Now is time for independent Kosovo

December 09, 2007|By John Menzies and Marshall Harris

Tomorrow, the United States, the European Union and Russia will report to the United Nations on the latest round of talks on the future of Kosovo. They will be tempted yet again to delay resolution of the Kosovo question - even after three years of talks.

On its face, the new report will be largely meaningless. The most recent talks were no more than a sop to Serbia and Russia. Positions have not changed, compromise has not been reached, and agreement remains a fatuous hope. Kosovo is determined to exercise its political self-determination by pursuing internationally recognized sovereignty and independence. Serbia is committed to thwarting this drive and exercising political control over the former Yugoslav province.

However, by turning Kosovo into a police state and committing genocidal acts against its own citizens, Belgrade has forfeited any claim to sovereignty in the region.

The United States and a majority of European Union countries accept that independence for Kosovo is inevitable, but they have not found the political will to allow Kosovo to achieve its goal. Tomorrow's report gives these nations a new opportunity to recognize Kosovo's independence and at long last set it firmly on a path to regional security, political stability and economic prosperity.

The difficulty of Kosovo is largely of our own making. The United States and other countries driving Kosovo's international political process should have, at the outset, ruled out partition or a restoration of Serb sovereignty. Instead, they refused to limit the range of possible outcomes, thereby encouraging elements among the Serb population in Kosovo and Serbia to resist efforts to create an accord.

Encouraging Serb nationalism in Kosovo is especially dangerous. Beginning in 1989, Serbia turned Kosovo into a brutal police state by oppressing the province's 90 percent Albanian population, eliminating fundamental political rights and civil liberties, disenfranchising professionals and closing schools and hospitals. In 1999, the Belgrade regime launched a genocidal attack on Kosovo's civilian population. Hundreds of thousands fled into neighboring countries and were able to return only after NATO drove Serbian forces out and established an international military and political protectorate.

Today, under international pressure to negotiate, Belgrade asserts a new willingness to accord autonomy and special political arrangements for a Kosovo reincorporated into Serbia. These proposals are unreliable. Autonomy once given - as it was in 1974 - can easily be withdrawn. Understandably, Serb sovereignty is utterly unacceptable to the vast majority of Kosovars. By the same token, partition of Kosovo - or legalization of the concept that Serbs and Albanians cannot live together - would encourage or even invite bad behavior.

Some of our friends and allies object that conferring independence upon Kosovo will have a destabilizing effect in other regions of the world. Kosovo, however, is unique. Most other regions of the world have not been subject to the degree of repression that Kosovo has experienced.

The message that the divorce is final must be delivered now and unequivocally. The people of Kosovo have waited with varying degrees of patience and have endured weak Western policy prescriptions and prevarication. Indeed, their tacit acceptance of the status quo and the West's delays has at times seemed inexplicable.

Kosovo should now seize the moment and exercise its right to declare independence unilaterally. Acting in concert with a declaration by Kosovo's parliament, the United States and as many European Union nations as possible should recognize Kosovo's sovereignty and independence. The European Union and NATO can then carry out their missions in Kosovo during a transitional period as envisioned under the plan developed last year by U.N. negotiator Martti Ahtisaari.

Only by taking direct immediate action can the United States and Europe meet the just and legal aspirations of the vast majority of Kosovo's people while affording a degree of resolution to the minority that objects. With Kosovo's independence will come a new social compact based on equality before the law.

No more time should be lost. Kosovo must be independent and whole, beginning tomorrow.

John Menzies (menziejo@shu.edu), former U.S. ambassador to Bosnia and chief of mission in Kosovo, is dean of the John Whitehead School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall University. Marshall Harris (marshall.harris@alston.com) is a former State Department official and adviser to the president and government of Kosovo.

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