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Peace Without Victory in Kosovo

By Nathaniel S. Rakich

The situation is simple for one so complicated. Kosovo, the wayward Serbian province that is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, will settle for nothing short of independence. Serbia refuses to entertain any possibility of that happening. Unsurprisingly, then, the two failed to reach any kind of understanding by Dec. 10, the deadline set by the United Nations for negotiations on Kosovo’s eventual status.

With that deadline passed, Kosovo is widely expected to secede and become the world’s youngest country. But it is ignoring the consequences of a sudden divorce. As it stands, an independent Kosovo could create broad reactionary backlash in Belgrade and more enmity in the Balkans—the last thing that region needs. On the other hand, its current status is untenable. Kosovars have endured too much from resentful Serbs and have earned a right to self-determination. Further entanglement will only worsen the problem.

It seems, then, that there can be no mutually acceptable solution as long as independence remains the fundamental question. Choosing sides will not actually lead to peace or stability. Somehow, the frame of the debate must shift. Paradoxically, the only resolution is one that renders Kosovo’s statehood immaterial. The only way to look beyond this wedge is to look above it—to the continental level of the European Union (EU).

The EU must take a leading role in defusing the dispute. First, it should urge Kosovo to be patient in declaring its independence. Then the EU should guide Serbia and Kosovo, still as one country, toward separate membership in the union. Eventually, Serbia will join the EU, Kosovo will join the EU, and Kosovo will be released from Serbian rule—all on the same day. Only thus can Kosovo be both completely independent from Serbia and yet still united with it.

Accession to the EU would be a boon for the mismatched pair. Their economies would receive boosts from the strong euro and the association with other members. If left to fend for themselves, however, alienation and their landlocked status could foster economic discontent and instability. Both could also benefit from the EU’s human rights standards. Serbia’s record for treatment of the mentally ill is atrocious, and Kosovo has become an epicenter of sex slavery.

EU member states are also party to the Schengen Agreement, which allows for the free movement of people. If Serbia and Kosovo enter into the agreement, Serbs could still journey to their holy sites in Kosovo, and Kosovars could still visit relatives in Serbia—moving more freely even than they can today.

The most important lesson that the Balkans can learn from the EU, however, is selflessness. The EU is not just an international organization. It is a supranational organization, which requires members to sacrifice some sovereignty for a share in a bigger pie. That attitude—of deferring to a cause greater than one’s own—is the perfect antidote to a plague of nationalism.

Serbs believe that Serbian nationhood took its first steps at the Battle of Kosovo Field in 1389. The ethnic Albanians who now live on that field see it as their home and the Serbs as brutal occupiers. The EU’s greatest service to these combatants is its ability to overcome such narrow-mindedness. It will be a tough hurdle to clear, but other EU members overcame similar differences upon their accession. Nothing is more inconsistent with the idea of Serbian nationalism than the idea that Serbs cannot do the same.

It is true that the EU has its own problems to deal with. Many believe that the union has already bitten off more than it can chew with the accession of 12 new countries since 2004. The death of its Constitution for Europe has also paralyzed progress for the traditional bureaucratic juggernaut.

Nevertheless, in a dynamic and interconnected world, the EU cannot turn a blind eye to an international crisis. Because of previous inaction, the crisis will come to a head this year. As it looks right now, possible outcomes can only include violent resistance in Kosovo, a disillusioned and hostile Serbia, and more tensions right on the EU’s doorstep. The safety and self-interest of 27 EU members hang on a prudent solution in Kosovo.

However slim, the chance of such a solution is worth striving for. The only way to have no losers in Kosovo is through the supranational philosophy embodied by the EU.

Sadly, the EU has already taken sides in favor of Kosovo’s imminent independence, joining Serbia and Kosovo in the failed mindset of the past. But only a neutral EU can win the trust and commitment of both Serbia and Kosovo. This step must be reversed in order to attain peace without victory.

The Serbia-Kosovo standoff will certainly not be resolved in the editorial pages of The Crimson. But the point is that, along current lines of thinking, it cannot be resolved anywhere else either.

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