As we’ve seen in this year’s primaries, Americans are eager for change, be it in immigration, health care or foreign policy. Regardless of the particular changes that appeal to different voters, change is necessary to bring about advancement, efficiency and modernity – but not just in the United States.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia on Sunday — a much-awaited change that should be lauded. After a decade in which the issue was continuously deferred by outside powers, Kosovo’s parliament voted unanimously, 109 to 0, to declare independence. As an Albanian, a student of Balkan history and a rational individual, I was happy to hear the news.
This particular change represents the conclusion of the 17 years of bloody struggle, which have marked the dissolution of former Yugoslavia. Any doubt that the situation was inexorably moving toward an independent Kosovo, following the Slovenian declaration of independence in 1991, was definitively erased by Kosovo’s 1999 war. The Serbian Army intervened harshly during this conflict, moving into Kosovo to carry out regimented genocide against ethnic Albanians. The conflict forced the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Kosovars, who poured into neighboring Albania and Macedonia. NATO responded with an air campaign against Serbia but, before the end of the conflict, 10,000 Albanians and 3,000 Serbs had been killed. In the war’s aftermath, Serbia lost all control over Kosovo, which retained its autonomy, but as a UN protectorate.
Though Serbia has not had de facto power over Kosovo since 1999, it has adamantly refused to give up its claim over the region. Thus, Kosovo has remained in limbo since 1999.
Not surprisingly, this move for independence is vehemently opposed by Serbia. Both pro-Western Serbian President Boris Tadic and nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica have vowed never to recognize the “false state.”
Serbia’s claim in Kosovo has its roots in medieval times. According to the Serbian nationalist myth, in the 1389 battle of Kosovo, the Serbs fought valiantly (and lost) to protect Serbian Christendom from the Ottoman Empire. But even taking this contrived story for granted, can Serbia lay claim to Kosovo, whose population is 95 percent Albanian, just because certain Serbs lost a battle there six centuries ago? No.
Furthermore, can a country legitimately lay claim to a region whose population it has abused and murdered on a massive scale? No.
According to political philosopher John Locke, any government that mistreats its subjects automatically loses its right to rule. By that logic, Serbia has forfeited its claim over Kosovo many times over. It did so in 1989 when, after working the country into a nationalist fever, Slobodan Milosevic took away Kosovo’s autonomy and initiated a national campaign of abuse against ethnic Albanians, which included firing many Albanians from government jobs and limiting Albanian-language schools. And it did so again in 1999, when Milosevic ordered the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians.
The United States officially recognized Kosovo as an independent nation Monday. The majority of the European Union, including Britain, France, Italy and Germany, has either already recognized — or will recognize — Kosovo presently. Still, countries including Spain, Greece, Cyprus, China and Russia have denounced the breakaway state, fearing such a move will set a dangerous precedent for their own separatist minorities. But, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday, Kosovo is a “special case,” considering the history of Yugoslavia’s breakup, past ethnic cleansing and the extended period of UN administration. Given those facts and the overwhelming ethnic Albanian majority, Kosovo’s case is unmatched by any other separatist regions such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, or the Kurds in southeastern Turkey.
Serbia has responded angrily to this particular change. Mass protests and rioting in Belgrade culminated in the explosion of a hand grenade outside the U.S. embassy. And after the United States’ formal announcement of recognition Monday, Serbia called back its ambassador from the United States.
This reaction is irrational and ultimately detrimental towards Serbia. The Kosovar government sent out 192 letters Sunday to different countries asking them to recognize its independence. Among those 192 was a letter addressed to the Serbian government. Serbia should agree to this request. The campaign to retain Kosovo is senseless, futile and anachronistic. Kosovo is already free and will soon be recognized by the majority of the world. Furthermore, with a 40 percent unemployment rate and broken infrastructure, the new nation brings no economic benefits to Serbia. Kosovar Albanians should be given freedom to start fresh and build up their war-torn state so as to finally recover from the crimes they sustained as a result of Serbia’s radical nationalism. Similarly, if Serbia is to move forward — to stop dwelling in the past and possibly join the EU — the choice is clear. The independence of Kosovo is a change for the better.
Arsi Sefaj is a freshman in Silliman College.