Didn’t the “western” nations learn anything from the years of bloody slaughter that followed Germany’s reckless decision to recognize the independence from Federal Yugoslavia that Slovenia and Croatia declared in June 1991? Now, 16 years later, the US and many — but notably not all— the EU countries look set to recognize the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) that Kosovo made, from Serbia today.
The boundaries between the world’s 200 or so independent states that emerged after the end of World War II were, certainly, highly imperfect in terms of following clear lines of demarcation between one national group and another. (This was particularly the case in Africa, where these boundaries were drawn up much more for the convenience of the various colonial powers than because of any rationality in terms of the social and identity groupings of the various potential citizens involved.) These boundaries were also highly unfair, allotting independent states to several tiny “nations” and none at all to many nations that were much, much bigger.
There were several different kinds of evolution in the nation-state system in the decades that followed 1945– usually, in the context of the withering of the European-based colonial empires. But basically, the post-1945 world order has remained the foundation of the world’s international order until today.
The Western-supported breakup of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that occurred in 1991-92 was a serious, new kind of change in the system. And look what ensued from that. And now, we have the western-supported breakup of the Republic of Serbia itself. No wonder numerous states around the world that have substantial and relatively compact groups of ethnic minorities among their citizenries are concerned about this precedent. These states include western states like Spain as well as Russia and several of its allies.
Back in 1999, I was one of the few voices in the western human rights movement who argued clearly against the US-UK plan to bomb Serbia, supposedly as a way to “prevent” Serbia’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Remember: Prior to the beginning of the March bombing, Belgrade was doing only low levels of ethnic cleansing. But once the western nations had decided to bomb, they pulled out the OSCE monitoring mechanism that had been reducing the level of the Serb (and Kosovar) violence over preceding months. At that point all bets were off. That was when Serbia’s ethnic cleansing campaign got underway on a massive scale.
OSCE’s (unarmed) monitoring mission had been working. The bombing was gratuitous and extremely damaging. The suffering that occurred during the mass uprooting of Kosovars was horrendous. All that violence then then set in train further waves of violence and counter-violence within Kosovo. The Kosovars, who had previously had a very broad nonviolent national movement turned overwhelmingly to violence, with NATO’s support. NATO marched into Kosovo to run it as a western protectorate, but without solving the deep problems of its internal politics, inter-group relations, or governance. NATO did win a veneer of support from the Security Council for its role there– sort of like the ex-post-facto political cover the SC gave the US presence in Iraq in late 2003.
I think the Security Council is discussing Kosovo as I write this. Not surprisingly. The Russians are understandably upset about the abruptness with which the western countries terminated the negotiations and threw their weight behind the Kosovars’ UDI instead.
This Reuters piece gives some essential background about the EU’s new role in Kosovo. But it starts off with this piece of completely unwarranted optimism:
- Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, ending a long chapter in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.
Well, maybe one bloody chapter has ended. But the chapters that follow it certainly don’t look set to be peaceful– either in Kosovo/Serbia or in the many other places around the world where over-eager national minorities may now judge that their turn for violent uprising is next. (Kurdistan, anyone?)
It’s important to remember that there are many ways in which the cultural, economic, and political claims of ethnic minorities can be assured within the boundaries of a multi-ethnic state, and that these assurances can be won, and given strong political backing, within the context of serious inter-group negotiations that are backed where necessary by the international community. So many different countries around the world can provide examples of this! Think of India, or South Africa, or many, many others… A mono-ethnic state is a very Germanic ideal.
If Kosovo had emerged as an identifiable political/cultural entity in the same peaceful and successful way that, for example, Catalunya has within democratic Spain, then I’d feel far happier about sharing the joy that so many Kosovars seem to be feeling today. But for that to happen, the west Europeans would have needed to make a commitment to bringing a democratizing Serbia into the EU of the same order as the commitment they made to the still-democratizing Spain in the early 1980s. It is tragic for everyone concerned that this has not happened.