February 17 was a historic day, and not only for people in Kosovo.
Yes, Kosovars finally proclaimed independence, and the long, almost twenty-year process of secession from Serbia was essentially completed. But another period of rule of others over this small country–be it the European Union, the United Nations, the United States or the International Monetary Fund–has begun. Independent Kosovo appears to be only a mirage, a state without an economy or its own functioning institutions–just as Bosnia, thirteen years after the end of the war there, has not yet become independent.
“Oh, how I hate these historical days,” says my daughter as we watch a direct TV transmission from the Parliament in Pristina. “So far every single one of them has brought us only troubles.” And she is right, because she remembers well the historical days of the Slovenian, Croatian and Bosnian secessions and the terrible wars that followed. Now the question is what will follow the Kosovo secession.
I watch the entire event, but it doesn’t look very solemn to me. The president’s and prime minister’s speeches are too long and full of repetitions and empty phraseology. Sadly, they remind me of the long sessions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia thirty years ago. There is no fire, no poetry and no inspiration in the proclamation, which should have been written with the emotions of a long-suffering people. Because they did suffer. The world still remembers long lines of people–hundreds of thousands of them–fleeing Kosovo and pouring into neighboring Albania and Macedonia. It was an exodus of biblical proportions. Albanians, a 2.2 million-strong minority in Serbia, were victims of the brutality of their Serbian neighbors, of Slobodan Milosevic, of his police and army employed in the task of ethnic cleansing. This gives them a moral right to their state, to freedom and independence.
But their legitimate claims to their own state–their moral right and desire for justice–are not the same as a legal right, and this is where complications begin, not only for Kosovars but for others. Now there is the question of which states–particularly in the EU–will recognize Kosovo’s independence. Immediately a split is created: how can Spain, for example, recognize Kosovo, when it has a Basque minority who can’t wait to declare their own independence? Or Romania, where the Hungarian minority has already demanded its independence? Or Cyprus, for that matter, divided between Turks and Greeks for decades?
Yes, the EU politicians keep repeating that Kosovo will be a “unique case,” although no one can say why it should be–or how anyone can guarantee it. Already, the EU is split between seventeen nations willing to recognize Kosovo and ten that are not. This demonstrates that the EU is not strong enough to create a common policy. More important, this split creates a feeling of uncertainty, especially because Russia deeply opposes Kosovo’s independence, while the United States supports it.
And what about the former Yugoslavia itself–does the independence of Kosovo finally mark the end of the wars that started there in 1991? Serbia’s frustration at the loss of Kosovo threatens to bring the whole region back to square one. Serbs in Republika Srpska and the Krajina region of Croatia, Croats in Herceg-Bosna, Albanians in Macedonia –why would they all not want to declare their independence? Who will explain to each of these minorities why they cannot be considered a special case?
And what about the former Yugoslavia itself–and the voices of independence of Kosovo finally mark the end of the wars that started there in 1991? Now the whole region is brought back to square one. Serbs in Republika Srpska and the Krajina region of Croatia, Croats in Herceg-Bosna, Albanians in Macedonia –why would they all not want to declare their independence? Who will explain to each of these minorities why they cannot be considered a special case?
The seed of fear is sown again, and this is indeed a sad consequence of an otherwise just and deserved act of secession. This is, at least, the feeling I get while I continue to watch the ceremonies of independence unfold on TV. I sit there, ambivalent, glad that justice is being done but at the same time anxious about what the future, unfolding in front of my eyes, will bring.