There are many reasons to oppose Kosovo's independence from Serbia. The Serbs, not surprisingly, oppose it on the grounds that Kosovo is their spiritual homeland, and to permit the breakaway province to secede from what remains of Yugoslavia would destroy that traditional, historical link between Serbs and Kosovo. The Chinese and Russians, as well as the Spanish (because of their own problems with Basque separatists), are worried that recognizing Kosovo’s independence will set a dangerous precedent for other separatist movements, who will obviously look to the Kosovar Albanians as an exemplar for their future. Lastly, there are those right-wingers in the West who see any creation of a Muslim majority state as a threat to the future of a white Christian (or at least non-Muslim) Europe.
None of these rationales are overly appealing. First, historically, the Serbs had no problem using political violence to separate from the Ottoman Empire, or assassinations to annex Serb-dominated areas of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To hear the Serb nationalists, you would think they are history’s victims. They are not. They certainly were not when they tripled their territories during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, which came at the expense of neighboring territories (who certainly did not enjoy seeing any part of their country declaring “independence” from them). There are very few countries in this world, including my own, which can legitimately make a moral argument against separatism for its own sake.
Two, the Chinese and Russians, as well as the Spaniards, are hardly believers in democracy and self-governance in their own territories historically, because all of them have dealt with breakaway movements (and virtually all of them a response to very real repression minorities have faced at the hands of their central governments), which is the main motivation for their opposition to Kosovo’s independence. Does anyone care anymore that Stalin had the entire Chechen population ethnically cleansed and sent off to exile from Chechnya during World War Two? How many non-Basques in Spain recite Franco’s repression of the Basque language, and politically-targeted assassinations of Basque activists during his reign?
Lastly, the real onus for so many Americans and white Europeans opposing Kosovo’s independence, that it is yet another Muslim country in the West, has limitations to the extent that Albanians are fairly secular (thanks in no small part to the punitive atheism of Enver Hoxha’s brand of Communism [which demolished Islam on the threat of banishment, imprisonment, and sometimes even death for the believers and their entire families]), and less inclined to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism than Bosniaks (i.e., Bosnian Muslims) or Chechens--never mind our friends roaming the Kandahar region of Afghanistan, looking for their 72 virginal Salma Hayeks. Indeed, there are probably more Islamic terrorists inside of England or France than in Albania or Kosovo.
No, the biggest threat of Kosovo’s independence is not to any of these. It is to the concept of opposing the kind of wholesale ethnic nationalist politics and warfare that has taken place before and after the Kosovo War. For those who remember this war, back when Bill Clinton was at the height of his glory (during the impeachment scandal), Kosovo was the centerpiece of the Clintonian doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.” Naturally, this humanitarian intervention was not an international undertaking, as NATO is an American-dominated regional military alliance, and acted without prior authorization of the UN Security Council (a violation of international law [as if anyone cares about that anymore]). But the reason for this war, no matter how insincere, to oppose the “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovar Albanians by Serb police and government officials, who were backed by the Yugoslavian government (then under the control of Slobodan Milosevic), was seemingly a worthy cause in the first days of the conflict. It was difficult to sympathize with people who claim the Srebrenica massacre never occurred, or that Albanians were, as an ex-friend of mine from Macedonia once told me, “like breeding jackrabbits” (the accepted racism against Albanians in Orthodox communities in the Balkans is sadly commonplace).
However, there were problems with the Kosovo War from the start. The Kosovar Albanians, for their part, wanted nothing to do with any negotiations with the Serbs, and supported wholesale independence (something not reported on that much at CNN, back when Christiane Amanpour was reporting on the massacres committed by the Serbs, without mentioning the ethnic war that had been transpiring at least since the early 1990s inside of the province). The portrayal of this war was one of peaceful, pacifistic ethnic Albanians, and their political leaders, like Ibrahim Rugova (a supporter of Kosovar independence throughout his adult life), being oppressed by the mad Serbs, out to destroy all traces of Albanian life in Kosovo. Very little attention was paid to the Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA/UCK), which was condemned by the US State Department as a terrorist organization enflaming inter-ethnic strife, all the while supporting the KLA with US arms and tax dollars. Of course, after a few months of NATO-led bombings that killed over 5,000 Serb civilians, President Milosevic capitulated, and with that Kosovo became an international protectorate (of both NATO and eventually the UN [even though formally the province was still on paper a part of Yugoslavia or what remained of it]).
The culmination of this victory was the enshrinement of KLA leader Hashim Thaci to the Prime Ministership of Kosovo (supported by the US government, in spite of his ties to a self-admitted terrorist organization that Thaci helped fund by dealing heroin and cocaine [the kind of activities that leftist rebels in Colombia would earn the nickname “narco-terrorists”]). Had Mr. Thaci been born in Baghdad, Belgrade, or Tehran, not only would he be considered a terrorist (of the unacceptable variety), but a bandit on the first order, deserving reform through cluster bombs (cheered on by the likes of Michael Ledeen). That an open drug dealer, gangster, and leader of one of the most violent private armies in Europe is leading the new independent country exemplifies its lack of legitimacy--not that his competitors in Serbia are much better (then or now).
Worse, the demographic and internal political situation of Kosovo became in the 2000s barely palpable, largely because of the lack of acceptance of non-Albanians in Kosovo by the likes of Mr. Thaci. What transpired after the Kosovo War was nothing short of the kind of behavior that NATO, and especially the US, claimed elicited our intervention in 1999--the mass expulsion and destruction of the remaining minority population in Kosovo. The 2004 attacks, in which hundreds of churches and Serb and non-Albanian enclaves were razed to the ground, thousands of Serbs and Roma expelled (no CNN ruminations for them), became the new Racak of Kosovo. That most of the remaining Serbs and Roma (over 200,000 before 1999) have now been “cleansed,” mostly by violence, is of no signficance, even though they were supposed to be under NATO and UN protection.
The Lessons of Kosovo
Most importantly, Kosovo’s independence has taught the Albanians and all other ethnic nationalist/breakaway movements some important lessons. One, if you have a separatist movement, above all else, make sure to garner support of the US or a corresponding great power for your movement and its actions. This will guarantee that no international organization will be able to stop you, since that great power, especially in the UN Security Council, will be able to block any resolutions denouncing your behavior. Also, currying favor means gaining the support of the great power’s dominant culture, its elites, and media entertainment outlets, which will disseminate, humanize, and rationalize your movement.
Two, if your movement gains enough support, and the time is ready, do not negotiate with whomever you are fighting. They must be physically separated from your polity by all means necessary, and be certain that this does not run counter to your great power sponsor’s wishes. If anyone complains about your conduct, simply demur that it is the responsibility of some irresponsible parties, or possibly staged by your opponents to gain sympathy for their cause (a common tactic by both sides in this conflict). Nevertheless, since ethnic wars are total wars, the defeat of your enemy must be complete and their presence within the realm of your new territorial state vanquished.
From these Machiavellian lessons, it could be argued that what happened in Kosovo was inevitable. Maybe Cubrilovic was right, the Balkans is too much of an ethnic caldron, and there is no way one can have anything but a peace that is created on the dessert of a post-war graveyard of total ethnic conflict. If that is the case, the least we could do is not recognize it, after using our opposition to such revanchist principles as the justification for dropping over 20,000 cluster bombs and missiles on one of the offenders.
By recognizing Kosovo’s independence, we (that is, the United States) implicitly endorse ethnic cleansing as a means of obtaining a political goal (for Kosovar Albanians), that political dialogue and recognition of your enemy is unnecessary, even dangerous, and that terrorism (by the standards of our government) is rewardable--on the condition that the terrorists have the support of a great power patron. In other words, with Kosovo’s independence any and all future claims about opposing terrorism and ethnic cleansing carry the same moral authority as they did on the day we recognized those terrorists who ethnically cleansed their way into nationhood. In the end, the crime of the Serbs, to this ethos, is that they did not have permission to kill their minorities. Their undesirables beat them to the punch. For all it is worth, as of now, makes right, and justice for everyone, regardless of their background, be damned.