Thursday, February 21, 2008

Serbia's Anger Over Kosovo

Thousands of Serbs will today take part in a demonstration in Belgrade against Kosovo's declaration of independence. The Government's letting everyone go for free on the country's trains, and even tennis star Novak Djokovic is going to be there. Everyone in Serbia it seems, is not best pleased.

And it's easy to understand why. Kosovo, although nine in ten of its citizens is now of Albanian origin, holds a special place in Serbia's history. The 1389 Battle of Kosovo (against the Turks) is a key event in the rise of Serb nationalism. Six hundred years on, in 1989, Yugoslavia's Serb President Slobodan Milosevic used the anniversary of the battle to deliver a blood-and-thunder nationalist speech, that set off a chain of events leading to the wars of the 1990s.

The last of those wars involved Kosovo itself, as NATO forces bombed Serbia to prevent the Milosevic regime 'ethnically cleansing' Kosovo of its Albanians. Just like the war in Bosnia, the idea from the Serb point of view was to get rid of non-Serbs from areas traditionally considered part of Serbia, to create a 'Greater Serbia' for them and them alone.

Things are a bit different this time. Despite Serb anger over Kosovo's independence (a move encouraged by the US and some EU countries, which have been running Kosovo since the war), it doesn't look as though the Balkans will suffer another war this time. For a start, the arch-warmonger and nationalist Milosevic is dead, and the more extreme Serb nationalists were beaten in recent elections. Also, NATO and the EU are still in Kosovo, and no matter how angry his people may get, Prime Minister Kostunica surely wouldn't risk another war with the west.

Hopefully, Kosovo's independence will end up as one of the final chapters in the story of Yugoslavia's disintegration. After two decades of bloody conflict Yugoslavia has now split into seven nations - the original six countries are independent, and now Kosovo has separated from Serbia. But even though the map of the Balkans looks a bit neater today, the divisions caused by all the fighting will be remembered for as long as that first Battle of Kosovo, back in 1389. Even if no more blood is shed, the bitterness will remain.

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