The sad history of Kosovo under autonomy should be fair enough warning to those who would reignite ethnic hostilities that have fortunately declined markedly from their peak. May they continue to do so, for the sake of both Albanians and Serbs.
By Daniel Serwer
Rereading the Scholarly Initiative’s Confronting Yugoslav Controversies in its second edition on TransConflict is déjà vu all over again. The sections on “Kosovo Under Autonomy” remind us of the growing demographic predominance of Albanians, the province’s declining economy, heightened demands for political equality and republic status, deteriorating interethnic relations, the 1986 Serbian Academy memorandum claiming genocide, Serb migration from and political agitation within Kosovo. In Momcilo Pavlovic’s well-crafted narrative, impeccably written to achieve acceptance on both sides of the ethnic divide, the evolution is clear and the outcome seems all too logical and inevitable – a violent confrontation leading eventually to Kosovo independence.
That is not, however, the Scholarly Initiative’s point. Nor would it be a valid one. It is not difficult to imagine many junctures at which wise politicians in a less stressed environment might have intervened to stop the spiral towards violence and dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. But the anti-nationalists in power who might have been so inclined were also, for the most part, Communists. Their autocratic methods were ill-suited to the requirements. Once the Soviet Union came apart, the nationalists—some like Milosevic recent converts from Communism—were unleashed. They were far more likely to aggravate the situation than ameliorate it. What happened in Moscow in 1990 and 1991 was the trigger that enabled what happened in former Yugoslavia in the next decade.
The tragedy that ensued is still playing out, but in ways that offer some hope for the future. The April agreement between Belgrade and Pristina is a striking counterpoint to the prior history Pavlovic recounts so well. The basic Yugoslav question remains “why should I live as a minority in your country when you can live as a minority in mine?” But once minorities really do achieve equal status, with education in their own language, personal security and local control over most of the things that matter in daily life, the question gets reversed – “why should I not live as minority in your country if you don’t want to live as a minority in mine,” especially if doing so will accelerate the day on which I can get one of those nice red passports that makes me a European free to circulate and live freely, even as a minority, in 28 countries other than my own.
Some of my friends who write for TransConflict see an easy fix – exchange of territory between southern Serbia and northern Kosovo, putting the Serbs and Albanians who live in those territories on the “right” side of the border. This seemingly neat and clean solution would be tempting if nothing else were at stake. But the majority of Serbs in Kosovo live not in the north but south of the Ibar. Albanians in Macedonia and Serbs in Bosnia would also like to adjust borders, which is a proposition that has already caused wars in both countries and would once again.
It is these broader regional issues that make partition and territorial exchange not only inadvisable but deadly. Reigniting the Balkans wars would end any country’s hope of entering the European Union. Even if you think EU membership for Serbia is 10 years off and for Kosovo 20 years off – estimates that by my lights are high – it seems to me worth waiting for borders to disappear when accession occurs. The sad history of Kosovo under autonomy should be fair enough warning to those who would reignite ethnic hostilities that have fortunately declined markedly from their peak. May they continue to do so, for the sake of both Albanians and Serbs.
Daniel Serwer is a Senior Research Professor of Conflict Management and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Serwer is the former vice president for centers of peacebuilding innovation at the United States Institute of Peace (2009-10) and former vice president for peace and stability operations at USIP (1998-2009), where he led its peacebuilding work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Balkans and served as Executive Director of the Hamilton/Baker Iraq Study Group. Serwer has worked on preventing inter-ethnic and sectarian conflict in Iraq and has facilitated dialogue between Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans.
TransConflict is pleased to announce that selected chapters from the second edition of “Confronting Yugoslav Controversies – A Scholars’ Initiative” will be published on TransConflict.com every Friday.