So many people have had so much to say about the future of Kosovo, its relationship to Serbia and its place in the international community. Right or wrong, it looks like the ‘formal debate’s more-or-less over bar the shouting, and the Court of International Opinion is now going to hand down its judgement. Serbia is almost certainly going to lose Kosovo. It’s probably inevitable and both sides will have to live with it. Whether or not it’ll be a ‘Just’ decision doesn’t really matter.
140 years ago, Germany’s ‘Iron’ Chancellor Bismarck said that “…politics is the art of the possible”. He was right then and he’s still right, but it seems that some of those closely involved in the Kosovo negotiations don’t agree. From where I sit, as an ‘impartial’ foreign observer living in Serbia, there seem to be some frankly unrealistic demands being made about the future of the province. Of course, there’s more than one audience for the negotiators in both camps, it’s not just the UN or EU they’ve got to persuade, there’s an important constituency back home too. Even so, perhaps there’s room in this debate for a little more practical understanding of the way the world actually works.
Like it or not, the Governments and individuals with the power to make things happen are the ones who have lots of money and lots of friends. Also, because they’ve got power and influence, most of them have a history of getting what they want – and to have influence in the real world it’s important to be a winner. The ‘Clubs’ they belong to are very exclusive and their members almost always look after each other, often regardless of whether they’re right or not. Remember Tony Blair’s sycophantic support for the USA’s patently illegal adventure in Iraq? History offers us so many examples!
So why should the people of Serbia expect anyone to listen to them when they object to international support for Kosovo’s independence? Serbia’s certainly not an influential member of any club. It’s not got much money and sadly, I don’t think it has many real friends in the community of nations. I may be a cynic, but I’m not convinced that some of those who have supported Serbia’s arguments against independence for Kosovo have done so simply because they think the alternative is fundamentally unjust.
Most if not all of the countries who’ve suggested, sometimes a bit hesitantly, that Serbia may have a point, have actual or potential problems of their own with ‘troublesome’ inhabitants of bits of their territory. I wonder how the US would react if the international community imposed independence on Hawaii or Puerto Rico? And what about the UK? Will an EU or UN peacekeeping force be sent to supervise Scotland’s transition to independence if the British Government doesn’t agree? Probably not… And I don’t remember seeing any blue UN helmets worn by soldiers on the streets of Belfast or Londonderry during the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, I wonder why not. Oh yes, of course; Britain’s a member of ‘The Club’.
Russia? Well yes, of course Russia’s one of Serbia’s oldest allies, but at the moment she’s got a few problems of her own with ‘breakaway’ Republics. And then there’s Spain and Cyprus, both of whom seem to be reasonably contented members of the EU club. But after Kosovo, will the Basque people start quoting International Law and precedent to support their case for independence? Will the people of Northern Cyprus tell the international community, “there, you see, we were right all along so stop being nasty to us and accept that we really are an independent State”. You can understand why Cyprus and Spain are making waves in the EU over Kosovo can’t you.
But I don’t think anybody’s objections will make the slightest difference to the outcome, and it’s outcomes that Bismarck was talking about. Maybe I want lots of money and a sports car and a beautiful house by the sea – but that’s about as likely as me getting hired to play my guitar with the Rolling Stones next time they’re in Belgrade. So why worry about it? I’ll concentrate on what I can achieve; enough cash to get by on, keeping my reasonably reliable Suzuki jeep on the road and an occasional walk by the Danube. Maybe some of the more ‘aspirational’ supporters of Serbia’s case to retain Kosovo should be a bit more realistic too?
Yes of course, make your case for Kosovo remaining part of Serbia. It’s a good case, but it’s not so good that it will persuade those who disagree with you. Among them are Governments with lots of money and lots of friends and who belong to the Clubs that matter. To many Governments, news media and ordinary people outside Serbia, the events of the nineteen nineties are much more important than an apparently (to them) esoteric argument based on medieval history, that Kosovo should be kept as the spiritual heart of the Serbian nation.
Members of the Big Clubs, the UN, NATO, the EU all screwed up when they stood back and did almost nothing while most of the former Yugoslavia was tearing itself apart. Lots of people and most of the Governments in the region did some awful things during those years but Serbia, rightly or wrongly is regarded by most if not all of those who matter in the international community as the worst of the lot. Serbia, and by implication the ordinary people, innocent or guilty, who live here must be called to account and I think that one reason for the international support for Kosovo’s independence is that it’s part of the punishment. Apparently, aggression cannot be seen to succeed (except in Afghanistan and Iraq and Panama and …).
Kosovo’s supporters often quote the ‘overwhelming’ desire of most of the people there, to be independent of Serbia. Their opponents can argue until they’re blue in the face, that public opinion in Kosovo today does not represent the real views of all the people of Kosovo and Metohija, including Kosovo’s refugees now living in Serbia and elsewhere and maybe they’re right. There are many powerful arguments against Kosovan independence For example, it seems to be accepted that for the foreseeable future, an independent Kosovo is likely to be fundamentally unstable socially and economically and that it’s an actual and potential hotbed of organised crime involving drugs and people trafficking, money laundering and goodness knows what else. I’ve heard it argued that in the long-term, without the injection of sustained and massive amounts of international aid, Kosovo would probably enjoy a much more prosperous future as a largely autonomous part of a bigger more economically and socially stable (Serbian?) nation state. But in the short term, international opinion isn’t really interested in facts and balanced arguments about the subtleties of Kosovo’s economy or its demography - or anything much else about the place for that matter.
What really interests members of the Club is being seen to be right and getting what they want. They have an agenda. Whatever the faults and mistakes of the UN and EU and NATO (and you won’t hear them admitting to many), they are convinced that Serbia was wrong to do what it did in 1998/9 and Serbia cannot be allowed to get what it wants. The ‘good guys’ must be seen to win! They have told the world what the problem is, us, and they have decided what the outcome will be. But it’ll cost them! Governments who choose to support an independent Kosovo will have to pay for the privilege, and I suspect the people of Kosovo will pay a high price too. Do they really think they’ll become ‘independent’?
Now though, it seems that the die is cast and even if it’s the right thing to do, there’s probably little or nothing anyone can do to prevent the separation of Kosovo from Serbia. So how should we Serbs (and adopted Serbs) react? With dignity!
Nobody admires a child who stamps its feet, screws up its face and screams “…it’s not fair”. Few members of the Clubs that matter will admire those of us who do the same over Kosovo. What’s happening to Kosovo may not be fair to Serbia, to be honest I don’t know if it is or not. But I do know that Serbia has a future which is infinitely more important than its past. Others have decided that Serbia’s future will be as a Nation unencumbered by the very real, practical problems of governing a province riddled with economic, social and political problems and if that’s the reality, so be it.
If partition is inevitable then in my opinion, those who speak for Serbia will do their country and their fellow Serbs no favours at all if they continue stubbornly to argue against it. If they do, they’ll simply reinforce Serbia’s international reputation as a bloody-minded troublemaker. I can’t talk with authority about Serbia’s political negotiators, but I’ve lived here long enough to know that most of the people I’ve met don’t deserve such a reputation. They are dignified people, most of whom do not deserve the legacy of mistrust and disadvantage inherited from some members of the Greater Serbia ‘Club’. They deserve to be represented in the international community by politicians and others who understand ‘…the art of the possible’, not by those whose attitudes and rhetoric are unrealistic and often fifty or a hundred years out of date.
Serbia can have a good future, a future in which the Serbian people can have the respect they deserve and where they can achieve their potential, without having to carry around the burden of their troubled history. But the future begins now and I believe that some of the things being said and done in the name of the probably ‘lost’ cause of Kosovo and Metohija could make Serbia’s future even more uncertain. If the policy of Serbia’s negotiators is to continue to practice the art of the impossible, then the people of Serbia (and perhaps of Kosovo too) will be the losers – again.
It’s not always undignified to accept and accommodate the inevitable. Sometimes it’s the sensible and the rational and the dignified thing to do, even if the outcome’s not what you want. To give away something precious to you is very hard, but it’s also an act of great generosity and it can earn the giver both gratitude and respect. The gratitude and respect of others is a rare and valuable commodity, particularly when it comes from rich and powerful members of important international clubs. It can make a real difference when you’re struggling to overcome the legacy of a turbulent past and to build a better future for your Country.