly one located in the heart of Europe.
Why embrace Islamic Kosovo at the cost of further alienation of Russia, China, Serbia and half of Europe, including Spain?
President Bush said he was extending recognition to Kosovo in the “interests of peace.” Maybe its just me, but shouldn’t the ‘interests of peace’ result in, well, peace?
Do you remember the last time Belgrade erupted into violence? It was when Bosnia-Hercegovina broke away from Serbia. US recognition resulted in a Serbian-NATO war.
Interests of peace? Perhaps we need to redefine the term, then.
Which brings us to the second question: What will Russia do if the NATO ‘peacekeeping’ forces attack the Serbian Army, should it attempt to recover its breakaway province by force?
It is not hard to envision the outbreak of war between Russia and NATO in such a scenario.
And it conjures up the spectacle of America, Old Europe and Osama bin Laden on one side, fighting China, Russia and the other half of Europe that opposes recognition of a new Islamic Republic on its doorstep.
How many sides can we be on at the same time?
What would America do if the Latino population of California declared independence and suggested unification with Mexico? Would China and Russia be justified in bombing the US to prevent a US military effort to reclaim California?
There is no logic to be found in America’s decision to support the creation of a majority Muslim state in the birthplace of Serbian Orthodox Christianity, and plenty of logical reasons for opposing it.
One need look no further than what happened last time, following the events of Kosovo Day, 1914, to find a really good one.
Is Kosovo worth another World War?