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Kosovo’s Emotional Problems

Posted by vmsalama on February 26, 2008

By Vivian Salama
PostGlobal – WashingtonPost.com 
In the summer of 2006, I rode a bus through the winding mountain roads from Sarajevo to Podgorica sitting next to a young Montenegrin studying medicine in Bosnia. It was his first trip home since his country gained its independence. While many believed Montenegro’s secession from Serbia was inevitable, the young man spoke of his country using the kind of poetry one might use to describe their lover. However, shortly into his epilogue about the future of his country, our discussion turned to Kosovo. His opinions surprised me. “It will be very sad if Kosovo wins its independence but in this political atmosphere, I don’t see any way that Kosovo can become part of Serbia,” he told me. “Kosovo brings too many emotional problems to Serbia.”
It would appear that Kosovo brings emotional problems to a lot of countries, not just to Serbia. Russia says it will not recognize Kosovo and Serbs have ransacked the American Embassy in Belgrade. In a report I filed from Pristina in June 2006, I suggested that originally, “the plan was for Kosovo’s leaders to demonstrate their ability to govern responsibly before embarking on a path of sovereignty. However, corruption continues to be an issue in the province,” with many watchdog groups reporting Kosovo’s notorious corruption problems to be worse than those of Serbia or Montenegro. Moreover, maintaining an international presence in Kosovo has proven costly for many Western nations, the United States especially, particularly at a time when there is a high military presence elsewhere. Most countries with peacekeepers in the region want their troops out as soon as possible, and it was thought that an autonomous Kosovo would put this goal on the fast track. Some Western policy-makers may have recognized Kosovo’s independence to appease the province’s majority Muslim population, which, given global circumstances, is not an issue to be taken lightly.
Nonetheless, the United States is in no position to engage in Cold War-style rivalries. High stakes in the Middle East have made for fertile contestation grounds between the superpower and its enemies. While the Russia of today cannot measure up to the power and influence of the Soviet Union, it can easily threaten America by allying itself with the various nuisances and “evils” that keep American lawmakers up at night, such as Iran and China. Now that Kosovo has declared itself an independent nation, the issue is that there are no guidelines in international law for intervening with force so that a province can secede. The Russians are fully aware of this and it will likely show Moscow’s attitude toward Chechnya. Russia’s presidential election, scheduled for March 2nd, will be an important indicator of the country’s future as a major global actor. In the meantime, recognizing Kosovo may not be a bad decision, but it is a bold move for a lame duck U.S. administration that will not be around to claim responsibility should the Kosovo project go awry.



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