Monday, February 12, 2007

The Balkans - A Warning From History

Here's something that could be a sign of much worse to come. The West has been treading incredibly carefully around Kosovo in the eight years since the war, desperate to avoid another Balkan mega-conflict. But eventually the polar opposites of an ethnic Albanian population keen on independence, and a Serbian people and its leaders who don't want to give the province away, are going to clash. And as the UN edges Kosovo towards independence, the weekend's violence shows that clash is starting to happen now.

The big reason to be worried is what hardline politicians in Serbia might decide to do. The strong performance of the hard-right Radicals in last month's elections can only embolden them as they negotiate with the West. They see keeping Kosovo part of Serbia as the main aim of their party - and many of their supporters believe it's the best way of continuing to fight the battles of (whisper it) Slobodan Milosevic. It was his suspension of autonomy for Kosovo and his blood-and-thunder rhetoric on the issue in 1989 that helped tear Yugoslavia into blood-soaked pieces. As the UN tries to play the midwife to an independent Kosovo, it must make sure it throws the hardline Serbs enough bones to keep violence off the streets. If that includes denying Kosovo some of the trappings of a sovereign state, then so be it. A bad misjudgement and things could get out of control very quickly.

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