February 18, 2008

Declaration of Independence

Kosovo declared its independence—again.

The difference between 2008 and 1990, of course, is that this time Albania wasn't the only country to take notice.

The US, the European Union, Turkey and Taiwan all joined Albania in praising Kosovo's declaration.

As might have been predicted, Russia and China joined Serbia in condemning it, because to accept it would give credence to the separatist movements in their own lands.

That Kosovo as a place is important to Serbians is indisputable. It was the site of two great battles fought against the Ottoman Empire. Even though Kosovo was, in the end, lost to the Ottomans, Serbians still see it as the place where they made their underdog stand against the invaders. It is a critical part of their history.

That was in the 14th century.

We Americans, with our short history and shorter memories, have trouble understanding why a people would cling so avidly to a place when its role in their cultural history lies so far in the past.

I don't question the Serbians' fondness for Kosovo.

But I do question their insistence upon clinging to it when the majority of people who live there are not Serbian.

The history of Kosovo is a long and complex one, and it seems that it has never been the homeland of a single, homogeneous people.

Because I'm a history buff, I've been trying to think of a historical parallel to this situation.

There's Ireland, which unified with England in 1801, then broke away in 1919 in the Irish War of Independence. That, of course, led to the decision by the largely Unionist Northern Ireland to stay part of the United Kingdom, and all the grief that followed.

But an attempt to draw a parallel between Ireland and Kosovo is nullified by one key component: The Irish are Irish: not just a nationality, but an ethnicity.

The term "Kosovar" describes people who are citizens of Kosovo, but like "American," it describes a nationality, not an ethnicity.

Many Kosovars are Serbian. But most are of Albanian ethnicity. That majority has chosen independence, just as the Irish majority did, and just as the Ulster majority in Northern Ireland chose to remain in the United Kingdom.

Another parallel comes to mind: Texas.

Originally a Spanish colony, Texas was briefly ceded to the French before a dispute over whether it was part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1821 it became a province of Mexico. Shortly thereafter, Anglos began settling there, and by 1830, the majority of non-indigenous Texans were Anglos. Texas became an independent republic in 1836—though, again, not without bloodshed. Later, the Republic of Texas joined the United States.

The Mexican government of the 19th century fought strongly to keep Texas, but failed.

I am certain that any attempt by Serbia to keep Kosovo will also fail.

It is the right of Kosovo's Albanian majority to choose independence, just as the Texans of the 19th century chose to be independent from Mexico.

True, self-determination of peoples must always be balanced with territorial integrity. But I'm not sure why it is that so often this balance is only achieved after strife and bloodshed. The American Civil War is a good example of that. There are, unfortunately, far too many others.

But can Serbia even be said to have territorial integrity with Kosovo? I think not. The region has been unstable for most of its history, and for hundreds of years, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population has been growing. According to the Associated Press, 90 percent of Kosovo's population now is ethnic Albanian. Only 5 percent is Serbian.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, in supporting Kosovo's independence, spoke of the importance of peace and stability to the region.

Unfortunately, "peace and stability" and "the Balkans" have, even since before the days of the Ottoman Empire, been mutually exclusive. There has already been violence although, fortunately, without casualties, in response to Kosovo's declaration.

We can only pray it will stop there.

Slobodan Samardžić, the Serb minister for Kosovo, is reported to have called the independent Kosovo "a fake country."


Kosovo is as real as its citizens are willing to make it.

To me, they seem very willing indeed. It is right for the freedom-loving nations of the world to support them.

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