From Monday’s Globe and Mail
E-mail Doug Saunders
February 18, 2008 at 2:13 AM EST
Kosovo, a landlocked speck of the Balkans less than twice the size of Prince Edward Island, faces more than 50 per cent unemployment and potentially deadly racial divisions among its two million citizens, requiring military commitments that could jeopardize the Afghanistan-war coalition.
Sunday, as its Albanian-speaking parliament declared independence from Serbia, Kosovo gave itself a flag and made several attempts at composing a national anthem. The head of the Kosovo Olympic Committee, Besim Hasani, confidently told The Globe and Mail that “it is 100 per cent sure that we will participate in the Olympic games in Beijing.” (Kosovo has not been recognized as an Olympic nation.)
But even many of the revellers in Pristina realized that their condition is unlikely to improve soon.
World leaders are bracing themselves for a chaotic and possibly catastrophic gestation period.
The province of Serbia, which has been an ambiguous United Nations protectorate since NATO bombs put a stop to Slobodan Milosevic’s efforts to purge the region of its Albanian-speaking majority in 1999, will be recognized by most of the world as a nation. The United States, Britain, France and Ireland have already vowed to do so, and at an emergency UN Security Council meeting Sunday, only Russia openly opposed the move.
Those familiar with Ottawa’s strategy say that Canada plans to recognize Kosovo’s nationhood, but will deliberately be among the last nations to do so, possibly several weeks from now, as it did when Montenegro became independent from Serbia in 2006.
This is presumably because the unilateral action could raise awkward questions about Canada’s stand toward a similar action in Quebec.
Kosovo’s leaders tried Sunday to play down any suggestion that their independence is a precedent for other breakaway regions. “Kosovo is the last station of Yugoslavia’s disintegration and it does not pose any precedent for other regions elsewhere in the world,” Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told the parliament while reading the declaration of independence.
But Kosovo’s hopes of developing an economy or avoiding ethnic slaughter will require large-scale international assistance, at enormous expense. Three hand grenades were exploded outside a UN court in Mitrovica Sunday night, a portent of angry ethnic-Serb reprisals, and ethnic-Albanian acts of intolerance, that could poison the independence.
The European Union is sending a 2,000-personnel “peace and justice” force, plus 1,000 British troops who were described in London as having exhausted the fighting strength of Britain, which has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are on top of the 15,000 NATO troops permanently stationed in Kosovo.
In comparison, there are about 45,000 international troops fighting in Afghanistan, a country 65 times larger than Kosovo.
“Serbia will not turn to violence,” Serbian President Boris Tadic, a pro-European moderate, said in Belgrade Sunday. “This is the only approach that will allow us to fulfill our legitimate goal, aimed at preserving the country’s integrity. Serbia will defend its interests and international law as long as necessary to annul this illegitimate act.”
But Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a more nationalist-minded politician, said Sunday that Europe and the United States will be “held responsible for all the consequences that will arise from Kosovo’s independence,” and said that Belgrade will continue to act as if Kosovo is part of its territory, sending in government officers to establish their sovereignty there and deliver “jobs and investments in the province.”
More ominously, he vowed to organize a series of demonstrations and rallies across the country, including a huge event scheduled for Thursday. A portent of the potential violence in such events was seen Sunday night when several hundred furious Serbs stormed the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, throwing flares and rocks but causing little damage.
On the other hand, larger demonstrations failed to materialize in Belgrade, possibly a sign that ordinary Serbs are more interested in their country’s path toward European Union membership than they are in their emotional claim to Kosovo.